I said before that taper is the best time to reflect on the training cycle, because it’s still fresh in your mind and your opinion of it hasn’t yet been influenced by the race outcome.
And yet, I sit here, struggling to succinctly recap the last 16 weeks. The start of this training cycle feels like it was two years ago and everything before March seems as distant as last night’s dream. But, recap I must, so let’s dig in and see what we find.
My plan for this training cycle was to divide the 15 training weeks into three 5-week mesocycles: one to build my general running fitness, one to slowly transition into more marathon-specific work and the last one to pack in high mileage and long aerobic workouts.
During my first five weeks of training, I focused on building up the running fitness that had fallen off a bit during my extended off season and priming my body for more marathon-specific work in the coming weeks. I did short-interval speed work, some cross and strength training, and held off on trying very much goal MP practice.
In weeks 5-10, I tried to keep the variety in my routine but also started to introduce more marathon-specific running into my regimen. MP practice showed up more frequently, weekly mileage gradually increased, long runs hit and exceeded the dreaded 16 mile mark, and speed work graduated to mile repeats and tempo runs.
After 9 weeks of training, I took an entire week (actually, 9 days) off from running when I went on my trip to Guatemala. After being active that entire week, I came back to training as if I’d never been gone, and nothing was different.
Except…something was different.
After I resumed training, I noticed that my feelings and attitude toward training were starting to go in a different direction. While I still wanted to work hard, I began to feel like the rigid structure, attention to detail and obsession with pace during my first 8 weeks of training were no longer right for me. Around the time that I began my 3rd “mesocycle” (last 5/peak weeks of training), I started to adopt more of an intuitive training philosophy.
Laura is a great resource if you want a better explanation of what it mans to train intuitively, but basically, I stopped following a pre-defined plan and made week-by-week adjustments based on how I was feeling. I still followed a loose plan every week for weekly and daily mileage and when to do key workouts, but each week I played it by ear, deciding which workouts to do based on how I felt and what areas of my training needed work. I stopped trying to hit specific paces in my workouts and focused instead on pushing myself out of my comfort zone and making each workout count. I decided to incorporate a lot more hill repeat workouts, because over time I had learned that these workouts were most helpful to both my hill running and my overall speed
I also gave myself permission on a few occasions to cut out runs that were just going to be junk miles (aka, not serve any actual training purpose, just boost my weekly mileage total). While this did cause me a little bit of anxiety at times, I ultimately feel I made the right call, as this allowed me a bit of a breather when I really needed it and my fitness didn’t suffer as a result.
Around the time all of this was happening another development occurred: I decided to let go of my time goal and just focus on racing to the best of my ability. While I still have dreams for a PR (letting go of time goals does NOT mean I don’t want to race well!), I can honestly say I have felt so much happier now that I’ve let go of my time goals. Not only do I feel like I have more freedom and excitement in my training, but my attitude toward the race has changed – it’s allowed me to have a more positive and open-minded attitude about race day and appreciate what an accomplishment it is just to run a marathon.
I strongly recommend that more of my fellow runners try out this approach for one of their big races, at least once. It’s not easy to give up time goals, but I can honestly say that doing it was a very liberating and joyful experience for me. It has really changed my attitude and mood, for the better.
So, in general:
I feel good about this training cycle. I don’t think I made any “breakthroughs”, but I worked hard and diligently and I put in 15 solid weeks of training. In the last 5 weeks in particular, I really nailed some hard workouts and I can already see a little bit of the payoff from that. There were a few times I got antsy about my weekly mileage and wondered if I made the right call about cutting back miles or doing a tempo run/racing a half marathon instead of practicing MP. My training certainly wasn’t perfect – but when is training ever perfect?
But those imperfections are sort of what I love about this training cycle. I’m proud of the hard work I put in and the discipline it took to get through, but I’m equally proud of myself for learning to trust my instincts and follow my heart more than my training plan. I can see now that this training cycle was always more about improving mentally and emotionally than it was about getting faster, and I can honestly say I’m happy with how the journey turned out.
I’ve mentioned this before, but my big regret for this training cycle was that I didn’t branch outside my training comfort zone. Since I was never really gunning for any HUGE improvements that would demand a more focused, less risky training approach, I wish I would have taken this opportunity to experiment with a different training style or philosophy, so that I could continue to learn what does and does not work for me and build off that. But what’s done is done, I still did good work and now that I’ll be focusing on structure-free running and then shorter distances for the rest of the year, I have plenty of freedom to try out all those new things.
I’ve discussed this at length already, but after the race I am taking a 3-month hiatus from ANY racing. I’ll be using that time to focus on running for fun, with no Garmin and no structure. I’m also hoping to get into some other activities like yoga, biking and hiking.
At the end of the summer, I hope to get back into training again. I’m not sure what to train for, but I’m leaning toward a season full of 10Ks. Not necessarily to hit a certain time goal, but just to develop my shorter distance fitness and then use the races to see how I’m progressing. Plus, I love the 10K distance.
I am reluctant to let go of my goal to break 1:45 in the half marathon by year’s end. I may still decide to go that route, but I am a little burnt out from long-distance training and I know that in order to improve as a runner, I need to take time to focus on shorter distances and develop the systems that get neglected during marathon training. My vision is that a fall of 10Ks would transition into training for a goal half marathon in the spring and then my next marathon in the fall of 2017. Again, this is all premature at this point – I don’t know what summer will bring so I’m keeping my options open!
Even though I’ve been so anxious for the training to be over with, compiling that collage of pictures at the top of this post made me unexpectedly wistful. It’s been a good, long journey, full of hard work and pride, and I really can’t believe it’s coming to an end soon. It’s making me a little emotional, actually. I suppose that’s a good thing – it means I had a good run and that this journey was meaningful and impactful. It’s a bittersweet goodbye but I can’t stop life from moving ahead.
I talk about post-marathon life like it’s going to be all sunshine and roses in la la land, but I also know remember that inevitable empty “void” feeling – like something is missing – that always hits once the marathon journey is abruptly over. I’m dreading it. But, it too will pass, and I know that this new “hit reset” chapter has been a long time coming for me.
I wonder how I’ll blog about running now that I’m not training for anything. How much can I write about just running for fun? Everyone in the blog world is always working toward something and training toward something – where does that leave me?
But, I’ll just have to figure it out as I go. Hey, if i could do that in the peak weeks of marathon training, I can do it any time!!