Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pushing Past Limits

I've heard the phrase "pushing past limits" over and over again throughout my running career. Whether it comes up in the blogs I read, on Facebook posts, in running magazines or during in-person conversations with other runners, it's a very common theme.

I've never given the phrase much thought and honestly it's always seemed cliche. But now I am starting to really think about what it means to push beyond one's limits.

Shamrock half marathon 2014
I'm at the stage in my running where PRs will be few and far between. I've run 100+ races over the course of 8 years, with over 10,000 training miles and I'm starting to question if I am at my peak, or if I still have the potential to run faster.  Greg pointed out that it's only within the past year that I have truly addressed my mental pillar and I'm finally starting to arrive at races well rested and relaxed. Mental limits can be the most difficult to identify and break through, and I think I am making great strides there.

I think my next challenge is pushing past my pain tolerance during races. I always think I push myself as hard as possible, because racing always hurts so much, but then I wonder if there is a certain amount of pain that is familiar to me during races, and if I push past that, I would fear blowing up and not being able to sustain it. And therefore, I am afraid to run past a certain pain threshold.  I think most runners (well, I guess all runners) have this threshold, but I think I can push mine farther.

I know that Greg's tolerance and pain threshold far exceeds mine because he races much faster than he trains and it takes him a few days longer than me to recover. A common line of his is "I had no business running that race as fast as I did." We often wonder that if it was his mind running in my body, how fast I would be.

No matter how a race goes for me, my final kick is always very strong (usually over a mile per minute faster than average race pace).  I almost always have plenty of gas left for that last quarter mile or so. I'm just afraid to turn it on until the very end, when I no longer fear a blow-up.

I am making progress here, as I have been thinking about this topic for the past several months. When I ran the Shamrock half marathon and the GW Birthday 10K, I could see the finish line from about half a mile away. In both cases, I pushed hard early and was in that "I know I can't sustain this" zone longer than I usually am.  One of my goals for my next few races will be to push past my pain tolerance without the fear of a blow-up. To truly trust my training and realize that my limiting factor is my mind, not my body.

Peak Week
I haven't posted any training updates this year, and I typically blog about my "peak week" of training for a marathon. This Missisauga Marathon is on May 4, and this past week was my peak in terms of mileage.  Next week I will taper for and run the Cherry Blossom, and the week after that will include some recovery time.

I've gotten my hip under control with daily foam rolling and strengthening exercises. I've been extremely diligent about this and as a result my hip is now pain free. I did take 5 days off pre-Shamrock earlier this month to rest the hip, but since then, I have been running on it consistently with no additional time off.

Monday: 10 miles
10 Miles easy on the Mt. Vernon trail before work. It was in the mid 20's and windy, which made for a very cold run. I think record low temperatures were set that morning. Can't winter just end already!?

Tuesday: 8 miles with intervals
It started snowing about halfway through this workout, but I kept going. I knew it would probably start snowing on me, but I've had to miss quite a few track workouts this season due to a snow-covered track, and I really wanted to get this one in before anything accumulated. I warmed up for just over two miles and ran the following intervals, with 1/2 distance recovery jogs:
1600m (6:56)
1200m (5:05)
800m (3:17)
800m (3:17)

These are pretty typical paces for me. I followed it up with a cool down run for 8 miles total.

Wednesday: Rest day
Rest days are important! I still did my foam rolling and hip exercises.

Thursday: 9 miles with 5 tempo
Greg and I warmed up for 2.5 miles, ran 5 at tempo pace, and then cooled down for 1.5 miles. I think record low temperatures must have been set again, as it was only 20 degrees with a "real feel" in the teens.
Mile 1: 7:30
Mile 2: 7:35
Mile 3: 7:26
Mile 4: 7:17
Mile 5: 7:12

This is an average pace of 7:24.  I would love to run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler at that pace next weekend! I try to run my tempos at 10-mile race pace, so we'll see if I can execute on this.

Friday: 8 miles
An easy 8-miler with Greg, and finally the temperature was above freezing.

Saturday: 16 miles with 10 at marathon pace
This is a workout that my coach recommends and that I have done several times before, although none during this cycle. Considering I ran a 5-mile tempo on Saturday, I knew that I would need to keep the marathon pace miles at marathon pace and no faster. So how do I determine marathon pace for a workout like this? Based on my recent race times and paces for other workouts, marathon pace ends up being between 8:10-8:15. Do I actually think I will run the marathon at that pace? Maybe. It's workouts like these that help give me the confidence to believe I can execute.

Miles 1-2 (easy)
Miles 3-6: 8:11, 8:12, 8:17, 8:15
Mile 7 (easy)
Miles 8-10: 8:08, 8:04, 8:16
Mile 11 (easy)
Miles 12-13: 7:54, 7:40 -- I got a little carried away here.
Mile 14 (easy)
Mile 15: 8:01
Mile 16 (easy)

I felt really strong at the end and went faster than planned.  The average pace for the "marathon pace" miles was 8:06.  I felt strong throughout and my legs didn't get tired.

Sunday: 6 easy
It was 40 degrees, rainy and windy. Just miserable weather! However, I had a few friends running marathons and half marathons, so I didn't feel too badly for myself. I am in total awe of anyone who raced this morning.  Anyway, my legs felt great this morning, and I didn't have any noticeable affects from the marathon pace run.

Total mileage for the week = 57.

I'm feeling great about my training and I need to remind myself that training is just one piece of the marathon puzzle. It's the preparation. It's me doing my best to be prepared for whatever race day brings. It won't guarantee me a particular time. It will, however, give me the confidence of knowing that if I decide to push past my typical pain threshold, my body will not give out on me.

In the meantime, I've been taking this training cycle "one week at a time" focusing on immediate goals and not looking at everything as training for just one thing. Cherry Blossom is my current focus and I'm excited to see what happens next weekend.


  1. You rocked it out this week. I wouldn't underestimate yourself, 57 miles is a lot and your paces are spot on awesome, just looking at your race times and PRs (which are slightly better than mine, but I don't train nearly this hard and I also train for shorter distances). Plus, you mentally have it together to do speed workouts in the snow and this many tempo/interval runs in a week even if it's peak week for marathon training. You're training fast for your marathon so you're gonna race fast. I always try to train fairly speedy too, otherwise I feel like my races are slower because my legs are tired from so much endurance and not used to pushing the pace.

    I think taking things a week at a time is always the way to go, never looking too far ahead. Great job and great training week :)

  2. That is some legit mileage AND pace! I think when we start looking at running/training/racing holistically (i.e. not just pace), we find that magic :)

  3. Nice training week! I read an article in one of the running mags a few months ago that talked about racing to DNF at least one time in your running career so that you figure out what your pain limit is. I don't know if I could actually do that, but it's an interesting idea.

  4. This is interesting: I know that Greg's tolerance and pain threshold far exceeds mine because he races much faster than he trains and it takes him a few days longer than me to recover. A common line of his is "I had no business running that race as fast as I did." We often wonder that if it was his mind running in my body, how fast I would be.

    Because I am this way too, yet - I don't feel I have a high pain tolerance. Maybe it's just a matter of having a better feel for what is sustainable for me in a race. Also, I use a HRM so I can be running at "way too fast" but see that my HR is "okay" - otherwise I might worry I can't sustain it. (Though in some of my better races I found myself wondering if I could keep it up!)