Six weeks ago, I wrote this post about trying to train for a marathon in 11 weeks. At the time, it was yet to be seen if this was a good idea, bad idea, or really feasible at all. And now, six weeks in, with the whole experience coming into a little better clarity, it seems likely I can say with at least a little bit of confidence, that it has not only been feasible, but actually quite doable and even enjoyable at times.
To be sure, however, there are also still moments when I wonder what the heck I’m thinking!
As a quick reminder, here’s what the 11 week plan looked like:
I’ve just finished week 6, the “middle week,” culminating in 16 miles last Saturday, on the first 70+ degree day of the spring. (Hello, Mr. Sunburn, it’s been almost 11 months since we last met!) On the whole, I will say this about the plan. In coming up with a training schedule, it needed to do two things. 1. Ramp up mileage as quickly as possible, and 2. Do so in a way that did not put me at risk for injury. The first six weeks have allowed me to do this adequately, HOWEVER, that’s only because I’ve taken a run/walk approach on my long runs, which proved to be more mentally challenging than physically challenging.
Here’s the thing, forcing myself to walk when I’m not tired feels counterproductive while running. In the past, I’ve walked when I’m tired, a sort of walk of shame that told me I wasn’t well-trained enough, well hydrated enough, or tough enough to complete the workout or race in running stride. Now, I’m walking 8 minutes into a planned three-hour run. I haven’t even broken a sweat yet. My heart rate is barely elevated. It doesn’t seem like the appropriate time to be taking a break!
There are three things that have gradually changed my mind about the run/walk strategy for this race.
- While I can try to pretend it isn’t the case, the absolute truth is, I was not going to go from running 3 miles twice a week during the worst winter ever, to safely training to run a full marathon in 11 weeks without planning for some rest intervals. The run/walk combo is the only way it was going to be able to happen, and so mental hurdle aside, swallowing my pride and embracing it was the only way to get this training plan off the ground.
- I read two great books that helped put the experience of running a marathon, and how you get from the start to the finish line, in perspective. The first was Meb Keflezighi’s new book 26 Marathons: What I learned about faith, identity and running. The second was Running like a Girl: Notes on learning how to run by Alexandra Heminsley.
Both of these books helped me frame the context for why I run and how I train. Consequently, that context is different now than it was five years ago when I ran my first marathon. One of the things that I realized I was having a hard time grappling with was the idea of being significantly slower than I was five years ago. Looking at marathon finishing times that were drastically different from each other. But here’s an amazing dose of perspective! Meb Keflezighi…world renowned, Olympic medalist, and Boston Marathon winner, ran the NYC marathon last year over an hour slower than his winning Boston time or his Olympic medal time. True…he still ran it faster than I’ll ever run a marathon…but he had to have known before toeing the line that if comparative finishing time was going to bother him, he was better off not running the race at all!
- If we’re being honest though, the thing that probably helped me cross the time hurdle the most was realizing I wasn’t going that much slower than my 2014 race time. It turns out that running strong for a period and then walking to allow for rehydration and a drop in heart rate, is a pretty stable and repeatable aerobic process. Whereas I might tell myself that I never walked in my first two marathons, in reality, the “running” I did at times, during 2014 especially, was probably slower than my actual walking pace. It turns out that planning for intervals of running and walking equates in pace pretty closely to running the first 10 miles of the race strong, and then gradually declining and repeatedly hitting the wall for the next 16.2! I will likely not be adding hours onto my previous finishing times. It could, in fact, be mere minutes. And, if I decided I wanted to get ambitious in the final stretch and conditions were perfect, maybe I’d even be a little faster than last time!
If you’re looking to build up using this kind of accelerated training schedule, I can’t recommend enough taking a walk/run approach to the long runs. Find a ratio that works for you (mine is eight minutes of running followed by two minutes of walking), and use that rest time to hydrate, take in nutrition (I’m skipping the gels and using al natural, gluten-free, chocolate energy bites and a Naked mango smoothie), and allow your heart rate to return to a comfortable level. This past weekend, those intervals felt GREAT through the first 12 miles of my run. The last four got difficult, and they should because it’s training after all, but I really enjoyed the bulk of the run and the added mileage didn’t bring with it stress or panic. My body knows if it can get to that eight minute mark, there’s rest right on the other side.
If you’re training for a spring race, I want to hear about it! If you’ve got a great marathon story or tip, drop me a comment!