Training Plans – The importance of staying flexible

Posted: October 24, 2011 in Training
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Marathoning takes a lot of self-discipline, of that there is no question.

Whether it is making sure that you eat right and take care of your body’s increased and changing needs, making it out the door in otherwise horrible weather conditions or just simply sticking to that plan on your refrigerator door and knocking out workout after workout no matter how much you would like to stay in bed.

The marathon in a way is about stubbornness.  Our bodies are not meant to run 26.2 miles.  That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact – otherwise we would be configured in such a way that we could store enough fuel to cover that distance.

The act of training for the marathon is one of perseverance and coping skills.  You are teaching your body to function differently than intended as well as convincing your mind to carry on when the natural responses are telling it to slow down and conserve its energy sources.  Not giving in and continuing forward puts the “challenge” in the marathon.  It is one of the things I think of first when I meet a new runner and they tell me that they have completed a marathon.

Automatically I realize that we have a shared experience.  They have been to the same edge that I have been to and they didn’t let the race defeat them.  In a word, they are stubborn – just like I am.

What I have come to realize over the course of training for my last two marathons is that it is equally important, perhaps more important, to remain somewhat flexible in your approach to your training program as it is to blindly tick off workout after workout never asking yourself if this is the right thing to do “today”.

There are sure to be workouts that show up on your carefully crafted 18-week marathon training schedule that was put together 2-3 months earlier that simply do not fit the bill for that particular morning.  A tempo workout scheduled 10 weeks in advance may or may not be the best idea coming off of a particularly hard long run the previous Sunday or a day in which you feel a sore throat coming or have a lingering cough. 

Now I would not be completely honest if I said that there were never days when I simply “cowboy up” and run the scheduled workout as planned no matter how I am feeling.  Yes, there are times when I know that the hill repeat session I have on tap for that morning is going to be a tough workout, but I know I can get through it – and because it fell on a day when I was not feeling 100% – it may just do me even more good in my training than it otherwise would have.

That’s the part where stubbornness can be an asset.

But there are other times when you simply need to exercise some caution, move some things around and decide that moving that Tempo workout up in the schedule so you can run it on your home course before a work trip makes sense.  Or shifting hill repeats up two days so that you can recover in time for that 10K that you decided to race as a tune-up on Saturday.

These are the choices that help you get the most out of your training cycle – and just because Hal Higdon, Pete Pfitzinger or Jack Daniels says,“11 miles with 5 at goal pace on Wednesday morning”, that does not mean that you can’t take some creative license with your training plan and make some adjustments.  It is YOUR race afterall.  Take ownership in the preparation for that race so that when you toe the line at the start of that marathon, you know in your heart that you did all that you could to prepare the best that you could for that race on that day.

Today I begin my taper for New York and I thought it was a good opportunity to look back at my original training plan that I created back in June and compared it to the actual mileage, workouts and races I completed on my way to the starting line in New York.  For the most part I stuck to my schedule, hit my workouts when I had them outlined and stayed the course.  But there were a few changes that I made mid-stream so to speak that I think made a good training cycle a great one.

1.  I raced more.

I added an open water swim/run the week before my first triathlon to gain some open water, swim in a crowd experience.  It was invaluable even though it required me to reduce my morning run from 8.3 miles that day to 6.2 miles and race 1.9 miles that night.

The week of my triathlon I decided to skip my Thursday run and instead bike and swim.  It reduced my run mileage by 8 miles that week, but the 15 mile bike and 2,250 meter swim made me more confident for race day that weekend.

I added a Labor Day 10K running on a Triathlon Relay Team at this year’s Austin Triathlon.  It increased my run days that week from 5 to 6, so I decided to run long on Friday morning and shorter on Saturday so I could take Sunday off to get ready for the race.  My mileage stayed the same, but I changed the order of the two workouts to make sure I was ready to give a quality workout on a Monday – a typical rest day for me.

I decided to race the IBM Uptown Classic one week before the Denver Half-Marathon, meaning I would have three straight race weekends in the middle of marathon training instead of 2 in three weeks as I had originally planned.  It resulted in a new 10K PR at IBM and a great confidence boost leading up to New York.  It was in fact the best technical race I have ever run.

2.  I Added Mileage.

Because I was going to be racing three straight weekends in late September – early October, I decided to add 16 mile long runs on Tuesday morning after the SI Labs Marathon Relay and the IBM Uptown Classic.  Both races were 6.2 mile events held on a Sunday where I would have normally had 18 mile and 20 mile long runs scheduled.

By adding two 16 milers instead of a typical 8.3 mile Tuesday workout – I was able to keep my mileage up and not “peak” too early – protecting my actual taper period where a reduction in mileage will allow my legs to snap back and have a lot of bounce for race day in New York.

I also “tacked one on” here and there throughout the course of my marathon training cycle making a scheduled 16 miler in fact 17 miles or a mid-week medium long run 12 miles instead of 11.  I did this judiciously, making sure they were not after a particularly hard workout the previous day, but I did this fairly often, increasing my daily mileage totals.

3.  I skipped a workout when needed.

A lot of experts will tell you that if you are able to run 90% of your scheduled workouts you are going to be just fine for race day.  That a nagging injury, soreness or illness will invariably rear their head at some point during your training cycle and that you are better off just skipping that workout than trying to run through it.  Even worse is the idea that you “owe” that workout to the training cycle and you should go out and run it on an off-day or combining it with another “easy” workout.

Missed training days are simply missed days.  It is smarter and better for you to just take the extra rest day and move on with your schedule.

Through Sunday I had 89 runs or races scheduled and I was able to make 88 of them.

On Thursday, July 14th I had been fighting a cold and had a slight fever.  By missing my workout I would have back to back days off combining Thursday with my Friday rest day.  Skipping the workout and getting some extra sleep was the exact right call.  I rebounded quicker than I would have otherwise and ran my scheduled 8 miler on Saturday and my 17 miler on Sunday.

In the grand scheme of things those 8.3 miles I missed on the 14th of July amount to a single speck of sand on a beach.  I am no worse for wear and in fact I may have jeopardized even more workouts by trying to push through the onset of illness.

So when all is said and done we will have run 96 out of 97 workouts if things go according to plan over these last two weeks amounting to 948.35 miles.  Compared to our original training schedule – that is an increase of 8.11%.

Actual NYC Mileage compared to scheduled

But even now I am still listening to my body and making adjustments.  Normally on Tuesdays I would run an 8.3 mile recovery run after yesterday’s final 20 miler.  But given the fact I am only tapering for two weeks instead of a traditional 3, I am going to reduce each run this week by 2 full miles, making tomorrow morning’s 8.3 mile easy run an even easier 6.2 mile loop.

I am going to run by feel, leave my watch on the counter in the kitchen and in fact, I may not wear my GPS watch again until my Saturday shake-out run prior to the Marathon on Sunday.  All the work is done.  Now it’s time to get my body and mind right and prepare to be one stubborn son of a gun on November 6th.  I’m not going to cede a single inch on race day – just strap myself in and fight for every second.

I only have 10,800 of them after I cross the starting mat in New York City to make my goal time.  I’m going to need every one of them.

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Comments
  1. smacalli says:

    Great post, Joe! We are close to the peak of our mileage for my Dec. 4th marathon and I needed to read your words this morning. Can’t wait to hear all about your NY race!

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