After every sub-par marathon I’ve run, my response has been largely the same. It took me a while to realize this, as I have a tendency to get stuck in the subtleties, the emotion, the here and now. My immediate feelings about each marathon I’ve run over the past 3 years have been very different but my behavior? My behavior has been 100% the same.
It usually starts with the swearing off marathons forever – or at least for a while – until I can achieve some arbitrary standard in another race distance, some sort of marker that will tell me I’m not crazy for thinking I can BQ. This is followed by a week or two of grandiose self-pity where I tend to abuse my Amazon Prime account and get back on a first-name basis with the clerk at the liquor store. Then comes the crazy finger pointing (you know, if only my dog hadn’t been up whining the night before that last 20 miler, I might’ve slept better and had a better run and therefore would’ve nabbed that BQ time, it’s all my dog’s fault!), followed by the more realistic finger pointing (more stretching, foam rolling, core work, hydration – did you really commit 100%?), then the realization that I really miss training for a marathon. Finally, the recommitment to wanting to run a BQ marathon time, soon to be followed by signing up for a goal race after a ton of time spent on marathonguide.com, findmymarathon.com, and random googling for blogs and race reports/reviews. Then it’s MORE. More more more. More miles, more speedwork. Better, faster, stronger.
But always the same training program. Always the same training philosophy – that more is better. That miles in = time out. That if 25 miles a week gets me a 3:45, then 45 miles a week should get me a straight up walk in the park <3:35.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this over the fall and winter and I realize I am the absolute definition of insanity. Why do I continue to do the same thing and expect different results?
So here’s the part where I admit that I have signed up for a spring marathon and I have every intention of training hard and hoping that puts me in the realm of a BQ time. I’ll be running the Goodlife Toronto Marathon on May 3rd, but the process of getting there WILL be different than it has been in the past.
After a lot of analysis of past training, and knowing that a complete overhaul of anything isn’t likely to bring success, I’ve chosen to focus on 3 key things to improve upon during this short training cycle. Because I am nothing if not verbose, I’m going to write about them separately; however, I intend to do the following:
- Be smarter about long runs
- Less “speed” and more marathon pace work
- Focus on nutrition
So, let’s get into #1.
I’ve been running for a little over 5 years now, but it took me at least 4 of those years to learn to love the long run. For years, I would do every single run as scheduled except for the long run. Skipping long runs was the hallmark of every marathon training cycle for me. After meeting a great bunch of people through my running group and becoming intrinsically more committed to training, showing up for long runs became much less of an issue. Given my history, I counted that as a huge win. And it was.
But, to get to where I want to be, I’m not sure it’s enough. A lot of the long runs, while extremely fun, were at odd paces and included a lot of stops. Now, let me be clear that I am a firm believer in a “time on your feet” type of run, and that especially for a long run, sometimes relaxing and getting the time in is 100% beneficial. That isn’t the part that concerns me. What does concern me, however, is the stopping.
I have a read a lot of posts where the blogger in question brags about a 20 miler at <insert fast-ish pace here> via a Garmin shot, but then goes on to mention that she stopped at 72 water fountains, stopped at the car to eat something, stopped at 891 red lights, etc. I’ve always rolled my eyes and honestly said some pretty shitty things about that type of training. But then … I realized I am 100% guilty of it myself.
A lot of our group long runs involve meeting at a certain time, then looping back to pick up others, then heading out on a 60 minute route, stopping to then figure out where to go next, bathroom breaks, water bottle refills, etc. Now a lot of this is necessary break-age on a long run – if I have to poop, I’m going to poop. Not trying to deny anyone from responding to nature’s call. But when you have a group of 10ish people and they all have various needs, the breaks can really add up.
I went back and looked at some of my long runs in Garmin Connect, and active time vs total time occasionally varied as much as 20-30 minutes. That is a hell of a lot of down time.
Again, I don’t think this is a totally bad thing. And not all of my long runs have been like this. Many of them have been solid, at reasonable for me paces, with limited to no stops. But there was never any rhyme or reason to it. And 30 minutes of stopping during a 2.5-3 hour run is excessive, any way you slice it. I think that running long runs like that is not going to get me to a BQ time and it’s something I want to work on.
So my plan is to, well, plan. Plan a bit better for the long runs. I don’t want to not run with friends anymore, so I just need to have logistics figured out going in rather than flying by the seat of my pants. I don’t intend to completely eliminate the time of your feet style long runs either; I fully believe there is a place for those in any training plan. I just want to make sure that they are not the bread and butter of my training plan.
Part of addressing the long run issue will also include some marathon pace miles. But as I promised earlier … more on that next time.