Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Marathon Thoughts

I'm not planning to run a marathon anytime soon, but watching all my friends' training has got me thinking! For today's TOTR, I'm reflecting on marathon training and what works best for me.
Despite running three marathons, I can't decide if I've figured out what works best for me. For my first (Space Coast), I felt pretty prepared, but I had no idea what I was actually getting into. I ran a single 20-miler and took an entire week off. Then, I ran an 18-miler and ended up tapering drastically because it took so much out of me, and in retrospect I wondered if I had missed too many runs or taken it too easy too early.
Really, there's nothing like the first one, is there?
For my second (BDR), I went in feeling over-prepared and strong but totally got my ass handed to me by the weather. I only ran one 20-miler for that race, too, but I did multiple 16-18 mile runs and didn't drop the ball on training after any of them. Still, there's no way to know if those extra long runs and the prescribed, gradual taper were good for me or not because of race day conditions.
Smiling, but not really that happy.
For my third (A1A), I used BDR as a training run and did a 20-miler a few weeks out as part of my training. After that, I dropped out of training a bit and had what was basically a repeat of Space Coast's extreme, sudden taper. If you recall, I wasn't even planning to run the full until the day before race day. That marathon ended up being my PR.
Now I can't help but wonder if BDR was an excellent addition to my training plan for A1A or if it didn't make a difference at all!
I think what I'm beginning to wonder about is the benefit of the 20-miler. Other than mental strength, does it do much? Does it actually break down my body too much? Or is it a good training strategy for me, seeing as it seems to have paid off in the last race? Should I actually be looking at doing a 22 or 24 miler as my longest run, to help give my body and mind more fortitude, or is less better?

My runner friends using Hansons seem to like that their long runs top out at 16 miles; the double long runs on weekends mean more overall weekly distance than I've ever put in for marathon training, and I wonder which would work better for my body: running 20 milers but topping out at 35 weekly miles, or keeping long runs shorter but getting up into 40-mile weeks.
I know that for my lifestyle, running six days a week and not having any time on weekends to sleep in (because of the back-to-back long runs) wouldn't work for me. But when I get back to marathon training eventually, I think it would be worth it to really do my research on tapering, maximum weekly miles, and long run times vs. distance.

I love that the marathon is a new beast every time you run one. Even experienced marathoners understand that 26.2 miles leaves a lot of room for error and even if the stars align, you really need to rely on your best training to get you through it. I wonder how many more of these things I'll need to run before I know what truly works best for me!

What are your thoughts on:
-distance vs. time for long runs?
-the 20-miler vs. back-to-back long runs?
-long, intense taper vs. gradual/shorter taper?
-true fatigue/over-training vs. under-training?

ABK

28 comments:

  1. I like the Hansons plan and it was working for me last year before I got bronchitis. I'm trying it again this year. I think that if you want to do 18-20 miles that is fine, but I'd recommend trying to have some longer mid-week runs to support that distance. I ran back to back (as in two marathons in the same weekend) and I found that back to back 18 milers was plenty as my max in training.

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    1. I've found that for me, keeping my runs between 4 and 6 miles during the week is 1) all I have time for, and 2) the best way to keep myself from getting injured or burning out. I'm interested in checking out the 3-day marathons plans, like Run Less Run Faster. That's what seems to work for my body as far as weekday runs go!

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  2. Man the more I learn about marathon training I feel like the less I know!! There are so many different plans out there with contradicting advice- most of which you mentioned. I have only *raced* two marathons so I feel like I don't know what works for me either! One thing I have started to hear consistently is physically one doesn't get any extra benefit from running over 2.5 hours. Whether you can run 20 miles in 2.5 hours or 15 miles in that amount of time.

    However, I have been doing Hansons for 5 weeks and I am not sure how I feel about it yet, as in, will it work for me? I love that the plan tells me EXACTLY how far and how fast/slow to run each day. That is nice. But I don't feel like I am getting faster at all. I feel like i am getting slower... Maybe I was running too fast all this time though and that's why I crap out on race day???

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    1. I kind of miss the blind optimism of the first marathon. You just had to have faith in what you were doing and hope it got you to the finish!

      I'm so intrigued to see how Hansons pans out for you and Kristina because every single person I know who's done it has succeeded. They always get faster, finish strong, and usually meet their time goals! The science seems to work!

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    2. That's what I'm telling myself. Just do what it says and trust it. If it doesn't work, oh well I will try another plan! I'll still be proud of myself for sticking with something and trusting the process.

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  3. Personally, I don't think I could train for a marathon without a 20-miler. At my training paces, 20 miles is right around 3 hours, which is the maximum amount of time they say a long run should be before you reach the point of diminishing returns. For me, the 20 miler doesn't just train my legs: it trains my mind and my stomach. I don't feel comfortable running a marathon without my body knowing what it's like to run for 3 hours straight.

    That said, I also think higher weekday mileage is important too; I would also not feel comfortable on a training plan that included all the long runs with, like, 3 milers during the week. I feel a lot more confident and prepared on higher overall mileage, not just the long runs but also mid-week medium long runs to build my aerobic endurance. I also don't feel like I totally know what works for me after 3 marathons, but that's more in terms of what workouts I should be doing, how many days per week I should run, whether I should train intuitively or follow strict plans, what is my sweet spot or peak weekly mileage, etc.

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    1. Yes, I think the 20 miler is so important for me mentally! I mean, I hope it's not causing undue stress to my body; I feel like even though it takes me 4 hours to run 20 miles, I get a lot out of it.

      I find that running 2-3 runs of 4-6 miles during the week and then a long run on weekends has kept my body from getting injured and my mind from burning out. But I worry that I taper too drastically as race day approaches sometimes.

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  4. I have my first marathon in October and I read so much about all of the different training plans. I think Hansons definitely seems like a reasonable option, and I buy that you don't really NEED to run 20 miles in training to be able to complete a marathon on race day; however, I thought that mentally I would definitely need the 20 miler for confidence. Maybe if I do future marathons, that distance won't be as important, but for now I think it's necessary. :)

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    1. I definitely think the 20-miler is super important for first-timer marathoners. I can't express enough how hard the last 10k of the marathon is, and without the 20-miler I would have completely lost my mind, I think!

      I hope you're feeling excited for October!

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  5. For my first marathon I was Over trained and ended up at the start line injured. For my second marathon I used my PT's advice and trained a little easier ( didn't do more than 20 miles during training). I showed up on race day healthy and excited to race. I totally crashed at mile 20 and ran the remaining miles at a slower pace which was disappointing but hey, I finished un-injured which was the plan. I am hoping that there will be a third marathon in my future (cus third times a charm right?) but I just can't find the motivation to train for long distance right now..lol

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    1. I honestly am in awe of runners who don't slow down significantly in the last 10k. I still haven't figured out how to stay strong and power through it. I end up running at a fairly okay pace, but I take way too many walk breaks!

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  6. I think there are so many different training plan options because it's impossible for one to work best for everyone. I like that the Hansons book explained the physiological benefits of their plan, and broke everything down in a very scientific/medical way. It was enough for me to say "okay this sounds like it makes a lot of sense, I'll give it a try." Like Megan, I'm a little bit concerned that all of a sudden 15 minute pace feels super comfortable when at the start of the plan I was worried I wouldn't be able to slow down to 15 minute pace on short runs. I am having NO trouble with that now and it's scary when I need to run 26.2 miles at 13:42 pace - but re-reading the scientific aspects of the plan makes me feel better. We'll see how it goes!

    It's so scary committing to a marathon training plan because you spend SO many months dedicated to it - and if things don't pay off, you might have to wait months or even a year to make another attempt! It's the biggest running commitment ever!

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    1. Like I responded to Megan, literally everyone I know who has done Hansons has reaped the benefits of it. They've PR'd, finished strong, had energy through the entire marathon, etc. Trust the process!

      The hardest thing about committing to a months-long plan is that sometimes I want to change it in the middle! And by then it's too late!

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  7. I think that you made a pretty comprehensive analysis of your training and your goals.

    My fiancé is reading the Hanson Marathon Method and keeps telling me that Physiologically, there is no benefit on running more than 16 miles, but from what I remember about my Marathon training, if I hadn't run 20 miles, I would not have been able to finish the Marathon.

    I'm for long runs, for 20 milers, against Long tapers, and half way on the training... and I sound like I'm running for President!

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    1. Yes, it seems physically if you can get to 16 or 18 miles, you can finish the full. But running 20 miles (multiple times, no less) really helped me mentally on race day. I think I'm for multiple 20 milers in training, even if it goes against the running experts' advice!

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  8. Well I don't have any preferences since I haven't started training for a marathon yet, but I've looked at the Hanson plan and it just looks WAY too advanced for me! I think building up to the 20 miles makes sense for a beginner. Do you have your eye on another marathon for the fall?

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    1. I think Hansons is doable even for beginners, but it's SO time consuming! I think you have to really be able to dedicate yourself to training, which gives me the impression that Hansons isn't for the weekend warrior.

      I don't have a particular marathon in mind. I'm definitely NOT running on this fall. But in 2017 I may come back to marathons :)

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  9. Wow, I could write a lot about this. After 5 marathons, I do think I have figured out what works for me. One insight I have had is that I sort marathons into races where external factors were an issue and races where they were not. For me, crowds were a big issue for NYC and heat was a big issue for Vermont. I think for most of us - including me - my first marathon was a "throw-away" marathon. Sort of like you often have to throw away the first pancake. If external factors controlled the day - and you have had races like this, I know - then you don't get nearly as good of an idea of whether the training worked or not.

    Hansons might work for some people, but I suspect not for very many recreational runners. Recreational runners - including me! - largely need the psychological benefit of at least 1 20 miler and also can't deal with the lifestyle impact Hansons seems to cause.

    The taper question is important, but I suspect less important than the weight you are giving it. By 2-3 weeks out from the race, you are either trained or you aren't. Sure, tapering in a way that works for you is a good idea, but it is icing on the cake. If the cake isn't baked correctly, icing isn't going to matter.

    For me, the biggest difference has been the strength training, like you are starting to do now. If I had to point to a single training element that helped me go from a 5:27 marathon to a 4:33 marathon in six months, it would be time at the gym. I also think this is the key to injury prevention.

    So there you go! I *did* have a lot to say! Also - I think you can run a way way faster marathon, if you decide that is what you want to do. But it's definitely not the only goal worth pursuing. I always love reading your blog so thanks for writing it!

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    1. I like the idea of separating marathons into categories. My first marathon was surprisingly warm and I experienced cramps I'd never had in training (due to cold meds) during the race; I think if not for those two factors, I would have actually finished that one much stronger, even though it was my first. In some ways, it was better than the other two! My second was definitely a weather issue; my third one had strong wind but that actually was better than the heat I'd have experienced otherwise, so it was a positive! I'm noticing that Florida weather just SUCKS for marathons because it's unpredictable in winter, so I'll need to look out of state or farther north for my next one.

      I agree - Hansons is probably more geared toward people who have the time to truly dedicate to that kind of training.

      I hope you're right that taper doesn't matter as much as I feel it does. I guess I put so much emphasis on it because I like to feel fresh before race day but I also feel like, mentally, all the downtime plays with me and makes me worry! I also looked at overall training mileage, and I think I actually benefit from under training a bit...But I don't know for sure because of all the outside factors that have played into my races.

      I've been SO dedicated to cross training, bodyweight exercises, etc, this year. I really do think it will help me get faster. Your voice is always in my head re: weights. My pie-in-the-sky goal is to break 5:00 in a marathon, and I think I CAN do it; I just need to stay diligent with speed work and strength training this year!

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    2. Ali, you are WAY under-estimating what you are capable of! I am 100% sure that with decent weather and a solid training cycle and the desire to do it, you could run a 4:30 marathon and probably much faster. I think you will be blown away by what you are capable of, if you decide running a faster marathon is something you want to do.

      Another training element you don't talk about here is a longer mid-week run. Many marathon plans have a run of 6-10 miles that is not the long run. I think this run is in some ways the hardest for people with jobs to wrap their minds around because how can we run that far on a workday? For me it has helped to remember that for a long portion of the training cycle, this run is actually still less than 7 miles and it's only in the last few weeks that it gets long. But I do think this mid-week middle distance run is important.

      For tapering - I have settled on about a 2.5 week taper with a strong mid-week run effort 2.5 weeks out from race day. After that, I drop volume (# of miles) but keep intensity. I generally run similar types of runs during taper as during training but just shorter. Also, I really try to zero in on race pace during those last few weeks. But also, if taper is making you feel crazy and worried and possibly also sick and injured - then you are probably doing it exactly right! Taper is crazy making!

      One last thought. For me, it was a big breakthrough to realize that a faster marathon is not a one training cycle event. To get really good at the marathon is a multi-year commitment. It's tricky because weather or cold medicine or lots of other things can mess up a race that you've trained for months for and you don't generally get another shot at it if things go wrong. For me, the benefits have been incredible, not just in running, but in life.

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  10. Obviously I can't comment on marathon training as I haven't done one, but in training for my second and third half I learned a LOT about what works and what doesn't. I used a plan that does runs by time, so my longest runs were 2 hours or approximately 10 miles for me. Both of those halfs had me feeling very strong and not very sore after. I also tapered for two weeks prior to my third half rather than one week like before and I felt probably my strongest half yet, even though it wasn't my best time (because I had to stop for a pic with Darth Vader!) I can't tell if either of those things factored in for me better than my first half of if it was because of the weather- both the 2nd and 3rd were much better weather than my first. Regardless I'm planning on using that same plan (by RunFit 365) for my fourth half!

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    1. Weather is definitely a factor, as is stopping for pics with Darth! If you hadn't stopped, do you think that half would have been your fastest?

      I'm so glad you've found a plan that works for you for half marathons!

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  11. I've had similar questions as you and now that I'm home (not working) I decided to give Hanson's a shot. I def don't think I'd be able to handle that type of running while being a parent and holding a full time job. BUT, if I PR, you best believe I'll use it again even with a job, lol, (I'm applying for a position).

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    1. I think Hansons is intimidating because of the time commitment. I just know that even though I'd love to push myself and see how I'd do with it, it's just not for the type of runner I truly am. But, I love seeing you and everyone else using it! I know it's proven over and over to be a worthy plan!

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  12. I am glad you posted this. I need to read everyone's comments and ideas. I have twice tried to train for a marathon and ended up injured. I have not run one, but I hope to this Fall. My feet are in such a fragile state, I worry if I will even make it, but I've had a few people tell me to toss out miles and just worry about time on your feet. If you can 3 hours you can finish -even it takes two more hours, is what they tell me. I will see how I hold up when I try to train, I have considered a few different philosophies, but I don't think I will train a run longer than 3 hours for sure. That could be about 18 miles for me...maybe a little less. I have found for me in general under training is always better than higher mileage, my body won't hold up. It is awesome you have finished three!

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  13. I have these same thoughts all the time with marathon training. In the past I've went up to 21-22 miles. I felt I needed to go a little further than 20 just for my mental state. But I know a lot of people don't recommend going for too long because it breaks down your body too much and doesn't add anything. I think we are all really different in what works for us and you know your body best.

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  14. Awesome! It is amazing with your achievement. With a runner, this one is great. I am also a runner and am trying to improve my achievement. I hope that i will be able to get the same result as you. ^^

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  15. Hi Ali! I forgot you have done 3 marathons! That is so awesome!!!
    I know when I was training for mine, I was debating whether to do a 20 miler and then taper. OR to run a 22-24 miler so I would know how it felt. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to since my IT band acted up.
    Time will tell :) Happy Summer!

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