Step up #AlwaysInBeta
One thing I think about a lot: Shaving time off the marathon. Specifically, I think about training and execution on race day. Other factors such as weather, pacers, competitors and courses are on my mind, but I don’t have the same control over them as I do my training.
Two things I believe with training (they may not be true). One is that over time you need to change up the stimulus to attain significant physiological adaptations, the exact same training will become less effective. The other is that more time spent at a certain pace and your body will become more efficient at that pace. These two ideas seem contradictory but I believe there is merit in both and ways to see improvement while incorporating both theories.
“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
When you look at my top four marathon times (2:10:55, 2:11:23, 2:11:24, 2:11:24) it looks as though I have a specific recipe I keep whipping up. Truth be told, my training program has been pretty consistent through each build-up. Perhaps I need to switch things around to break the trend. Does that mean running more volume, or more speed-work, or more hills, or more time at race pace? It’s near impossible to say as every athlete reacts/adapts differently. Plus, it’s not so simple as doing more of everything, that would invite injury.
My first three marathons in the 2:10-2:11 range came after sea-level training. To switch it up I tried altitude training this Spring before Rotterdam. I spent 10 of 15 weeks, including the last 5 weeks, in Iten, Kenya (2400m). I came down to sea-level within 72 hours and it still netted me a similar result.
Training in Iten also meant that I incorporated more hills into my program (I didn’t have a choice with the terrain). This build-up I’m going to include a few specific hill sessions to change things up a bit. On Monday I ran more elevation in a workout than I ever have before.
As far as race plans go, my top four marathons have had two different pacing strategies: ‘Go out hard’ and ‘shoot for an even split.’ My halfway splits in those four marathons have a larger variance than the final times (65 second variance at 21.1km and 29 second variance @ 42.2km) . I’ve also tried different race courses.
2:10:55 (1:03:58 @ 21.1km) – STWM 2011
2:11:23 (1:05:04 @ 21.1km) – STWM 2010
2:11:24 (1:04:11 @ 21.1km) – Fukuoka 2013
2:11:24 (1:05:03 @ 21.1km) – Rotterdam 2015
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
On the other hand, I know how to train for a decent result. Perhaps just hitting it perfect on the day, on a fast course (Berlin) with training I know works will get me a PB. It’s possible I’m already maximizing my training and adding anything more will burn me out. Or, varying away from a proven formula will not prepare me as well.
My running volume has been fairly consistent throughout my four marathons. In the past I’ve hit some weeks around 240km and could tell from the way I felt (compared to 210km or 220km per week) that I don’t need to go that high. I ran a little less before the last marathon as I was training at altitude (and travelling a bit more too). This build-up I’ve been in the same wheelhouse. One difference is that I plan to cut back a little more in the last month to be sharper for specific sessions.
I used to run 12 times per week and now I only run 10 times per week. I try to run a little more on some of the other runs but I don’t quite make up the difference. Running two less times allows me to recover better.
Mind over matter
We all know that the mind plays an important role on race day. Once the training is complete and you’re at a given fitness level the mental side is what will make or break a race. I know I perform better when running in a pack. That is why I will change up my pace (within a reasonable amount) on race day to run with a pack. Berlin will have a good pack up front with plenty of pace makers but I don’t need to go out at World Record pace.
Being motivated when things get tough is what helps me stay on pace. I have to ‘really want it’ to run through the pain. In the past I’ve put lots of pressure on myself and at other times I’ve been relatively nonchalant. There is a sweet spot in the middle where I need to operate.
I can’t be afraid of excellence. I know that might sound strange but sometimes when you want something so bad and you put that end result on a pedestal it can be overwhelming. I felt that a bit in Fukuoka. I remember coming through halfway in 64:11, feeling pretty good and thinking even if I slow down a bit I’ll still hit my goal. The goal became so achievable that I was scared. In Rotterdam I wasn’t scared to take that next step.
Every time I race I learn more about myself and it always surprises me when I figure out more to the mental side. I know it’s important, I’ve always known it’s important but there is so much more to be learned in that department.
One of the reasons I keep thinking about all these things is that I don’t have tons more opportunities to run a personal best. I don’t want to finish my career and wonder if I could have done things differently to run faster. Had I never trained at altitude going into a marathon I know I would have questioned what I could have done with such training.
So while I try and become more efficient at marathon race pace I’m also tweaking other aspects of my training to see if I can become stronger.
My next race is the Edmonton half marathon on August 23. Surprise surprise, a half marathon 5-6 weeks before a marathon (same thing as all the 2:10-2:11 races). Although I did try a half 4 weeks out before the London marathon in 2013. I didn’t like the way I felt, ran 2:13:40 so decided not to try that again.