Monday, November 25, 2013

Wrapping up the season

This post is long overdue! Where to begin?

Let's start at the finish. The 2014 Philadelphia Marathon. Mile 25 and I'm headed for a sub-2:40 marathon. At the last checkpoint, I had a 30s buffer, but now my body is starting to fall apart: my respiratory rate is close to a perceived 50-60, my side body is cramping up from side stitches and the 26 mile mark isn't coming any closer. One bad mile and that 30s buffer goes "puff" - that knowledge is all that keeps me going. The field is pretty spread out at this point, but even picking off runners so close to the finish is not giving me a boost. Finally, the mile 26 marker appears, crowds are lining the sides and cheering, but .2 miles could not seem longer. I envision standing on the sidelines spectating, and imagine seeing myself run towards the finish, struggling and my face giving away the total pain I'm in. Finally, I cross the line, all the pain evaporates, and I'm am flooded with an elating sense of accomplishment - as if a great weight were lifted from my shoulders. The sudden realization that months of training and complete dedication crystallized so perfectly to enable me to finish under 2:40 fills me with bliss!

In this post, I want to talk about all the things that played a role in achieving a 10-minute PR, off an already great time of 2:49 at a particularly hard race in Boston this April. First and foremost: support. From (for the most part) my girlfriend but also my friends - only with their support was I able to get away with running every day from June to November, sometimes twice a day and on weekends, when training often takes up the whole morning. Coming home from a run at 9 or 9:30 PM on weekdays and even though there's no time for much else that evening, she's understanding. Thanks for tagging along to destination races, for support and encouragement. Thank you Kate - you're great and I could not have done it without you!

Then there are my training partners. This season I owe a big thanks to Jeremy for tagging along to so many Saturday long runs and opting in for some of gruesome workouts. There are also the people at Falls Road and Tuesday Night Track, a great crew. Despite doing many of my workouts solo, it's important having other people putting in work on the track alongside you. Lastly, there's HMT - teammates I can count on to get me out of bed and on the trail by 7:00 am every Saturday.

Next, the training plan. A runner's bible, our single most important tool. A blessing and a curse, because we tend top obsess with logging the prescribed miles - it keeps us accountable, but on the flipside it's important to know when to cut-back to prevent or recover from injury. My training plan was loosely based of Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning, specifically his 85 Mile schedule. I used his plan predominantly for the mileage, but as far as workouts were concerned I pulled and adopted from various sources: Running Times, Competitor blog, to which I applied past experience and judgement. The result was a 24 week training plan, beginning in June and culminating in the Philly marathon, aligned into phases: strength, stamina and speed. To briefly summarize, the first cycle involved hill repeats and long mid week runs to injury proof my body. In the next phase, I worked on pushing down my lactate threshold via tempo runs and long intervals. Lastly, a few weeks before goal race I interspersed traditional "speed work", 400s, 600s and 800s to sharpen and get comfortable with a low 5:20 pace.

Another anchor was diet. To all serious runners looking to improve their PR, I advice picking up Matt Fitzgerald's "Racing Weight" - a truly fantastic read. Basically, I diversified my diet to include more nutrient groups, such as nuts and legumes which I prior didn't eat very often. I tried to cut back on "empty calories" in the form of redundant snacks, unnecessarily fatty foods and sweet indulgences. Taken together, I threaded the line in Philly approx. 3 kg lighter than Boston, only eight months before.

Lastly, I would like to give an honorary mention to my marathon shoes, the Wave Evo Levitas from Mizuno. These bad boys performed outstandingly on the track and at races, lightweight yet supportive, responsive but not too firm. And of course, I've got to attribute some part of my success to the weather, which can so often make or break a racer. 

The last few weeks I've spent reverse-tapering. It's been nice not having to get-up extremely early every morning and start logging the miles. As of a few days, I'm fighting back against a calf strain, sustained from trying 800's on the treadmill. New rule: don't overdo it when attempting a new workout. And more importantly, know when to prioritize recovery over training. That's the finest line we runners must walk and to me experience is a key player in recognizing when an injury demands rest and when it's ok to push on. And even then, you as a runner need to have the good sense to actually dial down - a concept I still struggle with. Hopefully a day or two more of relative rest and easy running and this injury will be resolved. Then, I look forward to applying my new training plan into practice as I begin training for my 2014 goal race: the Vienna City Marathon.

Stay tuned.