Back in 2017 I was training for the California International Marathon (CIM). CIM would be the first marathon I would actually train for, and I was more than excited to get started in the marathon world.
* I ran the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in LA. I had never run a marathon before and I qualified for the Trials off of a half marathon five weeks before race day. Needless to say, not a lot of marathon specific work happened in my build up to LA 2016.
For CIM in 2017 I was targeting the B standard for the Olympic trails (which is 2:42). My workouts for CIM were a bit harder than I was used to, but I also had no problem handling them. My mileage was also bumped a bit to about 70-80 miles a week.
On race day I surprised myself with a time of 2:36, the Olympic A standard. I was ecstatic, but also knew that I could run much faster.
I also knew that in April of 2018 I would be running the Boston Marathon.
My training leading up to Boston 2018 remained the same as it had for CIM. My training for CIM worked for me, and with a marathon in December and one again in April, I was essentially doing back-to-back marathons. I decided not to tweak any of my training for Boston in fear of overworking myself and not making it to the start line.
I was targeting a faster time than 2:36 in Boston. Even though I really didn’t change much in my training, my body was used to the stress of increased training. I knew that even without changing anything, I was becoming a much stronger runner.
Well, everyone knows how Boston went this year. The time I was targeting was impossible to achieve. That is okay, life happens sometimes.
Fast forward to November of 2018. My coach, Pete, and I had been targeting the Osaka Marathon (January 2019). As I was about to head into my first few days of marathon training, I was told that Osaka was now a Gold Label Race and that my time of 2:36 was not fast enough to get in.
This was a hard pill for me to swallow. I remember telling myself that I had wanted to run a fast time at Boston in 2018 in order to avoid a situation like this. I was upset that I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to race in a fast and competitive race like Osaka, and of course that I wasn’t going to be able to take a trip to Japan.
Pete and I went back and forth about what marathon to target this year. Do we still go overseas? Or should we stay in the states? We ultimately decided to stay put and choose between LA, Boston, and Grandmas.
I was nervous about LA because of the how hot it was at the 2016 trials, and I knew that Grandmas was a little late in the year for me. I was already excited to be heading into marathon training and I didn’t want to wait all the way until June to run a marathon.
Like most people I’ve talked to about running Boston this year, I had some serious reservations. What if the weather is that bad again? I also felt a lot of personal pressure because of my placement last year. Ultimately, I decided that I although the Boston atmosphere was incredible last year, I wanted the “true” Boston experience.
So this leads me to the main point of my post.
Pete and I sat down for a meeting and I told him that all of the women that are faster than me were running at least 100 mile weeks with much faster workouts than mine. I told him that I wanted to bump my mileage significantly and train like I was going to hack minutes off of my PR.
To my surprise, Pete agreed with me. He also warned me that increased training like that would be a shock to my system. I agreed but also knew I was tough enough to handle it.
I mentioned this in January, but Pete and I tested out some 100 mile weeks at the beginning of the year. Basically I would run a 100 mile week, and then take a week (or two) of running less. My first 100 week was the most exciting thing ever to me. I was sore, I was tired, I was hungry, but I had never felt so accomplished in my training.
- * These test weeks also didn’t include workouts. It was simple aerobic running to get my legs used to the continuous pounding.
When it came time for me to actually start marathon training, I was ready to go. I was ready to hit 100 mile weeks in a row and tackle some harder workouts.
My first few weeks started out without any bumps. Sure, I was tired, but I was still on a high that I was actually doing this. I couldn’t believe that I was actually taking the first few steps to being the level of runner I want to be.
Around the end of February I started to feel all of the training. All of my miles were adding up. My easy runs slipped down into full minutes slower than they usually were. My breathing was always labored while I was running, and my heart rate was abnormally elevated throughout the day.
I was running twice most days, and I was waking up thinking “holy crap I just got done running – I can’t believe it’s time to run again”. Bags under my eyes were (still are!) a staple, and my walking can only be described as dragging my legs with me.
A few Fridays ago I had a workout that I actually had to stop. I told Ryan (my other coach!) that I could not physically do another set of that workout. I left that workout feeling more confused than anything. I was used to talking myself through workouts, and often used that as a strategy to become mentally tougher. I really couldn’t believe I had to admit I couldn’t do something.
I was upset, but I didn’t have time to be upset. Mental fatigue would only delay my physical recovery, and I had a 22 mile treadmill workout in two days.
The two days leading up to the 22 mile workout felt as terrible as the workout I had stopped. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I just told myself I felt great, to not overthink it, and more than anything – to just suck it up.
The 22 mile workout went well and it was arguably one of the best workouts I’ve ever done. I had no idea how it happened. My legs were dead, and I was more than tired. I knew I was in shape, I was just wondering when I was going to feel normal again.
This brings me to Road To Gold this past Saturday. Road to Gold was a test event for the Atlanta Track Club on the last loop (8 miles) of the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials course (!!!). The event itself was an absolute success. It was a great way to experience the Marathon Trails course in a race setting (and without all of the Atlanta traffic!)
I arrived in my hometown (loose term, I’m from the suburbs) on Thursday. My legs felt pretty dead, but I also knew I had all day Friday to bring them back to life.
I woke up at 4:30 on race morning for the 7 AM race. I felt the same way I had felt through this entire build up – just not quite ready to get moving. BUT today was different. I was so excited to race. I walked to the mirror and saw dark bags under my eyes and hair that desperately needed a good brush. I splashed some cold water on my face and reminded myself that if I wanted to be as fast as I want to be, I’m going to have to get used to this transition period.
I did all of my weird pre race traditions and headed to the starting line. I showed up feeling like I was ready to go. I had my eye on at least a top 10 finish, I just knew it was going to take everything I had to get there.
The gun went off, and it was game time. The pack cruised through the mile at a nice and smooth pace of 5:40. In my head I was screaming “wow!! I’m really going to be able to do this!”. We went through the next mile a touch faster and I still felt pretty good. The third mile was around 5:30 pace, and I could feel my body telling me that this was a little fast for me right now. It was a strange feeling. My mind wanted to keep going with the pack, but my body was saying “HAHA not going to happen!”
I fell back from the pack, and the next five miles consisted of me getting passed and feeling like absolute crap. I crossed the line and burst into tears when I saw my dad. I wasn’t upset about my time or place, I was upset about how fast my average pace of 5:43 felt. Negative thoughts about how I will never be the runner I want to be overwhelmed me regardless of how hard I tried to block those thoughts out.
I saw Pete, and he assured me for the 2393849032th time (bless him) that I was going to be okay. That everything I was feeling was normal, especially since I’ve been training to run minutes faster than I’ve ever run.
My mom had the chance to talk to one of my running role models. She told my mom that she remembered her first hard marathon training cycle. She explained that she was so sore that it was hard to even breathe in that first build up. Above all, she told my mom to tell me to keep going. She told my mom to tell me that how I feel during this build up should not discourage me or make me want to quit the sport. She also told her that without her mom she wouldn’t be where she is today (I’ve heard that from my mom no less than 14 times today)
The bottom line is that increasing your training is tough REGARDLESS of how much you are increasing your training by. Your body has to go through a transition period and get used to the stress that you are putting on it.
Here are a few things that have helped me handle increased training:
- Getting at LEAST 8 hours of sleep (and tracking it to hold myself accountable)
- Taking long baths
- Taking a few minutes to myself a day without phones/computers
- Cooking healthy recovery meals
- Getting a massage whenever possible
Transition periods are never easy. Whether it’s moving somewhere new, starting a new job, or just increasing your training, transition is hard. Just remember to be easy on yourself and that transition and change usually brings good things!