Saturday, April 14, 2012

The weekend warrior myth

Last night, I ate mostly carbs, hydrated and tried (and failed) to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I woke up when it was still dark to have my pre-long run breakfast, and a few hours later, I started my three-hour run. Ah, Friday nights and Saturday mornings in the Yumke household.

Twenty miles later, I continued on my weekend ritual, ending the morning in a state of exhaustion, but with purpose: that long run would pay me back when I run my next marathon down the road.

View of Toronto skyline from Humber Bridge, the middle of a long run
I really can't remember many weekend mornings when I slept in and later, coffee mug in hand, having breakfast while the morning ticked by. I have a vague idea that other people do this. For more than seven years, my weekends have been dominated by training. I'm not alone: Saturdays and Sundays, the trails are packed with other athletes.

So I don't identify with the phrase 'weekend warriors', a term some use to describe people who put real time to training. As one of the definitions of 'weekend warrior' goes, it's a person who spends a week at a 9-5 job (what's that?) and then turns to other passions in the weekend -- be that partying, rock climbing, Ironman training or long distance running.

Of course, those who write about us as weekend warriors must have little idea on what most of us go through day in, day out. You hear about it when people talk about weekend warrior injuries, or people who run road races on little training, or ah shucks, isn't it nice that Bob there runs races, nice he can spend weekends on that.

Truth is, most days of the week during marathon preparation, my thoughts inevitably go to how I'd fit in training with life. That goes for Monday through Friday, even with long work hours. Often, I'm scrambling to fit in training, dinner and unplugging into a four or five hour window on weekday evenings. Not fun at all. (And I don't have any dependents, how others do it is beyond me.)

I could just state that I spend time training during the week, but it's a little easier to just illustrate what that looks like. Since mid-2005, I've been tracking all my runs on SportsTracks and I spit out a handy little analysis of when I run. The beauty of analyzing more than six years or 20,000 kilometres (um, wow) of data is there is no way a few runs can skew the numbers. These numbers don't lie.

Looking at the chart above, it's obvious that Sundays are my preferred day to get my long runs in. I've put in a staggering 3384 miles out of the total 12285 miles in one day. But that doesn't mean that other days have suffered.

So I plotted all my runs into a spreadsheet to do a percentage look. Very interesting findings.

According to the chart above, my top three days of the week are Sunday (28%), Saturday (16%) and Tuesday (16%). Mondays are the lowest mileage of the week, at 7%, obviously from my recovery from the long run, but it's not too far off.

I've run a variety of training programs, but in the years when I did the Pfitzinger-Douglas program, I'd be running major mileage on Tuesday to Thursday, which is why you see Tuesdays rivalling Saturday. I'd remember those days when I'd be putting in 10 mile Wednesdays, or 12 mile Thursdays. Ouch.

The more interesting stat I liked was when I totalled all the weekday runs and compared it to the weekend. From Monday to Friday, I racked up 57% of my weekly mileage, 43% for the weekend. While that is no surprise to a runner who usually sees the long run be about a third of their weekly distance, but for those who like to label us as weekend warriors it may be an eyeopener.

I often get asked how many days a week I run. The answer is invariably "five or six." Weekend warrior? Not really.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Eat to run, run to eat

We run a lot, and it requires a lot of energy. And we eat a fair amount, and it needs to be burned off. I was thinking about how us runners reconcile that push-pull. For me, they are two particular passions that work well together.

For most, it's a simple declarative statement: "We run to eat."
My own bookshelf reflects that sentiment -- a few dozen running books, a few dozen cookbooks.

For years and years, I've gone between running and cooking. Before I really did long distance training, I was taking cooking classes on nights and weekends, with no other ambition than to enjoy the process. I loved the feel of cooking, the preciseness of baking, or the improvisation of creating something from scratch from a cutting board to a stove or grill. When serious marathon training entered my life, the time I focus on the roads has put cooking into the slight backburner -- like cooking, running has me spending at lot of time on the road, with no ambition these days other than to enjoy the process.

I try to fit both of them in. Both passions connects me to myself in a way the modern desk job distances me from human movement. While typing away at a computer may be the norm of modern 'work', I take solace that a 6 mile run or kneading a bread dough to be more a more natural, tactile experience.

Eating and running are instinctively tied: a runner needs fuel, and we go through the motions to consume it: We hungrily seek carbs, protein, vitamins, hydration. So much more easier to crave bread, chicken, a salad or a glass of water.

Before a race a few weeks ago, R. and I sat at her local D.C. pasta joint, and I smiled when the marathoner and his wife at the next table looked with glee at the menu with noodles and marinara, with variations piled on with different types of protein. "This is the perfect place!" the guys said as if we had sat down at a David Chang restaurant in New York or some other hipster joint that sold hyped up comfort food. I couldn't agree more.

Because like most runners, I have a love affair with pasta, a food that I only indulge in mass quantities right before big long distance races. My best pre-race pasta comes from a local market that sells 'fresh' pasta that people (including me) pay a fair dough for.

Today, after a 26 kilometre run, I contemplated laying on the couch to rest my legs, but my hands wanted to work. Pasta it was.

So I busted out the four ingredients I needed: '00' flour,  eggs, water, olive oil and I set out for my afternoon project. Hours later, I was having my bowl of pasta -- celebrate the pasta, the Italian chefs would say. Sure, then garlic, olive oil and chili flakes (and that cloudy pasta water) will do.

Sunday morning, burn it off. Sunday afternoon, fuel back up.