Friday, September 9, 2011

Marathon Training, Week 2: In Which I Refuse to Trust Pace Charts

Hanson-BrooksI'm only officially about two weeks in (on top of a solid four months of base training), but I have to say I'm pretty excited about the marathon plan I'm using. By & large, I'm following the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project approach. You can read more of the details in this article, but here are the highlights:

  • This is probably not a good 1st marathon program for most people and DEFINITELY not for beginning runners. I feel comfortable using it because I've done several pretty hard / high mileage half marathon cycles successfully that focus a lot on speed & tempo work.
  • Most marathon programs include speed, tempo, & long run components, but most focus more on the long run piece. The Hanson-Brooks program puts about equal weight on each.
  • There is a strong focus on marathon pace mileage & teaching your mind & body to run at your goal pace no matter how tired you are.
  • The program is intended to produce "cumulative fatigue" -- high mileage & 3-4 hard workouts each week (speed, marathon pace, tempo, and long).
  • For non-elite / regular-person-kind-of runners, the longest runs are 16 miles (though you do it several times).

The hell you say, I can hear you gasping through the inter-webs. No 20+ milers? Not even 18? Don't they take away your Garmin for that?

Well, seeing as I'm not actually the expert, here's what the Hansons have to say about it:
Perhaps the most notable feature of the plan is the absence of a sacred cow—the 20-plus-mile long run. For non-elite runners like me [the author, a RW writer], the long effort tops out at 16 miles. "People say, 'How can a long run be only 16 miles?'" says Kevin [Hanson]. "Then they'll finish that run and say, 'Gosh, I don't think I could run another 10 miles.'" And they'll be right, he says. With the plan's emphasis on high mileage and hard workouts, "you're not running the first 16 miles of a marathon, you're running the last 16. We're duplicating that final-miles feeling." Traditional programs overemphasize the long run, he says. Twenty-plus mile efforts sap most runners and compromise the quality of subsequent workouts. "There's nothing magical about a long run of a certain distance," he says. "The most important factor is quality total mileage, week in and week out." It's a formula, he says, that holds true for beginners, elites, and everyone in between.

So, in a way, the overall mileage / intensity is intended to make it so that you don't go into your long runs feeling fresh -- you go into them feeling as if you've already run 5-10 miles.

I basically started with the advanced program & then just tweaked some of the mileage so that it dovetailed well with what I was already doing. For me, that will mean starting with around 40 miles per week (I only did 31 last week, as I raced the Saturday before), then working up to 50 within a few weeks. (Compared to the rest of my 2011, that'll be reasonably high mileage.) Every other week, the miles are split about half and half between easy efforts and hard/long runs; the rest of the time, about 25% of the miles are easy and 75% are from hard/long runs. I had to do a touch more tweaking to fit in the Clarksburg half-marathon and its taper (three weeks before CIM), but since that's about when my marathon taper would start anyway, I think it'll work out more or less okay.

I do have to admit, it being my first marathon and a VERY long time since I've run over 15 miles for any reason, part of me is kind of itching to do one or two really long runs at some point. If the program works the way they say it does, though, I shouldn't be able to. (Alright, I'll be honest. I've penciled in an 18-miler seven weeks before the race and a 20-miler five weeks before, just to shore up my confidence, but we'll see how realistic that is when I get there.)

But let's talk about this marathon pace business for a moment.

According to every pace chart and training calculator I've looked at, a 7:12 10K pace should translate into a 7:28ish half marathon pace (which is what I'm shooting for in November) and a 7:51-2ish marathon pace. If I'd run that 10K all-out I probably would've been closer to 7:09-10 / mile, which translates into a 7:48 marathon pace.

I am greatly disturbed by this.

I know that part of the reason is because I'm just not trained for the distance yet, physically or mentally. You know how for toddlers a five-minute time-out is just as bad as a fifteen-minute time-out, and how birds can't tell the difference between six and twenty? Well, as far as my brain is concerned, 26 miles might as well be 100 miles. It's just a really long-ass way.

Allow me to express how I feel about 26 miles as a distance in the form of a short one-act play:
Vaguely interested party: "Oh, you're running a race? How nice! How long?"
Me: "Really effing long. That's how long."
VIP: "Oh, but in miles, dear?"
Me: "Like, a billion, maybe? I don't know. Approximately one metric f***-ton. A lot."


So, yeah. I can imagine running 7:50 miles for a finite distance, but somehow 26 seems kind know...not finite. Like I'll just be running, indefinitely, until someone takes pity on me and lets me stop. Or I die. Whichever.

Pace charts & calculators aside, I find that I deal better with this situation mentally if I just think of my marathon pace as "under 8:00 / mile." Hell, it's my first marathon; I've got nothing to prove. All I have to do is manage not to get lost, stop breathing, or lose the ability to put one foot in front of the other. On my first marathon pace run last Thursday, that's really all I was shooting for -- run six miles in under 48 minutes. The run went okay, although considering that I was running uphill most of the way and in the heat, 7:52 / mile was probably too fast. (It definitely felt harder than I thought it should; my heart rate averaged 179 bpm, or about 80% max.)

Yesterday was my second, seven miles this time. I did it on the track, so although it was flat, I did have to contend with that wicked headwind on the backstretch. It was particularly bad yesterday, too -- most of the time, I would come around the turn and feel as if I had actually stopped moving. Sometimes I could barely keep my eyes open. I hit every lap in almost exactly 2:02, for an average pace of 8:08 / mile. Not sub-eight, but I'm willing to chock up *at least* eight seconds per mile to the wind

Mentally this was a hard, HARD run. Now, let's not forget that I ran my last 10K at a 7:12 pace and thought that seemed too easy. It seems ridiculous that I'd be running 8:08 miles and worry after two that I wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace. Nevertheless, that's exactly how I felt. Physically, everything was going fine -- I was keeping an almost creepily steady pace, wasn't hurting anywhere, and my heart rate stayed right around 78% of max. Physiologically, it was all systems go. Mentally I was grasping at anything I could to get me through the next mile, the next lap, the next step.

I finished (not even breathing hard, of course, because no one breathes hard at 78% of max) and thought to myself, 3.75 times? I have to do that 3.75 times IN A ROW???

This was the first glimpse I had of what the Hanson brothers are talking about -- cumulative fatigue, and learning to run at your goal pace no matter how shitty you feel.

I still don't know if I buy 7:50 as my marathon pace. I'm willing to work with "under 8:00" for now & see where it takes me. The real test will come in Clarksburg; I'll feel a lot more comfortable with what pace charts & calculators are telling me once I have a current half marathon time to plug in. If indeed I can pull off a 1:38ish half and the marathon training is still going well, then I'll feel comfortable shooting for 7:50-55.

Still, honestly...I'm so much more excited about this than I thought I would be. I hope I like it. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment