“Over It” Might Really Mean “Overtrained”

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

I am losing my enthusiasm.

After feeling so well prepared and ready for a big success in Richmond and then not getting there, it’s been a challenge trying to stoke the fire again.

I have gained so much fitness this year that I wanted to get back on the horse and try again.    With eight additional weeks of training, the Charleston Marathon seemed like a good choice to learn from my mistakes in Richmond and get just a little bit stronger.

Yet part of me just feels over it.  I thought I would be done training this hard by now.

In some ways, I am glad the DNF happened. What I am able to see now is that I was clinging on to my sub-three-hour goal so fiercely that it became like a wet bar of soap: the tighter I held on to it, the more easily it slipped away.

Afterwards, I rested and recovered and scaled back for a couple weeks.  Then I chose Charleston and put my nose back to the grindstone.  I quickly got back up to 70-85 miles a week and began watching my food intake carefully again.  Not too much, not too little, but just enough to get a little leaner and and a little faster.

Then I bombed a key marathon workout, the 2 x 6 miles.  Blowing one workout is no big deal, but this was a complete mental and partially physical unwillingness to come anywhere near the paces I normally do not struggle with.

But I let it go and kept up with my schedule as usual.  The next workout was fine.

A week later, what should have been an easy workout in the middle of my pace range felt like a struggle.  I hit my paces, but for some reason the slower-than-marathon-pace run felt unusually hard.  What was going on?

But then the next workout was great.  And then I had a really fantastic fast-finish long run.  Just what I needed for my confidence!  All better, right?

And hey, I’m almost at 3000 miles for the year of 2016!  If I run around ten miles a day for the month of December, I could do it.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Then came another bad workout.  This time on a cut-down run where each mile gets progressively faster.  These runs are always hard, but back in October, I had run a cut-down beautifully.  Textbook perfect and faster than I ever thought possible.  But last week, I could barely get below marathon pace without feeling defeated.  I ended the workout early.

I was yo-yoing from good to bad to mediocre and back again.

I needed some advice.  Marathon training is supposed to be hard and exhausting, but I was starting to get to the point of not really caring anymore.

I brought my concerns to my coach at Runners Connect.  Being a coach myself, it’s all too easy to try to be my own coach.  But that’s a lot like being your own lawyer.  When you coach yourself you have a fool for an athlete.

 “You’re running too much,” warned Coach Danny.   “More isn’t always better, especially with volume. Even though you aren’t tired physically, you are mentally, and I think that’s more of a sign of overtraining.”

Ideally, I should be concentrating more on nailing the workouts with fresher legs and scaling back on the easy miles in between.

In other words, my 10 mile super slow easy days that I thought were doing me so much good are actually sabotaging me.

The other thing Coach asked me to do is review my training.  “Look back at logs and find a string of weeks that you really nailed every workout and felt you broke through a plateau, or things were effortless,” he said.  “That’s the ‘sweet spot’ of your volume vs. intensity and you never want to get too far from it.”

Unfortunately, there was no clear correlation between big volume and bad performances.  I had some of my best workouts during some of my highest mileage.

Even so, I think the cumulative mileage is starting to show up in my workouts.  It seems that overtraining is a sneaky affliction because I don’t feel tired in the rest of my life.  My muscles are not sore.  My appetite and weight have been stable.  I’m not getting sick.

I’m just mentally tired.

I’m losing my enthusiasm.

So I’m scaling back.  I will not run today. I will not run any more 10 mile easy days before Charleston.  I will shift my focus away from mileage and concentrate on “training density,” which is making the workout days really count.

I will not get 3000 miles this year and that is just fine.

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston. (That was hard to type, so I’m going to type it again to make sure it sticks.)

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston.

It is still a goal of mine to cross the finish line under three hours.  I will do it someday but not this time.

After a year of great running without a great marathon, I just need to focus on finishing one well again, no matter what the time on the clock says.

I need to take a smaller bite out of the elephant instead of trying to eat it all at once.

I plan to pace myself slower than Richmond and hope to cross the finish line between 3:05 and 3:10. This is a conservative goal for me, but it would still be the fastest I’ve ever run that distance, so I’m going to prepare myself for it to hurt more than I ever have before.

And if I fail again, I will learn again.   And, eventually, after a nice long break, I will try again.

With enthusiasm.

The Rain is Coming

The Southern Appalachians are on fire.  Extreme drought combined with carelessness and arson have set the mountains ablaze leaving the valleys choked with smoke.

When the wind shifts, the grey haze clears and blue skies return.  When it shifts again, the smell of wood smoke clings to our clothes and the ashy air fills our lungs.

Needless to say, this has not been a good month for running.

When I left for my long run yesterday, the skies were blue and the air smelled fresh.  I am back on marathon training again and this was my first 20 miler in many weeks.

The schedule called for 12 miles easy, 6 miles fast, and 2 miles of easy cool down.  I had hoped to run a couple laps around Lake Summit, a pretty 9-mile loop in the county south of us, but by the time I drove down there, the blue sky had turned to haze.

I turned around and headed back to Asheville.

The first easy miles were quite nice.  I jogged through the city listening to NPR podcasts in the sunshine.  I could feel the steady 10 mile run from the day before in my legs a little, but that was the point.  I was supposed to run on tired legs to simulate the conditions of a marathon without actually running 26.2 miles all at once.

When I dropped down to the river and ran towards the park, it was like hitting a wall of smoke.   Ugh, I thought.


Maybe I should just go to the treadmill and finish this, I thought.  But I was on mile 11.5 and I was over 2 miles from home, a mile of it straight uphill.

I really don’t want to run on the treadmill and mess up the run.  I’ll just see how it goes.

It was not a great idea.

The plan called for those fast six miles to be 10-15 seconds faster than marathon pace or 6:35 pace.  And that’s AFTER running 12 miles on tired legs.  When I read that, I smiled and knew I wasn’t even going to attempt that.

Because of my recent fast finish in the half marathon, my assigned paces in my workouts have gotten much faster.  The only problem with that is that longer distances are my strength.  My maximum speed probably hasn’t increased that much; I can just keep it up longer.

So trying to run half marathon pace on tired legs at mile 12 isn’t going to happen and I wasn’t going to try it.  But maybe marathon pace (6:50-55) wouldn’t be too bad.

I decided I was just going to do the best I could.

The first mile was slow (6:57) and the second was even slower (7:04).  I was breathing much harder than normal for that pace and every breath forced the smoky air deeper into my lungs.  My legs were starting to feel sore and heavy.

Okay, this is dumb, I thought.  I’ll just do one more fast mile and run the rest easy.

But then the third mile came in at 6:43.  The tension I was feeling about the run and the smoke and my legs hurting simply evaporated when I saw that number.  A visceral wave of pain relief seem to flow over me and for just a moment all my discomfort vanished.

Just three more fast miles.  Finish it.

I turned the corner both literally and figuratively and my resolve strengthened.  As hard as it was to breathe and run each stride, I was not going to quit.  Not this time.

The final three miles came in right on pace:  6:55, 6:52, 6:49.

It was not fun.  It did not feel good at the time.  I don’t recommend running through wildfire smoke.

But I got through it.

This run is like adding another arrow to my quiver.  When it is time to slay the marathon beast, I can pull this one out from my memory and use it to keep fighting.

The forecast calls for the rain to start tonight.  So much rain, in fact, that there is a good chance of flooding.

Hopefully, it will be enough to extinguish the wildfires and wash the air clean.

I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait to run in the rain.

The Painful Lessons of the Dreaded DNF

If I had known it was going to hurt this much, I might have kept going.

It was as if my stomach had trapped a rabid animal desperately trying to claw its way out.  The pain worsened with every step.  No amount of positive thinking or deep breathing would soothe the writhing beast captive inside despite my best efforts for over an hour.  Rather than continue to escalate the torture, I quit.

I got my first Did Not Finish (DNF) at mile 16.

The possibility of this happening never, ever occurred to me.  I had big goals for this race, but I also was prepared with not quite meeting them.  At least, I think I was.   The idea of actually giving in to the evil voice in my head that says it’s okay to quit never crossed my mind.

Until it did.

There’s no other way to say it: a DNF sucks.

It’s like being dumped by your high school boyfriend and getting the thin envelope of rejection from your dream college on the same day.

My heart feels like a stress ball in the hand of nervous day trader.  The acute pain I felt on race day seems like nothing compared to this constant ache.

So what happened?  Several things that added up to a big mistake.

At the hotel the morning of the race with my family, I woke up a few minutes before the alarm, three hours before the race.  Since I didn’t have access to a toaster, I ate my standard almond butter and jelly toast as a sandwich with my usual cup of coffee.  Everything went down fine and I had no inclination at that point that anything would go wrong.

Later as we got in the car to go to the start, we ended up in some traffic and had the anticipated struggle to find a parking spot.  I don’t think I felt particularly stressed out about this part, but I definitely was more distracted than I would have been on my own.  We found a spot to park at 6:55, fifty minutes before the start, which seemed perfect.

But as we were getting out, I realized that I had forgotten to take the caffeine pill that I normally take 90 minutes ahead of time, so I quickly washed it down with just a sip of water.  I am always cautious of drinking within an hour of the race to avoid having to stop to pee, but I don’t think I had remembered to drink any liquid at all except for the one cup of coffee.

The banana that I usually eat was forgotten in the car.

After jogging my warm up, I got to the start about 15 minutes before the gun.  I put my cold hands in my pocket and felt the fig bar that I like to take about thirty minutes before the race.  Oops. I managed to chew through half and tossed the rest away.  I wished I had a little water to clear my mouth out, but I dismissed that thought quickly and got into the corral.

The gun went off and I settled in with the 3:05 pace group (7:03 pace per mile).  My strategy was to negative split or to run the first half slower than the first.  It is especially important to run the first 4-5 miles slower to conserve your energy for when things get really hard, so I thought the slower pace group would be a great way to stay slower.

But we ran the first mile in 6:56.  That is too fast for 3:05.  That could be okay for 3-hour pace (6:52 per mile), but still, it’s cutting it a little close. I knew they were going too fast at the time, but the fear of going too slow got the best of me at the time and I remember feeling good about the split.

The water stations were every two miles for the first 20 miles and I took at least a sip or two at every one.  (A sip or two is not enough.)

The next few miles stayed consistent:  6:55, 6:56, 6:47 (danger!), 6:52.  I was in a good group of men at this point and the jockeying for position had stopped as the 3:05 pace group finally slowed down to a more reasonable pace behind me.  I was surrounded by people that were going for sub-three.

It was time for my first gel at mile 5.  I tore open the lemon flavor one and it was saltier than the sea.  A faint alarm went off inside my head, but I pushed it away.  Running hard intensifies every sensation so I told myself that it was my taste buds playing tricks on me.

As soon as the overly-concentrated gel hit my nearly-empty stomach, the pain began.

As we hit the nice, long downhill going to the river at mile 6 (6:56), I fell in step with a guy next to me.  I asked it he was going for sub-3.  He said yes and asked me the same.  I was managing the discomfort okay at this point at expected it to settle down at any moment so I smiled and replied brightly, “that’s the plan!”

He said, “Good.”  Then he added, “just so you know, this is uncharted territory for me, so if I blow up, just go on with out me.”

I said, “me, too.”

We sailed down the hill in a speedy 6:42.  I saw my husband and kids at the bottom of the hill and tried to manage a smile for them, but I was really not feeling good at all at this point.

At the next water stop, I thought I was grabbing water, but it was Powerade.  The opposite of what I needed, but I had a couple swallows anyway and stayed glued shoulder to shoulder with my new running buddy.

A woman who had gone out faster than I did was slowly coming back to me and as we passed her, I felt a momentary  sense of relief that I would get through this rough patch.  This was temporary and would pass.  Miles 8 and 9 were a still-consistent 6:53 and 6:56.

As we headed up the only real hills of the course up from the river, I expected to slow some, but my stomach was in full riot mode.  The next three miles were 7:02, 7:04, 7:05.  At one point, I saw my buddy look back for me and I’m not sure I could even manage to shake my head.  He went on without me.

I knew despite how my stomach was feeling, I had to continue to fuel or I would definitely be doomed.  I opened a peanut butter gel (that was thankfully the correct concentration) and managed to get it down, but violent churning continued.

The 3:05 pace group passed me at the top of the hill.

Now, had I been thinking rationally, I wouldn’t have let that get to me.  My pace was still just about perfect for a negative split and if not that, there was still a really good chance of finishing way faster than I ever have before.

My mind would not let me go there.  I had stopped thinking about finishing and had started looking for an escape.

Maybe I could make it to the half.

I did, but with my slowest mile that far in 7:10, with a half split of 1:31 and change.  Seeing 1:31 at the half should have been a good sign, but it got to me.  I was hoping to cross the half in 1:29 or 1:30 and just that extra minute felt like a slap.  That thought, of course, is absolutely ridiculous and a 1:31 is probably even smarter than 1:29, but at the time it felt like my dream was slipping away.

My family had planned to watch me at mile 16, so I just needed to get that far.  More runners continued to pass during miles 14 (7:07) and 15 (7:13).

The last mile I ran was the long windy bridge across the James River.  Since the packs I had been with had long gone, I tucked behind one guy and braced myself against the wind.  I cringed when I glanced at my watch and saw our 7:45 pace.  I was done.  I just had to get across that bridge to safety.

The last mile was a defeated 7:52 and I hit the stop button and crumpled to the curb.

I sat for a moment, drank some water, and assured concerned volunteers that I was okay.

I called my husband.  Because of traffic, they had decided not to try to go to mile 16 after all and they were closer to the finish.  I told him that I could walk and meet them.

While we were talking, I heard a volunteer shout to the racers, “Great job!  You’re on 3:08 pace!”  In my sad, angry, and dejected state, I muttered, “Fuck that.”

And right there shows me now the most important thing I got wrong.  I was holding so tight to my A goal, that I was not being reasonable.  Right now, I’d be thrilled if I had managed a 3:08!  Yes, I had a B goal and a C goal and even a D goal, but I had not really allowed myself to be truly okay with them.

In the end, I know if I had chosen to continue, my stomach issues most certainly would have only gotten worse and I would still be upset about missing my goals.  If I completed the whole race simply to finish, not only would it have prolonged and intensified the torture, but I would have given up any chance I may have to try again this season.   I cut my losses before any damage was done to my legs.

My heart is another story.

I will be processing this for a while, but even though I quit, I am not giving up.  I am considering either Kiawah in December or Charleston in January.

Even though I made mistakes, what I do not regret is sharing my experience.  The good and the bad.  Maybe I should also feel some embarrassment on top of everything else because I failed so spectacularly in front of others, especially my children.

But I do not feel embarrassed that I didn’t succeed.  I think there is some failure and some success in everything we do and perspective matters.  I made some dumb mistakes and I will do better next time.  And maybe someone else can learn from this as well.

I have been on this unreal trajectory with my running where I have PRed in every race I have attempted until now and as much as I hate going through this, perhaps it needed to happen.   I will learn some real lessons that will make me a better runner.  And a better example for my kids.

One thing is for certain:  now that I know what’s it’s like to DNF, that voice telling me to quit will never be as powerful again.



Belief is One Thing, Proof is Another

There is scientific evidence that belief is a very real factor in performance.  If you believe you can do it, you will.

This is not to say that by simply believing that achievement is possible.  I’m not going to jump off a building believing I can fly.  Belief is built by doing the work, every day, and respecting the process.

I have no doubt that I have the physical capability to run a sub-three hour marathon.  Zero.  It is in my legs and it is in my heart.  I know it’s a big statement when that would be more than 11 minutes faster than I have ever run the distance before, but I have never been more prepared.

Based on my half marathon PR a couple weeks ago, the fancy running calculators give me a predicted finish time of 3:00:23 to 3:02:24.  But I know I can do better than that.

All I need to do is prove it.

That will be my mantra on the tough miles when my legs are screaming to slow down.  Prove it.

When my hips begin to ache and there are still miles to go.  Prove it.

When the very act of breathing starts to feel like a desperate panic, I will breathe deeper and keep going.  Prove it.

When I catch sight of my husband and my kids cheering me on from the sidelines, I will remember they are learning what passion, drive, and accomplishment looks like.  Prove it.

Just two short years ago, it took me over four hours to run a marathon.  Breaking 3-hours is really an arbitrary time goal that is no more of an accomplishment than 3:01 or even 5:01.

But for me, that magic number symbolizes the impossible.  The ridiculous.  The unbelievable.

It symbolizes climbing a mountain that I never thought was climbable.  It means years of putting my head down and taking a single step over and over and over again until one day I see the view from the top of that mountain and look back at how far I’ve come.

Sure, there are other mountains bigger and steeper and higher.  But this is my mountain.

As we pack up and get ready to leave for Richmond in the morning, I know I’ve done all I could have to prepare for this race.  I’m feeling good, but anxious, and more determined than ever.


The weather is looking a bit cooler than I would prefer: a chilly 36 degrees on the starting line, only warming up to the low- to mid-forties by the end of the race.  But a little too cool is good for racing and it’s certainly better than being too hot.  Boston this year was about 30 degrees warmer.

I have no more runs on the schedule, other than a quick 15 minute jog tomorrow and a warm up on race day.  The work is in my legs and in my mind.

There is nothing left to do now but prove it.


If you’d like to track my progress in the race click here and enter my bib number 498.


Is it Crazy to Race During Taper?

Tomorrow begins the last full week before the Richmond Marathon.  After two months of dry, warm weather, the forecast for November 12 calls for a 55% chance of rain with a high of 57 degrees during the race.  If I had to be picky, I could do without the rain, but the temperature and cloud cover is pretty close to perfect for racing.

The taper cycle for this marathon is different than any I’ve had so far because I’m racing twice in the last three weeks.  The first was the French Broad Half Marathon and tomorrow is the inaugural Zero 5K happening in flat Carrier Park where I train most days.  I had originally planned to race the Vance Rocket Run 5K tomorrow, but after jogging the course and its SEVEN hills, my coach and I came to the decision that it was not going to be beneficial for Richmond and pounding out those downhills could actually contribute to a little more muscle damage that I’m not willing to risk at this point.

Flat and fast it is.

So why am I racing a 5K a week before my marathon?  Shouldn’t I be tapering and resting and only doing a little marathon-specific work?

Yes and no.  The point of a fast 5K right now is to open up some speed in my legs that I haven’t felt in a while.  The faster speed of a 5K also pushes me into the racing red zone for just a little while, practicing one more time what I will feel like when I am pushing myself harder than I ever have before in the last few miles of the marathon.  Yet the 5K is short enough that I will be fully recovered by race day.

In other words, this is mental strength training.

I do not expect to PR at this 5K since I have not been putting in the kind of speed training specific to the 5K.   But you never know.

My PR is 19:33 (6:17 pace) from the Downhill at Dusk 5K back in June and as the name implies, it was mostly downhill, so I have gravity to partially thank for that time.  I know that I’m am much fitter now, but I have a lot of marathon miles in my legs.

Another nice benefit to racing during taper is that I have something to distract me rather than just getting bogged down by the taper tantrums.  Most marathoners struggle with taper because it is such a shift from our normal running routine.  We feel nervous and cranky and heavy and we miss our runners’ high.  We doubt our training, worry about eating too much and gaining weight.

Having this shorter goal has helped shift my focus to what is right in front of me.

Another nice distraction from taper anxiety has been this week of coaching at Runners Connect. I truly love the community of athletes we are growing and I’m enjoying being a part of so many runners’ journeys.

But I have never sat in front of a computer so much in my life!  I’m still working in real estate and plan to continue doing so for the foreseeable future, but I typically do not spend hours upon hours staring at a screen.  My eyes are tired at the end of a coaching shift and by butt feels suction cupped to my chair.

So today, I  installed my high-tech stand up desk.


My glutes feel better already.



Yesterday was the longest long run of this marathon cycle training for the Richmond Marathon on November 12.  Twenty-two miles.  That capped off my biggest volume week at just over 82 miles.

I’ve run 80 miles per week in both of my last two marathons, but this was the best so far.  I feel strong and fresh as opposed to being sore and tired.  It’s a good sign.

This particular long run was not yet another Long Slow Distance.  It was a quality workout that had over 8 miles at or faster than marathon pace.  After 10 miles of easy running (in the 8 to 8:30/mile range), I had 8 surges of 90 seconds each at 6:30 pace, with 5-minute “floats” of marathon pace (goal is 6:52) in between, finishing the rest of the run easy.  The goal of this workout is to simulate the pace changes you might have in a race and to keep you running fast when tired.  It is also a great indicator of marathon readiness; if you can nail the floats at goal, you’ve got a great goal.

I’m proud to say I executed this one perfectly.  My surges averaged out to be 6:26 and my floats 6:51.  Right on the money.  More than any other workout so far, this one that combines length with speed tells me a lot about my fitness and the possibility of achieving my goal.

But it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Am I really #richmondready?

Renowned marathon coach Greg McMillian, famous for his running calculators, wrote an article for Competitor Magazine that just happened to pop up on my feed after my run yesterday.  It’s called “Six Key Factors to Achieving Your Marathon Goal.”

Would I pass McMillan’s test?  Let’s see.

 1. Stable mileage?  Check.  After a summer mostly staying in the 50 mpw zone, I gradually moved up to the sixties during August, up to the seventies for five weeks through Septmeber, and just crossed over to 80.  I like big mileage and can handle it because the majority of my running is very easy.

2.  Long Runs? Check.  Yesterday’s 22-miler was great and I’ve had two other 20s and two 18s.  One of the twenties was not quite up to speed, but it was only a few seconds off.  “Successful marathoners are usually the ones that not only get in the long, steady runs,” McMillan writes, “but they’re the ones that recover well in the few days that follow.”  I feel zero soreness today, which I’m extra happy about.

3.  Grooving Goal Pace?  Check.  The nice thing about running those faster strides is that in comparison, goal pace felt much more under control.  I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, but it’s comfortably hard.

4.  Leg Durability?  Check.  I haven’t felt leg soreness in a very long time.  This is a huge difference from past marathon cycles.  It certainly helps that I’ve eliminated the high-intensity strength training, in favor of simpler body-weight routines.


5.  Fueling?  Check.  I’ve been really happy with my homemade gels.  No tummy issues and they go down smoothly and easily with a lot less water.  My caffeinated Salted Peanut Butter with a touch of protein was perfect for the back half of yesterday’s workout.  The Lemon Cream Pie will also be with me in Richmond.


6.  Mental Toughness?  Check.  I earned this one at Boston this year.  Toughing out a PR in less-than-ideal conditions was the hardest race I’ve had.  I think I’m even better prepared now.

Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston
Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston

My score: Six out of six!

There’s is still a little over a month to go before the race.  I’ve got a tune-up half marathon along the French Broad River on October 22, which will be another good test of my fitness.

But the big miles are now behind me and I see big breakthroughs ahead.


*top photo of the James River in Richmond, VA courtesy of www.rvanews.com.


From “Eh” to “Hell Yeah!”

If marathon training were easy, everyone would do it.  Actually, that’s not true.  If marathon training were easy, most runners would get very bored and would do something else that was a real challenge.  Overcoming difficulties is a big part of why we run.  There’s really nothing better than doing something hard well.

So what do you do when you’ve had a string of good runs and then all of the sudden you get smacked in the face with mediocrity? (It’s not a hard slap.  More of a smear with a wet sponge.)  I’m not talking about the runs when you are dead tired, or sick, or sore, or just not feeling it.  I’m talking about the runs that start out just fine and gradually dissolve into an ego-bruising struggle.  It’s the kind of run where each time you look at your watch you imagine the GPS satellites have exploded in some cosmic crash because you can’t possibly be moving that slow.  It’s not the run that is an undeniable failure; it’s the run that’s just eh.

My long run last weekend was one of those eh runs.

It was 20 miles with miles 12-18 at faster than marathon pace.  I’ve been running my easy miles during long runs very slow lately and I thought I’d pick up the pace to a still easy, but more reasonable 8:30 pace, just to keep it a little more real.  I also decided to practice eating a lot more than I normally do on a long run to try to better simulate race day.  A marathon nutrition calculator that my coach had sent said that I needed nearly 600 calories during a marathon to fuel properly.  In Boston, I hit the wall hard somewhere between miles 20-23 and I don’t know if not eating enough was to blame for part of it.  So I thought I’d eat a bigger than normal breakfast and take a 100-calorie gel at mile 3, 7, and  just before 12.

That might have been a mistake. I wouldn’t say that I was really sick to my stomach, but I certainly didn’t feel great.

I got to mile 12 and picked up the pace.  6:51.  Well, that was a bit too slow, I told myself, but it’s okay to take the first mile conservatively so that I don’t fade hard later.

Mile 13 came in at 7:09, 24 seconds off.  Wait, what?  I was breathing hard.  It felt like marathon-pace effort.  I felt some stiffness in my legs, but that’s to be expected.

I tried to regroup. 6:55 for mile 14.  Okay that was at least in the ball park.  I’m good.

7:16.  Really?  You’re kidding me.  No way.

7:08.  Still not under 7?  Jeez.

One more to go, I thought, so make it good. 7:01.  Huh.

I jogged the last two cool down miles home and felt halfway good about the run, because no matter how you look at it, 20 miles at any pace is an accomplishment.  The other half of me felt eh about it, since I feel like I have the fitness to have done this run as written.

Coach Sarah had some welcome words for me after I logged my workout.  “Claire, I’ve never once made it through a marathon build up without at least one run like this,” she told me.  “It happens to everyone and the best thing you can possibly do is to let it go and move on; it in no way means that you are not fit. Try to keep your confidence high, the next one will be better!”

I know she is right.  If I nailed every workout I was given, the only thing I would learn is that my goal is too easy.  I have chosen an ambitious goal because it’s big and scary and there’s a likely possibility that I won’t achieve it.  But there is also a small but real chance that I can make it happen.  It will take more weeks of hard work, a willingness to be uncomfortable, and a healthy dose of good luck to cross the finish line in Richmond under three hours.  I know I have it in me.  Somewhere.

All I have to do is find a way to use that eh run as fuel for my next hell yeah! run.




Let Me Be Specific

It seems so obvious when you think about it:  train for your race by mimicking what you will face on race day.  For 800 meter runners, that means a lot of time on the track running (you guessed it) 800s.  But for all but a very few elites, marathoners don’t run the full marathon distance in training because it’s more damaging to your body than productive.  And on the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bust out short sprints on the track in the middle of marathon training.  Speed is important, but weekly doses of super-quick, intense track workouts aren’t developing the systems that you use during a marathon.

We need to get specific.

I’m 8 weeks away from my race and this week I had two marathon-specific workouts.  Tuesday was a hill to tempo and Thursday was a basic tempo and I am happy to say I nailed them both.  Here are the basics of each and what they are designed to do.

Hill to Tempo

After a 3 mile warm up, I found a nice hill and sprinted up it six times for 90 seconds and jogged back down.  The effort is supposed to be about mile pace, but pace is not helpful at all determining speed on hills.  So I didn’t look at my pace at all, just clicked the lap button and raced uphill as fast as I could.  Ninety seconds is an eternity when you are going all out!  I quickly learned that my high-knee, on-my-toes sprint fizzles after about 15-20 seconds, making hauling my body uphill so much harder for the last miserable minute.  So I cut that nonsense out and used my regular stride as fast as I could and I actually got faster with each interval.  It seems that the “don’t go out too fast” warning applies universally to all distances.

After the hills were done, I took a three-minute rest and water break and headed down to the park for the tempo part of the workout.  The idea behind this is that the hills tire you out and strengthen your legs at the same time, making the tempo effort harder, as if it were late in the race.  The plan called for 4 miles between 6:50 and 6:55 and I stayed in that box, even cranking out a 6:36 last mile! (What?!)  I finished with a 2 mile cool down and a happy dance.

Basic Tempo

Tempo runs are some of my favorite runs.  I like to get into a groove and just lock my pace.  The idea behind tempos is to run “comfortably hard,” or even “hard, but controlled.”  Some people say a tempo is the fastest pace you can sustain for an hour.  My schedule called for 6:50 to 7:00 pace, which is the pace I hope to sustain for three hours!  But the key to tempos is not to run it as hard as you can, but to stay right in the zone at your current fitness, not your goal fitness.  I knew not to start out too fast and my first mile was 7:01.  Then the rest of the miles just flowed: 6:40, 6:41, 6:47, 6:44, 6:51, and I pushed the last mile with a 6:38.  So technically, I ran this too fast, but I really felt fantastic.  Not that it was easy, but it was not hard.  I would say the hard end of medium pace.  I did pull out all the tricks with this one, drinking beet juice and caffeine 90 minutes ahead of time, and the weather was just a bit cooler than I was used to.  I know I got several more humbling workouts coming up, but this was a great confidence booster!

In a couple weeks, I have another marathon-specific workout, the 2×6.  After a warm up, I’ll run two sessions of six miles at 6:50-7:00 pace with a crazy-long 10 minute break in between.  The long break is meant to stiffen up your legs and break your flow so that the second set feels even harder than it should.  Again, this is another technique to mimic the challenges of race day without running the marathon distance.  I remember this one from my last training cycle and I pretty sure I did okay with it, so we’ll see.

While I’m sad to be missing Tuesday nights at the track with my running friends, I know the track is not where I need to be right now.  I’ll be logging lots of road miles in the next 8 weeks and the track will be right there where I left it.

The Michigan: I’m Supposed to Be Having Fun?

With just over two months to go until Richmond, my Tuesday workouts are getting much more marathon specific.  Gone are most of the short sprint intervals on the track, replaced by long alternating-pace miles on the road. This Tuesday was the Michigan.  And it’s a beast.

The Michigan is a Runners Connect staple, usually done once per cycle, so I’ve done this one before (attempted is more accurate).  There are lots of variations of this workout invented by a track coach in the mid-1970s at Michigan University.  Our version is like a double-decker Dagwood with 2-mile slices of marathon pace as the bread:  after a two-mile slow warm up, sandwich two 2-mile segments of marathon pace around a faster mile at 10K pace, then speed up even more and add a schmear of 800 meters at 5K pace, topping it off with another 2 miles at still-fast marathon pace, with a two mile cool down, NO REST (that was in all caps on the schedule).

It’s a lot to chew on.

The point of the no rest mandate is that this workout is teaching you how to race.  Hopefully you will not be varying your pace this dramatically during a real race, but this simulates the increased effort necessary at the tough last few miles when your body just wants to slow down or stop.  When you speed up at the end of a workout, the following set becomes exponentially harder, making the effort required to run the same pace much higher than at the beginning. In other words, you are getting the stress of racing a marathon, without actually having to run one.

The paces for me this time didn’t seem all that scary since I’ve been feeling pretty good lately: 6:50 for marathon pace, 6:35 for the mile, and 6:25 for the 800.  I’ve only run one hilly 10K and my 5K PR is a little faster than 6:25/per mile so the paces given to me were more based on my marathon goal rather than based off shorter races.  But I knew that this would be a tough one to get through.

If you just look at my GPS data, I ran this workout almost perfectly. After the warm up, miles 1 and 2 were medium effort and right on at 6:50 and 6:53. I sped up for mile 3 and while it was harder, it still felt okay and I clocked a 6:33. When my shoe came untied at mile 4, I happily stopped my watch, took an 5 extra seconds than necessary to tie it and breathe deeply (6:45). One of the water fountains is out of order at the park, so I stopped for water at mile 5 convincing myself that I should because I wouldn’t see one again later (6:57, slowing a bit).

Then I prepped myself mentally for the 800 (did I stop then, too?).  I took off in a panicked, hyperventilated state, pumping my arms as hard as I could.  I was so shocked to see that I had actually beat my goal time (6:20 pace) that I just stopped, panted and regrouped. During the last two fast miles, my brain was getting tired and I forgot that the 800 threw off my even mile splits so I stopped at 1.5 miles instead of 2. Then I realized my mistake and finished it off (7:05 and 6:48).  After catching my breath, I added a half mile to the cool down because runners are weird like that and can’t stand uneven numbers.

What this tells me is that physically, I am in shape to handle this workout, but something is holding me back from executing it perfectly. I know that I am much better at steady paces than alternating ones, so I have to figure out how to transition better between paces without stressing out about it.

After I logged my workout, many of my fellow Runners Connect members commented that they have been there and just stopped as well.  I wasn’t feeling any pain, just a general sense that the effort was hard.  There was no conscious thought telling me “go ahead and stop now;” I just stopped.  While I am happy that I made it through on pace, I have room for improvement.

Michael Hammond, one of my coaches, zeroed in on my real issue, and it’s one that I never would have come up with on my own.   “The Michigan is a tough workout for even the most well-trained athlete, so you honestly cannot read into it too much,” he said. “Shifting speeds that much throughout one workout is just plain difficult.”  Then he added: “To me it sounds like your main focus on these workouts is to relax. Changing paces shouldn’t be a stressful event – try to think of it instead as a fun game. Personally I always liked alternating pace stuff better – varies it up, makes it more fun and interesting.”

Wait, what?  Running is supposed to be fun?!?  I mean, I’ve heard that somewhere before, but really?  Even the hard stuff?  I’ve always joked about running not being fun and in the beginning, like an entire year, it honestly wasn’t.  My husband would say, “have fun!” as I went out the door and I would always grumble, “I don’t run for fun.” I definitely enjoy myself now, but I never think of it as a game, except perhaps during a race when I’m trying to pass someone.  Could something as simple as “go have fun” be serious training advice?

I know that when I relax I run better, but actively trying to have fun?  I’m hoping that having fun is easier than the Michigan.  I’ll let you know.



The Volume Building Begins

There are 86 days until my goal race, The Richmond Marathon.  I’ve kept my mileage in the 50-mile-per-week range over the summer and this will be the first week I’ll hit the 60s since training for Boston.  And I’m looking forward to it.

Everyone’s optimal mileage is different.  Some people race marathons well running fewer than 50 miles per week.  Elites run upwards of 120 miles per week.  For the last two marathons, I peaked just over 80 and I think that’s my sweet spot.  I’ll spend the next month in the 60s, then 3-4 weeks in the 70s before hitting 80 for one or two weeks.

The majority of those miles are very slow.  I run my easy runs 2-3 minutes slower than marathon pace.  I truly believe this is what has kept me almost injury-free since I began running (knock on wood).  Building the endurance engine happens at any pace, but injury and overuse tends to happen at high speed, so it makes sense to go slow on easy days.  I also believe the time on your feet, rather than the amount of miles you run makes a big difference, which is another benefit of slow running.  You are simply out there much longer to run the same distance so your body spends more time building up your aerobic system.

Some people get away with running less mileage because they cross-train more, but again it’s the time spent exercising that matters.  I cross-train, but mostly strength training and plyometrics (fancy word for jumping exercises).  Many of my running friends bike or play another sport that serves the same aerobic purpose as my slow running does for me.  I’ll swim for 30 minutes once or twice a month, but that’s about it.  I just want to run.

Yesterday, I had a tempo run where I was supposed to hit marathon pace for 5 miles.  It was not happening.  There were lots of reasons why: it was hot; it was humid; I didn’t have enough sleep; I didn’t eat enough before the run; I had a stressful day at work; and I am still recovering from blood donation last week (that’s the major one).  I got within 8-15 seconds of goal pace for four miles and then stopped.  I breathed a bit then told myself I would try again and just get through that last mile.  After a quarter mile, I peeked at my watch and I was over 30 seconds off and decided just to slow down and call that mile part of my cool down.  I’m still pleased that I got in some good miles, but the speed (and all those red blood cells!) is going to take a while to come back.

This weekend’s long run is 18 miles, all easy pace.  It’s been months since I’ve run that distance and I’m looking forward to stretching myself again and getting into the meat of marathon training.  The nice part of the Long, Slow, Distance run is that there is no pressure other than to keep moving forward.  No times to hit, no self-judgment, just keep going.  I know not all of my long runs coming up will be so gentle (some will be incredibly hard), so I’m going to simply enjoy it.

Have a great weekend!