Prior to starting marathon training this past December, my longest run was somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 or 15 miles. But I don’t know if it was even that far because what I most remember of that long run the spring of 2009 was that I limped much of the way home, uphill at the very end, and was trying my best not to cry. I’d been training for that year’s Bayshore Marathon, but was doing so in a much different way than I am now. It wasn’t just that I didn’t have a coach; it was that I didn’t really follow the plan as I should have. Case in point: after a 12-miler one Sunday that felt so amazing, I figured I could go out two days later and do another one just like it — even though the 16- or 18-week training schedule I’d found somewhere online called for a shorter distance that day. It wasn’t too long after that when I felt the first tug of pain on my left Achilles. I added mileage too quickly, and looking back, simply pushed myself too hard, too fast. I ended up with an Achilles injury that sidelined me from any running whatsoever for several weeks. Taking that (long, depressing) break from running meant I eventually felt strong enough to do the Bayshore 10k several weeks later, but it was a tough lesson and one I haven’t forgotten.
Still, for all the running knowledge I feel I’ve acquired since then, I’m still learning. Or, maybe a better way to say it is that through smarter training this time around, it’s all really sinking in. Thankfully this time I’m not having to endure an injury to figure it all out…hoping it stays that way, of course, though I know, too, that injuries are part of being an athlete. A few “a-ha” moments I’ve experienced lately:
The distance that seems ridiculously out of reach? You can really run it. I’ve read this kind of sentiment in magazines and books, been told it by marathoners themselves, and yet it wasn’t until I ran 17 miles a couple of weekends ago when I truly believed I could finish 26.2. Before that, as confident as I tried to be about the distance, it was hard to fathom that I’d be able to go that far–and go that far at a pace I was happy with. I’ve become convinced of the power of consistent, smart training — specifically, building up a strong base of running and slowly adding longer distances to your weekly schedule. Running 17 miles wasn’t easy, but I felt strong both mentally and physically when I finished. I know that as I go through my final two months of training before the Bayshore that I will only continue to build my strength and endurance, which I’ll need to push past 17 and get to 26.2. We all have a certain distance in our heads that just seems…insurmountable. But I say whether it’s 3, 5, 9, 13.1 or greater, you CAN do it. You can run it, with patience and commitment to training right.
Ed Eyestone has it right: “Train to race” is the way to go. The current issue of Runner’s World has an article written by Ed Eyestone, a two-time Olympic marathoner and long distance runner, that caught my attention. Hard, Fast Rules shares how to push the pace without crashing into a wall, with one of the rules being Train to Race–don’t race to train. In other words, save your all-out best for race day, not your training. Seems simple enough, and yet how many times have I fallen into this trap? (See above for proof, and the result wasn’t pretty). Sure, I’m less inclined to push too hard this time around, thanks in no small part to Lisa’s teaching — “just maintain” she texted me during our spring break trip to Florida after I expressed concern about keeping up with my training while on vacation — but I’ve definitely felt feisty enough at times that I’ve probably done more than I needed to. So reading this rule resonated. As Ed further explained, “If the end of a workout feels like the end of a race, you’ve pushed too hard.” It reminded me that what I really want more than anything is to have a great race day come May 28. I want to stand at the start line feeling nervous yet capable, and ready to go all-out.
Speaking of vacations…they’re really good for runners. I didn’t plan to run nearly as much as normal during our week-long stay on Anna Maria Island, but I also didn’t want to completely slack off my training. Gentle reminders to mostly relax and take it easy came not only from my coach but from fellow runners who kindly offered been-there-done-that advice, and I’m glad I heeded these tips. As a result, I found a decent mix of one 10-miler and a couple of shorter runs. All told, about 20 miles, much less than the close to 40 I’ve been averaging.
On top of giving my mind a mental break from scheduling runs in between family time, this more relaxed schedule was good for my body, I’m sure. I’d been experiencing a slight twinge-y ache on the backside of my right hamstring the week before we left, and I was worried. Since returning, it’s not bothering me. Also, as stoked as I was to run in warmer weather and along the beach, I seriously struggled with the sudden temperature change–it was in the 70s even early in the morning. I felt winded much of the time starting out, and I literally was soaked with sweat by the end. Further proof I am indeed a Michigan runner girl.