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I'm Running a Marathon in 12 Days: the Greatest Training Cycle I Didn't Talk About

If you had asked me a year ago what the future of my marathon career might hold, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Yes, I enjoy running. Yes, the longer the race the better. Yes, I love competing. But, I wasn’t feeling much desire to train and race for the distance. To be honest, I felt kind of lost. My big, ultimate goal is to break 2:30 in the marathon. The 2020 Trials standard was 2:45:00. My PR was 2:38:39. My training felt like it had so much meaning the first around time around when I was trying to qualify for the 2016 trials. When the trials standard was relaxed from 2:43:00 to 2:45:00, I felt like I was in a no-(wo)man’s land. It didn’t light my fire to try and train just to OTQ (not to downplay that as an accomplishment), but factors inside and outside of my control made progress toward my 2:30:00 goal feel really far away.

26.2 miles is a very long way to run when the goal you have doesn’t set your soul on fire.

Of course, I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture. Success in running comes from consistency. Solid race efforts, even if they aren’t the ultimate times we want, lead to larger success. I should have been focused less on the outcome and more on the fact that training and racing hard would be the building blocks I needed for the future. Of course, when it came down to it, I believe my Trials race was doomed from the start (presumptive covid, 10 days of strong antibiotics, some lingering injury, and then stepping in a hole and turning my ankle 15 min before the race – seriously, I’m pretty sure the universe did NOT want me there that day), but, my attitude didn’t have to be.

In the middle of December I made a vision board for the upcoming year. Even though I had no marathon plans and I hadn’t even thought about 2021 races, somehow a corner of the board became dedicated to a 2:30 marathon. It was starting to call me again. While I still didn’t truly feel like I wanted to train for or race a marathon yet, I was at least starting to feel the beginnings of the itch.

Then, a few weeks later, I woke up and had a moment of clarity: if I am going to run a 2:30:00 marathon, I need to rip off the bandaid and run a marathon. I started thinking about timing, logistics, covid, etc. and settled on Carmel, which is a small, but fairly competitive, marathon about 30 min from home. As I was thinking about this, I had the strong sense it was the right place and time. Then, as I got in my car to drive to meet someone to run, my favorite running song, High Hopes by Panic! At the Disco, came on. It felt like a sign from the universe.

I was nervous about a short training cycle. I had barely over 13 weeks to train. I had been running ~50 – 60 miles a week and had started to ease back into workouts. My hamstring was still a little bothersome, but mostly under control. Then I realized the reason I was anxious about a short training cycle was because I wanted to procrastinate. In reality, I had the perfect amount of time to build to a 100 mile week, get in multiple 20+ mile runs, and I already had a solid base. It was time to jump back in. Besides, a short training cycle might be nice, I thought. The workouts and long runs would feel like they had more of a sense of urgency, and it definitely gave my training a sense of purpose again.

Then I settled on a goal: sub-2:42, which would be a course record.

It was weird going into a marathon training cycle with a goal that is NOT a PR. My PR is 6:04 pace. This training cycle, I have made 6:10 pace my goal for all marathon work. But, above all, this marathon is a stepping stone. I’m treating it like the first pancake that we throw out before making the good pancakes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my best marathon and half marathon came after 3 marathon training cycles in a row (4 marathons in 16 months). I haven’t been racing much, obviously, and I am in a neat spot right now where I am feeling very confident, but also very realistic. Will a 2:42:00 marathon be easy? No. Am I capable of hitting that time? Yes, 100%. Will it be the end of the world if I don’t run that fast? Not one bit. My biggest goal is to get back on the horse.

Pandemic training has definitely been a different ball game. The biggest change I have noticed is the need for more unplanned rest days. In previous training cycles, I could reliably go 6 weeks without needing a day off. For much of this training cycle, I was needing a day off every 12 – 14 days. I have noticed that as vaccines rolled out and Biden is getting further into his first 100 days I am feeling much more at ease. I currently haven’t needed a day off in over 3 weeks, which is my longest streak this year. The biggest issue I have dealt with is stress. I distinctly remember an 18 miler in January where every single step hurt, even though I wasn’t injured. I had to be extremely mindful to take days off when this happened, because I knew indistinct pain could turn into an injury if I wasn’t careful.

Unplanned days off have stressed me out in the past. This training cycle, my motto was stress + rest = growth. I couldn’t control when stress would get to me, but I could acknowledge it and respond accordingly, which is one of my superhero running strengths. I might not always want to listen, but I am incredibly good at interpreting what my body is trying to say.

days off are for matching your dog

So, what made this the best training cycle I didn’t tell you about, and why was I so quiet?

For one, I feel like I’m in a vastly different point in my life than I was a year ago. The pandemic definitely made me realize that I need to diversify my life. Running is a part of my life, but it’s definitely not my entire life. Sharing every detail of my training really hasn’t spoken to me lately. Also, it definitely doesn’t feel like it has the same weight as it once had, especially compared to real issues like racism/misogyny/pandemic/insurrection/etc.

And, oddly, I feel like being quiet (which is so rare for me; I am an Aries through and through) kind of made it better. Putting my head down and getting in consistent work made me not care that the workouts I was crushing – relative my fitness level – were maybe slower than before. It didn’t mean the work didn’t matter. But I removed a layer that would have made me question myself in the past.

And you know what happened?

I grew super fucking confident in the process.

I’m looking back on my training and realizing I may have put together my most consistent training cycle to date. I didn't miss a single workout. I have run Tues/Thurs/Sat workouts every single week for 3 months, which I haven’t done since… While part of me wants to stop and explain they aren't the fastest workouts I've ever done, I would be neglecting the fact I've been doing heavier volume than before and recovering LIKE A CHAMP, despite something new I am doing: big mileage on the in between days.

Training is just adaptation to stress. Before Philadelphia I was running 20 miles on Saturdays (2 x 10 mi double) and 20 – 24 miles on Sunday. Those Sunday runs SUCKED. I didn’t want to do that again (honestly, I started to dread weekends), but I can’t deny that it got me really fit. The last 12 weeks have looked like this:

M: 5 miles or off Tues: track work + shakeout if needed (12 – 15 mi day) W: 8 – 9 miles w/ strides @ 9 AM, then 4.5 miles @ 1 PM (standing run dates) 12- 13.5 mi total Th: marathon effort / tempo day + shake out if needed (13 – 17 mi day) Fri: 9 mi @ 8:45 AM / 4.5 mi @ 1 PM (standing run dates) 13.5 mi total Sat: long run (16 – 24 miles) Sun: 10 miles

My mileage was mostly 85 – 100 miles weekly.

Last week was a huge week for me with Tuesday's run being 20 x 2:00 hard / 1:00 easy; Thursday 6 x 2K @ MP, and Saturday a 16 mile progression. I've never consistently run big weeks like this with just one day recovery.

There was not a single workout this cycle that blew my mind with how fast it was as in past cycles. Instead, I put in a lot of consistent, solid, work. I remember after a track session with Katie (16 x 400), I told her that workouts were starting to feel the way they were supposed to again: tiring but not destructive. I finished feeling good; proud; confident instead of beaten down and tired. Despite the heavy training, I found myself not needing nearly as many naps as I have in the past (I remember one training cycle where I napped 5x a week, sometimes up to 3 hours). My eczema is a non-issue (usually the first sign of inflammation for me); my food sensitivities have disappeared (I CAN EAT BREAD AND SUGAR AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). I am far less dependent on caffeine (I say as I sip black tea). I feel strong.

I did my 4-week-out-dress-rehearsal a couple weeks ago. Dave and I ran a hilly 15K. I have been seeking out as many hills as possible because Carmel is actually deceptively hilly. Many people assume it will be pancake flat like Monumental, but actually has a lot of false flats that can drain your legs. I have been seeking out the hilliest routes I can find in Indy, and most come out to be ~500 – 600 ft of climbing over 20+ miles. The 15K I did was just under 700 ft of climbing over 8 miles (the first 2K was downhill). My legs felt surprisingly great.

I was talking with an athlete of mine the other day who is also running Carmel and she said she was waffling between feeling ready and not feeling ready. The truth is that no one goes into a marathon feeling as though they have run far/fast/hard enough. Instead, we have to focus on what we controlled. For the first time ever, I can say there is nothing more I would have done. I haven’t missed a single long run. I did my strides every Wednesday. I pivoted workouts when the weather called for it (a proud moment for me: snow/ice covered everywhere in Indy except for one hill at Eagle Creek so I did hill repeats until I thought my legs were going to fall off).

view from the bottom of the hill

When people who know me ask me how I’m feeling, I know my workouts are somewhere in between Twin Cities and Philly. I believe that if I’m given the right conditions, I could really have a great day. My confidence isn’t coming from times I’ve hit in workouts or mileage I’ve put in. My confidence is coming from the fact that I did everything I needed to do while living my best life. I engineered a training plan that met me where I was at, and I executed it to the best of my ability. I made really smart pivots when necessary. I did the things I needed to do, not because I was going to post about it while wearing the latest gear, but because my goals were big enough that I knew it needed to get done.

I’ve kept a habit tracker for the past year. THESE numbers give me confidence, not the numbers in my training log. I kept promises to myself. I made the right time investments. In the past 12 weeks I have:

-completed 104 runs

-completed 56 core/strength workouts

-completed 69 stretching/yoga/mobility routines

-put my legs up the wall 42 times

-needed 18 naps

-gone to bed by 10:30 PM 36 times

-gotten Chipotle 6 times

If you’re cheering along at Carmel, my goals are the following:

A goal: sub-2:42

B goal: sub-2:50

C goal: finish

I think an interesting thing to have come from the pandemic is that racing doesn’t feel pass/fail anymore. If we have learned anything in the past year, it’s that we have very little control over what’s going on around us and we are only able to control ourselves and our day-to-day life. I can’t believe there was a version of me that allowed a race result to affect my happiness. In these aftertimes, that seems so foolish - doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to April 3rd and the rebirth of my marathoning and pursuit of my best self.

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