Well, this post was originally just going to be about my hill training last week but I feel like I have so much to talk about so this post has evolved into a big buffet platter of all things training right now.
The 12 Days of Taper-mas
You know the whole 12 days of Christmas counting down to Christmas day? On Tuesday I realized I have 12 more workouts remaining until I finally – dear god, FINALLY – start tapering, so I have thus coined these next couple weeks as “The 12 Days of Taper-mas”. On the 12th Day of Tapermas my training plan gave to me: 12x400m hill repeeeeeeeats! And damned if it didn’t leave me completely wrecked, too. Holy cow. Welcome to the peak weeks of training! But if you can get through a 10 mile workout that includes 12 sprints up a .25 mile hill without keeling over or just sitting on the curb sobbing because life is unfair, then you can run a marathon. I’m convinced.
Needless to say, I think these next 1.5 weeks are going to continue to be a mental struggle. I’m not afraid of the work, but I am just so ready to be done training. 1.5 weeks – it sounds so short and SO close, but it feels like it might as well be 5 more years away. I want it to be taper time so badly (if you couldn’t tell by my recent musical improvisations...).
The Hills Are Alive
This past weekend was my first 20-mile long run. I was in my hometown in Iowa for the Easter weekend and I ran a double-loop of the hilly 10 mile route I did as a long run in Week 1. Don’t believe everything you think about Iowa, folks. This is what I had to work with:
And that was the day after a 10-miler, on a different route, that looked like this:
Just for funsies, here’s the Pittsburgh Marathon course elevation. Keep in mind that the scale and distance are different than the other two, which makes it look slightly less dramatic, but you can compare the elevation grades.
The run went really well. It’s not my fastest long run, but I’m impressed with the average pace given that my first mile was somehow a 10:40.
My last 5 miles started at 9:00 and progressed down to goal MP and it didn’t feel that hard. It was mostly downhill at that point, but not all of it was, so that was pretty cool. What was really cool was that at the end of the run, it didn’t feel like I had just run 20 miles. It didn’t seem any longer or harder than some of the 16, 17 and 18 mile training runs I’ve had. I’m sure the change of scenery helped, and the constant hills allowed me to engage different muscles and helped break up the time. I also think it helped me recover much faster – less pounding and repetition, I suppose.
The hills – they were hard. They look hard, and they were. Some of them were just ungodly. But it got me thinking how this whole training cycle is really like one giant hilly course. Sometimes you’re going downhill, cruising on confidence from conquering such a huge hill; and sometimes you’re pushing uphill, slow and laboriously, being broken down and completely humbled by the earth. You feel cocky, then you feel intimidated and unsure. You feel in control, then you feel like a total amateur. You feel ready, you feel scared. It’s easy, it’s hard. You love running, you hate running, you love running.
So…it’s that time. I’ve come far enough in my training – 20 milers, tune up races, tons of workouts – that I have a pretty good idea about whether my goals are realistic and if I need to adjust them.
I’ve had some time to think, and while training is going great and I have no complaints, I no longer feel comfortable shooting for a 3:40 finish time in Pittsburgh. I feel slightly more comfortable shooting for a PR/sub-3:45, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t want any finish time goals for this race. I’m just feeling so over it. All I want is to run it and try the best I can and be happy with whatever that gets me.
It’s not that I don’t think I’m capable. It’s just that there are too many external factors at play, and I don’t have the time or energy to try to micromanage them. There’s the weather – I don’t know what it will be, but weather around the first weekend in May is always dicey and unpredictable, and I feel like I need to prepare for the worst. There’s the crowds – Pittsburgh is notorious for having a super crowded start, with the marathon, half, and relay all starting together. Finally, there are like 100 turns in this damn course. Course turns are a blessing if it happens to be a windy day, but oh dear god the tangents. This could mean running at least half a mile longer that 26.2 to get to that finish line, which has a big effect on pacing. There are just too many variables, and I would rather defer to the day and work with it instead of against it.
And then there’s my training. I’ve worked hard and trained well, but I have a confession: I haven’t been playing by the rules as much lately. There has been a lot more switching things around, modifying the focus and goals of certain weeks, playing it by ear, and I have not been doing much practice at my specific marathon pace. Instead, I have been focusing on harder tempo runs and hill workouts in an effort to keep improving my fitness and pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I feel that these things are really helping my marathon preparation, but not making it easier to know exactly what finish time I can run.
Perhaps this is just me not being diligent in sticking to my plan, but really I think it reflects that I no longer want to tie my success to a specific finish time – I just want to see what I’m capable of. I want to put in some hard, gritty but gratifying work and let the chips fall where they may. Just once, I want to step back, stop thinking so much, and just let something be a surprise and a mystery. I don’t want to feel like I can only be satisfied if I get a certain finish time. I want this to be fun and I want to be focused on the sheer accomplishment and humanity that a marathon encompasses. I want to race this one on my terms, not the clock’s. I want to give 100% and be happy with whatever that ends up looking like. I want to be proud of the work I put in to get to this point instead of constantly worrying if it measures up to some random standard.
I’d love for this marathon to be killer fast and go beyond my expectations, but if that happens, I want it to be because it was meant to be on that particular day, not because it was expected going in. This is a different journey than the one I took to Grandma’s Marathon, and it will be a different race. In my gut I know that the triumph of this marathon isn’t going to be another breakout performance. And that’s okay! This one is going to test me. It’s going to talk back to me. It’s going to push me to the limit and break me down the ground and rebuild me back up to the top all in a few hours. It’s going to be fun but it’s going to be gritty. It could possibly and just barely be my fastest marathon yet, but it will be the hardest. It will be messy. But in all of that, it will also be uniquely fulfilling and my most rewarding marathon yet.
So that’s where I stand now. I’m not ruling anything out, I’m just going to keep pushing full steam ahead and let whatever’s meant to be happen naturally.
Oh by the way, I’m running another half marathon this weekend. I said a couple weeks ago that I wanted to try for another faster PR, but I don’t really feel like racing this one anymore, and I no longer care as much about PRing my half. I’m tired and I don’t want to slow down my training momentum right now, and I just want to get these two weeks over with and get to taper already. Plus, it’s apparently going to be really windy on Saturday. I will probably just treat this as a tempo run and keep my eye on the prize.