Going Where I’ve Never Gone
These last two weeks were weeks I have been waiting for. I reached weekly mileage I have only touched on two or three times previous in my training. I ran long runs that were further than I have ever traveled. Two weeks ago it was an 18-miler. It was an unseasonably warm day and I headed to the Cuyahoga Valley and a part of the Towpath that I have tackled some of my previous longer long runs on before.
The run itself went better than I may have hoped. I kept to my normal pace, around 7:50 per mile for the first eight miles. The miles felt effortless. Unlike in previous years, where I would approach ten miles and start to anticipate the end of the run, on this day no such thoughts crossed my mind. It was the first time I felt like a true marathoner. I did not want to finish; I wanted to see how strong I could stay in the coming miles.
After the ninth mile, I looked at my watch: 7:36. I had dropped 15 seconds off my pace. And there the pace would stay. Though I knew I was pushing the envelope at this pace, I did not feel I was working particularly hard. I have been working hard to stay aware of my fueling needs and, when I felt my blood sugar dropping around Mile 13, I took a gel and my pace never diminished. In all, I would finish running 18 miles at a 7:43 pace, very encouraging for such a run.
A week later I attempted my first 20-mile run. Overall the run was another success. My pace was only six seconds per mile off of what my previous run had been. Even better, I had purposely planned this run for a hillier course than the previous week’s outing, with the first four miles largely being downhill and the return journey ending with a four mile series of small and large climbs.
I feel I made a misstep during this run however, putting too much stock into the times I had posted the previous week. Part of what had made my 18-mile run so promising was that I did not really plan to run the splits that I did. I simply felt strong, ran composed, and the strong splits were a result. For my 20-miler, a run I had already planned on being more punishing with the hills, I consciously tried to match my times from the previous week, twice running miles that were under 7:20, a pace that is closer to my race pace than my predicted long run pace. Worse, I was putting forth far more effort to maintain these paces than I had put in the previous week.
If I had planned a fast finish run, where the end of my long run was intended to come close to these sort of higher octane paces, that would be one thing. That was not my intent. My intent was to tire myself out and then see how I handled the hilly finish at the end of the run, mirroring the sort of finish I will face at Cleveland in May. Well I was tired when I hit the hills, but more tired than I should have been and it finally cost me. After a climb less than two miles from the finish I had to take a quick break and walk. The walk was not long, maybe three minutes or so, but the intent of the run, to leave something in the tank at the end to power through all the final climbs, was not quite met.
So lesson learned. My 22-mile run in two more weeks, the peak of my marathon training long runs, will also feature a hilly conclusion. I suspect I will be slightly less interested in racing myself into a tired leg frenzy before I actually tackle the whole point of the run.
Juicing Up the Fast Work
Though they are my least favorite sort of workouts, I have come to develop tremendous respect for tempo runs. Tempo runs build endurance by forcing your body to learn how to fight fatigue in the presence of hydrogen ions that are released into the body during exercise. In the past I have struggled with these runs, often run at a perceived exertion of 8 out of 10. However, last year I decided that I would not only tackle this type of run, I would make it harder. I did this after reading an article from Competitor Magazine senior editor Mario Fraioli. The article, which you can read here, describes a workout called a tempo-hill sandwich. The basic outline of the workout is that you run warm up miles, then run 3-6 hill repeats of 20 seconds, take a quick active break, run half your planned tempo mileage, take another quick active break, then repeat the hill runs and tempo run. The hill runs emphasize speed, power, and explosiveness right before you subject yourself to a workout that emphasizes aerobic endurance and becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable for a long period of time.
Basically you get your butt kicked but get more out the workout with the combination.
The workout is so hard that in the past, especially in warmer weather, I have struggled to finish it.
Two weeks ago, though, I conquered the monster. I ran the workout as described and was surprised to see how effortless it was to run at tempo pace, at times well under tempo pace, which I had to pull back on (don’t leave your race in a workout).
Then last week I tackled a full seven miles of tempo work. The workout went well, though a train crossing delayed me for a good five minutes or so two and a half miles into the workout, negating some of the planned discomfort the workout is supposed to provide. Still, I finished my final miles running hard, right around my half marathon pace, and feeling strong and in control.
Something to Worry About
I noted in an earlier training log that foot pain in my right foot had forced me to the sidelines for about ten days back in January. Since that time I had the problem largely under control. Following my 18-mile run though, pain started to linger again. This coincided with my weekly mileage creeping into the 40+ mile range and I think it was in part due to the condition of the track during that long run. The Towpath is largely crushed gravel on a dirt base. In the summer this is largely smooth. Though the track was dry for my long run, the effects of a wet winter left it full of ruts, foot prints, and divots that had all hardened. These were not enough to turn ankles or cause me worry over my footing, but I noticed my toes clenched more often to find better footing. The pain was noticeable the next day.
So far the irritation is just that, irritation. Nothing I cannot handle and nothing that, so long as I am wearing shoes, makes me think this will be anything more than a nuisance.
I am less than six weeks away from my race. I am running strong. The irritation is not noticeable when I am running though some pain creeps in when I am done. Unless this exacerbates into something more over the next few weeks, I cannot imagine I will deviate from my course. We’ll see.
Mileage over the last two weeks: 42 miles, 43 miles
Mileage so far this year: 387.1 miles