Monday, November 21, 2011

Marathon Training, Week 11: In Which I Manage My Expectations

pace love runningPeople who know me reasonably well know that I'm an analyzer. Not really terribly surprising; I like math, and data, and numbers, and studies, and science. I like making plans & following them. I like planning to plan. I like to pre-mortem, post-mortem, assess, re-assess, and evaluate. I *really* don't like uncertainty and error and sometimes my knee-jerk reaction is to interpret statements like "I am just going with the flow" as "I am too lazy/scared/generally incompetent to commit, plan, & execute."

This has played heavily into the whole marathon training thing. Having never run one before and not really knowing how or what pace was reasonable, I tried to gather as much information as I could in order to come up with a training & race plan that was ambitious but not stupid. In the course of doing that, my expectations and goal pace have been all over the map. Back when I started, I was shooting for eight-minute miles, or about 10 seconds slower per mile than the Runner's World training calculator said I should be able to run, based on my times at other distances. Little by little, though, I've been backing away from that pace, for a couple of reasons.

First, I just don't think I'm there. My core competency definitely lies in the 3 - 13 mile range, which I think has a very different set of demands than the 20+ range. (This was one of my post-Clarksburg reflections -- as long as you've got the endurance for 13 miles, a half-marathon & a 10K are really almost the same race in terms of strategy, preparation, fueling etc.) Those are the distances I know and feel comfortable with and have been gearing my training towards for the last couple of years. On the other hand, I've only been doing marathon-specific training (long runs & MP runs) for about 3 months, which is just not a ton of time to learn a new set of running skills & prepare your body for very different demands than it's used to in terms of racing.

Second, it's hard to predict how I'll deal with all the rolling hills in the first 13-15 miles. Some of my MP runs through parts of GG Park have been pretty miserable in the uphill sections; for example, last Saturday I ran 8 miles at marathon effort (I wasn't trying to maintain a specific pace), and around mile 3 of a gradual uphill I was running about an 8:30 pace and absolutely hating life. On the other hand, I've sometimes found myself running nearly effortless sub-eight's on some of the gradual downhill sections. I think the CIM hills will be a little more rolling and a little less prolonged, though, so until I'm actually on the course, trying to guess how I'll deal with the terrain is kind of a crapshoot.

Third, I was hoping to use my Clarksburg time to get a more updated prediction for my marathon pace. Since that time ended up being kind of useless, I'm stuck with the 10Ks I was using back in September, which, while probably not wildly inaccurate, are definitely not as reliable as a more recent time from a longer race would be.

Finally, the most important thing to me is to have a happy, good race and finish strong. There may be an outside chance of my being able to do that at an eight mile pace, but if I try it & end up being wrong, I'm likely in for an utterly miserable first marathon. And that's something I don't want to risk.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with the training I've done and feel completely confident that I'll be able to finish and with a respectable time. I'm just having to rein in my competitive side a bit and remind myself that no, I actually DON'T know how to race a marathon, and I need to stop thinking about it the way I do distances where I know what I'm doing. So, in the interest of having a happy, fun, low-key, low-pressure first marathon, I've made a new CIM plan.

My new plan is to run by feel & effort, rather than trying to keep up a specific pace. Partly, I think I need to do this because I'm not familiar with the course and I don't know for sure how I'll deal with the hills in the first half. I think I have a good sense at this point of what (safe) marathon pace should feel like -- long run pace, then push it just a little bit. I'm not committing myself to any numbers, but I would guess that, between the uphills & downhills, that should work out to around 8:15 - 8:20 for the first half if I'm having a good day. (And if I'm having a bad day & it means 9:00 miles, then so be it.) If I'm still strong & comfortable once the course flattens out, I'll feel a little more confident pushing the pace for the last 10-12 miles. If I'm feeling at all uneasy, though, my plan is to invest in the last 10K by backing off until I can get comfortable.

SMILEI've also promised myself that when I finish (and barring freak medical issues, I really don't see any reason why I shouldn't), I *will* feel proud of myself & happy with my performance. I *will not* mope about my time or pace, regardless of what it is, or over-analyze the entire race & brood about everything I could've-should've-would've done differently. I *will* smile as I cross the finish, even if I have to fake it with every fiber of my being. :)


  1. The way you look at things always seems spot on to me! I need to make a note to myself to reread this in April, about two weeks out from Eugene.

  2. This is some great thinking! I'm a bit biased, because I'm definitely the "I am just going with the flow" type. I've learned that I don't do well with a set training plan, because I really have to listen to my injury-prone body. Plus, that frees me up to just enjoy running, and to revel in the fact that all odds say I should NOT be able to run marathons.

    But most runners I know DO follow pretty strict training plans, so I understand that. I actually envy you guys, because your lives look so much ordered than mine. It's a great sign that you've found a balance between these two opposites. I think you have the perfect attitude for CIM, and I really hope you relish the experience. There will always be more marathons, but you only get one first marathon. Take it all in, and reach that finish line with a smile!

  3. I'm shaking in my boots over how to handle the "rolling hills" next week. I know I will burn through my legs too early with those downhills, just know it. I like the feel/effort plan you have going on. I think you've got this. And as you train in SF....the hills will be little ant-hills to you ;)

  4. Hoping so! People have definitely told me to be careful on the early downhills, because it feels easy but is really hard on your legs.

  5. Love this attitude.

    I'm amending my goals for CIM too. I think I lost a bit of fitness after Clarksburg, and my body is still strung out. I plan on going easy the first 14 miles, and then go faster if I feel OK. Since this is my first full, I'd rather just relish it than stress over whether I'll make my goal time.

    I can't wait for our pre-CIM dinner! I think we should have some sort of pow-wow in S.F. the week following the race, too.