Friday, February 18, 2011

2011 Mardi gras Marathon Lessons Learned

This marathon season has been tough. I constructed and followed the most structured plan. I had a huge build period and a very intense sharpening phase. I also got hurt on my longest most intense run three weeks before the race. However, even before that discomfort there were signs that not everything was well. Let’s go through the season real quick.

In late October I ran the Jazz Half Marathon and achieved a PR by 8 seconds. Not only that but I achieved this PR on about 20 miles a week. The next day I went to Australia for a month. I ran a lot. I ran a lot for fun. Many times I ran multiple times. I also walked and saw the sights and sounds. Liking up with the Sydney Striders I ran a lot of distance and a lot of intensity. These are the reasons that I run. It was for the joy of it. I had a couple of 100k (62 mile) weeks.

When I got back home I ran the Baton Rouge Half Marathon. Another PR and this one was a big one – 1:27:39 – a PR by 1:41. A couple of weeks later I raced the Ole Man River Half. This is one of the flattest and fastest races around. On top of that it is always cold. The weather was perfect. I had been running high mileage since Baton Rouge. The week of the Ole Man River I had 50 miles in my legs. I ‘tapered’ for two days. My legs felt like they were on fire for the first few miles of the race. I was dying and slowing down. I caught my second wind when a pacer and he second or third place female caught me. I grabbed a shoulder and toughed it out. I PR’d at this race by 9 seconds – 1:27:30. I think that I raced Baton Rouge better but I’ll take the PR.

After a couple of 70 mile weeks and the two PR’s I shut down the volume. I switched over to the intensity phase of my training plan. My mileage dropped. All and I mean all of my miles except for races had been at my comfortable pass – right around 8 minutes per mile. Now all of my paces were faster – all paces were in the 6’s.

My next race was the Steam Whistle 12k. I ended up racing it at virtually the same pace as last year. Sure it was a PR but I wanted to beat my previous year’s time by more than a minute. This would be my last PR. The stretch would be broken.


Steam Whistle 12k

I then raced the First Light Half Marathon. I was 2 and a half minutes slower. I’m still not completely sure what happened (I need to go back and read my race reports). The race mailed me my award for placing in my age group. I have not opened the package. It is just sitting in my office.

Well, I continued on with the training plan and ‘most’ of the runs were successful. But they were border line. They paces were aggressive and I was achieving them but they were not solid. They were harder than they should have been. That last 20 mile run was the kicker. I was not able to hold the prescribed pace and I suffered and hurt myself. The pace for that run was 30 seconds slower than my projected marathon pace. I was smart and recovered the best that I could.

However, I should have reevaluated the goal at that time. I thought that I could will myself to achieve my goal. That was probably foolish.

I think that I when concerning distance I respond better to volume. I think that I respond better to volume with a lot racing. That is what I did last year. I raced a lot of hard races and I ran a lot of miles. That will be my plan for next time.


Matty O said...

just throwing this out there... Sometimes your body does not listen to your mind.

If you weren't 100% on that day (even you don't know what your body will do until you are actually racing) nothing you could have done for preparation would have gotten you your goal. I know running is mental... but there are days where you can do no wrong and its effortless, and there are days where you can do no right and its pointless. But most days fall somewhere between those.

However, I do agree, higher volume, and keep your structured speed work. It will make your body more accustomed to that abuse.

Keith said...

Mentally construct a graph. Vertical axis is your overall fitness, your performance envelope as it were, the whole package, cardio, strength, agility, everything. The horizontal axis is time, probably measured in years.

Now, starting from where ever you like, you start graphing things. The general shape will be a sloped line leading up and to the right, gradually flattening out and declining if you extend it long enough. One could, if you wished, plot each element of "fitness" but that's more detail than needed for this thought exercise.

On that graph is a line that represents your body's absolute limits, and crossing it almost certainly means an injury or a bear is chasing you. Colour the area above that line red.

Somewhere a bit below it is a line that represents where you start seriously risking injury. Colour the area between the lines orange.

Of course, I realize that performance one day affects results the next day for good and bad, so there is some fuzz in those lines.

Depending on your exact training philosophy and your good fortune in the genetic lottery, there is maximum steepness to those lines. That is, there is a physiological basis for how quickly your fitness can improve. Trying to push beyond that will lead to an injury.

As I do each workout my goal is to stay solidly in the green, edging into orange briefly and rarely. Perhaps this limits how steep my fitness line is, but I keep firmly in mind that good too hard leads to that line dropping vertically, with a recovery period. One could argue if you ever get back up to the max fitness lines where you were. Certainly you've lost the time. Other people are more aggressive, and want to be in the orange all the time, edging toward the red. I hope they're being paid for it.

Now we come to setting plans. Know thyself and all that. A plan, no matter how carefully constructed that has you in the red zone will injure you and is a bad plan. It doesn't matter how badly you want the result, or how much you paid your coach. We are up against bodily limitations here. Of course, the challenge is that we don't see a graph. And it changes from day to day; what's red one day might be orange the next, or vise versa. All we know is how our body feels. It doesn't know about numbers or graphs. People that don't listen will injure themselves.

I admit that someone following my training might say I've backed off too soon, too often, and not achieved the maximum growth in my fitness levels. Maybe so. I'm also acutely aware of how long it takes to heal from injury. I'm also pretty pleased with how it's gone.

So, this has been a long, roundabout way of saying, don't feel bad about how things went. When you're up against your limits, you run the risk of failure. Don't beat yourself up. Be glad it's a failure to achieve the plan, and not an injury failure. Learn from it and move on.

Jon said...

Very interesting and thanks for the breakdown.

Do you think maybe you peaked from this giant training schedule too early for this latest marathon? Based upon your racing results you can see the trend of how you "felt" and the results that came with it. Looks like to achieved that "almighty invincible" status and came tumbling down from there. I know I felt that 3 weeks earlier than my A+ race last season.

Pretend this is real said...

Smart move to look back at your whole season for some answers. One suggestion... were you, perhaps, not giving yourself enough time to recover in the high intensity phase? It sounds like you didn't have ANY runs at a comfortable pace during that time. Maybe with a run or two/week at a slower pace you would have been ok? I guess we'll never know, but this post is a great reminder to constantly evaluate what does and does not work for each of us.

Tri-James said...

Matty-O -

I know that the body does not always do what you wnat it to - but ... Sometimes you just got to roll with it.

Keith -

I understand what you are saying and I agree 100%. The key to progress is consistency. And the key to consistency is doing just enough to achieve results. I wanted a big jump and it was just out of reach. I have pulled those down in the past. My biggest mistake was not altering the plan.

First you have to have a plan. Second you must be willing to change the plan.

Jon -

I hear you on the peaking too soon. It was a fear. I may have peaked too soon last year as well. I need to evaluate exactly how long I need for a build and sharpening to lay down my best marathon. Using this year's Ole Man River as my peak would indicate 6 weeks which would include a build and some racing.

I appreciate your thoughts!

Pretend this is real -

Definitely a concern. However, that is why I dropped the volume. I went down to 3 runs a week - intervals, tempos and hard long runs. This is less than I ever run but I wanted to be fresh so that I would be able to achieve my paces on the runs. Most were successful but obviously the ultimate goal was not achieved. I also upped the swim and bike to cross train aka a FIRST plan.

I'll bounce back bigger and stronger ready for the next test.

Happy Feet 26.2 said...

as you achieve, it becomes harder to achieve.

keep in mind, you are still fairly new to the marathon distance. So much to figure out. I have run MANY, and I'm still a work in progress. Some of that is because I enjoy "mixing things up", but some is still trying to figure out exactly what works best. with each distance race, I figure a few things out. In the mean time, enjoy the journey to your next BEST race.

peaking has been a major issue for me in the past. I'm getting closer to peak fitness at my goal race, but still don't think I've achieved 100% success with it yet. (my current experiment is more racing and less taper)