Marathon Training Evaluation

Pardon me for yet another post about my marathon. There is just so much to talk about! Hopefully this will be my last post about Lakefront, as I’ve pretty much exhausted everything there is to say about it.

It’s been over a week, so I have had some time to digest this experience and also to analyze it. Luckily for me, there’s not too much to analyze: the race went really well and was pretty much a resounding success.

But this being my first marathon, expectations were not quite the same as they will be for future marathons. With that in mind, there are many things I will need to do differently for my next marathon.

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I have no regrets.  There’s no way I could have known on June 16th what I know now. Even with this experience under my belt, there is still a lot I have left to learn about marathon training and what works best for me. And when I learn those things, I’ll certainly talk about them but for now, I want to take a moment to assess my training – what worked, and what I need to do better next time.

Let’s start with the one thing I think went really well: long runs

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There is a lot of debate in the running community about how long your longest marathon training run should be. Some say you don’t need to go higher than 16 miles. Some brave souls do 26+, many do somewhere between 20 and 25, and it seems most do one 20-miler right before taper.

I did 22 as my longest, and I also did 2 20-milers, 3 18-milers, and 2 16-milers. Many people thought this was a LOT and were surprised I did multiple 20 and 18 milers. Fair enough. But I thought it worked REALLY well for me. Unless I were an experienced marathoner, I would not feel confident going into a marathon only having run 16 miles. I mean, geez, that’s 10 miles less than the marathon, which is equivalent to another long run!

Running these distances more than once was a great confidence builder. Long, uninterrupted runs allow one to simulate the marathon experience as closely as possible without running the actual marathon, and that’s what I wanted. It helped my mind and body feel prepared, and by the time race day rolled around, 26.2 was simply another long run, only a few more miles longer than what I knew I could do already.

If doing something else worked for you, I want you to do that. I’m certainly not trying to judge anyone who didn’t run as much as me. But let’s just say you will probably never see me top off at 16 or 18 miles when training for a marathon!

With that in mind, there is also much about my training that will need to be done differently in the future. The rest of my training wasn’t bad or wrong, I just know that I might not have been challenged enough and I can definitely do more in the future.

Here are some of the changes I will be making for Marathon #2:

Gu has got to go

Ain’t no lie, baby bye bye bye

Sorry Gu. You’ve done well for me, and I thank you for getting along with my stomach. But I just can’t deal with you anymore. You taste awful, and I’m wondering if you even make that much of a difference.

I actually did my 22-mile training run with no Gu. Yes. I ate before I went out, but all I took in during that run was water and Gatorade. And I was fine, in fact, as you may remember, I had one of the best training runs of my entire cycle that day (good weather helped too).

During my marathon, I took 3 Gus, and I dreaded having to take each one. I just think it’s time for a change.

When I start marathon training again next summer, I’d like to start experimenting with more natural fueling techniques, aka, real food. I would also like to minimize my dependence on fueling on the run as much as I can. I’ll still emphasize a good pre-run meal first and foremost – that seems to help me out more than any on-the-run fuel. I’ve been having GREAT luck with a little bit of coffee, toast with peanut butter, and some combo of banana, granola bar, and some dry Cheerios. It can be hard to strike the right balance between getting enough fuel and eating too heavy.


Higher Weekly Mileage

I’m sure when it’s BQ attempt time, I’ll look back on these totals and LOL

People who run more miles in training tend to get faster times. Many people shooting for a BQ, for instance, had weekly mileages almost double what mine were. To prepare themselves for the demands of their goals, they do longer speed work sessions and longer tempo and easy runs to build their bodies’ endurance for running hard for many miles.

I’m not going for a BQ yet, so I can probably dial down the intensity for now, but I know for sure that I could handle a higher weekly mileage load. As much as I grumbled about having to do 5-8 mile runs on weekdays, I often felt like I wasn’t quite doing enough and that my training wasn’t challenging enough.

Speed work, speed work, speed work. And maybe a little more speed work.

Soon interval times will be just as common in my training log as average mile paces

This is the biggest change I want to make for next time. If I want to run marathons faster, I need to be doing regular marathon-specific speed work. That means 800s and, more importantly, 1600m repeats. Once a week.

People who do speed work run faster. It’s science.

It’s not just about getting faster finish times, though. Speed work is good conditioning for the demands of the marathon, and it seems to help marathoners boost their endurance to run more efficient races.

Hills and Strength Training

They may not be alive with the sound of music, but they will train me well!
They may not be alive with the sound of music, but they will train me well!

Lakefront Marathon, bless its heart, is a pretty darn flat marathon. It’s no Chicago, but it’s quite modest. So naturally, I really didn’t do much (read: any) hill training. The rolling hills in most of my regular routes seemed like they would be enugh preparation enough for Lakefront’s demands, but it would have been to my benefit to incorporate more hill work anyway. And not every marathon I do will be so blessedly flat.

Plus, speed work has the benefit of killing two birds with one stone: you get stronger AND faster! As they say: “hills are speed work in disguise!”

I also want to incorporate more strength training into my routine. I’m going to be doing this for my current training for shorter races, so hopefully by the time I’m training for marathon #2 I’ll have made a habit of it!

And finally….

Stop comparing yourself to other people already

I recently heard someone say “there are just as many marathon training plans as there are marathon runners.” Marathoners are like snowflakes and tie-dye: no two are alike, and that means none of us are going to train the same way.

I’ve seen training plans that range in length anywhere from 12 weeks to 24 weeks. Some people do speed work practically every other day, some people don’t do it at all. Taper periods range from 1 to 4 weeks. I’ve seen longest runs as low as 16 miles and, for a few brave souls, as high as 26+. Some do more cross training and not as much running, while others only run. And on and on and on, with the point being: every one of us is simply trying to do what works for us. We all have different bodies, different skill levels, and different goals.

So don’t get so caught up in what everyone else is doing, no matter how many online articles are being thrown around about what every runner “should” be doing and “should NOT” be doing. Just focus on you.

Any suggestions for on-the-run carb intake?

What is one thing you will do differently for your next marathon training cycle?


8 thoughts on “Marathon Training Evaluation

  1. Great post, Hanna! I have a list of things going that I want to do differently for my next marathon training cycle — chiefly running more. I want to do more 20+ mile runs and I want to increase my weekly mileage.

    At mile 22 of the marathon I really wished I had done more 20+ milers just so my body would have been better acclimated to the ‘time on feet.’

    This first training cycle was definitely a great learning experience. The only reason we are able to make adjustments and improve now is because we have something to compare it to!

    1. Very true! Of course it’s easy for us NOW to say we want to increase our mileage next time, since we’re working on shorter distances and don’t have to worry about it yet! Hehe.

  2. I just checked back to tell you that I replaced my sneakers, and while the problem is not solved it is A LOT better–hope it works for you too!
    I don’t a “legit” comment, because my marathon is still “to be” but what I can tell you is that I would like at least 1 day per week of cross training (probably cycling). I had 6 days of running…it takes its toll.
    I agree about having a long run of at least 20 miles–for the confidence boost alone. Kristina had a great research article of long runs needing to be no longer than 2.5 hours…but I would like to make sure I got in 20 miles…
    speed work-loved it. It was REALLY a nice change up during the week.
    Fueling–probably will always be my weakest area. I have found Tailwind nutrition to be great. You don’t need gels with it, and it is VERY mild. For my 20 miler I had a banana, half a granola bar (GLuten free), half a cup of coffee. After 7 miles I had a water bottle of TWN and a honey stinger “cookie”. Then just water and 2 Gatorade cups (read…spilled 2 Gatorade cups down the front of me.). I felt good.
    What is the next race you are thinking of doing?

    1. So glad new shoes are helping! Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case with me. I ran with my new Brooks last night and I’m not seeing any changes. I’m hoping that it gets better as I get into more of a routine again though. I’ve only run twice, for a total of 6.5 miles, in the last 7 days, and my body is used to MUCH more than that. I really hope it gets better, but if not….at least this is happening AFTER the marathon. Having to take a break, miss training, and not be able to run my 10K as a goal race will be a big bummer but not the end of the world.

      My next marathon will be in the fall of 2015. I think I might try to get into the Chicago lottery, otherwise I’m going to to the Des Moines Marathon on Oct 18th. I’ll be doing my first half marathon in January, and plan to do a handful of them later this Spring.

  3. I’ve been so gone from the blogging community that I missed your marathon recap posts. So here it is, albeit belated: CONGRATULATIONS ON BECOMING A MARATHONER.

    Loved this post! I also really struggle with incorporating speed and hill work into my runs and I’m definitely going to focus on them after my race on Sunday. I’m just so incredibly lazy when it comes to going to track (also because speedwork really hurts) but I really want to get faster… priorities!

    1. Thank you!

      And hey, I actually enjoy speed work and I’m STILL lazy about getting to the track. Mostly because there aren’t any usable tracks on my side of town, and I don’t have a car, so getting to the other side of town just to run on a track is often a time-consuming transportation hassle that too often just isn’t worth it :-/ Speedwork can be done on a treadmill, but it’s just not the same.

      I found a stretch of uninterrupted sidewalk near my house that is relatively flat and exactly .25 miles, so I plan to use that for 400m repeats.

  4. I really liked your training plan and would like to do something similar for my next marathon. I don’t think my body could handle as many long runs as you did but I would like to throw in a 22-miler and two 20-milers. My IT band probably couldn’t have handled those runs this time around but hopefully next time it can! I would also like to switch to more natural fuel sources so I’m really interested to read your future posts on this!

    1. Yes, it definitely all depends on what the body can handle! I am lucky that mine could handle such high mileage week after week, partly because I had a good base built up from doing half marathons in May/June and was able to start marathon training at 10 miles for the long run

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