Monday, October 8, 2012

Ups and Downs

The last year of training broken down weekly. Blue = distance, Red = fitness (VDOT/HR).

There are of course ups and downs during the course of training. They are expected. But, that doesn't stop me from trying to figure out the cause each time I have a great run, and even more importantly, figure out why things are not going well. 

The graph above is my last year of training broken down weekly. The blue represents my weekly miles (topping out at 70 during the week of my 50 miler). The red line is my own custom indicator of fitness. It is a combination of pace and distance (VDOT) divided by my average heart rate to produce one number. Back in February when I was really pushing the miles into the 50s and 60s as well as doing some quality workouts before the Rutgers half, I was at my peak fitness. Then in March and April, I had to back off a bit because of some calf issues and I stopped doing the faster workouts. I lost a little fitness, but I still was able to run a pretty darn good half and get a new PR.

Marathon then and now

2 years ago, I ran my 2nd marathon which was a 17 minute improvement over my first. I ran a 3:37, averaging 8:17 pace. I was very happy at the time, but since then, when I was at the peak of my fitness, I was pretty confident I could have managed a sub 3:30 marathon which would be sub 8 pace. When I was making my list of goals for the new year, I was pretty darn confident that I could take another 17 minutes off and get a 3:20 and I even put that as a medium goal. I was planning on going into 70 or maybe even 80 mile weeks to do this. 

Then, after the 50 miler in May, I realized a I had a bit of a knee injury so I really laid off the miles. This also happened to be during the summer, and one thing my chart does not take into account is temperature. So during the summer months, with the low miles and the hot temps, my level of fitness seemed to have really dropped. But as I kept adding more weekly miles and then the temperature started to go down, my fitness started to come back. 

I was happy to see the improvement, but I still wasn't back to where I once was, and no where near my hopes of running a sub 3:20. I  was running out of time before the marathon. I was trying to figure out what kind of pace I'd be able to run and whether I could even get a new PR after two years. After having a fairly good week of improvement, I had a few runs in a row that went terribly. I had some ideas as to why they went badly, but I really started thinking that I would probably have to completely abandon any ideas of a major improvement and just try to PR again. I was pretty darn bummed at this point in my training. But then I has a breakthrough run!

Breakthrough Run

My plan was to finish my long run at my planned marathon pace, and based on the couple terrible runs earlier this week, I decided 8:15 to 8:10 is probably where I am at. Although I plan to do this all the time, I know that really I'm going to try to go a bit faster than that. I decided that if my HR was in the low 160s it would be alright to get the pace down to around 8:00 if I was feeling good, but I didn't want to push it into the high 160s to low 170s range like I had done before.

I was also a bit torn on the distance I wanted to run. I had been reading more recently about how doing long runs in the 20 mile range when you are not doing enough weekly miles was more injury risk for the reward of going that far. I was only going to hit 50 miles this week, and a 20 mile run meant 40% of my weekly miles. According to what I read, 1/3 of weekly miles is really the longest your long run should be which would be more like 17 miles like I had done in previous weeks. But I wasn't really following the rest of the advice of these plans and I figured I'd done it two years ago and was alright and c'mon, I ran a 50 mile race in May. I decided to just go for the 20 for this one time.

I decided at least part of the reason for my recent crappy runs had been dehydration. I just wasn't on top of my water intake and I decided I would not make that mistake again, so I was sure I was drinking plenty of water the days before. I knew I was we'll hydrated based on having to take a pit stop about 5 miles into my run.

Another factor in my crappy runs is I wasn't running until later in the day so it was a little too warm reaching into the 70s. But this morning it was Sunny, no wind and in the mid 50s. I was a little chilly in just shorts and a t-shirt. Perfect. I had 3 GUs in my pockets and a single hand held. I was ready to go. 

The first several miles were pretty uneventful, as is normally the case on long runs. It was a lot hillier than my normal tow path runs which was on purpose since the marathon has some hills in the beginning. I ran past the old home at Jackson ave and past the playground where Abby and Sadie and even Lucy for a bit (although she'll never remember) spent some time growing up. I was in a good mood and feeling strong. My pace was nice and easy in the 8:40s and my HR was in the mid to low 140s. This was a great start, but I have enough experience to know that this mean little this early on a long run.

Next came the hill on Mt. Lucas. This was always my favorite go-to hill when I lived at Jackson. I'm going to guess its at least a 200 foot climb over the course of a mile, which is more than I will come across at the Marine Corps. I decided that once I climbed Mt. Lucas and started going down the other side at around the 8 mile mark I would naturally pick up the pace on the down hill and just keep it at marathon pace all the way home. 

Cruising down Mt. Lucas was as fun as I remembered. I was just letting my legs go and my HR dropped back into the low 140s after hitting the mid 150s going up the hill. By the time I got near the bottom, my 9 minute pace turned into 8:20. I was now heading into Princeton and feeling great. I already had two GUs and my water was about half gone which was about right. 

There are a few rolling hills in Princeton but I was able to keep the pace in the low 8s with my HR still in the 150s so things were good. There is another really nice downhill heading into the tow path so I decided to take it really easy and head in just under 8 pace with a low HR. Now it was going to be all tow path for about 8 miles. Because of the beautiful fall weather, there was a ton of runners out there. And running near Princeton meant passing a few of the faster college kids which is always inspiring.

I had my last GU at around mile 13 and I realized I had been going a bit faster than I had expected at this point. I was in the 7:50 range and feeling great. I started to slowly creep up to this guy ahead of me. I was at a point where I was going to pass him, but it would have been to slowly as our paces were so close, so I decided to pick it up just a bit to pass him quickly. I did and as I looked down, I realized I was now running 7:40 pace. I was feeling really relaxed though and my HR was in the low 160s so I just went with it. This guy ended up passing me then, which was fine with me, and this time I just stuck behind him. For then next few miles I was cruising along in 7:40 - 7:45 pace and feeling wonderful.  This is the best I had felt this late in a run and going at that pace. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of it. I started thinking about how I was really going to start to fade when the last few miles came up, but it never happened. Instead, when I had one mile left, I decided to pick it up some more, and finished it in 7:26 pace. I can honestly say I was holding back some.  I think if I really pushed with everything, I could have gotten close to or maybe even under 7.

Last 5 months of daily runs and VDOT/HR showing the last long run as my best fitness
When I got home, I was absolutely ecstatic. I plugged in my data and uploaded it to fitcharts and sure enough, there it was.  A new peak for my highest VDOT to HR ratio, although this time I didn't need the graph to tell me it. When I looked further at the stats and compared them to a pretty much identical run from two years ago, I got even more excited. For this run, I finished the last 10 miles at 7:45 pace with a 161 HR. 2 years ago on the exact same run I averaged 8:02 pace for the last 8 miles and I didn't have a HR watch then so I don't know that stat, but I did write in my log that I started to fade a bit at the end. 

So what does this mean for Marine Corps?

Of course, the first thing I thought of while I was enjoying my wonderful runner's high from this run, was that it was time I made my pace bracelet for the Marine Corps Marathon. And that's exactly what I did. Having finished the last 10 miles of this training run with a relateively low HR and a 7:45 pace made me think I have a real shot at breaking the 3:30 barrier which would mean averaging 8 minute pace. I did a bit of research online and found this great pacing guide site. I created my pace bracelet and I am ready to do this. As a last check to make sure I wasn't crazy, I posted my intentions of going for sub 3:30 on the sub 3:30 marathon thread at runningahead and a couple folks weighed in thinking I was in great shape to go for it! Now I just need to have as great of a day as I had on this long run and I think I've got a good chance! With my new adjusted expectations I am once again, super excited for my 3rd marathon.

1 comment:

  1. Good news that you were feeling so awesome during your last long run. Good luck with the race goal! And I appreciate you posting that link to the MCM pacing strategy. I am seriously considering using it for my own race in 2.41 weeks. Hey - any chance you want to run together tomorrow morning?