This week marks essentially the half-way point in our preparations for Houston. The final two weeks leading up to race day will be dedicated to a gradual taper of mileage and intensity allowing all of the effects from a tough training cycle to manifest themselves on race day and deliver the most prepared marathoner that we have ever been to the starting line outside of Minute Maid Park.
After our third run in 24 hours on Wednesday morning we are now 6 1/2 weeks into our training plan with 6 1/2 weeks left before the taper.
But just like the marathon, the halfway point in your training isn’t so easy to discern. On race day reaching the “half-way” point of 13.1 miles is the midpoint of the race in distance only. The second “half” of the marathon really starts at mile 20. Everything up to that point has been an exercise in restraint and constant monitoring of your machine. You want to be sure to leave just enough left in the tank to cover the final 6 miles, 385 yards to the finish line. Anything “extra” that you have at that point has been wasted. There are no extra credit points in the marathon – only the distance and the time on the clock. Two absolutes. Two measures. How far and how fast.
When it comes to marathon training there are is also a mythical “half-way” point. You count the number of weeks to race day, divide it in half and “Wala” – there you have it.
Except the reality of the situation is that the first few weeks of a marathon training cycle are no different for me than my every day training regimen. I run a 5-day run week, mileage somewhere around 45 miles or so and gradually ramp things up from there.
But now, 6 1/2 weeks later I am approaching my peak mileage of the training cycle.
17 miles on Tuesday.
11 miles on Wednesday.
10 miles of hill work on Thursday.
11 miles on Saturday.
21 miles on Sunday.
70 total miles of running, 23 of those miles at marathon goal pace or better.
For the first time preparing for a marathon we will be running about 1/4 of our total mileage at marathon goal pace (6:52) or faster. In the past I have relied on the various races that I have sprinkled into my training plan to provide for the miles I would run down in the low to mid 6:00 minute per mile range. With the adrenaline of race day, other runners pushing pace and a bib pinned to our shorts – efforts on those days have been automatic. Some days I have raced better than others, but whether the race produced a PR or not – always, the race provided me with a workout that I would not have been able to post on my own running along a darkened trail by myself, headlamp lighting the way.
But this cycle, I see those races as icing on the cake as I am pushing myself to do the heavy lifting on my own. Marathon goal pace mile after marathon goal pace mile on those same darkened streets and trails. Tuesday’s two runs featured 8.5 mile workouts with 7 miles at Marathon Goal Pace or better just 11 hours apart.
Morning Workout: Warm-up mile 8:07 then 7 goal pace miles in: 6:47, 6:45, 6:46, 6:50, 6:43, 6:36, 6:41. Cool down 1/2 mile 7:21 pace.
Afternoon Workout: Warm-up mile 7:18 then 7 goal pace miles in: 6:48, 6:50, 6:46, 6:45, 6:49, 6:45, 6:41. Cool down 1/2 mile 7:19 pace.
17 miles with 14 at/below Marathon Goal Pace is definitely something that will pay dividends on race day. The p.m. workout, bouncing back on tired legs to hold pace has been especially encouraging as I switch over to my heavy trainers and run the goal miles along the crushed granite trail instead of the harder road surface where I run my morning workout. This allows for a little bit extra cushioning for the afternoon run, but also makes holding pace a bit more challenging.
Switching from 7.8 ounce shoes to 9.9 ounce shoes does not seem like it would make a big difference, but it in fact accounts for :02 seconds per mile. Add in the softer surface, which does not allow for a strong toe-off and you are looking at another :02-:03 seconds a mile. Those :05 seconds of “increased difficulty” take the second run to another level on Tuesdays, much like our hill repeat session on Thursday morning which is designed to stress our muscles to the point where adaptation is a forced by-product.
Akin to the baseball player who swings a heavy bat with a doughnut on it before he steps into the batters box with his now “lighter” bat in his hands to help catch up to the fastball – for the marathoner chasing a time goal – logging marathon goal pace miles on fatigued legs will allow that same pace on race day to feel “easy” at least for a little while until the length of the race and depleted energy levels start to force the issue in the last 1/3 of the race.
The goal in Houston is to not start “working” until mile 18 and at that point dig in for the stretch between mile 19 and 24. Those 5 miles are going to tell the story on race day as if we can make it to the start of mile 25 on pace I like our chances. At that point it is all a battle of will and “want to” – and I will put our want to up against basically anyone elses.
With 8 1/2 weeks until race day and 6 1/2 weeks until the taper we are in an enviable position. We learned a valuable lesson on Sunday and will be taking nothing for granted the rest of the way.
By the time we get to the starting line in Houston we will have covered 866 miles, 207 of which will have been put down at 6:52 pace or faster.
We’ll just need 26.2 more of them on race day. I’m starting to really like our chances.