Looking For Answers

Marathons are hard work. And racing hurts. If anyone says otherwise, than they’re not doing it right.

Truth be told, for the past several weeks, I’ve been looking forward to a reduction in mileage. A summer full of heavy mileage paid dividends but the legs have taken plenty of abuse.

Now, with 16 marathons and about as many half marathons completed, my pre-race rituals and preparations are set. They work for me. But on Saturday, during the Dick Beardsley Half Marathon in Detroit Lakes, I was reminded of a few important lessons and left to go searching for some answers.

If a runner wants to go his or her fastest, it’s going to hurt. Even with strong cardiovascular fitness, at least 8 long runs of 18 miles or more, and a regular dose of hills, there’s no such thing as an easy marathon. If training for a marathon seems easy, then the race will likely hurt in ways you can’t imagine.

Through the middle miles of Saturday’s race, there were the expected rolling hills — even with this year’s Beardsley race run clockwise around Detroit Lake, the opposite direction as the traditional course — that challenged one’s focus. Near Long Bridge, runners would face a formidable climb and a longer gradual descent after.

A friend later asked about running the course clockwise. Some may not like change, perhaps for no other reason than not liking change, but running the Beardsley course in reverse is better than the original — especially with a long straight downhill finish. Either way, you’ll face some long gradual inclines and declines. Why not have a spectacular finish where runners get a grand view of the finish from more than half mile away?

Yes, marathons are difficult, and Saturday’s half marathon provided a vivid reminder. Sore hamstrings, with reminders flaring through my legs in the second half of the race, offered another reminder that racing hurts. If you’re not prepared, it will serve up a hurt that you never want to experience again. But even if you do it right, it won’t feel comfortable. The difference between the two, though, is that one will break your will and stain your psyche; the other pain will be short-lived and leave you craving to lace up again, just in hopes of recreating the magic of the marathon.

During the Beardsley race, some mile splits were a bit disappointing. After stopping my watch at the finish line, I was simply not satisfied. There were a few factors, likely not to be present prior to my next race, that may have contributed to the outcome.

The St. George Marathon is three weeks away. Before it arrives, I have more work to do. And with new questions arising, I hope to find answers for a different feeling at the finish line in Utah.

With so many finish times — marathons and half marathons — similar in time, I need to know: can I go faster? If so, how do I do it? Can I push harder in the middle of a race without bonking in the final stages of a race?

For this cycle, I set aside the training plan after an injury in June and improvised — with a schedule to get me to the taper. There was time to figure out the taper. Now it’s around the corner.

So many plans and theories of coaching are readily available. Conventional wisdom, if you read about marathon training, proposes the notion that it’s better to go into a race undertrained rather than overtrained.

That notion isn’t one I’ve never accepted. Neither scenario is good.

And then there’s this approach to marathon tapering, published about 15 months ago. By chance, I discovered it while waiting for yesterday’s race to start. After reading it a second time today, there aren’t any new revelations — just a reminder that it’s too early to let off the accelerator. A 10-day taper, in my opinion, is perfect: keep running frequency and intensity the same as earlier in the training cycle, and dial back on mileage a little bit each day as the race approaches.