A few weeks ago my husband and I were talking about the marathon and my training.
“I’m not trying to belittle you past races, but for the first time I actually believe you’ll reach your goal. In the past I always hoped you would, but kind of knew that you wouldn’t. But this time you’ve actually done the training.”
To be honest, it stung a little at first. Prior to Sugarloaf, I had trained for and run seven marathons. There was a lot of work that went into that training: early wake ups, miles and miles some of those miles in hills of New Hampshire some of those miles in desert of Arizona.
My initial impulse was to slap my husband. But I am the kind of person who abhors confrontation in any form, I silently fume. So as I began to work myself up to begin silently fuming at my husband for his inability to recognize my hard work…I realized: HE WAS RIGHT.
“Yeah. I know. You’re right.”
My husband wasn’t criticizing a lack of work ethic, he was being honest about the preparation it takes to run a marathon and run it well. My husband may not be a marathoner but he does know his stuff: despite working in a different field now he maintains his CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) certification–one of the most advance and difficult certifications in the fitness industry. One of the reasons I fell in love (and keep falling in love) with my husband is the fact that he is not afraid to challenge me to be better at in life, in motherhood and in my running. I’m so grateful that he doesn’t let me settle. He helps me be my best.
Up until this year my training had never been adequate for the goals that I had. My goal had always been to run a Boston Marathon Qualifying time, which from 2003-2011 was 3:40 (that decreased to 3:35 in 2012). I followed training plans for those goal times, but realize now that those training plans prepared me to finish a marathon, not necessarily race a marathon.
This training cycle has been radically different in many ways. Here’s what I’ve done differently:
Base: My training cycle this winter and spring was really built upon the work I did last year. In the spring of 2013 I set a big goal: run 1:35 at the CHaD Half Marathon in the fall. My fastest half marathon time was 1:45 (2011) and I’d just run 1:48. It was a big stretch. I may not have achieved the goal or running 1:35 (I ran 1:41 at the CHaD Half and 1:39 two weeks later), but setting such a big goal changed the way I trained. I trained harder, ran more miles and harder workouts than I’d ever run before. Prior to 2013 high mileage for me would have been 40 miles. My mileage peaked in the Spring/Summer at 58 miles/week and in the Fall at 57 miles/week. I consistently ran tempo and interval workouts each week and incorporated a few race pace miles into my long runs. There’s something about setting a really big goal that, even if you don’t achieve it on the first attempt, can bring you to the next level and from there that BIG goal isn’t so much of a stretch. That’s what my big goal last year did, it brought me closer to achieving my marathon goals.
Long Runs: I knew that in order to be prepared to run a marathon well I needed to incorporate at least four runs of 20+ miles into my training cycle. I built my training plans around these long runs: they were the focus. I didn’t want to forsake the long runs for races so I opted not to run a half marathon this spring. Between each long run weekend was a run of 16 miles, so that I wasn’t running 20 milers every single weekend. My long runs for the latter part of my training cycle, up until peak week looked like this:
- 18 miles scheduled–ran 19.23
- 20 miles scheduled–ran 7 in the morning, 5mile race with 1 mile warm up, 7 miles in the afternoon. (The day before this day I ran a 5K, hard effort. I was tired during these runs, but knew that would build endurance. During the marathon when my legs felt fatigued I recalled this day. My legs felt the same at the beginning of my third run on this day as they did in mile 20-23 of the marathon. I knew I could push through and do it.)
- 16 miles scheduled-ran 16
- 20 miles scheduled–ran 20 miles at Eastern States
- 16 miles scheduled–ran 17 miles
- 20 miles scheduled–ran 5 mile race (Decided to run a step back week and move my 20 miler to the following weekend.)
- 16 miles scheduled–ran 20 miles with 5 miles fast finish
- 20 miles scheduled–ran 22 miles
Running four 20 milers made a HUGE difference in how I felt late in the marathon on race day. It gave me the endurance I needed to be able to push at the end. Ive also felt the benefits in my recovery. I’m recovering faster because my body didnt take the beating it has in the past when I’ve run a marathon on 35-40 miles a week.
Higher Mileage: The long runs were the center point of my training plan, but high weekly mileage was close second. My general guideline was to run the following weekly miles in the following months:
My goal was to peak somewhere in the 70’s. Here are my actual weekly miles:
For the most part I followed my initial guidelines while also listening to my body. There were some weeks where I was sick, the kids were sick or the week my husband had his appendix out or our polar vortex winter thwarted my running plans. Life happens and your training has to bend and flex with its demands. I tried to follow my training plan as much as possible, while still remaining flexible.
Tempo and Interval Training: I think these are keys to a strong marathon training plan. I only did a handful of tempo runs this training cycle. It wasn’t my focus. The long runs and weekly mileage were. I probably did a total of 3 or 4 tempo runs and none of them were longer than three miles. I think tempo runs can hone your ability to run goal race pace and really race the marathon. I was able to maintain my interval training through the winter with indoor track workouts at the University of New Hampshire. I didn’t make it every week, so the weeks when I couldn’t get there due to snow or scheduling conflicts I’d run an interval workout on the treadmill. When a track isn’t accessible timed intervals are a great way to get in speed work. For example 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy or 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy or 7 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy. The possibilities are endless and it is slightly easier than trying to calculate 800’s or 400’s on the road. Here are a few key track workouts I ran:
1Kx3 with three minutes rest
2K, 2x1K, 2K with three min rest after 2K and 1 min rest after 1K
400, 600, 800, 1600, 1600, 800, 600, 400 with 400 rest
6×800 on three minute cycles, 5×200
10×800 with 400m rest
Core and Hip Strength: You’ll notice that three “empty weeks” (49-51) in December I took three weeks off–no running. At the time I was dealing with what I believed to be high hamstring tendonosis/tendinitis. I had a few PT appointments and resolved to be more dedicated to strengthening my hips and core during this training cycle. If you’re currently dealing with a nagging injury and you’re reluctant to take time off because you’re afraid you’ll lose fitness, I would encourage you to take the time off. Taking time to heal and strengthen areas of your body that are weak will only make you stronger in the end. During this training cycle I took barre classes on a weekly basis and tried to do my PT exercises at least three times a week (probably ended up more being more like once or twice a week). If I couldn’t make it to barre, I would substitute with a Jillian Michael’s DVD 30 minute workout. I believe that having a stronger core played a huge part in being able to maintain high mileage without breaking down and becoming injured.
The Little Things: When your body is fatigued at towards the end of marathon it is the little things you’ve done in your training that make the difference between falling apart and finishing strong. Some of the little things I did:
- Dynamic Stretching: I stretch dynamically before every.single.run. I think it is important and it makes a difference in the way I feel during and after the run. Here’s a helpful video.
- Post Run Stretching and Foam rolling: I have a stretching routine I do post run and hit the major muscle groups, but especially the hip flexors and glute medius. And I tried to spend my evenings rolling on my trusty PVC pipe and Lacrosse ball.
- Drills: Form and foot drills were a big part of my routine during this training cycle. I tired to do them at least once or twice a week. Form drills: high knees, butt kicks and toe taps. And the six foot drills found HERE.
- Massage and Chiropractic Care: I get regular massages. Every other week in the 60-70 mile weeks. This helps keep tightness at bay. I also see a chiropractor regularly to keep everything in balance, to get a little ART (Active Release Therapy).
- Sleep: Sleep is so important for recovery. I was up at 5am to run most mornings so around 8:30 I’d start to feel like I need to go to bed. I was probably in bed most nights around 8:45 or 9pm.
- Nutrition: I feel like I could devote an entire post to this, but the big things that I did differently this training cycle were some fasted (glycogen depletion) long runs and I incorporated a recovery drink (Vega Recovery Accelerator) after hard efforts and long runs. I also started using Generation UCAN as a preface fuel.
I didn’t set out to run a 23 minute PR. I set out to finish the marathon feeling triumphant. And that is exactly what happened, due in large part to my training. Good training can give you a quiet confidence and strength, so that on race day all you have to do is execute. When I ran the Sugarloaf Marathon I was ready to execute. There are somethings you can’t control: the clock, the weather, certain Subaru drivers, but I could control the training I put into this cycle. And when race day came I knew I could trust my training.
Have you had a similar revelation about your training? Ever taken you training to the next level and seen huge results? Any questions about my training?
During this training cycle I was self-coached. I used my knowledge as a USTAF Level 1 Coach and my past experience to build my training plan. Every person is different and I think it is probably possible to run an equally fast marathon on lower miles. I needed to run higher miles, to build endurance and to probably counterbalance some inefficiency due to poor running form etc. Sometimes it takes time to figure all of this out, but hopefully this post will help you find what works for you.
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com
Daily Mile: dailymile.com/people/scanney