Stop Chasing the Marathon If You Want to Run It Fast

We runners are a unique breed.  How long after finishing a grueling race are you thinking about signing up for your next one?

For me, it’s usually a few minutes.

While I’m still taking my time recovering from the marathon, setting new goals is something I like to do right away.  I’m going to take a break from long distances for a while and for the first time in three years, I will not sign up for a spring marathon (please, somebody stop me if I do!).

I’m planning on sharpening my speed and racing shorter distances only.  A lot of them.

So while I’m got my feet up for now, this spring will be quite different from what I’m used to.

Aren’t my runners’ toes lovely?

My coach at Runners Connect is in favor of switching focus.  “If you want to run a fast marathon,” Coach Danny says, “you have to stop chasing the marathon each spring and fall, year after year. Be a better well-rounded runner.”

The idea is to view the 5K to 10K races as a third workout in a week.  If you are racing, you don’t need a long run every single week to maintain endurance.  “I like to race or get a third tempo/hills/speed workout in one weekend and then a long run the next. Alternate between the two,” he told me.

So starting next month, I’ll line up for a 5K and try to race about every other weekend.  To keep me motivated, I finally joined the Asheville Track Club so I can compete in their Grand Prix Series.  To qualify for a monetary prize at the end of the year, I’ll need to run at least 10 of their approved races and the higher I place, the more points I’ll get.  Hopefully, I’ll do well enough that the majority (if not all) of my race fees are paid for!  There’s some pretty tough competition on the women’s side this year, so we’ll see how it goes.

The other goal I have is to get back to more serious strength training.  As I wrote last summer, I had to give up my favorite tough ST class because it was making me too tired and sore for running well.  Now that I will be decreasing my mileage, I’m hoping that I can add more strength back in.

The speed work and the strength training should also help with my body composition.  As any marathoner knows, logging tons of miles does not always lead to weight loss.  I had the highest volume I’ve ever had last fall and I still could not get down to race weight.  In fact, I was 8 pounds heavier at the start of Charleston than I was at Boston, despite keeping my diet the same, if not a little better.

Obviously, I was faster even though I was heavier, but that is most certainly due to the training.  Weight is not everything, but is does make a big difference as I wrote about last year, so I’m hoping I can get in top shape this spring so I can race faster in the fall.

Most importantly, I’m looking forward to the change in focus this spring.  I’m the type of person who loves the process of marathon training, just putting my head down and doing the work.  Maybe I’m a masochist who enjoys the punishment or maybe I’m a martyr who likes to be seen suffering for a goal.

But I don’t think that’s really it.  I love that in running hard work equals accomplishment, which is not always true in the rest of my life.  Actually, that’s not always true in running either, but most of the time it feels that way.

I have not chosen a fall marathon yet and I’ll take my time to decide.  But whatever it ends up being, I’m hoping that by skipping a marathon this spring I’ll be ready to crush some big goals this fall.

 

What do you think?  Do you race marathons every spring and fall?  Or more?  How do you fit shorter races into your schedule?

The Week of Indulgence that Wasn’t

I’ve been looking forward to this week for a while now.

The race is done and behind me.  I’m happy with how it went and I can relax.  I can eat whatever I want.  No more grueling workouts.  No more planning what I eat around when I run.  No more limiting portions or passing on a glass of wine.

This week is what I’ve been dreaming of.  Giant bars of chocolate and unlimited pots of coffee.  Baskets of salty chips and guacamole before the extra large burrito with the giant neon-green margarita.  Putting my feet up and reading a book and happily not running a single step.

But then a funny thing happened.  The glorious week of all-out indulgence unceremoniously fizzled out.

Crossing the finish in in Charleston

Right after the race, I downed a bottle of water and happily cashed in my two free mimosa tickets.  I crave salt and fat after a race and my sweet husband Paul was prepared with family-sized bag of waffle cut potato chips.  (In a perfect world, I’d love a steaming hot order of greasy french fries as soon as I’m done, but potato chips are a close second.)

 

Stocking up before the race

He brought me a chocolate bar as well, but it took a while this time to actually want to eat it.  I did manage a Clif Builder’s bar after the awards ceremony to help start the recovery process with some protein.

After dipping our toes in the cold ocean just to say we did, lunch was an enormous plate of cashew tofu and veggies at an authentic Thai place in Mount Pleasant.  Then it was back to the condo we rented to binge-watch Netflix snuggled up with a box of cheap cabernet.

But a couple glasses in and I’d had enough.  After only having maybe two drinks a month for the last several months, drinking more than two in one night sadly didn’t feel as luxurious as I expected.  I didn’t feel drunk, just done.

Charleston sunrise

The morning after the race, we watched the sunrise over Battery Park and found an amazing vegan brunch place on our way out of Charleston called the Gnome Cafe.  Paul is not vegan, but loves good food of any kind.  Raised in the south, the man knows his biscuits.  He said his mushroom “bacon” biscuit smothered with Daiya cheese was the best biscuit sandwich he’s ever eaten, vegan or not, which says a lot.  I filled up with a huge breakfast burrito and topped it off with a chocolate chip cookie the size of my face.

But in the days since we’ve been home, my eating habits have slipped back to my usual healthy whole foods.  I thought I’d be craving treats and indulgences, but as boring as it sounds, the junk just doesn’t interest me anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, that giant cookie was delicious, but I felt overstuffed and lethargic after such a big meal.  Not exactly an experience I want to have repeatedly.

What this week has taught me is that I simply feel better when I eat well and avoid filling my belly to the brim.  Shocking, right?

There is also scientific evidence food cravings are largely controlled by the bacteria in our intestines.   Because my gut bacteria are so accustomed to thriving on minimally processed whole foods, they are not sending signals to my brain to tell me to eat an entire pan of frosted brownies.  So I can blame my bacteria for craving kale instead of cookies.

This is good news, of course, but a little bit of a letdown.  I imagined that I’d go as hard-core in recovery as training, downing enormous banana splits for breakfast and platters of loaded nachos before lunch.  Sure, I’m snacking on a few extra handfuls of salted peanuts every day and I have had a glass of wine with dinner every night since the race, but that’s about as dramatic as it gets.

One thing that I have done right is I haven’t run at all yet and I haven’t wanted to.  I’m feeling about back to normal five days after the race and the mild January weather is starting to tempt me to lace up my shoes again.  I’m not sure if I can wait a full week to get my jog on again or not, but I want to really be sure my body and my brain have a true break before getting back into it.

Perhaps I’ll just grab a handful of peanuts and think about it.