I looked at the Afton Trail 50K record for 50 year-old men and decided it was soft. Using age-grading and switching 25K to 50K in one case (and changing gender in one), I came up with four predictions of what the record should be - 4:05, 4:05, 4:08, 4:08. The record currently stands at 4:27:27. The next question was: Just how hard would that be? The current record is about like running a marathon under 3:10 and 4:05 would be about a marathon in 2:50. I might be able to match the current record, but that would be about my limit.
De-romanticizing the past
But is that in any way realistic? I dug out my old records and in 2007, I was running 85 miles per week at 8 minutes per mile; I could run sub 4:30 at Afton then. The next year, I was doing just a little worse (and racing a lot) and could reasonably expect to do it... but ran 5:29. Two minutes per mile slower! It was a bad race, with a nasty fall, but even before that, the pace was wrong. I was not racing well after the win at Trail Mix in April. Something was up.
The idea of running as fast next year as I did then is barely in the realm of possibility.
How did I used to do it, anyway?
In the early 2000's, I had times when I didn't run much mileage, but I was still running 6.5 to 7.5 minutes per mile in training. When I increased mileage, it was dramatic and not systematic. I remember some slow years, when running 10 minutes per mile for a few miles was a challenge (about where I started this summer), but my records from then are spotty.
I'm starting to run again. I'm stuck at a slow pace and low mileage and trying to remember how to make a comeback. There've been times when I could whip myself into shape in 6 weeks, but I can't do that any more. There've been attempts at a comeback before that have failed and I think I know the reason: what made me race well was the ability to endure much more suffering than others - but there are no awards for suffering. I'm good at going from 98% to 99%, but getting from 48% to 49% bothers me and I've tried to leapfrog over some steps in the past.
Recently, my "long" run was 7 miles and, as I headed out to run 8, I ran into an old friend who pointed out that I was running a 3 mile loop, so I might as well make it a 9 miler. It's what I would've done before - and I would've paid the price of not being able to run well (if at all) for a couple of days afterward.
Treating myself like someone else
The biggest challenge of being self-coached is second-guessing oneself. What I need to do is make myself run like I would if I were someone else. Pull out the old rules:
1) Don't increase mileage more than 10% (and 5% is safer).
2) Don't make your long run too long (25% of previous week's mileage is the goal).
3) Take a day off each week, until running at least 60 miles per week.
4) Do just a little speedwork - nothing longer than 100 meters at a time, to break the monotony.
5) Don't push in any workout, but, if you feel good, run as fast as you feel like going.
6) Try to improve just a little, either in average pace or in total miles, every week.
7) When you can't manage #6, back off for a week or two.
It's maddeningly slow making a comeback this way, but it's working so far.