Its now been nearly 3 weeks since I raced the Shamrock Marathon and achieved my long term goal of running a sub-3:10 marathon. This was a goal time I've chased for a number of years even before the BQ times shifted another 5 minutes faster. It just so happened that this time now qualified me for Boston since I'll be aging up for next year's race. And while I believe I was trained to run close to a 3:05 on a perfect day (the BQ time for men under 35), my original goal was to run sub-3:10, which is exactly what I set out to do. So with that goal checked off, its time to look back at the training behind the result, consider what worked well, what didn't, and lastly what is next on my schedule.
My Training Looking back over the past 4 months of training leading up to the race, I was able to incorporate a wide variety of workouts, each with their own purpose. And while I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do over the course of the training cycle, I only kept that framework static. The actual workouts and specific progressions were determined within a week or so of the workout, depending on how my body felt. I've found this approach works best for me on multiple fronts. First, it forces me to stay focused on the week or day versus looking too far down the training cycle; and second, it forces me to listen to my body before I decide the workout. Its very easy to get caught up in a plan and feel you have to do "x" workout on a particular day when you have everything laid out. But I think this approach allows for you to stay in the moment, something we all should spend more time focusing on.
Mileage During the Training Cycle
As you can see by the graph on the side, I was able to train pretty consistently throughout the training cycle. January was my highest monthly volume total ever, with December being only 5 miles shy of that previous total as well. My peak volume for a given week was 83 miles, but I also hit 81 miles another time. Both of these weeks came toward the end of my build phase, prior to the race specific phase. That laid down two months of high volume work, with lots of quality workouts throughout the time, to build upon for the final race specific focus in the last 4-6 weeks of training. For those wondering, I follow a funneled periodization model where the earlier training focus is on high volume and training at paces a fair bit faster (intervals, threshold runs, etc) and slower (long runs) than goal pace. As the race gets closer, the pace ranges creep closer toward goal pace, with less work spent at paces far away from what my race will require.
What Worked As a coach and an inquisitive runner, I am always looking for ways to better improve my training methods. On the whole, I am blind to one specific approach being "the best way to train". As a result, I like to tinker with my own training to see how it works, especially before recommending it to others. Just to be clear though, I never drastically change anything. I make small tweaks. Changing too much throws off everything and you lose control of the ability to measure the effectiveness of any one approach. So what was the change I implemented this training cycle?
Adding more quality to my long runs during the race specific phase by including marathon paced runs the day before my long runs.
Let me give an example: On Friday, I'd run 8 total miles, with 6 of them at aerobic threshold (slightly faster than marathon pace). On Saturday, I'd do my long run, which might include a workout like 2 mi easy, 3 x 5 mi at marathon pace with 1 mi easy between each set, 1 mi cool down.
The theory behind this training approach is to establish a moderate level of fatigue (and glycogen depletion) leading into the long run, which will simulate the fatigue experienced during the marathon. The long run workout is already challenging, but when you add in the work from the day before, it is tough but effective. I found myself hurting pretty good during the end of the long runs when I incorporated this type of workout, often forcing me make the call of giving in and going easy, or toughing out the rest of the workout. After one run early on where I gave in to the fatigue, I made sure to never let it happen again. I had to remind myself that the point of these workouts is to get to THAT point, where you have to decide to quit or keep going. And if you can keep going, it will make the race much easier. So after that one run, I made sure to remind myself whenever things got tough, to keep pushing. As a result of the difficulty of these workouts, I wouldn't recommend most runners jump right into this type of approach, as it is definitely more advanced and therefore, an injury risk. However, for those that have been training consistently and run high mileage, this training concept may provide a breakthrough in your performance.
What Didn't Work Because of the increased stress from the combined Friday/Saturday workouts, this meant I had to pull back one of the days I previously used for a quality workout, giving me only 2 quality workouts per week: a tempo run and the Friday/Saturday combo long run. I found the weekly cycle of 2 weekday workouts in addition to the Friday/Saturday workout a bit too much for me to handle, so I backed off what would have been a Wednesday or Thursday quality day, and turned it into a moderate day. This could be something like progression run, where the progression only goes down to aerobic threshold versus something more stressful like lactate threshold. That way, I still got a moderate training stimulus, but not so much that it would impact my ability to execute the long run workout.
What's Next? It's funny - almost everyone I talk to asks me what my next race is. At first, I laughed because I just want to enjoy myself for a bit before moving on to the next goal. Once the next goal is out there, the previous race experience goes out the window. I'm not ready for that....yet. Though now that the three weeks have passed since the race, I am starting to let those thoughts creep in. In short, I'm going to focus on some faster races. Since I've been on this marathon quest, I've had to hold off from all the shorter, faster stuff to focus on the training required to do well at the marathon. And while I jumped into a few races along the way to keep my racing chops up, I rarely raced a 5k or a 10k, as they were too different from the marathon to be beneficial. So now I want to spend some time focusing on them.
To be honest, I feel like my PRs from the 5k, 10k and half marathon are soft and ready to be taken down. So my plan is to start back up and systematically reset those PRs. It's been nearly 2 years since I've raced the 5k and 10k distances. I KNOW I've got better times in me. Now I just have to go out there and prove it.