Marathon Week: To Battle (With my Brain)

I’m sure I haven’t mentioned this at all on the blog, but I’ve been really overthinking this marathon, and the only reason is because my training cycle has gone SO WELL that I feel ready to race it.  And now that I’m down to just some quick runs to keep the stick sharpened, it’s all brain, all the time, so indulge my taper ramblings.

Feeling so prepared and hitting my paces in training feels so 2010, because all my recent distance ventures have been pretty much this m.o. lately:

1. Show up in the best condition I can.

2. Start the race.

3. Keep going at the fastest reasonable pace I can before have to stop/walk/bonk/etc.

Oddly enough, my training has been:

1. Get on bike/in lake/in pool/in shoes.

2. Start going

3. Stop when either miles have been completed or I am near death.

There may have been some halfhearted attempts at going slower, going faster, staying under a certain heart rate, but tri season really didn’t have much pace specificity or speedwork or actual programs besides go and stop.

Each of the 3 70.3s and the last marathon was about SURVIVAL, not racing.  Kerrville this year was CLOSER to racing, but still not quite.  I didn’t give up, but I wasn’t racing that run, I was trotting and trying not to die.  Pretty much from mile 3.  That was all I had.

I can’t believe that was only 8 weeks ago.  In just two months, I’ve gone from run-fearing to run-confident.  My 20 mile easy run was a whole minute/mile faster than my half ironman pace. 10 mile runs were a really long run two months ago, and now 10+ miles in a day is no biggie for a weekday.  My last taper run, two days ago, which was 10 miles exactly, with 5 at m pace, was like – are we really done?  Can I run more?

I also incorporated real speedwork back into my plan.  Once a week, I did a straight speedwork session (400s, 800s, mile repeats, fast miles), and once a week, I did tempo miles.  This was less successful at holding a certain pace than dipping my toe in the water to see what a good pace should be, but it was nice to shift in the middle of a run to “faster”.  This really made all the difference in getting my turnover from shuffle to… well… less shuffle.

I only wish I could have had even two weeks at this type of run mileage at ANY point during tri season, and I’m taking this into account for next year, but right now I’m just focused on the conundrum…

I’m totally ready to PR the shit out of this marathon by a LOT, and I don’t want to screw it up.

The problem with being a triathlete this year is I haven’t race-raced a lot of distances in 2 years, so, while I’ve run 13.1 a TON, I haven’t raced a decent course uninjured in decent conditions in a while so I don’t have a good 13.1 predictor time.  I’m painfully aware I need to change this, but it makes it very hard to know what to expect m-day.

My goal, which came from the scientific method of having a bunch of beers, talking running with a friend, and blurting it out randomly, is 4:40.  This would be a PR of 42 minutes, but that’s neither here nor there because I was just happy to cross that line upright and grinning like an idiot last November in a race I really wasn’t ready to do anything but SURVIVE.

Then I went to McMillian and did some calculations…

My 10 mile race earlier this year (I am WAY fitter than that right now) clocks my marathon in at 4:37.

My “miracle mile” (7:50) from last week puts me at 4:24.

My half marathon PR (in which I don’t think I’m too far from right now) puts me at 4:31.  My last 5k I raced also puts me here.

4:40 is a 10:41 min/mi pace.  Now, for most of you marathoning crazies out there, this probably isn’t even your recovery pace, you probably walk faster than this.  But seeing 10-anything + 26.2 miles of running scares the crap out of me.

Can I handle it?  Well, 8 weeks ago I would have laughed in your face.  Now, I have a 15 mile easy run done that’s 19 sec/mile slower than race pace.  I did my last easy 20 miler 45 sec/mile slower than race pace.  Neither of these runs had me aiming for a specific pace, just running what was comfortable while chatting or grumbling or whining at Zliten.  While the pace itself seems bonkers to me mentally, it’s not outside the realm of reality physically.

I have a few ideas at strategy for Sunday:

1. Find the 4:40 pace bunny and just hang on for the ride.  I am really, really good at following people mindlessly on the run.  When it gets tough, I can just turn up the music and focus on shoes in front of me and put one foot in front of the other and get through it.

2.  Find whatever the next slowest pace bunny (4:45? 4:50?) is and follow them, trying to forge on ahead at some point (15, 18?) and catch the 4:40′ers if I feel ok.  This helps me start out a little slower without having to really watch my watch.

3.  Run my own damn race.  Start slower, and try to get progressively faster via garmin pace.  In other words, be a watch nazi and own my own fate with splits.

4. Run my own damn race, and set up my garmin so I can’t even see pace, just go on perceived effort.  I’ll have some cues by what pace groups are around me, but can’t get all persnickety that mile 13 was 11:05, and all scared that mile 16 was 10:18 and its too fast.

I’ve used a combination of these strategies in long runs.  When Zliten decides to zoom off near the end of runs (when I know I’ve got enough in the tank to get through), I’ll latch on and reel him in.  This has gotten me through many races too (just follow the green girl, don’t let B get too far ahead, etc).  However, I do get uppity when I get completely left in the dust and can’t catch up and might bonk trying.  Do I want that negative feeling of “being left behind” if I can’t keep pace?  Will I try to race outside my means just to catch someone?

I can watch-nazi with the best of them, and sometimes it helps me finish the race with my B goals intact even if the A ones are out of reach.  At Kerrville, my run could have really gone south if I wasn’t constantly calculating what would get me in under 7.  However, fast paces can intimidate me (10:30 feels great but I better slow down because that’s fast), and slow paces can piss me off (I’m going 11:30 and its hard, I suck at running and life).  Sometimes it’s best not to know.

I can run pretty damn well by feel at my easy pace, but if I have one regret this training cycle, and one thing I’ve done last week and will continue to do this week, it’s that I haven’t done enough running right at my goal pace to feel it’s dialed in.  It’s getting better, but it’s still a little awkward.  I’m not sure if the few runs I have left will fix that.  I’m worried that if I completely go by feels, I’ll end up at the end, having run 26.2 miles at my easy pace, and would have had more to give.

I’ve been negative splitting runs like a champ this cycle, but I’m not sure how much I can give the last half marathon, since that last 6 miles is a question mark since we don’t train it.  I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to judge what’s left in the tank at those later stages since I don’t have a bunch of experience on how my body feels at mile 21.

I’ll need to make these decisions on race day, these are my checkpoints:

Before Mile 1: Do I start with a pace bunny or not?  If not, what pace do I start at?  Do I run by watch or feels?

Mile 6: Am I eating and drinking consistently? If not, get on that shit.

Mile 10: Just past this is usually low point #1 (just a mild to moderate one).  How am I feeling?  What adjustments need to be made to the plan? More food? More drink?

Mile 13-16: Middle miles, usually low point #2 somewhere in here possibly (this one is usually pretty major).  What do I have left for the second half? Do I speed up or just try and hang on to current pace?  Have I been eating consistently?

Mile 20: What do I have left to give?  Am I just trying to hang on, or can I kick it up one more gear?  What is the most reasonable time goal for me right now to aim for to keep me motivated (mile 20 math is fun!)?  Can I shove just a little more nutrition down the hatch without killing my tummy?

Mile 23: 5k to go.  Rock this shit out.  If you haven’t hit the wall by now and are feeling good, just go for it and get ‘er done!

And let me leave the taper crazy ramble on a positive note…

I’m only worrying here because I have had a totally awesome training cycle.  I’ve got the run love back in a major way.  I feel like I’m in some of the best running shape of my life right now, which is a huge 180 from, like, all of 2013, where I wondered if I could ever run far or fast or love running again.

I’ll go out there and attack, but I also want to have fun.  I talked to spectators and high fived and told cheerleaders I’d run faster (ok, go from walking to running) if they did a back flip and grinning ear to ear just about most of the time for the first marathon.  I’m searching for a little more pain and want to dig a little deeper and see what I can do with this second one, but I’m hoping that I don’t feel any less of that pure JOY I felt in the last 6-8 miles of my first.  I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I can hope!

I’m ready to battle.  My body is ready, my mind is getting there.  Just still figuring out my battle plan is all.

3 comments

  1. Yum Yucky says:

    I hope you PR’d the hell outta that beyotch. But if not, your battle plan was still good and you remain awesome, of course.

  2. […] you remember, I had to pick the strategy of following the pacer, watching my watch, or running by feels.  Well, the pace bunny took off a […]