With the Twin Cities Marathon just more than 3 weeks away, my thoughts have increasingly focused on getting myself ready for the race while focusing on what comes after.
But first things first: I need to prepare my mind and body for the 26.2-mile endeavor on Oct. 7 and the challenge that it brings. Thankfully, I’ve had two terrific mid-week runs, including an unexpected fast and easy 7-miler on Tuesday and a super fun 6-miler from my house to the Mississippi River with Riley on Wednesday.
My preparation for this marathon has been a bit different than the previous 2 marathons this year. In January, I ran the Rock N Roll marathon in Arizona, having struggled during the early winter months to get in both long runs and find the energy to get in quality training. Within a few weeks of that race, I found myself both motivated (fueled by disappointment in my race time) and injured (a severely sprained ankle during a trail race). While I struggled physically after the Arizona race, I piled on the miles in advance of Grandma’s Marathon. Those miles compounded issues and a series of injuries followed.
However, for my upcoming race, I’ve had some interesting experiences along the way. My motivation has been similar to previous fall marathon training cycles. I haven’t quite put on the same mileage, but I’m relatively injury free. That’s allowed me to get more consistent training, but I have yet to get back into my pattern from a few years ago.
There are a couple of main factors playing out in my training right now. Those factors will impact my marathon. Preparing for a marathon takes more than just running mileage – optimal performance also relies on proper diet, sleep and managing stress levels. That’s why I shut out all distractions and aim to sleep a lot starting the week leading up to race day. Without question, these factors influence performance and need to be managed – just like a runner needs to manage pace and energy distribution in a distance event.
For those who read my running column Mondays in The Forum, I’ll be going into some of this next week. In short, though, the focus for me – away from the roads and slipping one foot in front of the other for miles on end for the physical training required to run a marathon – is shifting to those few weeks after the race. Soon after the Twin Cities Marathon, I’ll begin focusing on Ironman Wisconsin and the chapters of my journey to complete the 140.6-mile multisport event.
Still, the task at hand is this weekend’s long run – the longest in my buildup to the marathon. Ideally, it should be a 22 or (even better) 24 mile effort.
Last week, a friend asked when is the ideal time for such a long training run. Based on my research, and specifically the marathon training I follow, the longest training runs should come 3 and 5 weeks prior to race day. My program calls for those runs to be 20-24 miles, and I’ve found in previous training cycles that the higher end of that produces results on race day. And if I were to choose just one near-marathon distance training run, I’d do it 3 weeks prior to the race. It’s far enough away from the race to recovery, but not quite so far away that you won’t reap the benefits on race day.
An important concept, though, is that training is cumulative. If I do a 24-miler with 5 weeks to go to race day, it will provide benefits. But it really is designed to help me complete the next 24-miler with 3 weeks to go (and train in a slight state of fatigue, making it even more difficult).
So, not having the really long training run under my belt from 2 weekends ago (I did a 16 and 18 mile run 3 days apart), what’s the chances of pulling off a 24-miler this weekend? Not good – and I might not try to pull it off because while I want a long run, I also need a confidence builder out on the roads – a workout that taxes me physically but leaves me feeling good about my fitness status.
There are 2 concepts going on here: the ideal training program (including the 2 really long training runs) and my realistic training program based on what I’ve been through this year, including training, demands of life and work with the inherent stress involved and a string of injuries.
In short, there is a difference between what I’d like to accomplish, and what I’m able to, and coming to terms with those when they don’t align. The most important thing I can do now is focus on what will put me in the best position to run the best race I can – considering all of these factors – and remembering this marathon is the beginning of my Ironman training for next year.