Archive for July, 2013

When I start a marathon training cycle the first few weeks as the mileage starts to increase and quality workouts start to come with a little bit greater frequency and intensity level, I find myself thinking mostly about the actual training.

How many weeks until my long run reaches 18 miles?  The distance where I start to consider my weekly “long run” as actually “long”.  Until that point, I can usually muster up 14-15-16 miles without too much trouble.  But when I get to 18 it starts to feel real, as I know 20, 21 and 22 are not too far down the road.
After a few runs crack 20 miles my mind starts to wander a bit further forward and the first thoughts of race day start to form.  With 8 weeks to go, which is where we find ourselves right now, I look back on the first few weeks of training and remember how much optimism I had for the upcoming 20 weeks.

I start to think more about “racing” and less about “training”.  It is a subtle switch, but one that seems to happen naturally.  Knowing that the final 2 weeks of marathon training is dedicated to tapering for the race, and even the last long run three weeks out will be dialed back to cover only 16 miles – serving as a dress rehearsal for race day, more than a training run.  There really isn’t a lot of time left to put the finishing touches on the training cycle.

21 miles this past weekend, a step back week, Then we reach our peak training volume capping things at 75 miles per week with a couple more 21-22 milers.  Maybe 23 if I feel frisky, after which we’ll start to rein it all back in.

By this time I have my race shoes in the closet, just waiting to break them in on that final 16 miler, wearing the clothes I hope to race in that day if the weather goes as planned.  I will have reviewed the race course over, over and over.  I can visualize the hills, the water stops, the turns even down to the smallest detail being what side of the start area I want to line up on depending on if the first turn on the course is a left or a right.

The one thing I try not to think about however is how much it is going to hurt.  Because in every marathon I have ever run, fast or slow, PR or not, Boston time or no Boston time – they have all hurt.  It is not a matter of if.  It is simply a matter of when.

In other races whether they are a 5K, 8K, 10K, Half Marathon or even last summer’s half-ironman when the real pain comes you are close enough to the finish that the thought of how much longer you have to go doesn’t break your spirit.  It simply becomes a test of wills.  Can your desire to keep pushing defeat your body’s desire to back off?  It could be a mile or two, or in the case of the half-marathon those first thoughts creep into my mind right around the 10 mile mark.  I tell myself there is just 5K to go, and I ask myself the same question as always, “how badly do you want this today?”

But the marathon is a different animal.  The first hints of pain start to arrive around mile 17 or 18.  Up until that point if things are going well for me, I have been able to run free and strong.  Form feels good, my splits are solid and if I haven’t done anything stupid to this point – I am right where I need to be.
But then it begins.  A tightness on the outside of my hips is usually the first sign.  Then I will start to feel it in my quadriceps, hamstrings and knees.

The pounding continues.

My feet are usually the next source of pain until it simply hurts all over.  The feeling of strength, power and invincibility that was emanating from legs that feel like springs a little more than 2 hours earlier is now replaced by a mixture of pain, exhaustion and questions about how much you have left and how much you can afford to meter out so that at the end of the race, you simply are out of gas.
Unlike the other race distances, you may have more than 7 miles to go before you finish.  Longer than many recreational runnners will cover in a single run …. ever.  But to the marathoner, this is when the race finally begins.  Everything else is just prelude.

I read a quote earlier this weekend that struck a chord with me:

“The Race always hurts.  Expect it to hurt.  You don’t train so that it doesn’t hurt.  You train so you can tolerate it”.

To me, that sums up what is beautiful about the marathon.

In the coming weeks I look forward to the remaining tests.  The tough intervals, the long tempo runs with the training group and my final three 20+ mile long runs.

No matter how much work I put in, it will never been enough to push the pain completely to the side on race day.  All it will do is perhaps delay it long enough so that I will have just enough tolerance for that pain to get me all the way to the finish line.

In a lot of ways, the marathon is a 25 mile race, Because once you are into that final full mile – fast or slow, it hurts just the same.  It becomes a question of how smart a race you ran over the opening half of the course, as one minute too fast in the first half will cost you two minutes on the back half.
1:28:30 – 1:31:00.  Those are the two half-marathons we are hoping to run on September 14th.

My last three half-marthons have been consecutive PR’s in 1:24:06, 1:23:55, 1:23:31.

The question is can I put two perfect half’s together on the same day?  Can I be disciplined to run the first 20 miles of the race with my head, the final 6.2 miles with my heart?

In two months we’ll find out.  And if I had any doubt whether or not it was going to be different this time, Sunday’s 21 mile run with 4:00 minute long pickups over the last 7 miles at paces of 6:36, 6:41, 6:41, 6:36, 6:46 reminded me just how hard things are going to get late in the race on September 14th.

No matter what happens from here on out with our training – there is one certainty.  If I am serious about wanting to break 3 hours on race day, I’m going to have to be willing to hurt to do it.

 

It seems like in every marathon training cycle or in the case of last summer’s half-ironman training period there comes a week where no matter how much flexibility you try to build into your training – a personal or professional conflict arises that is simply unavoidable.  No matter how much shuffling you do you just can’t stick to the original plan.

For me, sleep is the first thing I am willing to forgo when it comes to making time to train.  I’ve set numerous alarms at 3:30 a.m., and too many to count at 4:00 a.m. or 4:15 to get up and out the door on a workday to log 12-16 miles.

But when you start to introduce work trips, flights etc. sometimes you just can’t make it work.  That is when I simply try to do my best and fit in what I can.  Perhaps making a shorter workout more of a “quality” day, and shift the volume workout or “quantity day” to a later period in the training cycle.

The reality of the situation is this.

As much as I’d like to be one – I am not a professional runner.

I do not have a nutritionist, massage therapist, chef and training partners to share every workout with.  I do not have time for a 2-3 hour afternoon nap every day before my second workout nor do I have a support network that makes sure that nothing gets in the way of my training.

I’m a Husband, a Dad, an employee, a boss and a runner in that order.

Maybe Dad comes before Husband sometimes depending on Landry’s mood – but runner always has to be last.

I used to fall into the trap of trying to make up a workout that was missed due to a conflict an illness or the need for an unscheduled rest day if I was a little bit beaten up.

I realized a few years ago that a missed day is simply missed.  Trying to make up for it is just going to put added stress on your body during another period of your training cycle and your chances of injury or overtraining are exacerbated.  So now, I just move along as if nothing happened, take the extra rest as a blessing and hop back on the horse.

This week the organization that I work for is hosting a 24 hour race.  It is a 4-race event with an Ultra-Marathon, Relay Ultra and a pair of 8.4 mile races.  I will be there to support the event, help with timing, usher volunteers and help out wherever needed.  Not a lot of downtime to do anything more than grab a few hours sleep – so getting in my Saturday 11 miles and Sunday 20 miler is not going to happen.

Instead I am going to take my rest day as planned on Friday traveling to the event.  Coming off of last week’s 71 miles and Sunday’s 21 – miler, along with 40 miles already this week including a tough group workout with my training partners on Wednesday, I need that rest day.

On Saturday I am not going to think about my workout that I am missing or the fact that my training has been disrupted.  I will be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of athletes and I will simply help them along their way to racing and having a good time.

On Sunday instead of running long, I am going to hop into the 8.4 mile pajama run and do some racing.  It is an odd distance, I will have had very little sleep and been on my feet all day on Saturday.  No big expectations for Sunday.  Instead I am going to make that my quality day.

I am going to run the race as a tempo workout – with target paces of 6:50, 6:45, 6:40, 6:35, 6:30, 6:25, 6:20 through mile 7 and then see what we have left for the final 1.4 miles of the race.  If we can run another 6:20 and then perhaps something around :6:10 pace to close it out we would run a time of 55:45 +/-.

That would be a tremendous workout and very good training for Cottonwood running those paces on a hot morning.  If I have time for a long warm-down, I may try to tag along with one of the ultra-marathoners who is still running the 8.4 mile loop 22 hours into his/her event.  This will give me 17 +/- miles – 8.4 of which will be high-quality miles on Sunday – all that we will be missing will be the 11 miles from Saturday at a relaxed pace.

Maybe I will run them on Monday, maybe not.  But either way I’m not going to sweat it.

We have had a tremendous training cycle to this point and the only mistake we can make right now is overdoing it.

At the end of the day if we as amateur endurance athletes can run between 90 and 95% of all of our planned workouts, we are doing just fine.

As an added benefit, we’ll be able to sneak in one more race to our age 45 year before our birthday on the 31st of July.  We had a lot of wins in the last 12 months, new PR’s in the half-marathon, 5K and 5-mile distance as well as the sprint and half-ironman triathlons.

We didn’t get that marathon PR, but that’s o.k., we have to leave a little something to shoot for after we turn 46.

Lesson for today – don’t be too hard on yourself when things pop up unexpectedly.  Running is the perfect metaphor for life – because in this sport you need to learn to roll with the punches, after all – shit happens.

Week number 11 of our Big Cottonwood Marathon cycle was entered into the books with a 21-mile long run to cap off a 71-mile week – only the 6th time we’ve ever run that much in a single week and only 4 miles short of our most volume ever preparing for the marathon that wasn’t – Boston 2012.

I remember those previous 70+ mile weeks when the final miles on Sunday were a struggle.  I felt like I was pushing right up until the end and while the volume was significant – I was also running them in February and March, not July and August here in Texas.

Back in 2011 training for New York City we did train through a Texas summer but we were peaking between 62-65 miles.

Sunday’s run – and I of course try to keep any individual workout in perspective – as taken alone and out of context – no single workout really means much of anything during a training cycle.  They are akin to a spec of sand on an entire beach.  But on Sunday coach assigned my “weekend workout” at the tail end of my long run, not on Saturday as we have been accustomed to in the past.

The plan on Sunday called for 13 miles at MGP + :60 seconds – or 7:50 pace – our typical summer long run pace – and then at mile 13 shift gears and run the next 7 miles with 4:00 minute intervals at Goal Pace, alternating with 4:00 minutes at 7:35.  At the end of those 7 miles, I would run whatever distance remained at an easy pace to reach 21 miles.

I ran the hill route out of the neighborhood, then hit the Avery Ranch Golf Course for more hills and a return to the neighborhood for the first 13 miles.  I took a quick sip of EFS on the front porch of the house and changed out of my soaked through running shorts into a new pair.  My shoes were still in pretty good shape, so I decided to run the rest of the workout in the same socks and shoes.  My heavy Brooks trainers.

My 4:00 minute intervals came in at 6:51, 6:45, 6:43, 6:40, 6:39, 6:42, 6:50.  Perfect.

As I ran the last 8/10 of a mile I still felt very strong.  My form was rock-solid.  I felt like if I had to drop 5 more miles at 7:00 min./mile pace – I had that much left in me.  All at the end of a tough week of training.  Now again, not to make too much of any of this, other than the fact that the plan that Coach Carmen has put together for me this summer seems to be working.

A good mixture of easy runs, long runs and strategic rest days mixed in with long intervals, repeats on the track and 5K-10K pace workouts to spend some time at Lactate Threshold pace.   Paces that I rarely if ever ran during a marathon training cycle in the past.

The payoff when we spoke about this approach 3 months ago was to make 6:50 pace seem much easier on race day.  That if I could improve my running economy or “gas mileage”, I would have what it took to close out Cottonwood strong and run the final 10 kilometers of that race with my hair on fire if need be.

Simply put.  I feel like it is working.  Never have I felt this strong, this ready, this early in a marathon cycle.  Now it is a matter of not peaking too early, continuing to build week upon week and then when the taper arrives, sharpen my mental game so that there is not a sliver of doubt in my mind about going for it on September 14th.

From the outside looking in I received an interesting comment from a good friend.  A runner that has followed every training cycle and race that I have put together since Run for Dom in 2010.  He has seen me at my absolute best and at some of the lowest of low points over the last three+ years.  After my workout on Sunday he wrote:

“Another strong confidence booster for ya’ Joe (both today’s run and the week) … while you are always focused and motivated you seem to be even more so for this marathon – and it appears to be paying off BIG TIME. have a terrific Sunday.”

What struck me as memorable about that note is that yes, to me I feel much more focused this go round.  More detached.  More clinical in my approach.  I have been keeping emotion and desire out of it thus far – as I know on race day I will be able to summon those feelings if I need them.  All I ever have to do is to cast a passing glance at the initials D.V.D. and numbers 8-15-10 on my race flats to tap into those reserves.

But for my friend Jim to remark that even he can notice the difference this time all the way from Wells, ME – than surely there is something different going on.

That was the whole point in working with Coach this training cycle.  I feel as if I took myself about as far as I could by myself.  It was time to shake things up.  Move out of my comfort zone.  Train differently.  Commit to each workout and execute.  Emotionless.  Detached.  Focused.

Some runners believe that on race day they can surpass what they have shown while training.  That it is all supposed to magically come together when the lights  go on and the stage is lit.

For some of them it works.  But when it comes to the marathon, the truth of the matter is I have pretty much run the races I was supposed to run with a couple of bad breaks thrown in with race day weather.

If that holds true this time – I’ll take it.  The race I am supposed to run on September 14th, the one that I am prepared to run – the one that I am ready to run will allow me to reach my full potential.  In the end that is all any of us can hope to get out of the sport.  We’ve got quite a bit more pounds of sweat and effort to pour onto the road, track and trail over the next 9 weeks.  That’s fine, all part of the price of admission.

Bring it on.

Race Pace and Nutrition are the two variables that like in most marathons are going to essentially write our own personal history when it is time to analyze our performance at Big Cottonwood on September 14th in Utah.  Assuming that we maintain our health, avoid nagging injuries and we continue to progress through our training cycle as we have to this point – there should be no doubt that we are in “3-hour shape” when we get off the plane in Salt Lake City.

I know what 3-hour shape feels like.  I know how easily I am able to shift through the gears from easy pace to moderate pace to Marathon Goal Pace to Half-Marathon Pace, 10K Pace and what it feels like to push down around 5:45-5:55 or 5K pace in the summer.

Wednesday’s workout with the training group where after a 3.5 mile warm-up we ran 4X 1-Mile repeats starting with a mile of :30 seconds “on”, followed by :30 seconds “off”.  Mile 2 was :60 second on, followed by :30 seconds off.  Mile 3 was :90 seconds on, followed by :30 seconds off and then finally the last mile back at :30 seconds on, :30 seconds off.

All four miles came in between 6:04 and 6:08.

We’re dangerously close to 3-hour shape right now, and with another 2 months to go, I have no doubt we will be there on race day.  Hopefully and then some.

At that point it comes down to your plan for pacing and nutrition and executing those two plans.  What you are going to drink, when and how much.  What you are going to eat, when and how much and perhaps equally important – how you are going to spend your energy on the course.

In a pancake flat marathon like Chicago or even Houston – even pacing is the most efficient way to run 26.2 miles.  You do not have any hills to deal with, so simply running just a hair under your Marathon Goal Pace (MGP) and keeping the needle right there until the final 10 kilometers is the way to go.

In the case of a 3-hour marathon which requires 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace – you lock in at 6:50 and count them off.  By mile 26 if you are on pace you should have a little under a minute to play with.  If you throw in a few 6:55’s or even a rare 7:00 flat, you are still right on track.

But for most marathon courses that have hills to climb and descend, it is all about running “even effort” and letting the uphill and downhill sections add or subtract time from your pace accordingly.  It can make for a stressful experience wondering if you are going too fast, too slow, losing too much time to the hills and whether or not you will be able to make it back up.

Enter Taz Running.

Mile Splits

Mile Splits

They look at the topography of every certified marathon course, plot pace strategy based on the elevation of each individual mile and then provide you with a pacing guide for every one of them.  This way you know that during that screaming downhill section on your course you should be running 6:36 instead of 6:50 and likewise at the end of the race when you tackle that final ascent, you only need to keep the watch at 7:17 pace – and everything will come out in the wash.

For a race like Big Cottonwood that features a ton of downhill running early in the race, and a gradual descent at the end of the race – running an even second half of the race or “negative splitting” the course is not very realistic.  Nor is it the best approach to conquer Cottonwood.  The first half of the race being much “easier” than the second half – if there is anything “easy” about a marathon.  This is the primary reason I’ve decided on a 1-mile at a time approach to this race – treating every individual mile on it’s own merit.

Not comparing it to the mile before, the mile after or the miles remaining and fixating on running 6:50’s.  Instead I will glance down at the pace-tattoo I have ordered from Taz Running which will be affixed to my forearm that morning, and only think about executing that specific mile, then going on to the next one.

I know that I won’t run them all perfectly, in fact, I may only nail a handful of them spot on, but having a guide that I can check in 5-mile intervals to know if I am slightly ahead or slightly behind the cumulative pace target at that point will help keep me honest and calm.

At the end of 5 miles I should be at:  33:05

At the end of 10 miles:  1:07:20

At the end of 15 miles – 1:40:34

Mile 20 – 2:14:59

If we reach the mile 20 mark right at 2:15:00 all that remains are 6 miles in:  7:07, 7:03, 7:05, 7:13, 7:09, 7:05.

If we are still under 2:58 with 385 yards to go it is in the bag.

Instead of thinking about not running slower than those paces above, I have changed my mindset to run no faster.

There are a lot of people out there who think that a 46-year old runner can’t break 3 hours in the marathon for the first time.  That by that age, you have either done it before or you are never going to do it.

I will just have to respectfully disagree.  Words like those describe just about every great success story ever written.

In a little more than 10 weeks, I’m going to write my own.

Bring it on.

Halfway Home

Posted: July 9, 2013 in Training

As I pulled up at the end of 10 hot, humid, steamy miles this morning and picked up my water bottle from the driveway I found myself at the middle of our preparation for Cottonwood.

56 workouts in the book, 56 workouts to go.

561.40 miles complete.  560.92 remain.

What started out as a daunting 20-week, 112 run, 1,148.50 mile march to the finish line on race day is now down to a much more manageable chunk.  Just 7 more Wednesday Track workouts with the group before the taper, just 5 more long runs in excess of 20 miles.

While there is still a lot of work to do and certainly there are some tough workouts and miles in our future – especially this time of year in Texas – I can start to see the faintest outline of the end to all of this on the horizon.

In some ways there is satisfaction in getting to this point.  I think that so far I have done a good job of monitoring my workload, adding to the base carefully, pushing hard on the hard days and running easy on the easy days as I remember all to well just how fit we were prior to the Houston Marathon and with just 4 weeks to go until race day, we suffered an injury and had to pull out of the event.

I won’t be able to relax until I come through that first taper week long run of 16 miles healthy – knowing full well all the heavy lifting is done and the only thing that can trip us up at that point is bad luck.  We are due for some good luck this time.

But while it is easy to look back at what we’ve accomplished so far, I know that I am still no ready for where we hope to go on race day.

This morning in a moment of weakness I strayed from the planned workout for the first time in 56 runs.  Instead of running an “easy 10” meaning 10 miles all around 7:50 to 7:55 pace – or Marathon Goal Pace + :60 seconds I found myself frustrated at the pace during the fifth mile.

77 degrees, 86% humidity I was already soaked to the bone, my shoes and socks squishing on the trail filled with sweat and I wanted the run to be over with.  So I made a quick decision to drop pace by :10 per mile every mile over the last 5 to end around 7:10 pace.  This would distract me a bit as I would no longer be counting each mile as it ticked slowly by, but I could think about pace and effort, gradually running harder and harder through to the end of the workout.

The final 5 miles had assigned goals of 7:50, 7:40, 7:30, 7:20, 7:10.

I ran them in 7:50, 7:40, 7:26, 7:17, 7:01.

The “old me” would have felt good about the workout and that I worked harder than planned, which is a good thing.  Marathon training isn’t supposed to be easy – those quicker miles would pay off on race day.

But now I know better.  There was absolutely no reason to run any faster than 7:50-7:55 on Tuesday morning as now my Track Workout on Wednesday is going to force me to exert more “effort” to hit the assigned paces that Coach will prescribe than if I had stuck to the plan and ran easier.

So for this Tuesday I let my mind wander and I lost sight of the big picture for the first time in 11 weeks and 56 workouts.  Up until that point I had exercised a great deal of patience and focus.   Then I grew tired, frustrated and deviated from the plan.

If I make that same mistake on race day in Utah, lady Marathon is going to rise up and squash me like a bug.  She will show me absolutely no mercy and will punish me for deviating from the plan ever so slightly.  I know this and still, I did it anyway.

Shame on me.

I have felt guilty all morning and know that I must do better.  I will do better.  This one slip-up cannot become a habit or I am going to pay the price on race day with a flat performance or a poorly executed race plan.

So tomorrow we get back on the horse and will run the precise workout that Coach assigns.  No slower, no faster and do the same thing 55 more times in a row until race day.

Sometimes I wonder how many times I am going to have to be taught the same lesson over and over again before I get it.

To quote Red Foreman from That 70’s Show – “Dumbass”.

Time for me to get my act together.

Kayla

Posted: July 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags:

At 3:25 p.m. on Friday, Dawn and I said goodbye to our dog Kayla who we had in our lives for the last 15 years.  A 17-year-old Schipperke that we rescued back in 1998 in Valdosta Georgia – she was a member of our family for a long, long time.  Fun times, sad times, joyous times and new adventures when we moved from South Carolina to Austin to Philadelphia and back to Austin over the years.

Whenever you have a pet that long there are of course a ton of memories that pile up.

Like the time that she decided to get outside and “escape” over half-time of the 2004 Superbowl, Patriots vs. Eagles causing us to assemble a search party and miss the first 5 minutes of the second half.  No big deal.  The Eagles make the Superbowl like clockwork every 25 years.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing them again in 2029.

Or the time that I came home from work, let her into the back yard and she chased a small varmint into a rock cropping on our property.  She kept nosing in after the little rodent until she got stuck in between the limestone rocks and could not get out.  I had to get my 8 lb. sledgehammer and smash away at the rocks using my own legs as a shield so I wouldn’t hit Kayla until I could pull her free.  Both of us shared some bumps and bruises that day.

She was a funny, funny dog who even though she like George Jefferson – was movin’ on up – after her rescue from Georgia – always had a little “street” left in her.  She didn’t have the easiest first two years of her life, and that gave her the scrappiness that made her unique.

When Landry arrived after Kayla had been an only dog for about 5 years after her sister “Precious” went up to heaven – we were a little bit concerned about how she would react.  But Kayla always had a way of surprising you, and she was remarkably kind to Landry and even cut her a little slack when she would want to chase or pet Kayla in her latter years when her eye-sight started to fail and her hearing was not as sharp as it used to be.

When she was younger, she would hop up in bed in the mornings and nuzzle around until I would open up the comforter and let her lay down next to me along my side, with her head on the pillow.  Then when daybreak arrived, she would get up and stick her wet nose under Dawn’s arm and wiggle in there to wake her up.

She loved her treats and she loved her walks.  Her baths?  Not so much.

I remember a lot of little things about Kayla, and I’m sure I will remember even more of them over the coming months and years.  But the thing that was strangest for me on Saturday morning, the first day in more than 15 years of waking up without a dog, was the fact that there was nobody to greet me as I got ready for my workout.  Nobody to take out or give a treat to or even pat on the head as I left the house.

I remember the morning of the Austin Marathon, with Dawn still sleeping, I was walking out to the garage to drive downtown to the race start – my first marathon after Dom passed away, Landry just 6 months old, and waiting for me in the hallway to the garage was Kayla.  She stood right in the middle, making it impossible to go past her without putting my bags down and patting her on the head.  I told her that when I see her again later in the morning, I would be a marathoner again and I would be the best one I had ever been.

She was the last interaction I had that morning with someone who loved me before I crossed the starting line and ultimately the finish line in one of the hardest races I’ve ever run.  I remember later that day petting her and telling her how we had done that day.  She was always there for us, which is the best part about having a dog.  Absolute, unconditional love.

As hard as it was for Dawn and I to take Kayla to the vet, knowing it was our last car ride together – it was of course the right thing to do – as she simply wasn’t enjoying a quality life any longer and it was now time.  We were both with her in the end, just like we were that day in Valdosta, GA when we brought her home with us – her paw banging on the cage of the doggie carrier non-stop, hour after hour as we drove home to South Carolina.

In a word, Kayla was relentless.  At times it was frustrating, but in the end, I think that is what I loved about her the most.

Relentless.  She would have made a hell of a marathoner.

God speed Kayla.  Dawn, Landry and I miss you very much.

Kayla - January 2010

Kayla – January 2010

75 days is all that separates us from the starting line – and hopefully the finisher’s chute – at Big Cottonwood on September 14th.

Sunday’s 20-mile long run marked our second consecutive 68.30 mile week which included a tough track workout on Wednesday and some up-tempo work on Saturday.  We are in an enviable position at this stage of the game with not a single hint of soreness or a physical ailment that we are monitoring, although they can come up at the most inopportune times during Marathon Training.

This week is a cut-back week or what I like to call a “maintenance week”, where we will be dialing back the training volume to about 70% of our previous load to accomplish two primary tasks:

1.     Give the muscles a chance to absorb the increased training and adapt to the new, higher level of workload.

2.     Decrease the risk of injury.

There are a lot of different strategies that runners employ preparing for a marathon.  But a universal truth for all athletes are the fact that to reap the maximum benefits from tough training, you have to give your body a chance to recover and adapt, that is how muscles grow and develop.  You cannot simply continuously tear them down without giving them an opportunity to build back up.

Nature’s rule, not mine.

But there is another reason that those step-back weeks are so important and that is the mental break that they provide.

Training for a marathon throughout the summer in Texas is no easy task.  There are not a lot of “perfect” days out there right now to be found where running is an absolute joy.  It is hot in the morning before daybreak and humidity is high.  The only cooling effect to be found right now comes in the form of wind, which is not altogether helpful to runners either.  It dehydrates you a bit faster and of course provides added resistance if you are running into a headwind – which is the only type of wind that feels “cooling” when you are out there.

After back to back 6-day run weeks with 20-mile long runs to cap them off, I was ready for a day off from running today – and did not feel one bit guilty about taking it.  It is a day to sleep in a bit later (6:40 a.m.!) and take good care of myself.  Eat right, not have to rush around in the morning and let the training marinade for 24 hours before an easy 8 mile run on Tuesday and a workout with the training team on Wednesday.

For the month of July and August we will be moving from the track to Zilker Park downtown on Wednesdays for our intervals and speed work.  I will only return to the track when Coach requires me to have a specific and measured test during a key workout.  Then we will get back to the track after Labor Day as a group – or in my case after I recover from Big Cottonwood.

After our maintenance week we will jump right back in and have a few 70-73 mile weeks ahead with our long runs creeping up to 21 and 22 miles before the taper.  Our mid-week long run that has been sitting around 10-11 miles will gradually climb up to 13-14 to top off our endurance work.

We are now 9 weeks into our 20-week training plan, which contains 18 weeks of “training” and 2-weeks of a taper.  So in a sense we are now 50% of the way through our preparation, where the final two weeks of our taper – which is critical to marathon success – shifts from a physical test (training) to a mental one (rest/nutrition) where your mind starts to really play tricks on you and being strong mentally becomes the primary focus.

I feel like we could go out this weekend and run a solid marathon.  Something in the 3:10 range.  Sometimes it is hard to get your head around the fact that 9 more weeks of training, 575 miles including 6 more runs of more than 20 miles will move that needle only :20 seconds per mile faster on race day.

But breaking 3:10 on September 14th while a great accomplishment is not what we are working for.  If that was the level of excellence we were in search of, we could just rest on our November 6, 2011 race in NYC and enjoy our 3:08:09.  Those 8 minutes and 10 seconds are what we are working for right now.  Anything less just isn’t going to cut it from an expectations standpoint.

Racing is a funny deal.  We may do everything right between now and then and still miss our target.  It happens.  In the marathon it happens far more often than at shorter distances as weather, nutrition, fitness and pacing errors are all magnified over 26 miles, 385 yards.

That is also why when it all comes together, the final 1.2 miles of that race are some of the greatest in all of road racing.  11 weeks from now we are going to find out a few new things about ourselves like only the marathon can teach us.  But right now, I can honestly say, things to this point really could not be going too much better.  I’m still waiting for that flat workout where the body and the mind do battle.  One wanting to go faster, the other not being with the program.

It happens to everyone at some point, and it serves as a great reminder that none of this is easy.

If it were, everyone would do it.

Run on people.Big Cottonwood Course