June 27, 2005

Taking my lumps

A week's further reflection on the mini-disaster that was my marathon lead me to think that it was probably 90% a case of "just not my day," and 10% a case of being a little past my peak with the 18 weeks of speedwork leading into the race.

Lots of folks would love to run 3:05, and 3:05 is far, far better than DNF or DNS.

As I feel inspired to think about the summer ahead, and the next attempt at a marathon in Philadelphia in November I'll be keeping the following in mind.

I handle relatively high mileage well, and do well off it. All the best seasons I've had have come off a high mileage base, of at least 75 miles/week. In 1992 (7th form=high school senior, age 17) I dropped my 8km time from 29:low to 27:high in the space of 6 months. I'd stopped growing. I'd been running since I was 11 and doing up to 100km/week the previous year. It's hard to avoid crediting the extra miles for the improvement. I did about 3 months of 120-130km/week before the cross country season, and then did another 6 weeks high mileage aerobic running once cross country had concluded to build up for the road season.

After a couple of bad races in early 1993 I took too much time off and spent the next five years rarely going over 110km/week (70 miles). Results were patchy and inconsistent, and did not fulfil the glimmer of promise of my senior year in high school. 27:high for 8km does not set the world on fire, but when you don't improve on that in the next five years something is not right.

Deciding that if I was going to get out there six days a week for 100km I might as well carry on for at least another 30km/week, I got serious again. Between late 1998 and mid-2000 I worked up to the weeks mileage regularly being between 130km and 160km (dipping down to taper for and recover from a marathon and then taking 3 weeks easy after the road relay season was over to concentrate on exams). Then I put in two months of 100 mile weeks in November/December 1999 and was rewarded with the following revision in PRs in late 1999 and early 2000: 3km 9:38 to 9:12, 5km 17:02 to 16:09, 10km 36:09 to 33:51, 1/2m 1:22:32 to 1:16:42. That made me a believer in what I'd been doing.

Some of my best races have come while just doing aerobic miles, or shortly afterwards. For example, when I took my 5k PR from 17:02 to 16:22 I did it during a 100 mile week. I "tapered" for the race by doing an easy 10 miles the day before. After dropping the mileage I managed to cut a measly 13 seconds off the time. The 3km PR was done 2 weeks after I'd finished the Nov/Dec 1999 mileage buildup, and dropped the miles to 130km/week and started track sessions.

Just this spring, I ran the winter half in 1:20:42, after 3 months aerobic mileage in which I'd averaged 80 miles week (4 weeks at 75, 4 weeks at 82-84, 3 weeks at 90). With the exception of 10 200m strides most weeks and a couple of 5km races in December I'd done very few miles at less than 7 minute pace. But then I got out there and raced at a shade over 6 minute miles.

My best years running have not been continuous seasons, but interspersed with mini buildups. After the Christchurch marathon in June 1999 I didn't race for 8 weeks. I took 2 weeks easy, built the miles back up, and spent most of late July and early-August getting back to 80-90 mile weeks. Then from late August to early October I did 4 races, and ran PRs (or the equivalent) in each one. Same in 1992, after the cross country champs I returned to easy aerobic running, and built up afresh for the road races in September, then another mini-buildup for the next big race in December.

I need to work at different paces to get the best of quality sessions. Staple workouts each week in 1999/2000 were 20-40 minute tempo runs, and shorter intervals (8 x 3 minutes, 4-2-2 with 2 minute recoveries, 10-12 x 2 minutes). It was good to have 6-8 weeks of tempo and marathon paced running in the build-up for Grandma's, but 12 may have been too much for me. Next time I'll mix it up some more.

The best running comes when you can keep up the mileage for a long time.So long as you schedule some downtime into the season, it has been the years when I've put in the miles that have ultimately been rewarding. After the mono, and grad school taking priority for a couple of years I hit 80 miles for a week in June 2004 for the first time in two years. Now I have a year when 80 has been regular mileage, and if I can carry on with that I should be able to see Grandma's as an aberration.

Running at goal race pace is an important part of training When I ran 16:09 it was disappointing not to run 10 seconds faster. But to get that close was the result of running a lot of 76-78 second laps in training. I was able to run a shade over 6 minute miles for 20km all by myself this spring because I'd done lots of 5km tempo runs at that pace. Goal pace training is something I really only have committed to recently, and I need to stick with it.

Hills, strides, stretching, and grass are good for you. In Wellington I could get away with not doing "hill work" since you had to consciously avoid the hills. You can avoid the hills much more easily in Minneapolis. It's not good for you.

When you're young you can get away without doing strides. When you're 30 you can't.

When you're in your teens you can often get away with not stretching. When you're 30 you can't.

Running on grass and dirt lets you increase your weekly mileage tremendously. In my first year in Minneapolis (2000/01) I was seduced by the ease of the flat asphalt paths, and felt sore and bruised at 70 miles week. This spring I felt spry and fit at 100 miles by sticking to the grass when I wasn't doing tempo runs.

Despite the disappointment of Grandma's I think that I should largely stick with what I've been doing. I won't try to do an 18 week buildup again. I will try to mix sessions up over the course of a build-up. Relatively high mileage has worked for me in the past, it should continue to work again.

Posted by robe0419 at June 27, 2005 08:33 PM | TrackBack


Thanks for taking the time to post this info. I think it's an honest assessment. I always like to see how a person's times drop when they bump their mileage. You dropped your PRs in 1999-2000 significantly.

Yes, lots of folks would love to 3:05, but you're not comparing yourself to "lots of folks." If you're like me, you're comparing yourself to the 2-3% in front of you as well as to your own past performances.

Hell, if you wanted to run 3:05, you could've done that on 40 mpw. All training is cummulative and it will pay off over time.

Posted by: Zeke at June 28, 2005 03:13 PM
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