As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize fitness is a life-long journey. Like saving for retirement, you build fitness by making small, consistent, low-risk deposits over the course of many years. Trying to kill yourself on the trail (or in the gym or at the office) day-in and day-out is a high-risk, short-sighted endeavor that often leads to injury, burnout, and long-term health setbacks.
In my younger days, every workout was a push. If I wasn’t seeing improvements with every workout or worse yet, declining performance, I’d push harder. This strategy resulted in plenty of time off due to injuries and little long-term progress.
I pushed hard because progress is motivating. But if my older, wiser self is now making small deposits every day, how can I see progress? Putting $5 into a retirement account every day and checking the balance would move me to tears. But if I check the balance annually, trending growth becomes apparent.
There are several measurements I can use to get a sense of my running progress over the past year. One is my easy run day. The following three runs are one hour long on the same trail six months apart. In a year I’ve cut my pace down by 4:38/mile at the same heart rate. That’s bananas!
The next is my race performance. Last year I ran my first race coming off a foot injury, the Herriman 8-mile trail race in Idaho. This past May I ran another 8-mile trail race, the Big Hill in South Dakota. Unlike road races, trail races can be difficult to compare because each course can vary widely in terms of terrain, vertical gain, and elevation. Luckily these two races were fairly similar and as you can see, I cut 35 minutes off my time.
|Big Hill||5/30/2021||1:10:31||892 ft||5,454 ft||8:43/mile|
|Herriman||8/15/2020||1:45:24||633 ft||6,140 ft||13:23/mile|
Let’s look at 5k times. I’ve run five races or time trials going back to November of 2020. As you can see, not only did I shave a significant amount off my times comparing November to July, but each 5k was progressively faster.
|Heritage High||7/24/2021||20:10||72 ft||5,528 ft||6:29/mile|
|Rocking on the River||4/18/2021||21:46||49 ft||5,325 ft||7:01/mile|
|Tucson Time Trial||2/26/2021||21:51||52 ft||2,343 ft||7:02/mile|
|Florida Time Trial||1/22/2021||22:21||3 ft||-20 ft||7:12/mile|
|Monument Time Trial||11/28/2020||24:59||112 ft||7,042 ft||8:02/mile|
How about 2-milers? Since June I’ve been doing one 2-mile time trail every month all on the same smooth gravel course with an elevation of 6,079 ft and a vertical gain of 59 ft. Again, it’s nice to see times improve even if it’s only over the course of three months.
A more fuzzy measurement is how I feel. My easy runs still feel easy, it’s just that my legs are moving faster. Sometimes I still have to remind myself to look around and enjoy the scenery.
My races feel more smooth and controlled. I’m better at pacing, knowing how fast to go in the beginning so I can finish strong, and recognizing if I’m running within my current fitness or if I’m overreaching.
Looking forward to next month, I’m set to race only my second half-marathon ever. My “A” goal is to go under 2 hours, but without a lot of experience under my belt, it could be painful. In this last training block, I’ve gradually pushed both my long-run distance and weekly mileage up to new all-time highs. I’m curious to see how my body responds both in this next race and over the course of the next year.Tags: fitness half marathon training jogging low-intensity maf progress running trail running