#richmondready

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.

20160925_112021

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.

20160812_112414

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.