Sunday, July 6, 2014

To Inform and Inspire (Training 6/2-6/22)

Here's a recap of remainder of the training cycle prior to my 2014 Grandma's Marathon. If you'd like, here are links to the plan I outlined after registering for the race and a recap of the first four weeks of training.

To begin, I'd like to reiterate the goals of the cycle:

1) Stay healthy. By prioritizing workout/long run quality over volume, I hoped to stay healthy. I ran too much the in first week of the cycle. Unlike in other cycles, I realized my behavior was not moving me towards my stated goals and adjusted for the rest of the cycle. I was able to complete the cycle healthy which gave me a lot of confidence going into the race.

2) Practice running Marathon Pace, again by prioritizing quality over volume, I hoped to run Marathon Pace more comfortably than in Boston. I was able to execute some key workouts that I believe really helped contribute to my ability to handle Marathon Pace. Executing these workouts successfully required me to focus on being properly recovered then properly recovering afterwards. For me this meant eliminating "junk" mileage. Though I did supplement my running volume with cross training (more on this below).

Week 3

Training at this point was starting to really become tiresome. My body was tired and I was burning out mentally. I remember desperately looking forward to my 10 day-ish taper. It is in these moments when it becomes necessary to lean on your teammates and support structures.

Monday, I decided, due to lacking motivation and a later than usual run start time, that I would swing by Fleet Feet Sports in Lincoln Square for the weekly 6:30pm "Fun Run." Typically Angelica and/or Brian attend these runs and are usually up for a nice 8 miles to/on the lake. Fortunately for me, Angelica and I were able to get some good miles in.

Nice weather on Tuesday prompted an impromptu double with strides.

Wednesday was my opportunity to really nail a hard mid-week workout. Sort of unintentionally, I ended up racing quite a bit during this cycle. A couple of these races fell on Thursdays so they sort of became my mid-week workout. Despite being registered for 13.1 Chicago the following Saturday, I decided that I had to get in a pretty high volume workout at just faster than marathon pace a pace I could live with.

After a string of races where I felt I had significantly under performed, my hope was that my legs were fatigued and that the strength I had built with all of my consistent running would eventually lead to faster running and racing. For Wednesday's workout, I drew on memories of comfortably running a three mile segment of a workout well under 16:00. If I could get close to 16:00 on my last rep I would be content (all this despite the fact I wasn't running much faster than 16:00 through 3 miles during races at this point).

Though I didn't manage to quite hit 16:00, I was pretty happy with how the workout played out:

"I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get any brutally difficult marathon type workouts in during this cycle. I did 3 x 3 miles on the lake half into the wind and half out of the wind, taking 4 minutes between reps: 17:01, 16:45, 16:19. I was very happy with this workout though it left me very tired."

Just to be safe, I took the day following completely off.

I've run a half-marathon in June for four of the past five years. I use this run as a barometer of my fitness going into the big summer training months. 13.1 Chicago as served as this barometer for three of these tests thanks to a couple free entries. This year's edition featured very tolerable weather (I ran my slowest half marathon ever here in 2011), but my big Wednesday workout and general fatigue prevented me from running very quickly:

"Wasn't 100% sure how the legs would respond after my very hard effort on Wednesday. Ended up just sort of running 5:45-55 pace for the whole race. One gear. I'm hoping since I did it on dead legs that this is pretty close to marathon fitness."

These words read as somewhat prophetic as I ended up running nearly exactly double my 13.1 Chicago finish time in Duluth (1:16:47 at 13.1, 2:33:26 at Grandma's). I like to think that it wasn't so much premonition as finally understanding what marathon pace is supposed to feel like. Previous cycles, I had gotten too much confidence from fast, hard workouts. A 17-18 miler with some very fast running mixed in is good training stimulus, but these runs made me overconfident when going into a marathon and didn't provided the appropriate aerobic stimulus necessary to run my intended marathon goal pace without blowing up. I'm pretty sure, easy to moderate 20 milers would have been more beneficial in retrospect.

Week 2

After one of the hardest weeks of the cycle, I was very happy to be done with workouts long, marathon type workouts. That said, two weeks is a long time to just sort of run aimlessly. Workouts (that you're slightly scared of) provide a very nice stimulus with intermediate goals and a mini recovery cycle. As you can see I didn't get too creative (I think I ran the exact same route 3 times this week). My goal here was to rest from marathon pace running while continuing to run somewhat consistent volume. I ran 2 hours for my final long run. This was probably a bit too long in retrospect, but I took off the day following so I don't feel too bad about this one.

I also did a mid-week 6 x 1k which went pretty well:

"Did 6 x 1k with Strubbe, Javier, and Andrew: 3:21, 3:15, the rest were around 3:10. Pleasantly surprised to feel decent during this one. Pretty cashed after the 6th one though. 2 min recovery between reps."

After so much running at or around marathon goal pace, I thought it might help break the week up and be good to do a bit of running at 5k pace.

Finally, due to additional rest/fitness coming around/boredom, my runs became much faster on average (let's say from ~7:45 average pace to more like 7:00).

Week 1

The first half of this week was an extension of the previous week. I was sick of running 8 milers, but I was also afraid that if I didn't run at least 8 miles, my body would stiffen up and not feel very good. I was very relieved to make it to Thursday prior to the race as I more or less let how I felt finally dictate how I ran. I was sick of running so I basically just warmed the legs up.

Friday, I alternated fast/slow 200s on the track for 1600m with a mile warm up and cool down. I wanted to get the blood flowing a bit faster as I knew I'd be sitting on the plane. Little did I know I'd be driving!

I was pretty happy with how my taper played out. I'm not a fan of cutting mileage significantly since I don't feel like I'm running too much mileage to begin with, however I did feel like reducing intensity 10 days out while keeping volume consistent, then slowly dropping volume until you're just relying on your body seemed like a good way to taper down for a goal race.

Unlike my first two marathons where I feel like stumbled on success, my previous three less successful cycles  (four if you count failing to even start in 2011) along with this mini-cycle taught me a lot about what sort of training I need for low 2:30s fitness:

  • Appropriate recovery, typically incomplete recovery in order to simulate the fatigue of the marathon distance, prioritizing recovery before and/or after key workouts in order to stay injury-free. I think Luke Humphrey does a pretty good job describing this in Hansons Marathon Method, he calls it "cumulative fatigue." I'd also lump in self/preventative care. I've been able to find a routine that has kept my lower legs from preventing consistent training so far.
  • Longer (hard) long runs (I count my 2:42 in Boston as one of my key long runs as well as my 2:49 in California). Now this idea is very Canova-esque as my Boston run was about 95% of my Grandma's effort for 100% of the marathon distance.
  • Some running at faster than marathon pace, 5k pace for me (including a few races). This will not feel very comfortable or build your self-confidence much, particularly if you're used to running faster at shorter distances.
  • Regular cross-training. I didn't really included this in my earlier write-ups as I've never viewed bike commuting as training, but I certainly spend enough time on my 11 mile round-trip bike commute to count these efforts a significant aerobic stimulus. I plan on starting to log these consistently for my next cycle. I realize now that when I was running well in the marathon, I was also doing a pretty decent bike commute on a regular basis.

Finally, I also drew a lot from Matt Flaherty's 2:25 at the 2013 Napa Valley Marathon which occurred after he was sidelined for much of 2012. Taking off the final two months of 2013 and spending January 2014 splitting time between the pool and the roads, I had my doubts about getting into low 2:30s shape this calendar year, but it certainly helped me to review Matt's record and not put too many limits on my own running. I also took a lot of ideas as well as inspiration from Rich Heffron's build up to the 2013 Grandma's Marathon where he posted a nice 2:31:21 PR. Rich started his build up in 2013 at nearly the same time I did in 2014 so it was very helpful to track my own progress against his. My hope is that someone else will be able to use these blogs to join Rich and I in the Chicago-area low-2:30s club! Thanks guys!

What resources have informed and inspired your running?

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