Much to talk about in today’s training check-in, so get your readin’ eyes ready cause this is the only picture you’re getting out of all of it.
This past week of training was a case study in highs and lows. Now that I am in the heavy, marathon-specific 3rd mesocycle of my training, my main focus has shifted to high mileage and loading my legs up with cumulative fatigue. I logged 53.75 miles this week and plan to peak at 63 in a few weeks, so that means a lot more easy running during the week. I ran 6 times this week with two key workouts: my long run, and a marathon-pace-turned-tempo run.
My plan for the tempo was for 9 miles with 6 at goal marathon pace. What I ended up with was a tempo run at slightly under goal half marathon pace and the best run I’ve had in a long time. After two unremarkable warm up miles, I launched into the workout. I could tell I was slightly faster than an 8:20-8:25 pace, but it didn’t seem like the 7:59 my watch told me it was when the next mile chimed in. So I made what I thought was a conscious effort to slow down, and I honestly thought I did, but then the next mile chimed in – 7:54. Buoyed by the fact that my effort level was getting more comfortable but I was still maintaining a fast pace, the thought flashed through my head: what if I could run all 6 of my tempo miles at that pace? And so it was game on. You can’t un-ring that bell. I knew I should probably slow down to get the MP practice I was supposed to be getting tonight, but now that I had that momentum and felt so strong I just couldn’t give it up. I kept the effort even, feeling perfectly fine and well in control the whole time, and it just kept getting better: 7:55, 7:48, 7:45, 7:40 (!) . With warm up and cool down included, my overall average pace for the 9 miles was 8:19, which is my half marathon PR pace.
I keep having to pinch myself that this workout really happened. 6 sub-8:00 miles in a row and I barely had to push for them. I felt like I could have kept going for a few more miles at that pace, no problem. I wouldn’t say it “felt easy” but maintaining that pace took remarkably less effort than it usually does. This was just the workout I needed at just the right time, as I’m at that point in training where things just grind along and every run feels the same as the one before it and I wonder if all my hard work is actually doing anything to improve my fitness. It was a huge confidence booster not only that my training must be paying off at least a little bit, but that the sub-1:45 half marathon I’ve had my heart set on really is within my grasp – I just need the right nice, cool race morning to come along so I can finally snatch it.
On the flip side, this weekend was the first time in quite a while that I had a long run I didn’t feel great about. It wasn’t bad, it just…wasn’t awesome. It was my first 18 miler of this training cycle, and I did the Lincoln Memorial Drive hills workout I’ve done a couple times for my long run this winter – basically, there are three main hills along this drive and I run back and forth between them, doing reps on each one, to get my long run miles in. I don’t go crazy on the reps, just try to keep an even easy pace, and I add a lot of flat miles to the run with warm up and cool down (in this case, I actually did 7 miles of non hills, and that doesn’t include traveling between the hills). The idea is to build strength and simulate a course with constant rolling hills, since we don’t have anything like that here.
The previous two times I did this as a long run I felt so awesome and strong at the end, but today, I just felt tired. It rained the entire time, and it was a late Sunday morning and my motivation to go out for my longest run in a year was at an all-time low (and that’s saying something, because my motivation for long runs is ALWAYS low). My average pace was not faster than the last time I did this workout, or even the first time I did it. It was decent, but I had been hoping I would have improved since last time. I’m hoping this is just the cumulative fatigue at work. Besides, we all have off days, right?
Now, onto other news! Big things are a-brewin’ this week: Sunday, I’m running my first race of 2016 and my 10th half marathon. It is a hilly course so I thought it would make a great tune-up race for Pittsburgh.
I haven’t decided how I want to run this race, and I probably won’t decide until I cross that starting line on Sunday. On the one hand, I should use it as goal MP practice – I really need more practice at that specific pace, especially in a race environment and on hills, and at this point in training I can’t afford the extra recovery time that fast PR effort would require. On the other hand, part of me wonders if I should treat it as a long tempo run and race it truly by feel, no watch-checking, so I can come away with a more authentic picture of where I’m at fitness-wise right now. Especially after that confidence-boosting tempo run that showed me a 1:45 half is closer than I thought. I keep going back and forth, so I’ve given up trying to make a decision now and I’m just going to see how it goes on Sunday morning.
No matter what I decide, after this weekend I will have a much clearer picture of whether or not my marathon goals are a realistic possibility – a thought that is both exciting and terrifying. I’ll also get a sense of how I handle hills in a race environment. Even if race day weather is wonky, or some other day-of factor throws off my performance, I think I’ll still come away with a good idea of whether or not I’m in over my head with my marathon goal pace. So there are definitely some nerves going into this weekend, as I feel it will be a turning point of sorts in my training. But I’m also excited – it’s been 10 months since I ran a half marathon I actually felt trained for, and I’ve really missed racing these past few months!
The other good news is that in order to rest up for this weekend’s race, this week will be a de facto cutback week for me and I am really looking forward to that. I’m taking an extra rest day and I’m planning about 38-40ish miles for the week.
Next weekend we are going to visit my family in Iowa for the Easter weekend. I have to confess that the primary purpose of the visit is running-related. Remember the hilly route I ran as my 10 mile long run in Week 1?
I want to go back and run it as a 20 miler. I’m oddly excited about it – it will be a nice change in running scenery, I’m excited to see how I’ve progressed in 12 weeks of training, and I think a super hilly 20 miler will help me feel really prepared for Pittsburgh. Also, I’m looking forward to having a little getaway. Even though I just got back from vacation, I already feel like I need another vacation.
And then, after that, I’m running another half marathon on April 2nd. Since this is a week before I start taper, I’m likely not going to try any funny business and will probably tack on some miles and treat it as a long run with goal MP practice. The race was $12 and it a mile from my house, and it’s where I set my PR last Spring. I can’t not do it.
Whew! That was a lot of jibber jabber. So as you can see, there is a lot going on in the next 4 weeks taking me into taper. Oh my god, it’s only 4 weeks until TAPER? It’s crazy how training is so long and monotonous for so many weeks and all of a sudden it just starts flying by. Pretty soon this is all going to get REAL!