Marathon Training – Have a purpose for every run

Posted: June 23, 2013 in Training
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If your goal is to improve, before lacing up your running shoes, ask yourself:  What is the purpose of this workout?

“If you can’t answer that question, why bother doing the run?” – Jack Daniels, PhD

Jack Daniels who is one of the most respected running coaches of our generation uses that overarching philosophy of each workout having a purpose or specificity in training to put it another way, as the backbone of training plan construction for his athletes.  Prior to putting together my plan for Cottonwood I read for the second time his book “Daniel’s Running Formula” and sent off for one of his training plans to compare his recommendations to what my coach and I had outlined.

Many of the lessons I had learned over the years preparing for marathons were supported in Daniel’s research including the need for various types of workouts to improve your running efficiency (think gas mileage), your endurance (think gas tank capacity), your speed and running economy (think quickness and form) and of course your mental approach to the event.

But one rather obvious lesson I took from my second “read” of Jack Daniel’s book was the thought that each and every workout should have a purpose.  That you should know exactly what you are hoping to accomplish before you lace up your shoes that morning and then go out and execute that workout as intended.

It seems like an obvious concept – but in the past I would sometimes change my plan on the fly based on weather conditions, how I felt or if I simply wanted a “tougher” challenge than the workout on the refrigerator door indicated.  If 6 miles is good, 7 is better.  If 7:25 pace is prescribed over 10 miles, 7:15 is better.  8 hill repeats on the schedule?  I’ll do 10 instead.

Very rarely would I ever run less or slower than prescribed, but often I would do more than what was required.  The problem in that is that every individual workout is just a small piece of the overall puzzle.  Many miles of a marathon training program are meant to be run at a very specific pace.  One that will do the most good – and sometimes that means that it is much slower than you are capable of running.

A good example of this is the weekly long run.  The primary purpose is to build a base for more intense workouts by strengthening the heart and increasing the muscles’ ability to use oxygen.  It also allows your body to recover between hard workouts.  By running this workout too quickly you in fact short-change yourself and do not allow for all of the physical adaptations that the marathon requires by expanding your capillary formation and the improvement in your body’s ability to carry oxygen to the muscles.

Another example would be threshold pace workouts – At 88-92% HRmax, this intensity is aimed to raise the lactate threshold.  In this workout a runner should be able to sustain this pace for up to 60 minutes during racing.  Daniels describe this intensity as “comfortably hard”.  In elite runners, the pace matches their half-marathon goal pace, while less trained runners will run at their 10K pace.  Daniels again emphasizes the importance of keeping the given pace to reap the benefits of the training.

I have tried to focus on two primary goals during this training cycle – as you can certainly drive your self a little bit crazy overanalyzing every workout and every mile run leading up to an “A” race marathon.

1.     Understand the reason behind every workout and always leave the driveway with that purpose in mind.

2.     Do no more or no less than that workout requires.  (Pace, Distance, Effort and Concentration)

This week represents a great microcosm of our overall training plan – 6 runs, 68 miles all with a specific purpose.

Monday – Hill Route Recovery Run

Tuesday – “E” Easy Pace 10-miler.  What I refer to as an “Easy 10” workout.

Wednesday – Track Workout – 3 X 3,200 M w/ 400 M recoveries.  (Threshold Workout)

Thursday – Progression Run, 11 miles decending by :10 per mile from 8:30 min./mile to 6:50 min./mile

Friday – Rest Day – No Running

Saturday – 10 Miles, middle 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace (6:50)

Sunday – 20 Mile Long Run – “E” pace

Even Friday – a day with no running had a purpose.  After 6 straight days of running that included a race in Holland, TX last weekend and a couple of tough workouts on Wednesday and Thursday – the body needs a break to reload and adapt.  Setting the stage for another tough workout on Saturday morning and a long, endurance building 20-mile run on Sunday.

68 miles, 12 of those miles at Marathon Goal Pace or Faster (17.6%), the rest all run at paces ranging from 7:00 min./mile to just over 8 minutes per mile.

That block rests upon the block set before it, which rests on the block placed before that one.  And so on and so on.

We are now 12 weeks away from the corral and finishing chute.  747 miles between now and mile 20 of the marathon where all of this will boil down to 10 kilometers.  Every runner at Cottonwood in September is going to have a race plan.  You don’t just show up to the starting line of a 26.2 mile footrace and “wing it”.

We are going to have our plan on our forearm.  Every mile individually scripted based on the specific period in the race, the elevation of that mile and how far we are along the course.  On Wednesday we practiced this very exercise.  Run every mile at a specific pace.  Do not think about the mile before or the mile to come – just execute.

8:30, 8:20, 8:10, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40, 7:30, 7:20, 7:10, 7:00, 6:50.

No mental break.  No daydreaming.  No Wandering.  100% focus.  The run went:

8:26, 8:19, 8:10, 7:59, 7:48, 7:39, 7:28, 7:20, 7:09, 6:58, 6:47.

Dialed in to say the least.  We have a lot of work left to do, but I’m starting to get the feeling that we have something special waiting for us in Utah.  An unlikely place as any on earth for us to run the race of our life.  But I’m starting to think that this just might be our time.

Based on the past there is not a lot of empirical evidence out there that says we are going to break 3 hours in September.  We’ve teed up the marathon quite a few times before and although we have run some good races, we have not had that breakthrough effort.

But something just feels different this go round.  Perhaps I’m not as tied up to the emotions this time.  I’m a little bit more detached.  More scientific and calculating in my approach.  There is going to be plenty of time for emotion on race day.  For now, we’re going to trust our training plan, trust our coach, trust the experts and simply bring our lunch pail and hard hat to every workout.

In the end, maybe we’re just simply not good enough.  I will be able to live with that.

But what if we are?  That is the million dollar question now isn’t it.  What if we are.

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