“The constraints of ordinary reality are about to be suspended. It is a time to believe, down to the last molecule, that I am capable of magic.” – me
So, I posted this on Twitter before my last marathon race at this April’s Boston. Bad idea.
As it turned out, on that day, the constraints of ordinary reality were most definitely not suspended. Despite following the best training block of my life, with workouts indicating a 2:43-2:45 finish, I ran a disappointing 2:54. Ouch.
This Sunday I cashed a check written months ago with that near-perfect training block, and the magic finally happened. Don’t get me wrong, it was an enormous surprise to find that the speed was still there after running my first hundred-miler less than two months before. I knew I had it in me, but I certainly didn’t know that it would happen that soon.
This was supposed to be an under-the-radar training run. I get that it can sometimes come across as disingenuous when a person says they are running a race as a training run. But I did approach it this way. Running it was a last minute decision, my training had been lacking focus and it fell in the middle of a chaotic period in our family’s life. It shouldn’t have worked out, but somehow it did.
I chose to run this marathon as a litmus test for my fitness. I’m aware that the Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying window is closing. Qualifying marks (commonly referred to as an ‘OTQ’), i.e. 2:43:00 or below, must be run by January 17, 2016 on a USATF certified and sanctioned course. I was pretty sure that I was going to run this marathon and find that I was waaay off this time and I should seriously just give it up and focus on what I’m actually sponsored to do, which is run ultras. But then Sunday happened, and without too much in the way of effort, I wasn’t that far off. It’s definitely making me reconsider what the rest of the year might look like.
So what was it that led to this 6-minute PR?
I did a couple of things differently in the lead up to this race. Since I’m currently self-coached, I thought I’d experiment a little. I switched out my body weight exercises for weight machines, doing explosive, low reps of very heavy weight about 2-3 times per week for about six weeks preceding the race, stopping about two weeks pre-race. I also ran the most mileage I have ever run. After Western States, my mileage looked like this (note that mileage is approximate in the early weeks. I ran by feel, being sure to respect my recovering body rather than by any set schedule):
- Week One post-WS: no running for five days, then maybe 10-15 gentle miles towards the end of the week
- Week Two: ~ 30 miles, some cross training
- Week Three: ~ 70-75 miles, including first long run (20 miles, easy)
- Week Four: 94 miles, including one five mile tempo at 6:04 avg pace
- Week Five: big supercompensation-style week! 125 miles, including three doubles, a 3 x 3 mile session on rolling road at 6:13 avg pace, a 24 mile long run with 10 miles at slightly under marathon race pace, and a medium intensity 20 mile run including 18 miles at 6:50 pace. All easy runs were run extra easy.
- Week Six: 94 miles, mostly all easy miles, but one 17 mile run with 12 miles at 6:14 avg, which felt way better than I thought it would.
- Week Seven: 76 miles, with a classic Yasso 800s session on the track on the Tuesday. Usually by this point in a marathon training cycle I’m tired, and the last workout sucks royally. But this one was joyful. It predicted a 2:44-2:45 finish. It was right! I also threw in a short 3 x 2 mile maintenance session towards the end of the week at a few seconds under marathon race pace.
- Week Eight: just 24 miles of running in the week leading up to the marathon on Sunday. That is one serious taper folks! It’s a good bit less mileage than I’d normally do here, but we were moving house and to a new town. I was busy. And tired. And frankly, had other priorities. Like starting the kids in a new school and trying to make our new place feel a little more like home for them. Packing and unpacking boxes.
Looking back at that training, well, it’s a mess. Unfocused, and just running on a whim depending on what I felt like for that day. Plus, it was too short of a training cycle to do much in the way of speed development. But in the end, I won, with a time of 2:45:30 (gun time). Despite going into it with the full expectation that I might not even break 2:50, out poured the kind of run that we all fantasize about. I distinctly recall at various points during the race thinking I could and probably should push more. I’ll confess to being afraid to believe in my fitness to go much faster. Plus, I kept reminding myself that it was a training run. That my pace wasn’t quite at Olympic Trials level yet, so I shouldn’t burn this marathon too hard. I knew that if I wanted an OTQ and still wanted to squeeze in another ultra before the end of the year, I’d have to race again within weeks. Of course the flipside is that by running this marathon at a lower intensity, I might have ended up with about the best run I was capable of on the day. Who knows. I did run fairly even splits, losing only about 20 seconds on the back half of the race. That’s about as good as I can realistically hope for without being pushed by another female competitor towards the end.
I need to give credit where credit is due. Devon Yanko started the race right on OTQ pace (later dropping around mile 20). Another runner, Leigh Gilmore, closely followed. I hung back a little, but didn’t want to end up too far off the lead and besides, was feeling capable of keeping up. So I stayed between 30 seconds to a minute back, but within sight of the lead ladies, for much of the first half, finally catching up to them just before hitting the halfway timing mats. I would not have had the race I did without them in front of me pushing the pace.
Olympic Trials. This kind of outrageous goal still freaks me out immensely. It basically requires running 6:12 pace or better for 26.2 miles. In my book, that is seriously, mind-bogglingly fast. The fact that I can even write – with any sense of legitimacy – that I might be capable of reaching this goal, is little short of absurd. But what are we as runners without scary-sounding, just-on-the-cusp-of-possibly-reachable goals? So, yes, what the hey, I figure it’s at least worth a shot.
P.S. This marathon is dedicated to Sandi Nypaver and Sage Canaday, who until recently, when our family circumstances changed, were my coaches. I couldn’t have run this marathon so well without the months of training that they crafted for me. I am forever thankful to these amazing people of integrity who transformed my running from avid recreational runner to where I am today (and as a side note, I’m particularly respectful of Sage’s outspoken views regarding doping and keeping this a #cleansport). They gave me wings to fly… and I flew.