My next race, the California International Marathon in Sacramento, is less than two weeks away, and I’m starting to get anxious and excited about running it. Training-wise I’m transitioning from my slightly unorthodox regimen of running blocks of long distance to a more traditional taper. And, since I believe tapering before a big race is so important, I’m putting my trust back into the hands of runners who know a lot more than I do about the sport. In spite of ignoring the marathon training plan I’ve used in the past during the run-up to CIM, I’m now turning to it as I start tapering.
I’ve said before I wanted to “shake up my routine” and break away from a strict training regimen while prepping for CIM, but these two weeks prior to the marathon are vital to race day success, and they aren’t a good time to start experimenting with running routines. In fact, some of the fatigue and stiffness I’ve experienced in the latter halves of my running weeks have prodded me to reconsider my views on the importance of tapering. I’m happy with the distance training I’ve engaged in for the past few weeks, and I believe it’s helped make me a stronger and more confident runner. But I don’t think running 50 mile weeks right before a marathon is a good idea. Conversely, I don’t know how little I should be running. So, I’m returning to the advice of experts and following the mileage suggestions from my trusty marathon training schedule.
I’ll follow the training schedule as closely as I can, and over the next two weeks I’ll be trading the physical aches and pains of getting in a lot of mileage for the mental stress of the taper. I’ll have to resist the urge to run when I shouldn’t along with the growing sense of impending failure which can creep up because, “You aren’t running enough!” Running as a sport has a huge mental component, and this tapering period is helping me realize my race begins well before I get to the starting line.
Last night’s training run was a disaster. Since any substantive discussion of what happened veers too closely into TMI territory, I’m only going to say a 20+ mile training run got cut short. It was too bad as my running itself felt great. I had warmed up nicely, my mechanics were good, and the biggest hills I’d face were already behind me. But what befell me was one of the myriad problems we spend so much time training to avoid knowing we may yet encounter it on race day. My whole week of running, in fact, has been one long teachable moment reinforcing both the importance of training as well as the value of listening to the training advice of others.
I use training runs not just to accumulate mileage, but also to practice for race day. I have experimented with fueling and fluid strategies to find out what works best for me. I’ve developed a routine of what I like to wear and carry with me, worked on how I want to approach different terrain, and, as race day approaches, I re-acquaint myself with how my watch works so using it properly comes automatically to me even as I trudge along at mile 23. Unfortunately one thing you can’t practice is taking a cup of water out of a volunteer’s hand while running through an aid station. A trivial detail to be sure, but I’ve heard many stories of folks sustaining injuries while slipping and sliding through water stops, and that’s not where I want my race day to end.
Training is also where you’re going to encounter situations you might not have considered and encourages you to take steps to deal with them. For example, I long resisted carrying a cel phone since I wanted to leave distractions like that behind as I ran. Now I carry a phone on runs of any distance after seeing a fellow have a nasty bicycle accident. It was a vivid reminder that something like this could happen at any time to anyone, and a phone call might be the best and only way to summon help even during a race.
Training allows us to take all of the lessons we’ve learned on those long runs and deal with problems we may encounter out there on the race course. It’s not a guarantee nothing bad will befall us, but it provides the confidence to overcome adversity. Raining on raceday? Draw strength from that 16 mile training run you did in that storm. Starting to feel a bit of muscle soreness in that left calf? Call to mind those long training runs where the mantra “Running is about pain management” took your mind off of things until the soreness subsided.
Racing conditions are seldom perfect, but that’s why we train so hard. That’s why we pull ourselves out of a warm bed before the sun has risen; why we run for hours after a long work day; why we put up with black toenails and blisters. It’s so we can deal with the challenges running throws at us head on and make it to the finish line.
Taking a look at my dailymile training log I discovered I put in 198 miles in October. Lots of miles to be sure, but why didn’t I put in just two more? If I would have turned a six-miler into a seven mile stretch and an eight into a nine-miler, then I’d be looking at 200 miles–a nice round number. I guess I’ll have to work a little bit harder in November.
September and October’s mileage also indicates I’ve gone all-in with my new marathon training strategy. Up until now I’ve relied on a marathon training schedule which had me running a moderate amount of mileage mid-week, followed by low mileage Saturdays, and long mileage Sundays. I still believe it’s a great training schedule, and I may follow it again in the future, but in the weeks following the San Francisco Marathon I was looking to shake up my routine. For one thing, I no longer wanted to follow a rigid schedule leading up to my next marathon. And secondly, I wanted to train in a way that would help me come to think running long distances was completely natural. I still follow the Monday-Wednesday; Saturday-Sunday framework of my former training schedule, but I don’t have a set distance to run on any of those days. Instead, I’ve taken to running longer distances on each of those days which adds up to more mileage overall each week. So, whereas Monday through Wednesday used to follow a 6, 8, and 6 mile rhythm, now I might run a 10, 10, 12 set or 12, 12, 8.
More importantly, I’m trying this new regimen while being mindful of injuries. I do have a little hip soreness which acts as a natural throttle to keep my pace slow at the beginning of any run, but it passes as soon as I’m warmed up and doesn’t return until I start my next run.
So far I believe this mileage build-up is working for me. My pace may have slowed a bit, but I am so far routinely able to run longer distances and feel fresh and recovered shortly after finishing. I’ve got one fantastic 20-miler under my belt this training cycle, and I’ll get one more in before December’s California International Marathon in December. Check out my race report after that run to find out whether I bonked hard at mile 17 or if I’m still happy with this long distance training philosophy.