Sunday, October 17, 2021

Richmond Marathon Training

Things have kicked into high gear since the half marathon two weeks ago. The mileage has increased, the workouts have gotten longer, and the weather has gotten warmer! After a divine 4 days at the end of September with crisp, cool weather, the first half of October has been unseasonably warm and humid, by about 10-15 degrees daily. The marathon is four weeks away and I am just now starting to feel like I might be ready by then!

I typically choose a later fall marathon so I don't have to do long runs and long workouts in these conditions. It's not that I can't tough it out- but my body has revolted in the past by getting sick. I've managed to stick with the training, however, by staying super hydrated and running my easy runs very slowly. I have been drinking a packet Liquid IV nearly every day and I have been running my easy runs in the 9:00-9:20 range (as opposed to my usual 8:30-8:45). 

I don't train in Carbon Fiber plated shoes unless I am doing my test run in them pre-race, but I have used them twice in the past two weeks to offset the humidity. The boost that I got from them meant that I didn't get completely discouraged with my paces. For example, I was able to run a 5.25-mile tempo run at an average pace of 6:59 in the humidity, which I don't think I would have been able to attain in normal shoes.

Because I've been extending myself to my limit in the humidity, I have avoided hills. This is probably not a smart approach because my marathon is somewhat hilly with about 650 feet of total gain. This isn't to say I only run on flat surfaces (impossible near me), but I always opt for the least amount of hills possible because it's already so much of a struggle to get the run done, let alone with hills. I plan to start running hillier routes over the next four weeks, now that it's supposed to be cooler and less humid.

Running Form
I mentioned at the end of my last blog post that I didn't think my new running form was working out for me. It wasn't making me more efficient and it didn't feel natural. So, after 4 months of spending every single run focused on my stride length and cadence, I threw in the towel. My coach was on board with this. You can't force "ideal form" - it has to come to you naturally. And my form will improve over time with drills, plyometrics, improved balance, and strength training.

On the day I decided I was going to run naturally, I listened to music for the first time since last March! I had been avoiding my headphones because I wanted to be totally dialed into my running and my stride. It was so liberating to zone out a little, enjoy the music and just go with the flow. 

And for the first time since coming back from my injury, I felt like my "old self" at my "old pace" - which was faster and more relaxed feeling. 

I have experimented with multiple fueling strategies, and I honestly feel my best when I incorporate UCAN. I had been trying to switch to 100% Maurten products, but I think you need to take the gels every 30 minutes to avoid a crash. And using the Maurten drink mix doesn't seem to provide enough pep. This could have been part of why I didn't perform as well as I hoped at my marathon last March.

At the Harrisburg Marathon last fall, I had major digestive issues and I blamed the combination of UCAN + too much food pre-race. I think the solution could be a smaller breakfast (English muffin instead of bagel), and drinking a less concentrated UCAN mixture. And probably drinking the UCAN 45 minutes pre-race. UCAN does make a gel now, but I am allergic to one of the ingredients, which is not contained in the energy powder.

I should also keep in mind that I have successfully used UCAN at many marathons and half marathons over the past 5 years and the only time I had an issue was at Harrisburg. 

Overall Mindset
I don't know if it's because of the warm weather or because I've spent so much time focused on my stride, but I haven't felt great about my progress this training cycle. My runs have felt ok, for the most part, but have rarely felt really good. Every long run has been a struggle, and the two times I set out for 20 miles I ended up with 19.22 and 19.33. From a training standpoint, that's almost as good as a 20, but the fact that I just couldn't make it to the finish line doesn't bode well for my confidence.

I am not as fit as I was last spring, so I won't be going for a sub 3:10 in Richmond, but I think I could likely get a modest PR (sub 3:15:34). 

I also need to remind myself to STOP comparing myself to other runners. I often feel like I am the only one who struggles in the humidity. When I scroll through Instagram, it seems like everyone else is running their normal paces and I am the only one who has slowed down. I'll come back from a humid long run feeling totally exhausted and having run a mediocre pace, and then runners who are about my same level will have run father, faster, and felt amazing (in the same conditions). It's definitely NOT helpful to have these thoughts, but I can't help it - I have them and then I have to fight them off.

Maybe once the weather finally cools down I will feel like a whole new person. Four weeks is still a long time in the world of marathon training and I believe I can still gain a good amount of fitness between now and race day. In the past I have had amazing training cycles where I have PR'ed my workouts but then didn't reach my marathon goal. So maybe I'll outperform my expectations. I remain optimistic despite my feelings of "blah" over the past month.

Weekly mileage, last 8 weeks


  1. I don't know who these people are that claim the humidity doesn't affect them. While I'm old school with my workouts on an Excel spreadsheet, if I had the chance to sit with you and show you what I've done you'd KNOW humidity kicks my ass!! Yes comparing ourselves to others isn't good.

    All summer long I felt like I was dragging with this new job I've gotten and then when the races came I was doing well until the end with my little hamstring issue but, seriously what you're probably doing is saving yourself for the marathon by being a little bit off!! It will come together and I can't wait to see how you do is a few weeks. It's going to go well, in fact the training struggles, make me feel more confident you have not over trained and that will be a plus!! Mark my words!!


  2. Yes mad props to everyone on IG who posted "it was 88 degrees with a real feel of 98 so I slowed down to one second slower than marathon pace for my 20 miler" this summer but that's not how it works for the rest of us. I've banned the phrase "heat acclimatization" from my vocabulary and will be embracing the treadmill on humid days going forward.

  3. Elizabeth- I just finished my fourth Boston. My slowest marathon ever...5:25!!! I have been beating myself up ever since - so unproductive! I know what marathon training requires for me and quite simply I didn't do the training. I am also an unhappy heat/humidity runner. My 20 plus milers were pitiful - I kept saying to myself - it is okay - just go to Boston and enjoy the vibe! The first 16 miles were strong and I felt good! Then my knee started really hurting (never had knee problems before) I kept telling myself run through the pain. I could not do it! Bottom line - every marathon I learn something! It is good for me to feel humble. Thanks for your posts - know although I am not in your league I totally understand what is going on in your head!

  4. Well Zebra, humidity can and does affect running performance, and yes, you have to shift the focus from how other runners appear to fare well, while you incur its effects. It apparently has its effects on your performance and that is what matters most. Humidity (dew point) and its effects can get complicated and varies, but the higher that dew point, the less effective sweating is in cooling core temp. So your fatigue you feel and/or cutting the long runs short is likely that if you still trying to hold the goal training paces, in the higher humidity, you are working at a higher intensity than that same pace you run in cooler temps and mod humidity. Heart rate data can yield some insight into that, so keep tabs on your average HR intensity for each split relative to what temperature and humidity conditions are, and you may discover, at same speed/pace, an elevated average HR.

    Regarding the form and abandoning the plan to adjust your form, I have heard some great things about "Pose Method" of running, I believe based on some European coach/trainer (Romanoff ?). Anyways I know one runner in my group that has had great success with it.

    Good luck to you in Richmond and I look forward to your coverage on that race!

  5. So the big question is - any pain after reverting to your old form??? I get it- I have sub-par form and I know it contributes to my constant injuries, but it is SO hard to change it naturally! I hope you surprise yourself in your race, but also maybe it's a down cycle. I'm in a slump myself and I guess it's all part of the ups and downs of training. But maybe you just need some cool weather and a stride you're more comfortable with and it will all come together!

    1. So far no pain, but that doesn't mean it will last forever. I also don't think I have reverted to my old form 100%. I think I have a stronger knee drive, and I am more stable now. But I am not trying to have a longer stride.

  6. I think the cool weather will make a huge difference to you. I agree- working on form can be frustrating. Our bodies just really want to run the way they've been doing it for years. I think you're correct in saying your form will improve over time with the drills, etc.
    Anyway, good luck over this last four weeks! I hope it goes well for you.