Monday, October 29, 2012

Am I training too fast, or is my goal pace too slow?

Countdown: 138 days to race day.
Today's run: 6 miles, average 8:25 pace, along Seattle waterfront and Myrtle Edward Park.

Setting a marathon goal pace is a tricky affair. Realism and aspiration/wishful thinking all play vital roles.

Previous marathon result is an important starting point. Mine was 3:57:17, in my first and only marathon, for which I trained just barely over 14 weeks.

Current fitness and recent race results also matter. For that, I can point to a result from the Lake Union 10K in August 2012 of 45:11.

For a while now, the time of 3:35:00 for the next LA Marathon has been my goal. I came up with this by looking at the various pace calculators and equivalent race times. The goal: to get as close to 3:25:00 as I reasonably can, so in the next 1-2 years I can shoot for that <3:25:00 time at a flat, fast race (which LA Marathon, as much as I love the course, is not) like Chicago Marathon. If so, I can qualify for the Boston Marathon as a 45-year-old in 2015.

I also have other reasons to believe that the 8:12/mile pace is reasonable as long as I work on the endurance part so I can run that and last the entire marathon: I have had long runs of 13, 15 miles recently where I averaged 8:00/mile, without running flat out.

The puzzling aspect of it: when I use 8:12 as my target pace, and plan the speed runs, tempo runs, long runs according to the plans by the Hansons, Pete Pfitzinger, etc. all those runs seem rather easy. The tempo runs as prescribed in the Hansons plan are actually marathon pace runs, and I have to constantly and actively restrain myself from running faster and faster.

If I just let myself go, I probably end up running the long runs at a pace slightly faster than relaxed and easy: @8:00, 7:50....

Using a heart monitor, I find myself running the 8:12 marathon pace miles at an easy 73% of my HR max. And that was today, after having run 6-6-6-12 miles in the four days before today.

The common advice for someone in my situation is to just take it easy, stick with the goal, since if I was initially satisfied with the goal, why change it now? The danger of running too fast during training, and wasting one's best effort in the weeks leading up to the race and having less than a full tank, is a common warning from the marathon training experts. However, what IF the goal pace was indeed too slow, because I goofed up in picking that pace? Would I be leaving too much in the tank at the end of the race?

One of the advantages of being a late comer to running, as in only starting @11 months ago: even at the age of 42, I am probably still improving, not because I am that gifted, but because I am still a relative rookie. Or maybe I am just inexperienced enough to allow the wishful thinking to creep my goal time downward. Maybe once the weeks and the miles start to pile on in the next 4-6 weeks my optimism will just trickle away....

Sunday, October 28, 2012

LA Marathon: 20 Weeks to go

I put up this video earlier this year, before the March 18, 2012 Los Angeles Marathon.

Today's countdown to the 2013 LA Marathon: 139 days, or twenty weeks from today.

Long way to go it may seem, especially since last year's prep for my first marathon consisted of "Hmm maybe I can do this" point of inspiration (which could have very possibly turned into foolish disaster) in December 2011, with only 13 weeks to go.

At that time, my running history consisted of irregular but generally 2-3 times weekly runs of no more than 4 miles each, and all indoors. With a free "Rookie Plan" from Runners World in hand, I began a buildup in speed and distance that included a variety of intervals and tempo runs.

I was lucky to have avoided major injury setbacks throughout the relative crash-course preparation. My goals were modest: to finish, and to do it under 4 hours. I was able to just barely eke out both, coming in just under the 4-hour time (3:57:17, and that's not "Paul Ryan modified") despite a late-miles slowdown by pains coming from places I had no idea would be hurting (undoubtedly a result of lowish total miles in my plan and experience as a rookie runner).

Fortunately, I survived the "why not" experience that could have easily turned into a disastrous crash-and-burn and marred the entire aspiration as another "never again" dark episode, and actually enjoyed it enough to have maintained my running. I ran a couple of shorter races in the spring and summe, and the results indicated I was still improving. This is not a sign that I am some latent Ryan Hall material: it makes sense that I could still be improving in my fitness even at the ripe old age of 42 (43 by the next marathon) because I had just begun to work on running on a regular basis as of about one year ago, after years of inactivity. However, it is definitely nice to log faster paces and feel stronger overall, compared to just a year ago.

This year, I plan to use the training plan from Hansons Marathon Method, with some variations. I have read the Hansons book along with Pete Pfizinger's Advanced Marathoning and believe I can combine some features of the two to come up with a plan for my needs: for example, I plan on doing the longer of the long runs in the Hansons method at marathon goal pace (a Pfitzinger method's feature), and on those weeks I might slow down the marathon goal pace "tempo" runs scheduled in the Hansons method. I will be going into this training at a different level: more miles per week, faster overall paces, and a higher expectation (3:35-3:40 finish time?). I am also making an effort to do all my runs outdoors.

Knowing that one could finish a marathon is a big step: I know now that cliché is completely true. However, the marathon distance is long and daunting enough that failure to finish is always possible, even with the most robust preparations. From beginners like me to Olympic marathon elites, that looming potential of doom is what keeps every marathon runner humble.