The thing I've loved about trail running and ultra running for the past few years has been the relaxed nature of it, but I guess that doesn't have to go hand-in-hand with the distance or terrain I choose to run on necessarily. I was so burned out on stressing over pace and setting PRs in road races. Looking back on it though, I wonder how hard I really pushed though. I can recall some mile interval sessions on the Asheboro golf course in 2002 and can say I'll probably never run that hard again, nor do I want to. A hard run always meant vomiting. There are things I didn't know then and things that I'm capable of now that will make my training better I think. Now that I'm running a bit faster I've regained interest in seeing what times I'm capable of.
Ready to push like I haven't since... really ever. I signed up for a road marathon March 20. Wrightsville Beach Marathon will be the first road marathon I've done since 2007 (I did casually run the Wild Hare training marathon in 2009, but that doesn't count) and I'm coming at it with a completely different approach.
For the first time in 6 years, I sat down and made a training schedule. What? I have been running what I feel like running, with the idea that I should get a long run in here and there and some hard efforts with the kids when it fits. But I felt like to have a good performance in March, I really need to focus on what I'm doing. Imagine that. I've developed a completely different philosophy too. I'm not sure it's that radical, but it's a lot different from what I used to do training for marathons. Here's what I used to do: An average day was 5-6 miles. I ran one tempo, fartlek or interval session each week, and I had a pattern for my "long" runs each week: 10, 12, 10, 14, 10, 16, 10, 18, 10, 20, 10, 20, 10, marathon race. Two days off each week. Weekly mileage was somewhere around 40-45 usually. I think this is fairly typical for a lot of beginner marathoners, but looking back on it, is there any wonder why nearly every marathon I fell apart between 16-20 miles??
I have always been one to experiment against sound training philosophy on purpose just to prove the validity to myself. Used to be, "What happens if I try to run 2 hours at tempo pace?" or "What does bonking feel like?" Most sound training philosophy says you can't increase volume and intensity at the same time. I think increasing each a little will be OK though. I have been running workouts harder than I ever have before. Started that at the end of November. Mileage is high for me at this time of year but not what I would consider truly high mileage. I often get in 75-100 mile weeks in the summer, but as a teacher, coach and dad, it's hard to do it during the school year. I know I couldn't handle 80 miles/week and hard, but I think 55-65 and hard will push me but not over the edge.
I used to do hard workouts that made me puke, like I said, but I think I can do even harder ones now, and do them smarter. These will be geared more for marathon+ than 5K racing. Last week, I did 8x400, which sounds easy, but I did them in 1:20 with a :30 rest, which is tough for me. Today I did 2 x 2 mile with a 4:00 break in between. I did today's run at what I consider tempo or 10K pace. It's hard to gauge that sort of pace since it's not all out. 2 miles at tempo on the track + warmup & cooldown has been my favorite rainy workout since about 2003. I've always been right at 13:20 and felt like it was comfortably hard. Today, I did two of them and was at 12:50 and 12:38 and felt like it was no harder than usual. So the hard workouts are going along nicely.
It stands to reason that a person who perpetually dies at mile 16-20 of a marathon and never runs over 20 in marathon training should consider bumping that up right? Eh, when I was training for marathons everything I read cautioned about going over 20-22 miles and 20 really was a struggle most of the time in training. So if you're putting in training runs of 26, 30, 40... you should fare much better shouldn't you?? Of course, not the best advice for someone looking to run their first marathon, but coming from ultras and moving down to marathon distance, this makes sense to me- work hard during the week and keep the long runs coming on the weekends. I'll also bump up my average weekday run to 7-8 miles and still get in 1-2 days of rest a week. In my schedule, I have stopped short of planning each day, but instead, have planned out the runs I need to do each week and then pick the days I want to do them on as I go along. My weekly long runs in the 9 weeks leading up to the marathon are: 20, 30, 26, 26, 18, 40 (Mt. Mitchell Challenge), 20 & 14.
On occasion, my long runs get pretty pedestrian... not really the running so much- I run at a decent pace, but sometimes I walk hills, appreciate the scenery, take a longer than needed break at the car to refuel, etc. Sometimes, that has to do with climbing thousands of feet on rough trails, but some of it's in my head. In the next 2 months, I'll move away from trails to an extent and plan the long runs where I can get better leg turnover and focus on running at a better clip with fewer distractions. Read "boring." :) But it's just temporary.
So I'm looking forward to the adventure of Mt. Mitchell in a month, and Hinson Lake in the fall is always high on my list of things to look forward to, but the marathon in 2 months has been the motivating spark the last couple of weeks. I'm excited. I'll know what time goal to go after closer to the race when I've figured a few things out.