Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dropping my Marathon PR in a big way.

I have only really put any serious mileage on my legs in the past few years.

In 2001 I ran my first marathon on minimal training (and the result showed). My second marathon in 2003 had me running more miles in preparation but nothing to write home about. While I trained very hard for my third in 2004, I only did so for a few months with little running prior to it. In 2005, I raced a bunch but did not run much. Which leads me to 2006, with Fiddy2, and this year.

Both years I have kept exact mileage totals via my favorite Excel spreadsheet. It appears that I will finish this year with exactly 2107 miles or 100 more than my initial goal. This is a modest mileage total given many of the totals my friends have finished with but I am happy with it.

While I was visiting my parents for the holidays I ran 10 miles on three consecutive days. It was a little cold in NW PA so I kept my mind off the temps and the run by thinking, like I usually do. It suddenly dawned on me that, as far as I was certain, and I was pretty certain, I had never ran a double-digit mileage total for 3 straight days. NEVER. I had run a half marathon on one day and a marathon the next. I had run 86 miles in one day. I had done many things but had never accomplished this relatively simple feat.

Which led my mind wandering another way. If I finish with 2107 miles for the year that will average out to 40.5 miles a week. A nice little total but nothing to be too impressed about. Then my thinking went another direction.

I have often claimed that I feel I have a 2:3x marathon in me. Some have agreed, others have harrumphed such speak as the daydreams of a middle of the “good” pack runner and some could not care less. I have packed up my thought process numerous times in many different ways but it all boiled down to how I really had not done the training required to really run a good marathon. The 40-mile a week average from above was one bit of proof.

But that isn’t enough for me. When people question what I say I really think about their opinions. Often I have already had a self-discussion which entailed just about everything that is ever said which is why I am so quick with a retort. So I began to question further why I think I can run a much faster time.

As I hoofed it home on each one of these 10 mile runs (5 miles out and then 5 miles back on the exact same route) I ran almost exact times. The first 5 miles would take me just under 40 minutes and the last 5 would take me about 36:3x. That I a heck of a lot of time to lose in just five miles. Here is my average time out and back with the pacing

39:45 7:57
36:30 7:18

Nearly 40 seconds faster per mile on the way back. Granted there is more downhill on the way home than there is on the way out (see below) but not enough to really matter. Plus, I run more on the outside of a curve on the way home than I do on the way out which would definitely add time.

So I am doing the math on these runs and realizing that even the 7:18 pace is not even all that fast. Then I realize, you know what? I NEVER really run all that fast. I do a track workout where I get some good sprints in once a week when things are going right in my life (meaning I am home and not traveling) and I run fast there. Occasionally in my last mile or so of a 6 mile run I will push out a sub-6 mile on a pretty large hill (see below) which always makes me feel good. But for the most part I do not push my long runs. For two years I have either been racing or recovering. I have not had the energy to (or more correctly had the intelligence to not) push it too hard.

Which leads me to this. My current marathon PR is a 2:55:34. That equates to a 6:41 minute mile pace. I can honestly say I have NEVER come close to training at that pace for anything other than my sprint workouts. I have recently been reading a great deal of running magazines and books. I have read about training programs and what some of the elites do. I was astounded at the speed at which they train. MANY of their long runs are WAY faster than their marathon pace. And that makes complete sense. But here I have rarely, if ever, run faster than my marathon pace, except in a marathon!

So basically, I do not run a great deal of miles and those I do are hardly all that fast. Without a doubt, I do not think anyone can argue that I am probably a pretty tired puppy given the racing I do. Yet, somehow I still have run a 2:55.

When the time comes when things have settled and I actually put the time into training for one (or a few) marathons, I see absolutely no reason why I will not run that 2:3x marathon.


Andrew said...

Your reasoning makes perfect sense to me. I sometimes like to believe that I'm capable of a 3:30 marathon even though my PR is 4:12. I've trained for 5Ks and a 50-miler but never focused my training on a marathon attempt.

For me, knowing that I *could* run 3:30 is *almost* enough satisfaction - I tend to be more captivated by possibilities than results, which seems rare among runners. What's your inclination?

KLM said...

So funny that you posted this today, since I was thinking about training speed and mileage during my run this evening.

I used to run all my mileage at easy pace, 9 minute miles at best. I never pushed unless I was running with someone. And sometimes the pace was actually slower, depending on who I was runnign with and if we ran the single track in Umstead.

But it's totally different now that I have a schedule. I have the track workout on Tuesday and some slightly faster stuff on Thursdays. And instead of doing my long runs really slow, I have been doing some of the miles at goal marathon pace. My average long run pace is much better now, not fast really, but only about 30 seconds off marathon pace instead of 2 minutes per mile off mp.

I already feel like I am in better shape, even though I run fewer miles. My 4 miler on Tuesday was at 7:30 pace. It was easy. I never had runs like that before. And my long runs are better than ever. Faster and more enjoyable. I am going to be so so thrilled if I can run a 3:15 on 50ish miles per week. (I think I peak at 57 mpw sometime in january.)

Anyway, I can't remember exactly where I was going with this. But I am excited about you training for a marathon (or whatever) when things settle a bit.
I am loving training and running right now even though I am racing less, whcih is not what I thought would happen!

I could ask B to write you an excel schedule if you wanted (when you are ready). But you probbaly have lots of people willing to do that!

Blah blah blah

Elizabeth G. said...

That's an interesting approach. It's something that I have experimented with-- either doing long runs at MP or doing them 30-45 seconds/mile slower. I am assuming that one of the books you read was "Advanced Marathoning" by Pfitzinger? That book is targeted towards serious marathoners and elites, and it advocates going 10-20% slower than goal pace.

But, given that you've never even experimented with fast long training runs, I think it's definitely worth a try, and given that every 'body' is different, it could definitely pay off.

Dane said...


I have yet to read any book on how to train. Pfitzinger, Jack Daniels, The Penguin or anyone.

Elizabeth G. said...

The "Advanced Marathoning" book is really good at explaining the physiology of everything. It helped me drop my time down to 3:56, which (as you know) is a huge improvment for me. I highly recommend it, and I look forward to seeing your PR drop in a big way!

Dane said...

If I ever stagnate or do not continue to drop my PRs by minutes on end I will undoubtedly give it a read.