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50 miles by foot: A look back before moving ahead

Taking an honest assessment of training can help manage future goals.

Feel like February will be a good month, but don’t want to get ahead of myself.

I wrote that in my training journal before the month began, and as it turned out, February was a good month precisely because I didn’t get ahead of myself. I pushed hard at the beginning of the month. Then I got sick and backed off down the stretch. Taking time to recover from my illness was a pivotal decision because I came into March roaring like a lion.

With the benefit of a few days perspective, I can look back at February with the knowledge that I made smart decisions and reaped the benefits. Where I can improve is keeping that perspective in the moment and not allowing myself to get frustrated or slide into depression. It’s a life goal, man.

Now it’s time to put the hammer down. There are four more hard weeks of training, with a rest and recovery week in between, before getting to the taper period for my first race in April. I’ve built my mileage base and am happy with my fitness. This is when the real work gets done, and I’m stoked for the challenge.

Before looking ahead, it’s instructive to take a look back at last month. Too often, lessons and ideas get lost in the rush to move on to the next training block. In my journal, I wrote down goals that I felt were challenging, but within reach. Here’s how I did.


Goal: Increase mileage to 170-180 miles (average six miles a day).

What happened: 152 miles (5.25 per day)

What I learned: Less can be more.

Before getting sick, I had logged 105 miles over 16 days, almost seven miles a day on average. I felt good about the work, but my fuel tank was nearing empty. My legs felt heavy on runs and recovery took longer.

Getting sick may have been a blessing in disguise, because it kept me off my feet for several days and allowed my body to rest and recover. I could have pushed for a run here or there to up the mileage count, but to what end? By taking an extra rest day or two, I came into March feeling fresh and rejuvenated.

It didn’t feel that way at the time. Instead, there were moments when I felt like a failure and others when I second-guessed myself immediately after making decisions. I take solace in the fact that those decisions were the right ones and will work to continue trusting my instincts.


Goal: Continue to build vertical strength with dedicated hill workouts and push weekly climbing totals over 7,000 feet.

What happened: Topped out at 7,200 feet for a week. Lost consistency toward the end.

What I learned: I’m getting stronger.

Hitting the 7,000-foot mark was a major breakthrough. I followed that up with 6K of climbing over longer mileage the following week. That’s when things started to tail off.

In addition to getting sick, I spent a week in New Jersey, where the roads are wonderfully hilly, but legit trail options are limited. Having given up roads a few years ago, I did three runs on a lovely rail trail where I couldn’t get vert if I tried. So it goes. In the absence of serious trail miles, I focused on speed (more on that in a second.)

Overall, I’m satisfied with the work I did, including three badass hill workouts in abysmal conditions like snow, sleet and driving rain. The uphills don’t feel so hard and I’m starting to flow like water cascading over rocks on the downhills. There are times when running feels effortless and free. They’re worth living for.


Goal: Starting mixing in speed workouts, beginning with easy strides and build up to dedicated workout or two.

What happened: Two interval workouts, plus strides and closing kick.

What I learned: I’m still fast?

During an interval workout, I sustained a 6:50 per mile pace for four minutes. That’s my old half marathon pace. In two-minute intervals, I dropped down to 6:20 (a 10K pace.) On quarter-mile closing kicks, I cranked out the 5:50 pace that used to power my 5Ks. Didn’t know I could still do that, honestly. Perhaps I’ve been underestimating my abilities?

My main takeaway is that I have untapped trail speed if I work to harness it correctly. There’s a world of difference between blazing on flat ground and flying over technical terrain. Still, it’s a major confidence boost to run fast again.


Goal: Tackle both halves of DRB with a long run at Round Valley. The recovery week long run is up for grabs but I may just take a full rest day.

What happened: Mission accomplished, including the full rest day.

What I learned: Confidence.

DRB stands for Don’t Run Boston, my first 50K of the year. Set in the Blue Hills just outside of Boston, that’s where most of my long runs in the Blue Hills anyway, so this is a great opportunity to prepare for the actual race course. That’s important because DRB is unmarked and getting lost is a feature, not a bug. I ran the first 25K and second on separate weekends, with a map in hand.

In Jersey, my only goal was to complete a 19-mile out-and-back on rugged single trail along the Round Valley Reservoir where I grew up. I celebrated that triumph with a feast of pancakes, hash browns, and pork roll egg and cheese at the Spinning Wheel Diner with my friend of 40 years. Can’t get more Jersey than that.

I also took a full rest day when I was sick. That’s the first time I’ve skipped any kind of a Sunday run since early November, when I was recovering from a 42-mile day on the Appalachian Trail with my aforementioned friend.


Goal: Continue maintaining my base without pushing too hard during heavy running weeks.

What happened: Maintained fitness even while backing off when I felt fatigued.

What I learned: Patience.

I do my workouts in a makeshift home gym that doubles as our guest room using things like a swiss ball, resistance bands, and a wobble board. That’s all I need for comprehensive bodyweight workouts.

Over the years I’ve cobbled together several exercises — air squats, clamshells, glute bridges, etc. — and link combinations together into sets 3-4 times a week. If I come across an interesting workout I write it down and see if it fits in my program.

My favorite is called the Runner 360: a dozen body weight moves done for a minute with equal rest between reps. It’s a great fitness test that tells me how my body is responding. I usually do the 360 every Saturday, but I only did it once, on the last day of February, and felt strong.


Goal: Emphasize 7-8 hours of sleep. Eat more during heavy training weeks and eat smart.

What happened: I’m lighter, trimmer, and happier.

What I learned: Sleep and good nutrition are the best recovery.

It’s really so simple: eating real food and getting quality sleep are the key to exercise recovery. We like to complicate things with ice baths, compression and all kinds of quack science — infrared pajamas, anyone? — but it comes down to eating right and sleeping well.

I have nothing against some of those recovery aids and could live happily forever wrapped in compression from head to toe. As with most things, if it works for you and gives you a psychological advantage then it’s valid. Sleep is the real secret. No hack or shortcut is better than a good eight hours of rest.

My eating habits have evolved since I turned 40 and realized downing a half-dozen beers over pizza and nachos would have consequences. Diets are tricky and I’m not here to give nutritional advice, but focusing on consuming real food has made a tremendous difference in my quality of life.

When training intensifies, so does my demand for calories and I’m not scrimping after burning 2,000+ calories. (see: diner feast above). I’ve also found that as my fitness improves so does my desire for healthier options. It’s a wonderful self-fulfilling cycle that holds the key to meeting my goal of attaining physical peak.