Offseason Antics

Ahh, the Offseason: that glorious time of unstructured workouts, pressure-free races, and flirting dangerously with the line between pushing your limits and being just plain stupid.

A few years back, after The Lady and I ran our first Air Force half marathon in September 2011, I took a few months off (glorious offseason!) before doing something I hadn’t really done before: experimenting. I hit the track and the streets in the early months of 2012 with singular, sometimes borderline ridiculous, goals in mind. The first few attempts were often colossal failures: I’d burn out really, really fast. A track workout in mid-November 2011 saw my first-ever sub-6:30 mile…followed by a 7:15 mile, followed by throwing in the towel. I wasn’t there yet.

Same with tempo runs: I was pushing below 7:30s, but couldn’t hold it for very long before burning out. And on several occasions, I’d hit the track and do a tempo run in the same week. Yeah, a little borderline, I will readily admit: rest is a very, very good thing.

But here’s my point: provided you’re smart about it, the offseason can be an incredible opportunity to explore your own limits. Come January and February of 2012, I was pushing consistent 6:50s on the track, and 7:30s on longer tempo runs. The first half of 2012 saw what has been my longest period of steady, uninterrupted improvement.

I was off to a somewhat late start this offseason, given my IT band injury. But it’s been cooperating lately (KNOCK ON WOOD), so I’ve seen fit to push things a little: two weeks of both a track workout and a tempo run.

Farragut High School football stadium. Hello, gorgeous.

The local Fleet Feet has started its summer speed sessions, and while I’m departing Knoxville this weekend, I wanted to participate in the two sessions I could attend (pro-rated, of course!). The first was a time trial–and a very wet one at that–which we built upon this past Tuesday morning with a ladder workout: 10-minute warm-up, followed by 400 / 800 / 1200 / 1200 / 800 / 400 / 200, with (# of 400s) minutes rest in between each set. The goal was to match my time trial pace, or a 6:40 min/mile (1:40 for 400, 3:20 for 800, and 5:00 for 1200).

Don't pay attention to the average pace, not sure why it's so bunk.
Don’t pay attention to the average pace, not sure why it’s so bunk.

This was, of course, hardly 24 hours after I’d returned from a weekend in Las Vegas, visiting my godson and nephew. While the visit was spectacular, the time change wasn’t nearly as awesome. I did well enough at the track, but I decided to really push my luck and go for the gusto: a tempo run two days after the speed session.

Put simply: it was brutal. I’d gone to Mellow Mushroom trivia the night before, and while I was really good and didn’t touch any pizza (I know, I’m still in shock), I did get to bed a little later than would be ideal. Even less rest for tired muscles. And I opted for a 6-mile run, the longest since April 25, with 4 miles at tempo, the longest tempo run since April 11.

Flirting with stupidity? You’d better believe it. To quote a line from the great Dr. Rodney McKay: “Mentally unstable like a fox!”

My legs wanted to quit after mile 2.
My legs wanted to quit after mile 2.

About a quarter of the way through mile 5, I walked. I was in complete anaerobic mode, and my quads felt like they were eating themselves. The humidity didn’t help, either. But just like last week, and in the same spot I might add, I saw my buddy Bob.

Greetings, Shannon. I am the Heron. You have many questions, and while the process has altered your physiology, you remain irrevocably human, ergo you are going to feel tired after TWO QUALITY WORKOUTS IN A SLEEP-DEPRIVED WEEK.

I took his presence as a sign: finish this last 0.75. So I did, hence why my mile 5 time is a little slow compared to the middle two.

It was hard. Really, really hard. A mental battle as much as a physical one, and for just about the entire run. This is a rather extreme example, and I’m not planning any more quality workouts until MCM training starts.

BUT. It was awesome. I love this sort of limit-pushing and flirtation with disaster. I love it. Nothing outright stupid, but just stupid enough to be interesting and perhaps reveal something about one’s character as a runner. The key to all this, of course, is that it’s done during the offseason. That way, if you fall a little too much on the side of stupid, you have some time to recover from it. Once MCM training starts, then it’s time to stick to the schedule. Sure, there’s flexibility for races and schedule hiccups, but pure experimentation time is over until the race is done.

Oh, and one little awesome tidbit: as I was walking after my cool-down, I noticed Bob flying by…with a friend! It was the first time I’d seen two herons in one place all summer, and it was beautiful to watch them gliding so gracefully in unison. It’s like they were making sure I finished my run. Rotten shame I didn’t have my camera on me, because it was an incredible sight.