Funny, I just came across this after all these years. I think I ought to at least update the first entry, which described where I was as a runner.
In spring I decided to give the marathon one more go. Needing plenty of time, I set the October, 2006 Twin Cities Marathon as my goal. Despite being tall (6-6), heavy (185), and a short-distance runner (400-1500 in college), I thought I had hit on a method to turn into a long-distance runner: Lots of easy running and long, steady tempo runs.
After the Human Race, described below, I remember running an 18:40-something 5K in April, an over-40 PR, and one where I caught and out-kicked a guy I had never before beaten.
For the next three months I kept to the same routine: roughly 50 miles a week, at least one long steady tempo run of 8 to 12 miles, an easy long run of up to 2 hours (or a long run with a tempo in the middle) and maybe one speed workout. In late June I totally swtiched gears. My miles went up to 70, my long runs went into a four-week rotation of 1:45, 2 hours, 2:15, 2:30. I got completely away from speed work. I was retraining myself for the long endurance needed for a marathon. The kind of runner I am, one who adapts very quickly to speed work, required losing my ability to run fast.
I tested it out in August at a 5K. I bombed. I had no ability or desire to run hard. My coach thought that was perfect. I wasn't so sure. My fnal 'tune-up' was four weeks out, a mile easy, three miles at 7-minute to 7:15 pace, a mile easy, and then a 25K race where I did essentially the same pattern. It was exhausting.
When I stood at the line for the marathon in early October I was full of doubts. I even told myself that if my heart rate was too high after one mile, I would step off the course and save myself the humiliation. But the first mile went well, maybe a little too slow (which is just fine in a marathon), and the heart rate was perfect. I got a little excited then and ran the second mile under 7 minutes, including the single biggest hill on the course, and saw my HR cross over the threshold where it should average for the entire race. I calmed down and settled back in. Somewhere around three miles the 3:10 pace group (my goal) caught me. I latched on to the back and we began clicking off miles right around 7:05 to 7 minutes. (3:10 pace is 7:15.) Sensing the pace leader was banking too much time, an absolute disasterous strategy in a 26-mile race, I let them go. Now, TCM is a course where it is difficult, if not impossible, to run even halfs. The first 20 miles are quite nice with the exception of a few hills. But miles 20-23 are killer, almost unrelenting uphill, though gradual. Still, banking several minutes is asking for trouble.
I came through halfway in a little over 1:33, or a 3:06+ pace. The pace group was nowhere in sight. It wasn't long after this that I began to pass people. It is so hard to temper the enthusiasm in the early miles of a marathon, but if you are already losing pace at 14 miles, it is going to be a very, very long day.
Up the River Road, the lovely miles 16-19, I managed to pick it up slightly and suddenly found myself in with the 3:10 pace group once again. I thought to hang with them and recover for a little while, but immediately found myself pushing ahead. They were now going well slower than 7:15 pace. This happened over and over. I'd move up on a group, thinking I'd stick with them, and then find myself pulling away. As we crossed the bridge at about 19, I heard someone counting places - I was 386, I recall.
Shortly after I saw my family. I gave them fives and a cheer and suddenly realized how tired I was. The hills were going to be very hard. But here is where the crash and burn runners really helped me. Every time I looked up I was passing another guy walking. I hate to see others in agony, but it really felt good to know I had paced myself better, for once. I backed off intentionally at the hills, logging a 7:40 and a 7:45 mile. I made myself focus on the back of someone going by, a guy I had passed a few miles back, and hung on, as if pulled by a rope. Cresting the hill I knew it was now time to decide if I was going to break 3:10. I pressed the gas a little, went by the guy I had been shadowing, and eased down a small downgrade, getting back into a nice, steady rhythm. That mile clicked off under 7:15. Yes! Two miles to go!.I was going to do it.
Those last miles are not especially clear to me any longer, but I know I was repeatedly targeting runners ahead, catching them, wating, and going by. With a mile to go I felt my legs threatening to cramp all over, but my excitement was too great to back off. I pressed on, going as hard as I daed with every step, and ran mile 26 in 6:53, my fastest of the day. Sprinting down the last long hill, seeing the clock just clicking over to 3:07, I was all smiles. I finished under 3:08, in 252nd, having passed 130-plus people the last 7 miles.
The system had worked: 70-80 MPW for three weeks with one week back at 60. Long runs of no longer than 2:30 (only one more than 20 miles) and 10-12 mile tempo runs slower than marathon pace. And virtually no speed work. I ran five miles faster than marathon pace in the three months leading up to the race. I am a firm believer in this method for people with more natural speed than endurance.