Friday, April 4, 2014

Lessons Learned and Post Shamrock Thoughts

Its now been nearly 3 weeks since I raced the Shamrock Marathon and achieved my long term goal of running a sub-3:10 marathon.  This was a goal time I've chased for a number of years even before the BQ times shifted another 5 minutes faster.  It just so happened that this time now qualified me for Boston since I'll be aging up for next year's race.  And while I believe I was trained to run close to a 3:05 on a perfect day (the BQ time for men under 35), my original goal was to run sub-3:10, which is exactly what I set out to do.  So with that goal checked off, its time to look back at the training behind the result, consider what worked well, what didn't, and lastly what is next on my schedule.

My Training
Looking back over the past 4 months of training leading up to the race, I was able to incorporate a wide variety of workouts, each with their own purpose.  And while I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do over the course of the training cycle, I only kept that framework static.  The actual workouts and specific progressions were determined within a week or so of the workout, depending on how my body felt.  I've found this approach works best for me on multiple fronts.  First, it forces me to stay focused on the week or day versus looking too far down the training cycle; and second, it forces me to listen to my body before I decide the workout.  Its very easy to get caught up in a plan and feel you have to do "x" workout on a particular day when you have everything laid out.  But I think this approach allows for you to stay in the moment, something we all should spend more time focusing on.

Mileage During the Training Cycle
As you can see by the graph on the side, I was able to train pretty consistently throughout the training cycle.  January was my highest monthly volume total ever, with December being only 5 miles shy of that previous total as well.  My peak volume for a given week was 83 miles, but I also hit 81 miles another time.  Both of these weeks came toward the end of my build phase, prior to the race specific phase.  That laid down two months of high volume work, with lots of quality workouts throughout the time, to build upon for the final race specific focus in the last 4-6 weeks of training.  For those wondering, I follow a funneled periodization model where the earlier training focus is on high volume and training at paces a fair bit faster (intervals, threshold runs, etc) and slower (long runs) than goal pace.  As the race gets closer, the pace ranges creep closer toward goal pace, with less work spent at paces far away from what my race will require.

What Worked
As a coach and an inquisitive runner, I am always looking for ways to better improve my training methods.  On the whole, I am blind to one specific approach being "the best way to train".  As a result, I like to tinker with my own training to see how it works, especially before recommending it to others.  Just to be clear though, I never drastically change anything.  I make small tweaks.  Changing too much throws off everything and you lose control of the ability to measure the effectiveness of any one approach.  So what was the change I implemented this training cycle?

Adding more quality to my long runs during the race specific phase by including marathon paced runs the day before my long runs.

Let me give an example: On Friday, I'd run 8 total miles, with 6 of them at aerobic threshold (slightly faster than marathon pace).  On Saturday, I'd do my long run, which might include a workout like 2 mi easy, 3 x 5 mi at marathon pace with 1 mi easy between each set, 1 mi cool down.

The theory behind this training approach is to establish a moderate level of fatigue (and glycogen depletion) leading into the long run, which will simulate the fatigue experienced during the marathon.  The long run workout is already challenging, but when you add in the work from the day before, it is tough but effective.  I found myself hurting pretty good during the end of the long runs when I incorporated this type of workout, often forcing me make the call of giving in and going easy, or toughing out the rest of the workout.  After one run early on where I gave in to the fatigue, I made sure to never let it happen again.  I had to remind myself that the point of these workouts is to get to THAT point, where you have to decide to quit or keep going.  And if you can keep going, it will make the race much easier.  So after that one run, I made sure to remind myself whenever things got tough, to keep pushing.  As a result of the difficulty of these workouts, I wouldn't recommend most runners jump right into this type of approach, as it is definitely more advanced and therefore, an injury risk.  However, for those that have been training consistently and run high mileage, this training concept may provide a breakthrough in your performance.

What Didn't Work
Because of the increased stress from the combined Friday/Saturday workouts, this meant I had to pull back one of the days I previously used for a quality workout, giving me only 2 quality workouts per week: a tempo run and the Friday/Saturday combo long run.  I found the weekly cycle of 2 weekday workouts in addition to the Friday/Saturday workout a bit too much for me to handle, so I backed off what would have been a Wednesday or Thursday quality day, and turned it into a moderate day.  This could be something like progression run, where the progression only goes down to aerobic threshold versus something more stressful like lactate threshold.  That way, I still got a moderate training stimulus, but not so much that it would impact my ability to execute the long run workout.

What's Next?
It's funny - almost everyone I talk to asks me what my next race is.  At first, I laughed because I just want to enjoy myself for a bit before moving on to the next goal.  Once the next goal is out there, the previous race experience goes out the window.  I'm not ready for that....yet.  Though now that the three weeks have passed since the race, I am starting to let those thoughts creep in.  In short, I'm going to focus on some faster races.  Since I've been on this marathon quest, I've had to hold off from all the shorter, faster stuff to focus on the training required to do well at the marathon.  And while I jumped into a few races along the way to keep my racing chops up, I rarely raced a 5k or a 10k, as they were too different from the marathon to be beneficial.  So now I want to spend some time focusing on them.

To be honest, I feel like my PRs from the 5k, 10k and half marathon are soft and ready to be taken down.  So my plan is to start back up and systematically reset those PRs.  It's been nearly 2 years since I've raced the 5k and 10k distances.  I KNOW I've got better times in me.  Now I just have to go out there and prove it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Shamrock Marathon

For some races, you have the perfect training leading up to it, but the results don't speak for the quality of the training you did during that cycle.  For me, the last two marathons I had run, this was the case.  My training cycles were filled with breakthroughs and I entered the races with the confidence of knowing I was going to PR.  And while I did PR, I didn't have the race I wanted.  It's easy to blame weather on specific results, and to a certain extent, it played a factor, but you have to hold yourself accountable for the results you earn.  Going into this year's Shamrock marathon, I KNEW I had a better race in me, no matter what the weather threw us.  And I just wanted to get to race day to have an opportunity to prove it.

Unlike previous years, we decided to head down to VA Beach on Friday, both to make it more of a vacation, as well as a less stressful drive.  Without the rush to get checked into the hotel, eat, get to expo, etc, it just made things more relaxing.  And relaxing is exactly what I wanted in the days before the race.  No reason to add excess stress on top of pre-race nerves!  The drive down was easy - just 3 hours.  Weather was chilly and windy, much as I expected race day to be, but that didn't stop a certain someone from getting his dig on.  I mean, if you're used to digging in a tiny sandbox and find a whole beach filled with the stuff, wouldn't you be excited too?
This is the largest sandbox ever!

By the time Saturday rolled around, much nicer weather found it's way in, and we were awakened to the sounds of race day, as the 8kers were making their way toward the start line.  We quickly got our stuff together and headed over to our favorite breakfast joint in VA Beach, Pocahontas, which also happened to be right on the course for the race.  We sat at a table that looked out at Atlantic Ave. so we could watch the runners come by.  It helped me get into my race mindset, while I continued to stuff myself with some wonderful gluten free french toast (ie lots of carbs).  Not too long after, I met up with a fellow =PR= runner I coach through our distance training program, and we went off for a short shakeout run.  Nothing fancy, but a quick easy mile, followed by 2 x 2:00 at marathon pace, then some more easy jogging.  Nothing more than a chance to spin the legs out a bit faster to create some muscle tension and get rid of some nerves.

After the run, we drove over to the expo to pick up my packet.  As is usual for Shamrock, there were very few lines if any.  Pickup is always a breeze, even when you go on the busiest day.  I didn't need anything at the expo, so we were in and out, even with a little exploring, in less than 30 minutes.
See, no lines!
The rest of Saturday was spent lounging at the beach.  With temps in the 70s, it was like a regular beach day.  People were out sunbathing, running along the boardwalk, and a certain someone was back digging in the sand.  It was nice to be outside and still stay off my feet.  Just spent my focus on the race, relaxing, and eating more carbs.
Family Beach Shot!
 Race Day
The sleep before race day is always interesting.  Sometimes I sleep incredibly well, other times I barely get any.  This was one of those cases where I WAS sleeping incredibly well...until a certain little one was so excited from his big day playing in the sand that he decided he wanted to go back out there at 1 AM.  Rebecca amused him for a bit, he ate a snack, then went back to bed.  Then got back up at 4:30 AM for good.  So that was that.  Not much sleep.  But if there was ever a testament to the saying that the sleep the night before a race doesn't matter, I'm pretty sure I've just verified it.

1 am snack time!

After killing about 3 or so hours by continuing to stuff my face with a bagel at 4:30 am (carbs) and sipping sports drink (more carbs), I followed it up with my actual go to race day breakfast of applesauce, protein powder, and a banana (more carbs).  I felt full, but with a solid 2 hours before race time, I knew I'd be in good shape by then.

At about 7:45, I made my way down toward the start for a short warm up.  Only a mile total of running, with 2 x 1:00 at marathon pace as pickups and then a few more strides closer to the actual race start.  I met up with some other =PR= runners, including Erin, who was my training partner this cycle for our long runs.  We met last year on the course at around Mile 2 and we formed the unofficial 3:10 pace group. We started training together this cycle when we both decided to sign up for Shamrock again.  Our plan was to stick together and at the very least, work through the winds ourselves if we couldn't recruit others to join us.  Our plan was broken into race segments:

  • Miles 1-5: Try to start out at 7:20/mi and then slowly progress, with 7:15/mi avg by Mile 5.
  • Miles 6-12: Pick up the pace a bit, hanging around 7:10/mi.
  • Miles 13-18: Goal pace time, sitting around 7:05/mi
  • Miles 19-23: Hold onto goal pace or anything under 7:10/mi
  • Miles 24-Finish: Anything under 7:15/mi
With that pacing plan, our simple goal was to break 3:10  We were right on pace to do it last year, but the nasty winds in the back half of the race shifted, leaving us with continued headwinds to fight with, which dropped us off goal pace.  We were determined to have a different result this year.  We knew the course, knew the conditions, and had a plan.  All we had to do was execute it.

Miles 1-5
Erin and I were lined up about 8 rows back from the front.  At exactly 8:30, the horn sounded and we were off.  As per usual, some people were flying down Atlantic Ave.  With a slight tailwind and race day nerves, we just let all those runners go and stuck to our plan.  We were running easy and just chatting it up like any other long run.  Shortly after the start, another =PR= runner Liz, who Erin runs with during the week, joined our group.  Her stated goal was 3:25 and I knew we were running a fair bit faster than that, but she seemed to look and sound comfortable running our pace, so I welcomed the company.  By the time we hit Mile 1, the three of us in our =PR= gear were racing down the road, chatting it up.  No stress, just smooth running, clocking 7:16 for our first mile.  A little fast, but I figured with the tailwind, it was close enough and we'd kept our effort super easy and would continue to for the early miles, so if that's what easy effort dealt, so be it.  I tried to not focus too much on the actual pace and just made sure I felt like I was out for an easy run and was seriously holding myself back.  If that feeling was confirmed, I was running the right way.  Pace was only a reflection of what that yielded me.  There would be plenty of time to work, but early in the marathon should not be one of them.
=PR= Representing!

The next few miles were pretty calm as we continued chatting.  Around Mile 3, a group of 5-6 runners were chatting away, so I struck up a conversation with a few of them about their plans on the day.  Turns out, they were all shooting for 3:05-3:10, so I figured we'd be running together for a while.  Just like last year, I explained our plan to see if they'd be interested in joining when we got to the boardwalk later in the race.  Without hesitation, they all agreed.  I assured them that they'd all get equal time to recover and rotate, unlike our experience last year. 

Shortly before Mile 5, we hit the same spot that causes issues for everyone every year - the Mile markers were off.  This being my 3rd time running the race, I knew they'd be off.  So when everyone's watch beeped around us and they all groaned when they saw how far Mile 5 was still away from us, I quickly assured them that this happens every year and not to panic.  Those who were hand timing their splits would have a really slow Mile 5 and a really fast Mile 6.  Not sure why they haven't fixed this yet after all these years, but it helps to know it, so you don't suddenly speed up or panic when your splits aren't where you want them to be.  So with the proper Mile 5, we came through in 7:13, averaging 7:13/mi over Miles 1-5, which was very close to our 7:15/mi goal - right where we wanted to be.

Miles 6-12
Shortly after, we hit the turnaround and made our way back up the road with a chance to see all the other runners pouring down the street.  It wasn't too long before I'd be hearing my name or shouting out to others.  Literally, every 15s or so, there'd be another person.  The runners we were with were joking if I was some celebrity.  With a lot of runners in our =PR= distance training program and others that I've coached in year's past, it was quite the contingent.  Once we made our way up the road a bit further, we turned off to head into Camp Pendleton.  And unlike last year, this year was packed with service people cheering us on.  I was thankful to have the support, as we did 3 years ago, but was careful not to make the same mistake I did then and speed up too much.  I joked to one of the runners with us that Erin would speed up through this section, and sure enough, as we ran threw it, he put a 10 yard lead on us.  We caught back up soon after, but the excitement of the streets being lined always gets the adrenaline pumping a little more.  Looking back on our splits through that section of the course, we ran 7:07/mi, which was about 3-4s faster than we ran the other portions.  Just goes to show that it does have an impact.
Coming off the Rudee Inlet Bridge

Before we knew it, we were heading out of the camp and back into the road to head over the Rudee Inlet bridge.  Some in our group charged the hill, but I took it as easy as I could and caught back up on the downhill.  Just trying to save every ounce of energy, as it was still early in the race.  We crossed Mile 10, which meant it was now time to head over to the boardwalk.  Our group assembled in four sets of two, lined behind each other line a pace line.  Each set of two would take 1-2 minutes out front, then fall back to the end to recover.  This seemed to work really well and we were picking runners up who were fighting solo along the way.  Group run tactics are the only way to battle these kinds of sections.  The boardwalk wasn't actually as bad as it has been, so the time flew by pretty quickly.  We actually threw down one of our faster splits on the day, running 7:04/mi at Mile 12 as we turned off the boardwalk and onto Atlantic.  By the time we hit Mile 12, we averaged 7:08/mi over Miles 6-12, which was right where our goal was.

Miles 13-18
Every year, this stretch of the course seems to be the most difficult, which it probably is in any marathon.  You've been working for a while, but you're only halfway there, with most of the actual work yet to be done and it only gets harder.  Running up Atlantic, I'd spot a few more =PR= runners that ran the half marathon and were out cheering.  Our pack was still full in tact, though I could tell a few were starting to fade as I could hear their breathing, which is never a good thing to hear only 13 miles into a marathon.  The bulk of our group continued to paceline it up Atlantic and onto Pacific.  It was right at the turn into Pacific that we crossed the 13.1 mark in 1:34:42 (same EXACT split as last year) and I saw Rebecca and Z waiting to cheer me on.  It gave me a sudden burst of energy and I mentally reset myself to keep my head down and run strong through this tough section.
The pack - and then there were four

The 4 miles up Pacific are some of the longer miles in the race.  No turns, an ever so slight uphill grade, and only your mind to bug you about how you're feeling.  Fortunately, I had the pack to amuse me and half marathon runners going the other direction to distract.  We cheered for the half marathoners and continued joking around, which was good, because it meant everyone still in our pack was feeling alright.  We were down to four now, as the others dropped off along the stretch up Atlantic/Pacific, and we made our turn onto the tree lined streets away from the winds.  It felt good to be running strong and even easier without the wind.  We were clocking miles between 7:05-7:10, so I wasn't too stressed about sitting at exactly 7:05 per our goal.  As long as the effort felt right and my legs were behaving, that's all I needed as confirmation that I was running the right pace.  We just keep plugging away, hitting Mile 18 in 7:07, averaging 7:08/mi through this section.

Miles 19-23
Now it was time to get down to work with the serious part of the race in front of us.  We were right on pace, but we just needed to hold it.  Mile 19 was my fastest mile on the day, 6:59/mi.  It wasn't my intent to run that fast, but that's what happened.  I quickly passed the mark where I cramped up and had to back away from our pack last year.  I gave it the finger and hoped it wouldn't happen this time, so maybe that's where the 6:59 came from?  Of course, it wasn't too long after that moment where I felt the ever present (for me) hamstring twinge.  I immediately backed off and thought my day might be done, but quickly shut that part of brain off and focused back on positive thoughts.  I told Erin to go ahead and he pulled a few steps ahead.  After a few moments, the tightness went away and I was back on his shoulder.  He looked back to see if I was there and gave him the thumbs up. 

We had now made the turn back toward the finish, but were slammed with some serious winds.  I think if you asked anyone where the worst wind was on the course, everyone would say Fort Story.  Maybe it was because it was later in the race, but it hurt.  Our pack had fallen off and it was just Erin and I.  We picked up a few others who were ahead of us fighting the winds solo, and got them to join in.  It became 5 of us, but I'm pretty sure Erin was the only one doing much of the work.  I was barely hanging on, as I was worried about pushing too hard with 5 miles still to go, so I just stayed at the back of the group and ran my own race.  Erin on the other hand seemed to be feeling strong.  At Mile 22, he dropped us with a sub-7 mile surge, that put a 50 yard gap between our group and him.  I could still see him up ahead, but I just wanted to keep my consistent running without risking further cramping.  I was still running around 7:10, so I knew if I could just hold pace, I'd come in easily under 3:10.  So despite the urge to bridge back up and run the rest together, I played it safe.

Stupid wind, go away
I was still with the new group through Fort Story, working our way through the wind, while Erin would occasionally glance back to check on me.  I was hoping he could just focus on his race and finishing strong and that I'd come in as best I could.  We finally exited Fort Story, and were treated with a slight tailwind to head down Pacific.  I was just clocking steady Miles.  Mile 23 was 7:08.  For that section, I averaged 7:08/mi, slightly slower than the 7:05 goal, but all things considered, I was right on average pace for where I wanted to be this late in the race.

Cruising down Pacific - almost there!
Miles 24-Finish
Once I entered Fort Story around Mile 20, I covered my watch with my arm sleeve.  I knew this part would get tough, but I didn't want a slow pace reading to influence my mindset.  I peaked down once during that section and saw 7:07, so I knew I was doing fine.  Once I exited Fort Story and had only a 5k to go, I took another peek at Mile 24 and saw a 7:07 mile and started playing the math game.  I basically figured out that I could run an 8:00/mi and still get in under 3:10.  Of course, I had no interest in doing that, but it was comforting to know.  I slowed a tad in Mile 25, possibly due to that knowledge, posting a 7:17, but still well within my goal range at that time.  I slowly began picking up the pace over the final bit after I could see the hotels located along the boardwalk in the distance getting closer. 

Mile 26 (on my watch) came through in 7:10 and I made the final turn toward the boardwalk, which meant a little over .3 mi of real running left to go.  The wind slapped me nearly backwards at that point, but once I faced the finish line in the distance, the wind was the least of my thoughts.  I just focused on picking up the pace and savoring the moment.  I saw a fellow =PR= runner sitting on a bench cheering me in, listened to others as they yelled my name off my bib, and tried to keep it together.  A few moments later, I heard the announcer say Erin's name as he crossed the finish line.  Only 24s later, I heard mine.  I did it!  I qualified for Boston!
Hells yea!
Erin and I both met each other after the finish and were in disbelief that we finally did it.  All the hard work.  For this moment.  We did it!  And we felt no more tired than after a hard long run!

Amazingly still able to celebrate!
 Standing around for a bit still in the finishers area, Rebecca came running over with Z and I couldn't wait to tell her that I qualified. 
I'm sure he'll appreciate this moment when he's older :)
 A few moments later, one of the girls in our original pack, Jen (in green in above photo), crossed the line in 3:09:54, right on goal for sub-3:10.  And a little bit later, Liz (the other =PR= runner with an original 3:25 goal) came in at 3:15.  It was a great day for everyone in our pack.  We worked together and everyone PR'd.  No better feeling than achieving your goal and seeing others do it at the same time!

I have a lot more to say about the race, my thoughts, etc. but I'll save that for another day.

Here are some of the final stats on the race, including my splits:

Time: 3:08:53
Pace: 7:12/mi (Garmin had me at 7:09/mi with extra weaving/running)
Overall Place: 84/2788
Age Group: 22/208

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