Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Definition of a Mile

Runners measure their effort based on distance and speed. People track how many miles and how long it takes to determine effort. These measures can be reasonably compared from one person to another when running on similar surfaces. The oval track is very consistent, but weather (and altitude) can be factors. A road runner can compare their mileage and times to another road runner with fairly decent accuracy, but elevation gains and weather can also be factors. If a course is rated hilly, you can make some mental adjustments to understand your time/perceived effort.

When it comes to trail running, however, all bets are off. One mile definitely does not equal another mile when comparing trail running efforts. Single track vs. double track is just one degree of difficulty that makes efforts drastically different. Elevation gains can be tricky as well. A 1,000 feet gained can have different effects depending on whether it is steep, incremental, etc.

The reason I bring up this topic is because I enjoy tracking my mileage, but I often wonder if it really tells the whole story. If I put in 80 miles in a week on gravel roads, is it equal to 60 miles on hard single track? I’m happy if I manage to get in 80 miles, but immediately start to wonder if I’m kidding myself. Am I getting enough vertical? Is the terrain too easy? Do I have enough time on my feet? Am I simulating race conditions?

It gets more interesting when you compare to the logs and blogs of others. Sure, I can equal the pace of Anton K on any given day, but he’s at altitude doing lots of vertical and I’m at sea level, etc., etc. I amuse myself by comparing mileage, and then I just laugh. I kid myself.

The bottom line is just to run smart and enjoy it.

This week I put in some quality runs and was feeling a bit fatigued come Saturday. I put in 6+ hour runs the past 2 weekends and felt like I needed a break. I also wanted to taper a bit for the Pineland Farms 50 miler on Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday, I put in 22 miles on moderately hilly (HA! What does that mean?) terrain at the West Hartford Reservoir. I managed 8.5 min/mile pace, but was still quite fatigued afterwards.

On Sunday, the Goat and I planned to run together. I was thinking 10 easy miles, but he wanted to do some tough single track on the Metacomet Trail. I agreed as I knew the pace would be fairly casual.

Of all the running I have done recently, this run was one of my favorites. Goat and I chatted most of the time. We had an incredible view of Heublein Tower from the trail, and explored some new territory. I learned things about my good friend that I never knew. He was a left wing on his high school hockey team and led his school in scoring in his freshman year. We’ve been friends for about 5 years and I never knew this about him. We talked about other more personal stuff, and joked and laughed about the silliest things. The weather was absolutely perfect, and I wished I had brought the camera.

The run took nearly 3 hours We only covered 13 miles, but it was an amazing 13 miles. The pace might be considered pedestrian, but the terrain was tough in spots. The Goat hasn’t been running a lot and I was happy to have a nice recovery day. I don’t need to make excuses though. I had a great run with my good friend and felt rejuvenated afterwards.

One mile does not equal another mile, and for that I am very grateful.

“May your feet dance across the pavement (or track or trail)”, as my good friend Rich says.