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Monday, March 4, 2013

Taper Madness

Wow, I have done a really poor job of updating this blog!  I can't believe it's been since the middle of December.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised though, I don't write all that much normally so why should this be any different?

For my first marathon I really had no idea what I was doing.  I found what I thought to be a reasonable training plan on the internet and followed it.  This was a very basic plan, designed to get you across the finish line but just barely.  There were no "quality" workouts (speed, hills, tempo) at all, just miles on a calendar.   Eventually I figured out that my plan had me running a lot less miles than most "beginner" plans but by that time it was too late.  I couldn't safely increase my miles significantly without risking injury.  I was still clueless about most aspects of training for a marathon.  The good part is that I didn't know how much I didn't know.  I was just focused on finishing the race and I wanted to finish in less than 4 1/2 hours.  I accomplished both of those goals and I was and still am really happy with the way it turned out.

After that race I went on to make a whole series of bad decisions that resulted in getting injured a few times and missing out on running a fall 2012 marathon.  Somewhere along the line I decided I should probably get at least a little bit educated about this sport that I find myself infatuated with.  So I started reading more and corresponding with a group of people on the Runners World website.  Eventually that group of people moved to a different website called Running Ahead. The group is pretty varied, men and women, young and old, married and single, fast and slow but all with a shared interest in training to run marathons,sharing information and encouragement to other runners.  These folks have been an invaluable part of my training.  The really cool part is that there are some very FAST runners on this site.  People that run at paces I can only dream of. The great part about that is they treat everyone the same. You might expect the "elite" runners to be a bit snobby and well, elitist but not in my experience.  They treat us mere mortals great and I think that is a great testament to the running community. Runners always want to win but they always encourage each other too and I really like that.

Several training plans were recommended to me by online friends.  I looked at a few and ended up selecting one from a book called "Advanced Marathoning".  By no means am I advanced, but I really wanted to make a big improvement for this race and I felt like the quality workouts included in this plan would be a big benefit to me.  I still don't know what I'm doing, but I have a much better idea of how much I don't know.  At least I think I do, maybe I'll look back later and realize that I was wrong!

I felt like I had a pretty solid base laid down before staring this training.  I was running 25-30 miles per week.  I struggled to get the runs in the first few weeks and looking back though I think I should have been getting a few more miles each week.  I also should have varied my distances more.  Most of the time I was running three of four 5 mile runs during the week and then a 10-12 mile run on the weekend.  I think that getting one mid-week run of 8 miles or more and stretching the long run to 14-16 would have been better.  Still, I adapted to the training plan fairly well.  The big exception to that was the additions of speed work to my training.  It seems that I'm perpetually on the edge of Achilles tendon injuries.  I had a lot of AT soreness after runs that included any runs that were faster than my half marathon pace.  After the injury scare that I had at the beginning of December, I decided to replace all of the really fast runs with "tempo" runs at either marathon or half marathon pace.  That seemed to work for me pretty well.

January went well. I hit all of my runs and got a new weekly mileage personal best of 57 miles and a new monthly mileage personal best of 216 miles.  Most importantly I stayed injury free.  I had several long runs that went really well.  I ran a 20 and a 22 mile long run that both went great.

February was good too.  I can only remember one run that didn't turn out good and that was my half marathon time trial.  I ran too fast.  I knew I was running too fast but I couldn't slow down enough and ended up blowing up at mile 12 and walking the last mile back to my car.  I don't think I let that shake my confidence much.  It was a good lesson in learning to pace properly and what happens if you try to run faster than your ability.  Other than that, all my runs went pretty good and my only complaint was starting to feel a bit burned out from all the running.  I learned from some others that this is just part of the process and even the crazies that run 75-85 miles (and more) a week start to feel that way after a while.

The other big news from February is that I changed races!  The logistics of driving all the way to Virginia Beach to run on the 17th just weren't working so I registered for Rock n Roll USA in Washington DC on the 16th instead.  The course looks really cool but it has hills which is not something I had to worry about in Virginia Beach.  To try and prepare for that, I stopped doing all my long runs at the C&O Canal and switched to running long in my neighborhood instead.

So that brings us to March.  I officially started my "taper" the last week of February but I like a two week taper better than three so I added an extra run during the week to keep my mileage up a little bit.  I also capped the week with the 16 mile run that was on my training plan, but I decided to treat it as something of a dress rehearsal and did a 1 mile warm-up followed by 15 miles at marathon pace.  I ran this one at the canal, which I really missed.  It was my good-bye run at the canal for a while.  I probably won't get back there to run again until April.  I ran the 15 just a little bit too fast but not enough to make me blow up.  I took a rest day yesterday and had planned a 7 mile easy run today. My legs felt good yesterday but they were sore when I started out today so I slowed down and ran at "recovery" pace instead.

That brings this blog up to date.  I don't know if I'll make time to write more before the race to help me deal with the "taper madness".  For those that don't know that is really just the stir crazy time that runners experience the last two or three weeks before the race.  You run a lot less to let your body recover from all the training which is what it needs, but at the same time you get more and more anxious as your race approaches and you don't get to burn off your worries with running.  Many runners use running as a way to deal with stressful situations so it's a bit of an irony that the one thing that that will help you deal with being nervous about a race is the one thing you can't do (very much) if you want to run well.

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