Less than two weeks from now, barring disaster, I will be writing my post-race recap for my last race of the season: USATF 10 Mile Championships, held in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
At times I wasn’t sure I would get to this point, and in other instances I felt like I couldn’t get here fast enough. Yes, I have put a lot of emphasis on this racing season, maybe more than it has seemed like I should. But for me, training and racing is extremely goal-driven, and in order for me to perform my best I need to treat each race as if it is the most important endeavor I have ever undertaken (plus, I think that’s just a good way to live life in general).
This season was also a cog in the machine of the big picture, which is obviously 2020. My goal has been to develop more racing experience and work on leg speed so that when races *do* start to matter, I am ready. Truthfully, I really don’t have much racing experience. Sure, I have run big races like the Trials, Chicago, and Brooklyn, but never from the perspective as an elite athlete who is gunning for a high place, and not necessarily a goal time. Since I am behind in that regard (recall that I never was an all-American in college, let alone even all-conference), this season has been an important stepping stone to help me learn how to bridge that gap.
One thing I like to do as I approach the final two weeks of my training before my goal race is review my season: the highs, the lows, the lessons, etc. This helps me put my hard work into perspective, and remind me of the big picture.
One thing that I wish I was mentally better about is remembering that comparing two training cycles is a pretty moot point. Really, it’s like trying to compare two 5k cross country courses and saying that since person A ran a 16:00 5k on course 1 and person B ran a 15:30 5k on course 2 that one athlete is undoubtedly better than the other. Course 1 could be ridiculously hilly, long, short, flat, have thirty three 180 degree turns, have been run in a torrential downpour, or any number of differences. In the same way, one training cycle could be run in the hottest/most humid summer on record, while the other was run in the mildest winter on record. Obviously, the comparison won’t be equal.
When my coach told me that mileage should be 80 - 85 mpw for training for a 10 miler, I was like psshhhhh, seriously? That’s going to feel like nothing. yeah, I was completely wrong. Approximately 10% of my weekly mileage was run between 4:40 - 5:20 pace (5:30 - 5:40 if I was doing longer stuff), while during marathon training ~10% was 5:30 - 6:10. Newsflash to me: the faster you go the worse you feel the next day. We kept my long runs at 20 miles because I thrive off of that, but DAMN, Sunday long runs do not feel good when you did a mile paced workout a couple days before, as opposed to a marathon paced workout.
Looking back through my log, it’s fun to see just how far I have come this season:
May 2: 18 miles
May 9: 24 miles
May 16: 28 miles
May 23: 35 miles
May 30: 43 miles *mile race: 5:24
June 6: 48 miles
June 13: 52 miles *4 mile race: 23:25
June 20: 60 miles
June 27: 65 miles
July 4: 70 miles *5k race: 17:40
July 11: 73 miles
July 18: 69 miles
July 25: 78 miles
Aug 1: 82 miles *5 mile race: 28:35
Aug 8: 88 miles
Aug 15: 81 miles *5k race: 17:09
Aug 22: 84 miles
Aug 29: 63 miles *weird week with day off due to a cold and no long run, since 20k was on a Monday
Sept 5 88 miles *20k race: 1:12:04
Sept 12: 87 miles
Sept 25: 75 miles
Perspective is such a funny thing. I look at my mileages and think they are so low, but I have only run 23 fewer miles during this cycle than I did at this point prior to Twin Cities (and, you know, I was training for a marathon then that wound up going pretty dang well.) I am also in better shape than at this point last year, even though I wouldn’t have admitted that until the 20k. While my mileage wasn’t as high as I ideally would have liked, I can say with absolute honesty that I don’t think I could have should have run 23 more miles this summer, as I felt maxed out at the end of every week (which is really all that matters.)
There were a couple changes that I made to my training this summer. I lifted/did core more (4 - 5 days per week during base building, 3 - 4 days per week the last month) this time around and I ran the most speed workouts than I have since high school. These factors, in combination with this summer’s weather, made me feel similar to when I was routinely hitting 100+ mile weeks in the winter.
An important lesson that I learned from my workouts (among many) was never to get too encouraged by a good workout, or too discouraged by a bad one. For a while I felt like I was yo-yo’ing weekly, with a fantastic workout on Tuesday, and then a terrible workout on Thursday/Friday. Once I resigned myself that this was just part of the process of getting back into shape and a growing pain of getting back on the track (I am sure this happened during my past marathon cycles, but it’s much easier to chalk up missed times to terrain or GPS disparities when you’re on the roads), I started to realize that effort was most important, and there wasn’t any shame in failing: it was going to hurt whether I could hit the time or not, and isn’t that the main point anyway?
The best workouts I have done this summer include 16 x 400 descending, with the first around 80 and the final at 73 with 100 m walking recovery; 8 x 600 1:57 - 1:59; 4 x 600 1:56, 1:52, 1:52, 1:50; and 10 x “gutbusters”: 300 m @ 56, then 100 m “float” (22 - 25 seconds), then 100 m sprint (sub-18) for 500 m total.
My worst workouts were mile repeats. On both attempts I failed - miserably - to hit my splits. But, I finished those workouts, and for that I am extremely proud of myself.
If you have been following me for a while, you know that I was diagnosed with a number of food sensitivities at the end of February, which dramatically changed the way I eat. This training cycle has been crucial for me to figure out what works - and what doesn’t - especially when it comes to racing.
The best/worst part about my diet is that it requires a lot of planning. I can no longer eat foods that contain soy, corn, garlic, black pepper, food dyes, chicken, nitrates/nitrites, and certain fruits/vegetables. In order to keep from developing new sensitivities (which, yes, for me is something I strongly believe is a possibility), I aim to eat foods on a 3 day rotation. This means if I have oatmeal on Sunday, I can’t have it again until Wednesday (the same goes for coffee, which is why some days I am REALLY excited to wake up in the morning).
Have I noticed a difference?
For one, I experience very obvious changes in how I feel when I slip up and eat something that contains ingredients I am not supposed to eat. This can be in the form of water retention (most common), skin break outs, itchy eyes, a “hung over” feeling the next day, or general moodiness.
The arguably best change I have noticed is that my seasonal allergies have gone away. For instance, for the past 10 years I have not been able to keep a pair of contacts for the recommended 2 weeks due to what I thought was bad summer-time allergies. In addition, every morning I would wake up with eyes that were practically crusted over because of - again - what I thought were allergies. This summer has been my mildest summer ever when it comes to these conditions, BUT, when I purposely/accidentally eat foods that I shouldn’t, my eye “allergies” come back with a vengeance.
I also feel less tired and like my hunger is more stable. I am not craving food insatiably anymore, which can be a telltale sign of food sensitivities.
Perhaps most important from a performance perspective is that I am retaining A LOT less water.
Below are photos of me from the Trials in February and from the 20k on Labor Day of this year. My starting weight before both races was the exact same (to the ounce). When I look back at these photos, I can see how my skin has changed (for the first time ever I have clear skin. I’m 28) and how bloated and puffy I look (can’t really tell in this photo, but my face has changed). Granted, I am lifting and doing more core now, but just because you build muscle doesn’t necessarily mean it will be obvious (and, the majority of my lifting is with a 10 lb kettle bell, so I’m not exactly lifting for gains). I always thought I was genetically predisposed to not having 6-pack abs, but it just turns out I had to get rid of some inflammation in order for them to show. I want to point out that I’m not saying the new diet was good because it’s made me more lean; rather, I’m using this as an example because it’s tangible. We know that chronic inflammation is not good for endurance athletes.
So, has the diet been hard? Yes; it sucks when you’re invited to a party and you know that if you eat the food that’s laid out, you’re going to feel awful in the morning. If someone has prepared a meal specially for me (or, for instance, if I go to a wedding), I eat what’s on my plate and deal with the consequences. Overall, I know that this was absolutely worth it, and I’m excited to see how it helps me in the next couple of years.
I have asked myself often during this training cycle what it means to be mentally tough. When I started racing in June, I had the idea that mental toughness would be able to carry my legs at a faster pace then they were ready to go; after all, running is 90% mental, right?
No. I think that it is 90% mental once you reach peak fitness….not when you’re at 15% fitness. In my coaching I have realized that many athletes have this misconception as well. Frequently, clients tell me that their greatest weakness is that they aren’t mentally tough because they fall apart in the second half of a race. After looking over splits of example races, it’s rarely mental toughness that’s the problem, but rather poor racing strategy. You can’t expect your brain to take over when you have gone through the first half of a race WAY too fast. I learned this lesson myself at my early season races, and I think it’s important to remember.
Here are some other thing I have learned:
Mental toughness is not never falling.
Mental toughness is being able to get past bad races/bad workouts.
Mental toughness is not never being afraid.
Mental toughness is standing on the starting line in spite of fear.
Mental toughness is not being able to hit every single split for every single workout.
Mental toughness is finishing the workout that’s not going as planned.
Mental toughness is not forcing yourself to do every single run, workout, or mile just because it was on your schedule.
Mental toughness is knowing when to cut back and do what’s best for the big picture.
In the end, I don’t think the race comes down to who is mentally toughest on race day; I think it comes down to who was mentally toughest during the training cycle.
As I’ve said numerous times in my blog throughout the summer, I had some pretty big goals for my races - and I failed pretty spectacularly at each. Miraculously, this hasn’t been as devastating as I would have imagined. I think the most frustrating for me was when I ran 17:40 at the USATF IN 5k championships. Mostly, I was just upset because I have run so many 17:40s, and I just thought I should be in better shape. In retrospect, in all of my races I have raced better than I should have, given what my workouts were indicating. (this is kind of my m.o. I tend to race at a higher level than I train). The week of the 5k was the same week I was planning to start speed workouts, so I ran a 17:40 off of base mileage, which is actually pretty great for me.
When I wrote down goals for this season, I wanted my overall goal - the 10 miler - to be something that I would have to work for, but that also wasn’t overly ridiculous. I thought about my half marathon PR, and how it equates to a 55:30 10 mile. So, my goal became sub-55:00 for Oct. 9th. Will it happen? I don’t know. I can honestly say, though, there is nothing more that I could have done this summer towards that end, so I’m going to give it my best shot. I’m astonished at how easy 5:00 pace feels on the track for me right now, so I’m hoping that means running in the 5:20′s in cool weather, on the hills (my favorite), with competition, and with fresh legs makes me feel fast & free. There’s also something special about running your last race of the season that provides a little extra oomph.
After Twin Cities, I am going to take a week off and regroup for my next goal. As of right now, I’m not planning to run a marathon until the window opens back up for the Trials next fall. I definitely want to stay on the road circuit, and would like to do the USATF 15K champs in March, and the half marathon champs in April. I *might* try to sneak in a marathon after that, but it’s kind of doubtful. I definitely needed a marathon break, and I also need more practice racing, instead of pacing, if I want to achieve my ultimate goals for the next 4 years