How to Survive 368 Miles of Running in One Month
Ed. Note—What's to be done with 2020? No self-respecting editor can put up any kind of post without acknowledging the pain of those scattered around the country and globe, dealing with fires, hurricanes, hunger, and so much more. But resilience is part of who we are as athletes, and Heather Jackson continues to make squeezed lemons into something sweeter. She spent August living like a professional runner, piling up miles after miles, and Sean "Wattie" Watkins put together the video that chronicles the project. We caught up with them both as they pulled up stakes and headed for Tucson, Arizona.
What's the impetus for the big run month? What made you say "I want to do that?"
Nothing in particular. I had put in some solid bike miles between May and July, but I'd been continuing to run, of course, as well. I was hitting 60 miles a week since March 18th (when Covid hit) until mid-July, including running every single day except for one (the day we drove from Tucson back to Bend). I was on a kick: “Run every day, even if it’s just three to four miles” and I was holding myself to that so that my TrainingPeaks chart was fully filled in. But then I came down with a bit of a head cold in mid-July (allergies, thankfully) and I kind of cracked that week (still ran every day but short, like twenty minutes). That was the week they cancelled Kona as well as Chattanooga, so it sunk in I wouldn’t be racing any time in the near future. My sister and brother-in-law were in town, and my younger brother Bobby got married, so decided to back off of training and focus on my family. I always have to skip BBQs or dinners out because I have to be up early to be at the pool, or to head out on a six-hour ride on the weekend. Running was just the most time efficient activity that allowed me to be family-centered.
In early August I headed out for a six or seven mile run (my usual "just go run" distance) and I thought "That's such an arbitrary distance. What if I ran eight miles each time I head out for a run?" It was the eighth month of the year, so I decided to run eight miles a day each day in August. When I added my long runs on top of that distance I ended up at 74 miles—the longest I'd ever run in a week. I seemed to be holding up OK so we went to 85 miles the next week, then 101. The final week of the month we simply held it right at 100.
Any questions/concerns from your coach?
Ryan [Bolton] is such a supportive coach—he is helping so many athletes get through this weird time in whichever ways motivate them right now. I don’t think he has ever said anything to me in the negative...like, “ummm maybe you shouldn’t have done that" if I run or ride too long. I told him after the first week that I wanted to get up to triple digits for running and he was like “Sweet! Let’s do it! I’ll adjust the week accordingly to get the mileage in.” And within seconds he had adjusted TrainingPeaks for me. He definitely asked numerous times if I was feeling anything, like niggles or injuries or anything but he also trusts me. I’ve done this for about twelve years now so I know if it is a stupid decision to do a workout or not, injury-wise. Knock on wood I’ve had no issues this year. We also haven’t done much speed/track/high intensity stuff since Covid hit, though, which is where I think I can bring things up. All of my running minus a few workouts with Paula [Findlay] have been hills, strength running, trails, or maybe a bit of tempo but (like Ironman pace 6:30-7:00/mile) so not trying to do anything all out.
What did you learn from the big month?
I think the biggest thing I learned was what is possible: what mileage I can get up to and complete. It kind of opened my eyes to some other things, like maybe one of the ultra trail runs in the future. I think it was more a mental side of things gained for me than anything physical. Like, "I can run 70- to 100-mile weeks, this is going to make 50-mile weeks feel like NOTHING when i get back into big blocks for a race like Kona."
What surprised you about the training or how your body responded?
I guess I was most surprised at how my body held together, which was awesome. I was definitely nervous at the end of the month that something could creep up but I never started a run without checking if I felt anything on the injury front.
Did you have to do anything different to support the training? Eating? Strength?
Not really. There were definitely some days where I couldn’t stop eating everything in sight, haha, but I get those randomly anyways! Again, it was all mostly aerobic, hilly strength running, so nothing crazy like when my calves would get super sore from a track workout. I just had to really stay on foam rolling and MarcPro and my triggerpoint balls because my legs started getting heavier and heavier as the block progressed.
What changed for you physically? How did your running respond to the big volume?
I don’t know that much changed physically, but mentally, I feel a renewed sense of what is doable and what may be possible in the future in a big block. To be honest, I’m still kind of evaluating if anything has changed now that I’m not putting those miles in. Like, did it change anything: speed-wise for instance. I will report back on that. I do know that it changed my mental idea of what is considered long, which will be huge for marathon training. I don’t see a 20-mile run now and wonder if I’m going to be able to do it on the day.
Was this your biggest run volume for a month ever?
YES. For sure. And also the biggest weeks ever. I think prior, my biggest week had been 72 miles
What does this make possible for you, physically and mentally?
I may or may not have been looking at the Western States 100 website, but that’s 100 in one day!
Wattie, what are you learning on a video side of things about creating these kinds of vids?
First off, the inspiration came from Eric Lagerstrom and his weekly Vlog TTL and how he was filming daily with multiple cameras, editing, the equipment he was using etc. and telling stories via video was so attractive to my creative side. So, when COVID hit, I decided to start learning the craft of shooting, editing, and putting it together in order to tell a story. Again, I give so much credit to Eric and all the help he gave me showing me the ropes.
It's been a huge learning curve. One of the biggest things I've learned is to plan what I'm going to shoot daily, which helps limit the gaps I'll have in the story once I start the edit. Another thing is to keep your footage/clips highly organized in labeled folder so when you go to edit, you don't have to dig and dig to find a clip you need for the edit. Through trial and error, I'm also learning short cuts to editing that save me a ton of time. And the last thing (for which I'll also credit Eric), is the equipment I'm using makes all the diffence in the world when you're trying to go for that stroy-telling cinematic look. Eric and I are always texting each other and geeking out on camera equipment that could up our games and/or make things easier shooting while riding.
I've started using a drone for some of these videos, which is a story in and of itself. I bought my first used drone from Eric, and promptly crashed it into a tree the second or third time flying it. It was stuck fifty feet up in a tree across the river, and the rescue involved a kayak, a ladder, and a 40-foot snow removal pole to get it down. Once retrieved, I saw that I had totaled it and it was off to the drone graveyard. A couple weeks later, I did my research and purchased a new Mavic Mini, which is made for beginners like me. After a lot of practice and YouTube videos on flying drones, I'm happy to report that I'm starting to learn how to fly it and how to actually get good footage.