Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Marathon Training: In The Thick Of It

I haven't blogged much about the specifics of my training lately. I'm really trying to stay focused on the big picture and not get wrapped out in any one workout, one week, or one race. While I naturally get super excited when a run goes better than expected, I keep myself in check by remembering I don't base anything off of "one"-- good or bad. I am looking for patterns in my training runs to assess progress.

This training cycle feels different from previous ones, both physically and mentally.

Physical Aspects
Physically, (insert huge knock on wood) I feel fantastic. No tweaks or even lingering muscle soreness. I'm running six days a week and when my rest days arrive, I don't even feel like I need them. I am running 5, 6, or even 7 miles the day after my long run and my legs don't even feel like they ran long the day before. I haven't even had my standard calf soreness during the past month. I'm sometimes logging both a tempo and an interval workout in the same week and I am exceeding my expected paces every time, simply by running on feel or heart rate. I'm successfully meeting the weekly mileage goals I set out for myself, and sometimes going a little bit above because everything feels so good.  I hope this lasts, I hope this lasts, I hope this lasts!

Maybe it's because I am almost always training for a marathon and the mono forced me to take a much-needed break. Maybe I came back super refreshed and ready to tackle the world. Maybe it's because I'm getting better sleep than I have been in years. Maybe it's because I'm more suited to winter running than any other season. I am at my best in the high 30's and low 40's. Not having to battle heat and humidity every day makes things so much easier. And maybe it's because I'm not forcing certain paces on myself during my runs, but just doing what feels to be the right effort level.

Mental Aspects
That brings me to the mental aspect of my training. I've blogged about this extensively ever since last May when I made the commitment to working through my anxiety issues and underlying perfectionism. It's not that I don't care about my paces or my race results. It's just that I am super focused on enjoying the day-to-day training and watching the miles accumulate in my log. I know I am becoming a better runner in so many ways and I don't need PRs to prove it.

I am getting more satisfaction out of the training than ever before. And I think that's coming from the structured "reviews" I am doing after my runs. I am purposefully looking for the positive and feeding my confidence. I haven't had any "bad" runs in months. Why? Because I don't believe in bad runs anymore. Only runs where I didn't feel all that great so I had to slow the pace. Just getting the miles in on days like those is a huge accomplishment. I expect that I will have days that feel un-energized, but as I said above, I don't base anything on just "one". If I had 5 days in a row of feeling off, then I would start to figure out the problem. But one day here and there of feeling tired is completely normal.

I know I'm getting faster and I think that within the past month I've reached a new level of fitness. I honestly think I could PR any distance right now. But believe it or not, I'm far more thankful that I'm able to train injury free and have things feel good. That's really what's most important to me- feeling good while running and truly being able to enjoy it. I'm just as happy with my running now as I was in November when I was still coming back from mono and not nearly as fast. The specific pace doesn't matter as much as the knowledge that I am improving. Happiness is coming from doing the work, logging the miles, and trying my best. I very much appreciate that I am faster, but I take far more pride in the high mileage I have logged and the consistency I have put out.

I guess I've changed.

What Racing Stripes training blog is complete without a graph? Even though I am less of a perfectionist now, I still love my charts. If someone told me that I would be better off if I didn't keep a log or look at charts, I would resist forcefully! I don't obsess over the mileage here, but I do enjoy giving myself a pat on the back when I see those totals rise.
In terms of my plan, I created my own plan back in October that incorporated a mix of elements. I took the long run and interval schedule from my coach, I based the mileage on the basic principle of a gradual increase, and I based the intensity on various factors:

Intervals: Run by feel, don't look at Garmin. My coach has a pace chart that he suggests we try to come close to for these workouts, but I've been running intervals long enough that I know what the effort level should be. I run better if I don't try to hit a particular time but rather just put out a solid effort level. It takes the pressure off and allows me to focus on feel. As a result, I am running these much faster than I did in any previous training cycle. With the exception of yesterday when I ran with my team, I have been doing my interval workouts solo. I enjoy the group workouts more, but the solo ones are great for pushing myself and finding my own rhythm. I plan to mix up solo workouts with team workouts as the cycle continues.

Tempo: Run by heart rate. The VO2 max test I took last May gave me my Lactate Threshold heart rate zone. I stick to this very closely and always wear a heart rate monitor during tempo runs. Since I know what the zone feels like, I am not constantly looking down at my heart rate. But if I start to feel like I am exerting too much effort, I keep myself in check by looking at the heart rate. As the chart shows, I didn't do tempo runs for nearly a month because I had a 10K race and a half marathon. Those races took the place of my tempo runs. I'll do a tempo run this week and next week, which will be three weeks in a row of solid tempos.

Long Runs: So far, I have kept almost all of my long runs easy. My coach suggests a fast finish at marathon pace approach for all long runs, but given how long my training cycle has been, I wanted to reserve those runs for later in the cycle and not burn myself out too early on them. I'm just now getting the point where I feel ready to start doing those fast-finish long runs at marathon pace, or adding marathon pace miles into the long runs as my coach suggests. So far, I have done a 20-miler and a 21-miler. I have two more 20+ milers on the schedule before the marathon, which will give me a total of 4. I've never done that many before but my body is holding up pretty well so far.

I couldn't be more pleased with how my training has progressed over the past several months.I hope to continue the trend in February!


  1. I am SO with you on being over tracking and blogging about every step I take out the door. I've learned so much from you this year regarding your mental outlook on running and racing. I've really stopped to think and appreciate, instead of getting upset and emotional like I used to do.

    THANK YOU, Elizabeth, and keep up the EXCELLENT work! :)

  2. Fantastic balance and healthy attitude! Funny how the more we focus on some things (i.e. an elusive PR, the big BQ, etc), the more stressed we often get. Often times, burnout quickly follows....

    I like the way you're thinkin!

  3. I love the new attitude, sometimes we are our own worst critics.

    Keep chopping away at the negativity and this season will be a winner no matter what! :)

  4. "A new level of fitness", how utterly exciting! To think you were so sick only a few months ago and now you've surpassed your prior have no idea how much I love reading this.

  5. You are probably the most organized marathon runner that I follow. I personally don't like to get too "scientific" about training. It's interesting to see how you lay it all out.