On Marathon Training and Getting (Much) Faster

(source: Pinterest)

(source: Pinterest)

I tend to get a little bit ahead of myself when it comes to goals. For example, when I first started running last March I registered for a goal 5-K race, but when I had to miss it to cover a story for work, I registered for a new race- a 4-miler. What’s one more mile I thought?

After a successful race, in the pouring rain, I decided, on a bit of a whim and a lot of peer-pressure from my cousin, to register for a half-marathon. Couch-to-5K-to-4-mile-to-Half-Maraton, sounds good right? No problem.

Before we even finished training for the half, my cousin begged me to register for a full marathon with her and our friend Lindsey, less than 14 weeks away. While I was heavily considering it, and even wrote a blog post about it, I knew it would be a bad idea- too much too soon. Then, my body decided to pull in the reins by giving me a lovely, painful bout of IT Band Syndrome to remind me I wasn’t Shalane Flanagan and I needed to calm down.

I ran the half and was really happy with my finish. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t the best race, but I finished 13.1 miles. Woah. Then I landed a position as an editor at Runner’s World. If I thought the peer pressure to race from my cousin was bad, the peer pressure at Runner’s World is on a whole other level. But it’s healthy right?

It took my fellow staffers about five minutes to convince me to run my second half-marathon in January with less than a month to train, but I set a PR, by 17 minutes! Coming off of that I was confident and ready to make the distance leap up to a full marathon- the Big Sur International Marathon to be exact.

I’ve been training for the Big Sur for about eight weeks now and I’ve been feeling really good. I’ve been running my highest mileage weeks ever and my longest distances ever- longest run so far ahs been 18 miles. I knew what I was getting myself into with the mileage, and it didn’t surprise me that I’d be able to handle it because the build-up is so gradual. What I didn’t expect to see was an difference in my average paces.

Since I started running my average paces have always hovered around the mid-9-minute mile range. This was fine by me because I wasn’t experienced at racing and since I kept increasing my distances, the goal was always just to finish, not to hit any specific time goal. But now, my mid-week short runs of 3, 4 and 5 miles have been averaging 8-minute per mile paces and sometimes, on the 3 and 4-mile runs, the mid-7-minute per mile paces. This is new. Who do I think I am, being all fast and whatnot?  The more alarming (exciting?) part is this- it doesn’t feel hard.

Basically, I’m starting to get faster and I don’t know what to do about it since I’m currently training for a marathon. I don’t want to take these faster paces out on a long run because that sounds like a recipe for disaster and/or (probably) injury. But, I also don’t want to lose this newfound sense of speed. See my dilemma?

Circling back to how I opened this post, I’m getting ahead of myself, both literally and figuratively. I need to focus on the goal at hand and that is to complete Big Sur, my first marathon. The course is not an easy one but I want to finish feeling good and having enjoyed the experience. I can’t and won’t be able to maintain these faster average paces for a whole 26.2 miles but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to use them after the marathon.

So, I’ve decided this summer, post marathon recovery of course, I’m going to focus on shorter distances. Focusing on shorter distances will help me to get faster and more importantly, teach me how to race. Since I will have hit my goal distance PR with Big Sur (I never plan on doing more than 26.2 miles in one race) I need to get back to basics and learn how to race. This is going to help me not only with shorter distances but with the next marathon I run. While I believe in dreaming big and making goals, I also know getting ahead of myself too much can lead to injury or burnout. I’m going to take the rest of this training day-by-day and if I’m feeling good enough on a short run to run faster, then I will. If not, I’ll see you this summer 7-minute miles!

Do you sometimes get ahead of yourself with running goals? How do you deal with it?

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Learning to Race Uncomfortably

VictoryI have a confession to make- I’m too comfortable with running comfortably, especially in a race. I’m trying to change this and in 2013 I will change this. I’m a pretty competitive person but since I only started running a year ago racing is totally new ground for me. However, slowly but surely I’m starting to get faster during my training runs and I’m trying to translate that speed to racing.

My problem is I get kind of lazy. I know, a race is about the last place you want to get lazy but I hold back when I know I have more to push. I make excuses like, “well, I’m not really ‘racing’ this race,” or “well, I don’t want to get hurt so I’ll just stay at this comfortable pace.” I think I make these excuses because I’ve always been more concerned with finishing a distance than the time my Garmin reads.

However, now that my paces during my “easy” runs are consistently sub-9:00/miles I know when it comes time to race, I have the energy and endurance to push that pace even harder. I like to call it, learning how to run uncomfortably and part of that lesson is realizing races are much different than training runs. You’re supposed to pace yourself but push yourself too. You’re not supposed to be able to talk. You’re supposed to hurt a little bit because you’re working you butt off to get a good time.

In an effort to learn how to push myself, I’ve been trying to do at least one speed workout a week, whether it be intervals or a tempo. A few of my speedy coworkers asked me to come to mid-week intervals with them one week. Scared, and extremely nervous, I conceded and thought I’ll just do my own thing and if I can’t finish it so be it. Well when I got there I thought to myself, oh no, if I’m going to do this I’m going to do the whole damn thing just like everyone else- and you know what? I did!

This workout was HARD. I started off with a 2-mile warm up at an easy pace just to get the blood flowing. Then, our coach, Budd Coats, had us do a workout that would break the heart of any slowpoke like myself. We did the following:

200m, 400m, 600m, 200m, 200m, 400m, 600m

What. Yes, that happened.

But you know what? I lived and my pace was a solid 7:24 for the entire thing! So a few weeks after that I decided to push myself and see what I was really made of. I had promised Michele, of NYC Running Mama dot com, I would participate in her virtual Race for Recovery 5-K. What better time to test my new speedy legs than a race where no one’s watching? Well it worked and I busted out a 24:14 3.1 miles! A 5-K PR by almost three whole minutes! I was dead at the end but felt amazing! I finally learned how to really push it even when my lungs, legs and mind were trying to get the best of me.

But, as always, it’s important to remember not to push yourself beyond your limits- because we all have limits. While my fast may not be the same as another runner’s fast, it’s fast for me and for now, I’m just trying to find my limits.