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New York City Marathon Training Lessons
Jet lag is a real disease, people.
Side effects including being wide awake when you’d rather be sleeping, and being completely exhausted when it’s time to shine.
I used to secretly judge people who complained about jet lag, particularly upon returning from relaxing vacations in tropical places. But you know what? Their lives are hard! And jet lag is serious.
In other words, I’m tired and I don’t want to be.
I’m finally back in NYC after a week of traveling to various sunshine-y parts of the west coast.
My trip was great, but packing a bachelorette party and a holy-crap-I-feel-like-my-career-rides-on-this-photo-shoot work trip into one excursion was a bit much for me.
Let’s talk about running, though, right? This was once a “running blog.”
So far this week I have thrown down 37 miles. That’s a lot for me. Today, thank God, is a rest day, and tomorrow I’m planning to knock out 22 miles, which will be my longest training run ever. If I do a shakeout limp/run Sunday, I could very well end up with my first-ever 60-mile week.
Last week I actually ran 57 miles, not 54 as I had originally claimed. Math is hard. Between the high-for-me mileage and the travel, I’ve learned a bit about my running self. Namely I’ve learned that I’m not sure high mileage (more than 40 miles per week for me) is my thing.
I love running a lot. I’d much rather run 10 miles than three miles because I enjoy being out there. The longer I can run, the happier I feel.
But my body may not agree, and I’m feeling pretty wiped right now. I’ve never looked forward to a rest day as much as I looked forward to today’s.
Yesterday, after a late arrival back in NYC and a fitful night of “sleep,” I did a ton of work and eventually shoved my sausage-like feet (I swear they are permanently swollen or something — or I just have chunky feet) into my Brooks. The plan was hill repeats, because I haven’t done much (any) of that this training cycle, and the New York City Marathon course is by no means flat.
So off to Cat Hill I went.
I was going to do a 2-mile warm-up, followed by eight repeats of Cat Hill. The hill isn’t too steep and it’s a quarter-mile long. Certainly a doable exercise on most days, right? But yesterday it hurt. I wasn’t going to worry about my pace — I was just focusing on my effort, which was a sprint up the hill and a “leisurely jog back down.”
And on the first one, oh did I sprint. I happened to glance down at my pace according to Garmin, and I saw a 5:55 — that’s the lowest number I’ve ever seen. It didn’t last longer than 8 seconds, but I did manage to do the entire first uphill sprint at a mostly sub-7:00 pace.
Overly ambitious? Yes. Exactly.
Because the following repeats weren’t nearly as fast. In fact, by the time I got to the final climb, my “sprint” was edging closer to my recovery run pace.
But I got them all done, so that counts for something, right? And I never got frustrated or discouraged, because I realize that peak week of training means running on tired legs and pushing through the sleepiness.
Also my jet lag. So hard.
So that’s where we are right now: Friday of Peak Week, and I’m loving it. I’ve never been one to add up my weekly mileage or care much about it, but I’m excited to potentially hit the 60-mile mark. And while my “training” since July has been subpar and I’m not quite filled with pre-marathon confidence, I have managed to fill my brain with worthwhile lessons along the way.
Now is the time when I share those “let me remind you I’m not an expert and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m a regular average runner with personal what-works-for-me knowledge” lessons with you.
Oatmeal is not a good pre-run breakfast for me. I am guaranteed to burp it up throughout the first 5–6 miles of my run. I went through a phase where I was eating oatmeal daily during the week. So I figured I’d give it a shot before a long run one day. I was so mad at myself. I don’t need to taste cinnamon and oats while I’m running.
Massages can be really helpful. A human can do things to your body a foam roller simply cannot do. Brian and I found this crazy-cheap massage place in NYC and we went there one weekend when I was feeling particularly achy. The massage hurt and it wasn’t relaxing, but I felt so much better afterward. I used to view massages as expensive, rewards-only treats, but now I recognize that they’re actually helpful training tools.
Also, can someone please give me back the $80 I lost on the Las Vegas slot machines so I can get a massage this weekend?
Not every ache or pain is an injury. When I was training for my first marathon, I was convinced that every twinge, every muscle spasm and every bug bite was the onset of a massive, end-of-running-career injury. This time around, I can better recognize when to push through and when to back off. I have learned to avoid Google at all costs, because then I discover that not only do a have a non-doctor-diagnosed stress fracture, I also have shingles, syphilis and SARS.
Stay off Google. Don’t push through too much pain. Know that some aches and pains are, as Coach Cane once told me, “par for the course” during marathon training.
Rest days are amazing. Last year, I didn’t take very many rest days. I was convinced I could just keep going going going, and when Coach Cane said to “rest” I’d sneak into a spin class but “promise to take it easy.” Now, I take rest days far more often for many reasons, and I truly rest. No spinning. No yoga. No “easy 8 miles run, easy swim, lifting and easy yoga.” When I rest, I park my butt on the couch, get my legs up and shovel food into my mouth. And the next day I almost always have a really good run. Go figure.
A sandwich thin with peanut butter and maybe a few (dozen) chocolate chips is also not a good pre-run breakfast for me. It makes me so full. I’m still working on figuring out my “perfect pre-run breakfast,” and I have no idea what I’m going to eat before the marathon since I don’t start running until 10:05 AM. But I know I get full pretty easily in the morning, so mini-meals will likely be the way to go.
If you’re not doing a long run at 6 AM on a Saturday morning, don’t bother going on Twitter, because everyone on there is running, probably farther and faster and earlier than you, and they want to make sure you know it. When I was injured and then when I was sick and unable to run, Twitter was my nemesis. I’d lay in bed (or, you know, casually check my feed from the bathroom, NBD) reading Tweets from my phone, and I would get legitimately upset. I realize this is no one’s fault but my own, but I had a really hard time reading about everyone else’s “OMG amazing” training when mine was nonexistent. I found myself getting incredibly jealous and as I morphed into psycho-bitch mode, I eventually realized that reading “I’M THE BEST, I’M GOING RUNNING TODAY!!!!!!!” updates wasn’t doing me any favors. I realized I had to just turn it off, stop worrying about what the rest of the running world was doing and go back to bed.
Similarly, just because everyone you know running the same marathon you’re running is doing an 18-miler one weekend doesn’t mean that’s what you should be doing. Training isn’t one-size-fits-all. Stick with your plan so you can run your race. Don’t get psyched out because you think other people are training more/less/harder/faster/better than you.
It’s OK to make marathon training your life. It’s also OK not to. For my first marathon, I was completely consumed with all things marathon. This time around? Not so much. And that’s fine.
You are not smarter than your coach. If you have a coach, it’s probably because you need help or advice or guidance and you want to become a better runner. Don’t bother trying to tell him “how many miles you think you should run this weekend.” That’s his (or her) job. Just shut up and run. And try not to complain too much along the way.
Don’t dwell on one terrible run. I probably had more bad runs this training cycle than good ones, and at some point I learned to be OK with that. The Tuesday after running a 50-mile week (including a 20-mile long run), I suffered through a miserable speedwork session. Two weeks prior, I had crushed the exact same mile repeats workout and felt great. But this time? I felt like I was dragging a sled behind me. A sled filled with bricks. And tap shoes. It was so difficult for me. I was bummed when it was over, and I wondered if I could have — or should have — pushed myself harder. I was frustrated for a bit, but I moved on faster than you can say “Donde esta the Honey Nut Cheerios?” I got over it.
One bad run doesn’t define a training cycle, and it doesn’t indicate how Race Day will pan out. I did, however, use the workout to see how I could avoid letting it happen again. Enter stepback week and an additional rest day.
Sometimes training just does not go the way you had anticipated. There are curve balls and things you can’t prepare for, which may leave you attempting to train for 26.2 miles in just eight weeks. This is the greatest lesson I’ve learned, and I’ve accepted that sometimes the best plan is having no plan at all. I’m learning to roll with the punches. There were factors I couldn’t control that prevented me from having the training I wanted so badly.
Turns out, the 2012 New York City Marathon isn’t the only marathon ever. Shocking, right? There will be more marathons. This isn’t my only shot. While ultimately I haven’t trained for this race the way I would have liked, I’m proud of the effort I’ve put in. I’m proud of the runs I pushed through, including the brutal hill repeats, the always-painful mile repeats and the easy morning runs that sometimes required 14 bathroom stops. Much of it wasn’t pleasant and it certainly wasn’t easy.
But it’s a marathon. It’s 26.2 miles of running — plus hundreds of miles of running leading up to the start line.
It’s not supposed to be easy.
YOU’VE GOT WISDOM, TOO, I BET: What lessons have you learned through marathon training? This is the best part. We share. And we all learn together.