Sunday, October 14, 2012

26.2 Questions: Long Run Pace?

I've been pacing long runs for participants in Fleet Feet Huntsville's Rocket City Marathon Training program. During these runs, I've gotten some very good questions about marathon training that I'd like to address with the next few posts on this blog. The head coach for the program is David Rawlings. Assisting is Christy Scott. Christy is an RRCA certified coach and has written the running schedules that the participants use. I want to preface the next few posts by saying that am just a dude who decided to run a marathon in less than 3 hours, has run 7 marathons, and has read a few books on the subject. I am not an expert. I defer to Christy and David for individual advice during the program and welcome their opinions and corrections to anything I say here. But I hope I can offer some insight that is based both on experience and knowledge.

I believe both David and Christy would agree with me that there is no "one size fits all" training program.  We all have different abilities, goals, available time, and reasons for running a marathon. All of those affect your training for a marathon. However, there are some fairly fundamental physiological principles that any training program should be based upon. I'll try to provide some comment and application of these principles. Your mileage may vary. Ok, disclaimer done...

Probably the most common question I've gotten during my time pacing is something like, "What pace should I run for my long run?" Or "Why is my recommended long run pace so slow?" I have at least three ideas that can shed some light on those questions.

  1. One of the most fundamental principles of training is the principle of specificity. Your training needs to be specific for the event that you're training for. You need to replicate the demands of race day on your body as closely as you can without putting so much stress on your body that you end up getting injured. That's why long runs are the bread and butter of marathon training. That may not have helped with the original questions, though. Stay with me...
  2. Unfortunately (Or fortunately, I'm not sure which!) the human body just cannot handle running 26.2 miles as fast as possible very often. Training specificity might seem to imply that you should run 26.2 miles over and over, faster and faster until race day. Or it might seem to suggest that you should run marathon pace at progressively longer distances until you get to 26.2 miles. However, neither approach is good. Do either one, especially while training for your first marathon, and you'll almost certainly get hurt. So how do we apply the principle of specificity?
  3. Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas, in their excellent book Advanced Marathoning, recommend that long runs should be 10% to 20% slower than your target marathon pace. So, for example, if you plan on running a 4 hour marathon (about 9:09 per mile), then 10% slower is just over 10 minutes per mile and 20% slower is about 11 minutes per mile. What this means is that if you run 22 miles (that just so happens to be the longest run of Christy's excellent schedule) at 11 minutes per mile, then you will have run for about the same amount of time that you will run on race day! Twenty percent slower is close enough to race pace that it promotes strong form and it gets you moving on your feet in a reasonably similar posture as marathon pace for the length of time of the marathon.
In summary, you won't have run 26.2 miles at your goal marathon pace before race day, and that's right. However, you will have a very solid training base. You will have lots of miles on your legs. You will likely be in the best condition of your life. You will have run for the same amount of time as the marathon should take.

Trust your training! Christy and David know what they're doing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Good Weeks

Sometimes you have good weeks of training. Sometimes you have bad ones. It has taken me quite a while to learn that a good week doesn't mean I'm Meb Keflezighi and a bad week doesn't mean that I'm back at 240 pounds and barely able to finish 2 miles. I'm still learning that. I still get cocky when my planned pace and distance feel easier than expected and very down on myself when I have to bail on a workout. But I am learning. And I learn from my good workouts and from my bad ones.

This week, I was fortunate enough to have a week full of good workouts. I think there were a lot of factors that contributed to that. Some were in my control and some were not. One was weather. I was able to workout in some really good weather this week. Second is company. I had at least one partner for six of my 8 runs this week. That really makes a difference. Third is attitude. I just wanted to run this week. Every day. I realized that my mileage was too high by Thursday or I would have doubled on Thursday, too. I had to talk myself out of runs instead of into runs.

The key workouts were two 20 milers, a track workout (4x200 + 3x400 + 2x800 + 3x400 + 4x200), and a 7 mile tempo (6:30 overall pace) run. Yeah, that may be too much for one week. But I feel great. Also, it doesn't mean I'm going to run a world record (or even a personal record) race any time soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Elkmont Rails to Trails 10k

First, I want to congratulate Whitney Hollingsworth for pulling off such a good race. She had record attendance this year, and Whitney is just one of the good, selfless, loving people on this earth, not to mention a very strong runner. I enjoy this race and I am thankful that I had an opportunity to support this race and cause today. I wish I had done more to help her.

I didn't plan to run a 10k race today. I was planning to join the Fleet Feet 26.2 group for an easy 15 miler and a few extra miles afterward. We were meeting in Huntsville at 6:00 AM. I just completely slept through my alarm. I totally don't remember it. I guess I turned it off, but I just don't remember. I hopped out of bed wide awake at 6:10. Oh well. Still time to go to Elkmont. So I did.

This is such a unique race. It's a downhill first 5k with a seriously downhill second mile (-125 feet). The entire second 5k is a gradual uphill gaining 200 feet spread over 3.1 miles. It's a strategic race, for sure. Have a  look at the elevation graph below.
Elevation of Elkmont Rails to Trails 10k

I know I'm not in shape to run a strong 10k, so I knew this would be miserable.  I've been struggling to run 5-6 mile tempo runs at 6:30 to 6:35, so how could I expect to run a 10k any faster? Also, I ran pretty hard earlier this week. So, I have plenty of excuses. But the bottom line is that I'm a little heavy and out of shape. When I began warming up, I knew it wasn't going to be a great day. It was humid and I just didn't feel great. But I'm here and signed up. I may as well go.

There were lots of fast people at this race, so I had no delusions of competing or winning masters. George DeWitt is in great shape right now in his triathlon training. Tim Vinson is getting stronger as he does every fall. And out front there was George Heeschen and Tyrone Harris. This race always draws a competitive crowd.

My strategy was simple. Let gravity do the work in the first half. If I felt like I was pushing the pace in the first half, I was going too fast. Then, I was just going to hold on as much as I could in the second half. If someone was near me, hang on to them. Maybe a more specific strategy and a definite goal would have been good.

That's pretty much what I did. I tried to keep Tim Vinson in sight and I did for most of the first half. If he faded at all in the second half, I would try to close the distance. He didn't fade. I did. I positive split this course by nearly two minutes,  which means that I completely fell apart.

I ran a 39:14 which was good enough for first in the 40-44 age group and 9th overall. My splits were 6:05, 5:54, 6:13, 6:33 (the beginning of the meltdown), 6:36, 6:39, and 1:05. I wish I had pushed a little harder in the last half, but I just didn't. I knew that a PR was out of reach. There was nobody that I  had a chance to catch and nobody had a chance to catch me. I gave some thought to breaking 39, but I didn't even hang on enough to do that. I finished this race, but I definitely quit at mile 4.

There was a young guy ahead of me. I saw Tim pass him and I knew he was struggling. He probably broke 39, and he was limping and miserable at the finish. I really admired the tough race he ran. I congratulated and hugged and complimented his toughness at the end of the race. I'll look at the results to get his name.