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Race Autopsy

March 4, 2009

Time to dissect the training cycle and results again.

What went well in this training cycle?

  • Well, I met my goal–I trained for and finished my first marathon, without injury. Though the predictors said I could break 4 hours, I knew they were estimating this time for a runner who was prepared to race the distance from the gun, and I could not possibly do this in my first race at this distance, so I threw that prediction out from the get-go. But, at the beginning of the season, I did think I could start at 10-minute miles and maybe end on negative splits, which would net me a 4:20 or 4:15 finish. That was my A goal. My B goal was to hold 10-minute miles, which would net me a 4:22. And, finally, as the season progressed and I got more burnt out and tired, I realized I might have to be content with a 4:30 or even just a finish. And I did get my 4:30 (or awfully close). I’m not only happy with that finish because it’s so close to my original goal, but because it was accomplished in absolutely horrendous conditions.
  • I did my long runs like I planned to–four 20-milers altogether, spaced two weeks apart. On those weeks, my mileage was at 50 miles or higher; on the in-between weeks it was lower. I rested well and did my easy runs at an easy pace, which helped recover from the long runs.

How was this training different from training I’ve done before?
Uh, well, I’ve just never put in this many miles, obviously, so I had to tread really carefully around everything–my schedule, my sleep, my knees, mostly. I cut out bridge work, which I generally do at the beginning of long runs, to save the pounding on the knees. I wasn’t as focused on racing the distance, so I cut out speedwork, also a nod to protecting the legs and joints, which were feeling the impact of the added mileage.

What will I do again?

  • Though some first-time marathoners do fewer 20-milers, I did four, and I would do the same number for another 26.2, though I’d schedule them differently.
  • Though the initial training schedule called for 16-mile long runs on the weeks between 20-milers, on the advice of my orthopedist I scaled those runs to 12 miles, and I’d probably do that again until I knew how my knees could take the mileage.
  • Though I wouldn’t try to PR at shorter distances in the same season, I’d definitely race during the training season. It’s too long a time not to try to have some fun.
  • Until such time as my cholesterol is just through the roof, eggs will continue to be a part of my weekly diet. They don’t mess with my weight, and me likes the way they’re a quick, easy way for me to get protein back into my body after a run.
  • Ice baths after a long run might be painful, but I hate to think what I might have felt like after that first 20 if I hadn’t learned to grit my teeth and get in there. It’s worth the 10 minutes.

What did I do wrong, and what will I do differently next time?

  • I ran that last long run way too fast. Next time, I think I’d plan to do two 18-milers, then two 20-milers, then do a 22-or 23-miler, at a nice slow pace, and then do, as the last long run, one last 20-miler with some race-pace miles thrown in.
  • The marathon training cycle is just so long! I’m not sure how to balance the load better, though maybe it won’t be as big a deal next time as it won’t be my first time. I definitely need to do not ignore speedwork next time. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of picking a race that doesn’t interfere with my short-race season or just sacrificing my short-race season for one year, or if racing just counts as my speedwork for those two weeks, but for my next marathon, I would like to stick to the speedwork portion of the plan.
  • Again, my diet is just lacking. I need to learn more about how to load up on healthy carbohydrates in the week before the race. Though the weather had a lot to do with my unraveling pace the last four miles, I’d have felt a lot sunnier if I hadn’t felt like my stomach was inside out.
  • I listened to my body instead of my head. Because of that, I stopped taking Gatorade and water when I started feeling sick. This is indirectly related to diet again because I don’t know enough to know, at that moment, what my body needed–water, sugar, or a combination of both. I suspect part of this is part of a marathoner’s learning curve, unfortunately. In spite of this (attention–TMI warning), when I went to the bathroom after the race, evidence showed I was not, in fact, dehydrated. Small points for me.

What have I learned?

  • That I can persevere through some insane running conditions. I regularly run through bad weather, simply because I live in the ironically-named Sunshine State, where it rains pretty much between 1 and 5 every summer afternoon and whenever I choose to do a springtime long run. However, I did not foresee running my first marathon in it, and in spite of that, I have to say, so what? It’s just running. There, I did it.
  • That it’s best to rinse spilled Gatorade or Gu off your hand as fast as possible. Ugh, that stuff is sticky and annoying for many miles.
  • That marathoners are almost weepily thankful for any scrap of encouragement you give them on the course. I need to volunteer more.
  • That training should be balanced. There are only 52 weeks in the year, and I feel like I crammed too much into my 52 this time around. Coming off my first half in February of 2008, I took off very little time before setting my sights on lowering my 5k time–by March, I was at 30 mpw, with speedwork once a week. I hit a slump in the summer when the temperatures soared, but in July, when my focus changed to getting a sub-2 in the half, my dedication to the training schedule became even more fierce, and it was then that I started ramping up the miles with an eye toward the marathon. I built up the miles slowly, not hitting 40 mpw til August and reaching 50 in December, but there was plenty of speed built into the schedule for a while there, once weekly until the half in November and then again until my short-distance races in December. Coming off these races my legs felt tired, and I called off the speedwork to save them for the endurance needed for 26 miles. All this to say that . . .

What’s next?

. . . is an organized break, for a while, from scheduled training. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the only way this Type A personality is going to stick to it. I might to fartleks or mile repeats, which I love, in order to keep speed in my legs and because I like being fast, but I want to run because I feel like it, and not because there’s 8 miles on the schedule for the day. I have a few summer 5ks I’d like to run, just for fun (imagine that!). There’s a July race that’s run in the evening here, where I came close to setting a PR last year. I have plenty of time to start formal training even for that race, and then start integrating longer runs in mid July in preparation for the fall half marathon season.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. run4change permalink
    March 4, 2009 5:36 pm

    You are hardcore my friend. I am amazed at your desire to set PR’s and such. I can run the heck out of marathons, even one a week for a while, but setting PR’s and running fast is a whole new thing for me. I am working on that though. Great post and great job

  2. the Zookeeper permalink*
    March 5, 2009 12:11 pm

    You know, I have to know myself as a runner; for me, at least at this point in my evolution as a runner, improving is part of the overall picture–including getting faster, if I can. Maybe at some point I’ll be satisfied with other measures for improvement, the way I’m not actively trying to lose weight anymore but instead tracking my overall health in other ways.

    Or maybe I’ll always be a racer.

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