Three weeks into the basebuilding phase of my marathon training pain that had been building in my right second toe became unbearable. Aches and pains are a part of running. This was something more serious; pain that made walking almost unbearable. I had been altering my training for several weeks, running well below what I wanted to run and what I felt would prepare me to have any sort of success in my May marathon.So I made the decision every runner dreads: to stop running. I took 12 days off. Better to heal up (I hoped) and re-start healthy than keep limping along. The approach worked and with a few tweaks to my running schedule, I am back on track for May.
The end of the nine-day training block…for now
Last month I raved about the virtues of a nine-day training block, where add in more easy miles and recovery days into the typical seven-day training schedule. Last fall this allowed me to build fitness more gradually and without injuries. I credit my big PR in my fall half marathon last year to this adaptation and had built my spring marathon plan to accommodate the same schedule. With my injury forcing me to drop mileage for several weeks and then requiring me to take 12 days off, I was well behind, maybe even impossibly behind, in my program to continue it as written and still have a chance to meet my goals for my May race.
Looking at the seven-day plan my training plan was based on, I decided to re-adopt a seven-day training block, at least for this spring, in an attempt to build enough fitness to not just finish my first marathon but attempt to tackle more audacious goal I still hope to chase.
Adapting your training mid-plan is not a dangerous thing to do if done right. Running coach Brad Hudson strongly advocates adapting your training from your pre-constructed plan in response to several factors that change during training and it makes a good deal of sense. Injuries, sickness, poor responses to planned runs, an inability to meet time goals all may indicate a need to alter even the most carefully constructed training plan.
The reason I felt I could make the change back to a seven-day training block was because the program I was following was light on hard workouts during the basebuilding phase of training, those early weeks of training when you are focused on building the endurance and strength to handle the tougher workouts that come later. During half marathon training the plan I followed included three hard quality workouts each week. Even with a high level of fitness I found this wore me out in the early segments of training. My marathon program, on the other hand, only has two such workouts during the first seven weeks before it ramps it up to three a week. Having lost nearly a month of quality training to my injury, I felt I could recover enough mileage to adequately build my base fitness before tackling three harder workouts a week. So far that thinking has proven correct: in four weeks I have run 25, 27, 31, and now 35 miles and felt stronger each week doing so.
Hitting the wall
Training for a race needs to include experimenting with how you will fuel, a reality that smacked me over the head last week. Typically I can go about 10 miles during a long run before I need to fuel up with a gel. I have, in fact, run a full 13 miles without needing to fuel. During long runs I typically take a gel about 7-8 miles in. During my 14-mile run on Thursday I took my GU hit right around 7.5 miles into my run and kept on moving. At Mile 13 I started to feel all the signs of plummeting blood sugar. The last mile was a horrible shuffle with me constantly telling myself to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. I finished, but it was not pretty.
I cannot figure out why I experienced the drop in blood sugar. I ate a decent breakfast then fueled up mid-run like I always do. The lesson, though, is valuable. I have been wondering how my body will respond in the coming weeks as my long run mileage ramps up from 14 miles to 16 then 18 then 20. It seems I may need to consider taking a gel every six or seven miles rather than waiting longer. I have to remember that my old stopping point, 13.1 miles, will only be the halfway point in May. It is no longer enough to be able to keep pushing at the 13.1 mile mark. I have to work on keeping myself running strong for the second half of the race to come.
An important goal I wanted to implement for 2016 was following a structured strength program. The temporary move back to a seven-day training block has helped me implement one. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, which feature harder runs, I run in the morning and then, in the evening, follow a strength plan outlined in Quick Strength for Runners. The plan is progressive, focusing first on building core strength and balance and then adding in exercises to strengthen your legs and upper body. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays I add more core work, body-weight exercises to build upper body strength, and work my hip flexors which have been a problem area for me in the past. Before every run I do several glute exercises to activiate those muscles (another problem area for me in the past and a concern for anyone who sits too long during the day) and follow every run with more glute exercises to improve overall glute strength. I credit this consistency with strength training with helping me come back quickly from my toe injury and handling the increasing mileage without any injury hiccups.
It’s a process, and sometimes it hurts
My last quality workout of the week was a six-mile run that included three miles at race pace. Nothing I haven’t tackled before. When I ran the workout on Saturday though, my legs felt sluggish, my muslces tight. It was simply one of those workouts where I wasn’t going to feel good.
I used to long for the workouts where I felt free and easy and the miles just melted away with seemingly little effort. I have come to recognize that these workouts are few and far between and, though memorable when they happen, not the end all be all of training. The longer I run, the more my body just accepts that this time on the road is just another day at the office and we will get through the workout.
I used to think I was doing something wrong if my workouts didn’t have that free and easy feeling. Then I read a quote that changed my perspective on racing and training. The essence of the quote was that it is important not to wish that every run or race will be painless, but rather to embrace the idea that with running pain and difficulty are going to be a part of the game. Satruday was just one of those runs. I got through it. The race pace miles were logged, another successful day at the office. On to next week.