Throwback Thursday!....This month marks the ten year anniversary of my marathon PR run at the Eugene Marathon in Eugene, Oregon (aka Tracktown USA). The place oooozes with running history and even if this had not been a PR performance the trip still would have been a massive success. What follows is a recap of the race itself and my training leading up to it...
The race put an exclamation mark on a great weekend. Eugene is a must-visit for any running fan. In addition to the race itself, we were fortunate to watch the several Olympians and other elites race in the collegiate meet on Friday night at Hayward Field. On Friday and Saturday before the race we did our runs on the fabled "Pre's Trail" in the local park. Every place in town just oozes with track and field history. Even before we came home, I was planning our trip for next year's race. I can't say enough good things about the race itself. Combine first class organization/planning with a town that embraces the sport and you have the makings of a great event. From the local spectators on the side of the road imploring packs to "work together" to the homeless looking dude on a beat up bike reminding us to "run the tangents", you aren't going to find more knowledgeable fans.
My race began as expected with some easy miles to get loose (6:11-6:17-6:17) before picking up the pace when we turned down a hill. Honestly, I still wasn't sure what to expect from the day until mile 6 when the faster turnover from the mile-long downhill helped to wake the legs up (10k split was 38:24). By this point my strategy was to get to mile 10 around 1:01:00 to 1:01:30 as efficiently as possible and then reevaluate from there. I hit mile ten in 1:01:23 and then broke from my pack on a slight uphill. One guy went flying past on the next downhill but I was content to run alone since I was satisfied with my pace. Eventually I caught up to another pack around the halfway mark (1:19:21...I think this was 13 miles, not 13.1, but the results list it as the half).
For the next several miles we clicked along close to 6-flat pace. I was content to sit in the number 2 spot behind the pack leader since he seemed comfortable pulling us along. If there is any part of the race that I might have re-done it is the stretch from 16 thru 20. During this stretch, the pack leader's pace slowed to 6:15-18. I knew it was slightly uphill during this stretch but I could also feel myself holding back noticeably. One the one hand, it is easy to think "the race is nearly 3/4ths done, so you might as well go for it" but on the other hand 3/4th over still means eight miles left! Ultimately, I decided upon the cautious strategy and stuck with the group since I didn't want to jeopardize the 2:40 that has been so elusive over the past five years (which, for several health reasons unrelated to running, included only one marathon start since 2004, which was a DNF last year).
However, at mile 20 it was GO time....we hit mile 20 at 2:02:00 and I immediately took off by myself. Some of my previous workouts in an untapered state had given me huge confidence for this closing stretch. Next four miles were 5:53-5:53-5:58-5:53. I didn't check the last two mile paces but the last mile was an uphill grind until we hit the track for 200m on Hayward Field to the finish. As someone whose first two marathons included final 10ks on the wrong side of 50 minutes, I always consider myself fortunate when I can actually think about acceleration rather than about limping home. According to the results, my last 12k was 12th fastest in the field.
For all of us, there are definitely some positive training lessons to be learned from this buildup. First of all, I gained an appreciation for how training progression need not, nor should not, be linear. In other words, each week need not increase in difficulty by the same degree all the time. You'll see this in a lot of cookie cutter programs where they might add a certain number of miles each week to the weekly mileage or build the length of marathon paced runs by a set amount week after week.
In this buildup we focused on 10k-half marathon training with modest long runs for several months and then shortly before the marathon closed with a month of "dense" marathon training. I'll summarize the training from Feburary onward by listing the two Big Workouts from each week (note most of the interval sessions included some fartlek/strides afterward, which I didn't list):
Week of Feb 1: a) 5 x mile at half marathon; b) 50 min easy then 2 x 3 miles at MP
Feb 8: a) 15 x minute at 5k/minute easy; b) 2 mile leg on relay
Feb 16: a) 6 x mile at half marathon; b) 8k at half marathon (note had to travel this weekend and didn't have time for any true long runs, so the more intense 8k took its place)
Feb 23: a) 6 x 1200m at half marathon; b) 2:20 including 4 x 2miles at MP
March 1: a) 14 x 2 min CV/1 min easy; b) 2:30 easy
March 8: a) 10 x 1k at one hour race pace: b) 2:30 with last three at MP
March 15: a) 6 x mile at half marathon; b) 2:30 including 2 miles easy/1mile MP six times through
March 23: a) 8 x 3 min CV/1min easy; b) 1 x 13.1 miles at half marathon pace (aka, race in 1:15:24...hilly course)
March 30: Six days after half marathon race...2:30 including one hour easy, eight miles at MP, then 8 x 30 seconds 5k pace/30 seconds easy
April 5: a) 7 x mile at half marathon pace; b) 2:30 including 80 minutes easy then 10 miles at MP; cooldown include 4 x 30 seconds 5k/30 seconds easy
April 12: a) 10 x 1k CV; b) two hours including one hour easy then seven miles at half marathon pace; cooldown include 8 x 30 seconds 5k pace/one minute easy
April 19: a) 7 x 1mile at half marathon pace; b) 90 minutes including 45 minutes easy, then 6 miles at MP
April 26: a) 5k at CV pace; b) Race
Another word about density...Any sub-three hour runner should be able to accomplish any of these training runs with the appropriate pace adjustments for their individual fitness. What is most important about the workouts in not what they are in isolation, but the density with which they are included in the schedule to produce the optimal callousing effect. We field many questions around here looking for good example workouts, but the blend of the workouts is what really matters. We have found over the years that I respond very quickly to a intense training stimuli. As such, we kept the load pretty modest for several months but upped the ante as the race approached.
That stretch at the beginning of April (half marathon race, long run with 8 miles MP, mile repeats, another long run with 10 miles MP, 10k of CV reps, long run with seven miles continuous at half marathon pace) provided the robustness and confidence to finish strong. When I dropped the pace to 5:53 at mile 21, I said to myself "I've been here before", since I had closed a couple of my long runs faster than that pace only three days after a mid-week Big Workout interval session. However, Tinman knew that I could take a calculated dose of "dense" training for a 3-4 week period to really tighten the screws. For many runners, this approach can be more effective than a linear buildup, because the training in the middle weeks of the buildup might be too advanced for the runner's progress and by the time they get to the serious peaking stage they might be too worn out to do justice to the hardest workouts. This is where art meets science in the world of training. Subjectively, if you are relieved that the taper has arrived, you may have gone overboard during your buildup. Fortunately, Tinman pressed the right buttons in my training so that I was almost sorry to see the training come to an end!
Allan Phillips, PT, DPT is owner of Ventana Physiotherapy