I made it!
Truthfully, I think everyone’s “A” goal for any race should be to make it through the training cycle – and to the starting line – healthy, happy, and emotionally prepared to race. We put so much emphasis on time goals that we rarely see the big picture: just getting to the starting line is a feat within itself.
Without a doubt, this training cycle has been my best since when I hit my OTQ. When I look at the big picture, that is. In October, I didn’t really have the US half champs on my radar as being my *big* race. I thought it was going to be cross country, and I put the 15k and half champs on schedule figuring if I had a good race at xc and subsequently ran at worlds, I would cross those two off my list.
But, if I look back I see now how Houston, xc champs, and the 15k were all key components in making this entire training cycle something really special for me. I have learned so much about myself, my needs, my strengths, and my weaknesses that I would be content to say this has been my most successful cycle yet.
Consistent, high mileage is kind of my jam. But, consistent high mileage without quality does not a great runner make. I topped out this training cycle with a few 95/96 mile weeks while balancing high-quality track work. My highest mileage week ever is 115, so it was a little on the “low” end for me, but I think it was important for helping me develop consistent leg speed in the 4:40 – 5:10 speed range.
I looked at the last 6 months (this training cycle started at the end of October), and I have run just over 2,000 miles. Even though I thought this was a period of “low” mileage, it’s only ~70 fewer miles total than during the 6 months leading up to the Houston half in 2016, where I ran my PR. A big difference between that cycle and this cycle is that I now incorporate strength work, core, and track work, whereas before I was exclusively doing marathon pace and 10k effort.
Since the end of November I have been above 75 mpw, and with only a few exceptions, I have completed a 20 mile long run every weekend since December 11th. This cycle has definitely balanced my strengths (high mileage, 20 mile long runs) with my weaknesses (being comfortable at top-end speed) quite well.
It seems like cheating to say that a tempo was one of my best workouts of the cycle, since tempos are my bread and butter, but I would definitely say that my 5 mile tempo the Thursday after the 15k champs was one of my best of the cycle. I was TIRED but I still cranked out 5:27 pace for 5 miles on crushed gravel, on a moderately windy day, to run 27:14.
My best non-tempo workout was probably my final 400 m or mile repeat workout. A few weeks ago I did 6 x mile on crushed gravel in 5:12, 5:09, 5:12, 5:09, 5:09, 5:07. That was definitely out of my comfort zone. I also did 10 x 400 m in 72, 72, 72,72, 72, 72, 72, 72, 71, 70 on a stupidly windy day. Actually, all of my track work has been in 12 – 20 mph wind, and I’m kind of ready to never do a track workout in wind again.
My “worst” workout was 5 x mile on the track on a windy day. I couldn’t get under 5:25 to save my life, and i think my slowest repeat was 5:35. It definitely made me question whether some of my other workouts had been a fluke, but later that week I ran a great fartlek so I got over it.
I’m still learning how to balance my life in the best way possible. A lot of people wonder why I just don’t get a “real” job now, take some time away from high level training, and come back full speed right before the trials.
For me, this period in between qualification windows is the “off-season.” I am nowhere near as good as I want to be, but I know that the only way to get there is to train as if I already am. I might lose this opportunity tomorrow. Everyday I hear about friends who are diagnosed with terrible diseases, who one day wake up and decide they no longer want to run, or for who life just simply got in the way. Of course there have been times where I have questioned what I am doing, and why, but ultimately this training cycle was a good one for reminding me that I have been given an incredible opportunity and I don’t want to waste a single day.
I also learned an important lesson that I never in a million years thought would have applied to me: I don’t eat enough to sustain my training.
I think my low point, in terms of energy and recovery, came right around the xc champs. I didn’t feel great at that race, but i think it’s safe to say that no one did. I recovered terribly. I had to take two weeks of no workouts because my legs just couldn’t handle it. I didn’t get my period that month.
Also during that time I went into post-big race mode and Dave and I ate out quite a bit. Every time I ate more than normal, I would have a great run the next day. I started putting the pieces together that I needed to reevaluate my needs. I began tracking my calories and macro/micro nutrients and realized I was severely under-fueling. This was by no means purposeful, but when you’re working out 2 – 3 times per day and have dietary restrictions it’s just going to be tough.
With a few adjustments I started feeling better than ever before. Initially I gained weight, which, truth be told, freaked me out a little bit. However, I value performance far more than a number on a scale, and the best workouts of my life came at my highest weights. My period also got back on a 28 day cycle.
Another lesson is that I drink too much caffeine. As much as I want coffee to be part of my pre-race routine, it simply cannot be. I perform MUCH better when I drink green tea. I have found that when I drink coffee, I can’t get my heart rate up. I think this is actually perfect for long runs, but not so good for when I’m trying to run an all-out effort.
About 3 weeks ago I was struggling again with inflammation. The scale was creeping up every day, and I had gained ~4 lbs in a week and my body/legs felt lousy. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing differently. Then, I thought about my daily routine: no water, just black tea, green tea, or coffee ALL DAY. In a typical day, I have 4 cups of coffee or ~8 – 10 cups of tea. I stop drinking caffeine around 7 or 8 PM. I decided to see what would happen if I drank just one cup of caffeine in the morning, and then only drank water the rest of the day. Within 3 days I was back to my normal weight and feeling a lot better.
I later read that there are compounds in coffee and black tea (catechins, I think?) that, while healthy, still require ~1 gallon of water to flush entirely from your liver and kidneys. I kind of wonder if I was overdoing it with the tea/coffee to the point I was dehydrating myself. Fortunately, I didn’t have any caffeine withdrawals, and honestly don’t feel like I *need* caffeine to get my day going.
I tried to nap more during April, but realized that napping just doesn’t work for me anymore. If I nap during the day, I can’t fall asleep at night and wind up going to bed after midnight and waking up at 9 or 10. If I don’t nap, I fall soundly asleep at 10:30 and am up at 7:30, which I much prefer. I used to nap a lot before I took my food sensitivity test, but the changes in my diet have either caused me to be less tired (fatigue is a sign of food sensitivities), or the timing just correlated with me being better able to handle my training/work load.
I race quite a bit, and this training cycle definitely was a reflection of that.
November – Turkey Trot 10k, 35:35, 1st place, 5:43 pace
I was bummed because the year prior I had run 35:20, but that’s kind of a dumb thing to worry about, in retrospect. It was a good rust buster.
December – Resolution Run 5k, 17:19, 1st place, 3rd OA, 5:34 pace
I really wanted to break 17:00 but it wasn’t in the cards on a super cold/windy day.
January – Houston Half, 1:16:43, 18th place, 5:51 pace
I was irrationally bummed that on a day with 96% humidity and strong winds I didn’t run faster. Again, hindsight is 20/20.
February – XC Championships, 38:06, 20th place, 6:07 pace
I was disappointed. Lots of travel for what felt like a missed opportunity. Had I run ~12 seconds faster I would have qualified for a championship race in FL. But, this race sparked a turning point for my season.
March – 15k Championships, 52:49, 17th place, 5:39 pace
I went into this race with a different plan: go out hard and hold on. I went through 5k in a PR (16:58), and 10k in a PR (34:42), and held on the final 5k.
April – Spring Into Fitness 10k, 34:26, 1st place OA, 5:33 pace
This was my final tempo of the training cycle. Very happy with this, especially considering the huge hills (my 5th mile was 5:55 due to one climb!)
I noted that I thought xc was a turning point for me. After this race, I met with my coach and we talked training. He helped me identify a few adjustments that needed to be made:
-no less than 4 hours between runs (I was especially bad about this when daylight was scarce)
-more top-end speed work
-more balance in my training plan
I also identified a few areas of my own that needed adjustment, particularly a sense of guilt I had been feeling towards my training. I had fallen into a rut of doing things that left me feeling guilty at the end of the day. For instance, deciding not to do my 2nd run of the day, eating half a tray of peanut butter bars that I knew for a fact were made with soy, not getting enough sleep, etc. I would justify these things as, “if this ONE instance derails my training, then I’m doing something wrong” but, to be honest, all of those “one” instances were starting to add up.
One week of 5 less miles isn’t going to make or break me. But, when I was doing it 3 weeks in a row and suddenly I’ve lost 15 miles of training, that does matter over time. The peanut butter bars aren’t a big deal, except when I can’t finish my run because my stomach cramps are too bad and I know there isn’t a bathroom nearby, because Indy has no public restrooms (a topic for another day). Happens once? whatever. But it was becoming a habit that I needed to break.
I decided no more guilt. I’m not going to lie and say “no more guilt” meant that I broke free of mental constrains and blah blah blah. But no, no more guilt meant I woman’d up and just stopped behaviors that I knew were detrimental. I feel like many people will want to read something like, “I worked out less, ate more sweets, and saw the best results ever” but that wasn’t my reality.
Part of what made this training cycle so successful was a relative lack of setbacks. Since October, I have taken 9 total days off: 2 because I was sick, 2 for travel to/from Oregon, 2 for an Achilles issue in December, 2 for a plantar issue in March, and the other was when my mileage was low and I didn’t need the extra training day.
My achilles issue was promptly taken care of by my massage therapist.
My foot issue was a little more stubborn. I was actually pretty concerned I had a neuroma or a stress reaction, but again my massage therapist saved the day and it turned out to be some tightness in my plantar that was causing pain near my 2nd metatarsal. This issue affected me for about 2 weeks before and after the 15k championships. My foot actually went numb with about 2 miles left in that race, which had me convinced I had a nerve issue. Ultimately, I think I wore a pair of running shoes about a week too long.
In contrast, my last training cycle probably went a week too long. I stood on the starting line at the 10 miler with a really bad back, and that course beat me up. Prior to that was the trials, where I was in massive denial about the things my body was experiencing, particularly in my entire right leg. I’m even healthier than I was before the Twin Cities marathon, when I had a slight hamstring and IT band issue.
My taper for this race has been going really well. In high school we didn’t call it taper, we called it “peaking,” which I much prefer. I don’t drastically cut my mileage. I ran 96 miles two weeks ago, last week I ran a total of 79, and this week will be ~60 with the race and nothing on Sunday. The majority of my “taper” comes from less volume on workout and long run days. Otherwise, I still run the same, just maybe a mile or two less.
My goal is to PR on Saturday (sub-74:03). I am ready. When things get tough in the race I want to remind myself to be a gritty bitch and to run as if I’ve already achieved my ultimate goal, which is to break 2:30:00 in the marathon.
Remember how I’m actually a marathoner? Well, I will be making a return to the marathon in December! CIM is hosting the US Marathon Championships, so that will be my first 26.2 since the trials. I also plan to race the 20k and 10 mile championships in the fall, and will do the Monumental half as my tune up. I am not-so-secretly hoping to dip under 73 minutes at Monumental so that I can just knock my trials qualifier out of the way. My goal at CIM will be to go under the (yet unannounced) A standard.
In the immediate future, I’m looking forward to a bit of a break. I have been grinding since last May without more than a week off from training, which I took in October after the 10 miler. I will take two weeks completely off, and so far we have the following things planned:
-short vacation post-race on Saturday/Sunday. Dave and I are trying to make a memory in each of Indiana’s 92 counties, so we are going to knock off 5 this weekend with casino visits, lunches/dinners at new restaurants, and a trip to Clify Falls. Other things include:
-bike ride to Graeter’s for ice cream
-Fogo de Chao for lunch
-no nutrient tracking, going to bed early, limiting caffeine, or eating kale
-deep clean our house (this only happens during breaks)
-eat all the pastries at the farmer’s market
-drink all the beer that has been in my fridge for months
-go to Burger Haus
-eat the JB burger at Big Woods
-start my container garden
-binge watch Golden Girls
My vacation starts today and I am excited. I am nervous, in that way you get nervous when you know you’re about to do something hard but you also know once it is over you will feel the most amazing sense of satisfaction. I am excited to see what my body is capable of. I am excited to be faced with that opportunity during a race to either give in or push, and see what all of the training I have done outside of my comfort zone allows me to do.
I know that I am on the brink of a breakthrough, and while there are no guarantees that the breakthroughs happen on the day that you want, I know that I have trained to the point that even a bad day will be better than a previous bad day. I am going to stand on the starting line on Saturday with no watch, no real race plan, and no expectations, other than knowing that my legs and my competitive fire will not let me down.