Tag Archives: marathon training

Plotting my route to the National Marathon

The more I think about the National Marathon in March, the more benefits I see to setting my sights on this race.

One such benefit: While searching for a tune-up half-marathon that would suit my timing for the March 20 marathon, I realized I could piggyback a visit to my parents in New Port Richey, Fla., on a trip back to Gainesville, Fla., where I lived and worked for four years, to run the Five Points of Life Half-Marathon in February.

The hometown flavor that permeates the race starts before runners even cross the starting line, with a cheer familiar to anyone who’s attended a University of Florida football game:

Two bits!
Four bits!
Six bits!
A dollar!
All for the Gators stand up and holler!

Even if you’re not a Gator fan, it’s hard not to love the sense of place and friendly vibe that define this small but speedy race. The flat, fast course runs through Gainesville’s quaint downtown before winding around the University of Florida campus, with highlights including a swing past alligator-filled Lake Alice and a trip through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (again, even if you’re not a Gator fan, this is pretty cool). The race aims to raise awareness of the need for lifesaving donations of blood, apheresis, marrow, cord blood, and organ and tissue.

I’m also psyched to run the race for personal reasons: this is the half-marathon that started it all for me and distance running. I was planning to run the Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville in 2007, and, for the first time, was following a training schedule to the letter. Things were going well, and it occurred to me that, if I could run nine miles on long runs after a slow buildup, I could probably run 13 miles, too. That kind of thinking eventually led to my first marathon in Nashville, Tenn., in April 2007.

My time for that first half-marathon wasn’t anything special by my current standards. But at the time, 1:56 shattered my every expectation for myself, and made me realize that pushing my body a little harder than is comfortable can yield almost magical mind-calming results.

Best of all: It only costs $45 to register for it until the end of the year.

I’m also dreaming up lots of ways to improve my marathon training, while maintaining my ultimate goal of not getting hurt through the process. A few tools I plan to add to my arsenal:

Progression runs. While training for the Marine Corps Marathon, I made a point to run the last few miles of each long run faster than my first few miles. But I’m going to get even better at holding back early on and speeding up steadily until the end of the run.

More continuous running. I’m not sure how bad I was, exactly, about lingering at my personal “rest stops” on long runs. This time, I’m going to do my best to simulate race-day conditions, stopping only as long as I would at a water station during the race.

Speedwork (more of it). I didn’t get a chance to add this to my training repertoire until just weeks before the race thanks to a lingering hip injury. I think starting mile repeats and Yasso 800s earlier in the process will do wonders for my confidence, if not my actual speed.

Stepping up my efforts to keep my stomach calm on race-day. I did a lot right before my Marine Corps Marathon stomach disaster — but I think I can do even better, and not just in terms of skipping an unfamiliar chicken sandwich the day before the race. More details on this as training progresses — I’ll definitely be seeking tips from all of you!

Which workouts, foods and other training tactics helped you run your best marathon ever? I’ve got a good general route mapped out for myself, but I’m still looking for new and interesting detours.


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National Marathon, here I come!

I was almost wooed by a flat, fast course in Sacramento at the California International


Me after the National Half-Marathon last year. Hoping the full marathon gives me just as many reasons to grin next year.

Marathon, or a similarly flat course in Miami in January, both of which would let me tackle a marathon again sooner rather than later after a disappointing experience at the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 25.

But armed with the knowledge that, for me, it seems it’s always better to err on the side of too much rest, I’m officially setting my sights on the SunTrust National Marathon on March 20 instead.

In a post for Examiner.com, I list reasons why this race should be on every Washington-area runner’s list: it follows a District-centric route (as opposed to MCM’s Arlington-heavy one) and boasts an unusually fast, though hilly, course (check that Examiner.com post for elevation charts and specifics). But here’s why I think it’s the race for me:

1. It’s smaller than the major fall marathons. While the spectators along the Marine Corps Marathon course were electrifying, the crowds during the first five miles of the race were harrowing. I made the mistake of trying to run with a pace group the first several miles, and actually got caught in a scuffle of four or five runners that ended in one guy falling, hard, and the rest of us stopping to see if he was OK. It was scary stuff I don’t necessarily care to repeat. I think the National Marathon’s limited field of 4,000 marathoners and 8,000 half-marathoners will prevent that.

2. It’s all in my hometown. Running helps me learn and appreciate the ins and outs of wherever I happen to be living, and I don’t want to miss this opportunity to learn more about this awesome city I get to call home.

3. It’s a race I can train for and run in cool weather. Miami was tempting, but after four years of living and running in Florida, I have a serious aversion to running distance races in the heat. The National Half-Marathon was almost uncomfortably cold at the start last year – my ideal race-day temperature. Please remind me of this fact the first time I have to do a long run in sub-20-degree temps.

4. It lets me tap into my most valuable training resource: my amazing and supportive friends, who I know will come cheer for me if I just ask, and if I promise them some sort of yummy post-race dinner in return (friends: start putting in menu requests now). This one is the clincher for running this race — the Shamrock Marathon is the same weekend in Virginia Beach, and that one apparently has a flat, fast course. But it doesn’t have my own personal cadre of supportive spectators, so National Marathon won out.

I’m going to wait until the end of the year to sign up, to make sure I stay healthy and race-ready. But I’m starting to train for hills now, starting with this hilly monster of a route with Pacers Silver Spring tonight.


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Marathon goals: Can Yasso 800s really predict your finish time?

Some of my fastest and most favorite races are those I’ve started with no expectations, those with a time goal of “let’s just see

Is it really possible that a few laps around the track can help predict your marathon finish time?

Is it really possible that a few laps around the track can help predict your marathon finish time?

how I feel.

Problem is, that kind of thinking doesn’t really fly when it comes to the marathon. When the first half of the race is a half-marathon that’s supposed to feel easy, a failure to set a realistic time goal is a recipe for disaster.

There are lots of ways to try and predict your marathon finish time, from pace calculators (I like the McMillan Running race time calculator) to Yasso 800s, which have ended up representing the bulk of my speedwork this training session. The idea: You run 800s in the same minutes:seconds as your goal marathon time in hours:minutes. Since I’m looking to run somewhere around a four-hour marathon, that meant I’d have to run somewhere around 4 minutes for the 800s.

I topped out at eight reps a couple weeks ago, and did five today, since I’m tapering. All five were between 3:42 and 3:48, and I warmed up and cooled down with 2.5-mile jogs to and from the track at roughly 8:50-minute-mile pace. That’s been the case every time I’ve done 800s this training cycle.

While the 800s weren’t at a conversational pace or anything, they also felt totally manageable, which makes me wonder: Are Yasso 800s too good to be true? Can these possibly be an accurate predictor of the marathon time you’re capable of? Has anyone tried these during marathon training and found that to be the case on race day? I’d really like to think that my ability to nail the 800s at that pace means my goal marathon time of somewhere around four hours is reasonable and realistic, but don’t want to get my ego all puffed up for no reason.

That said, I am going to set my official marathon goals here. My most recent half-marathon time of 1:49 predicts a 3:50 marathon time using the McMillan Running race time calculator. Since I started training a bit late thanks to a flareup of an old hip injury, and have been training extremely conservatively since then, I feel like my most realistic goal time should be around four hours.

My “A” goal — i.e., my “the stars are aligned, the weather is good, my stomach is calm and the running gods are smiling” goal: Under four hours, or faster than 9-minute-mile pace. Let’s go with the pace calculator’s prediction of 3:50, which means 8:48-minute-mile pace.

My “B” goal — my realistic, what I really hope to do goal: Somewhere right around four hours, or right around 9-minute-mile pace. I’m going to start the race at this pace. If I feel the need to pick things up, I can do so in the second half (ha!).

My “C” goal — 4:20, or 10-minute-mile pace. And if all else fails: Simply cross the finish line. This accounts for all the things that could go wrong over the course of 26.2 miles, and is a sign of the respect I have for the distance. I feel fairly certain I’ll be able to hold 9-minute-mile pace for most of the race. But if I have to limp through the last 10K, well, that’s just hard-core in a different way, isn’t it? One of my favorite race T-shirts is from the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., in October 2007, when I which I ran in the pouring rain and sticky Florida heat, vomiting from what may have been a slight OD on Advil and limping from a sore hip, finishing in 2:24 — far slower than each half of the full marathon I’d run, and half an hour slower than my previous half. Others may see this as a massive failure. But knowing that I can cover 13.1 miles even with bad weather, stomach troubles and a messed-up hip labrum and flexor is almost as awesome as knowing I can run 13.1 miles quickly.

There you have it. Any advice about using Yasso 800s as a time predictor would be greatly appreciated!


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The marathon: A love/hate story

I love the marathon. I love the way every long run challenges me to expand my idea of what my body can do, and the way those long runs feel more like journeys than exercise.

I love that those long runs truly make me evaluate what I eat based on the fuel my body needs — something I thought I did already. Now, I truly evaluate everything I put in my mouth based on what will help my body recover from and prepare for my workouts, as evidenced by my newfound love for and fascination with Clif shots.

I love that, for many people, the marathon is a life milestone — something they do on their 30th or 40th or 50th birthday to cross off the lifelong to-do list, or something they do to honor a lost loved one. I love that the distance is scary to me, despite having run it once before. I love that it’s a giant question mark on the calendar, asking me whether I’d like to be a wimp in the days leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 25, or whether I’d like to be strong, to paraphrase Peter Maher.

All of that said, can I be honest here and admit that the marathon can be a serious bitch, too?

I’m done with the hardest part of training, so this isn’t a burnout thing so much as an urge to answer a question that’s been bouncing around in my brain since I registered: Is it possible I just prefer to stick with halves?

First, there’s my immune system, which is usually solid thanks to a my produce-heavy diet. Not only did I catch a cold to begin with, but the sneaky little jerk randomly reappeared yesterday morning in the form of out-of-control sneezing and sniffling. The cold first took root after my 21-miler a week or so ago, which can’t be a coincidence.

Then, there’s my wacky metabolism. In theory, it’s awesome to have to basically double your daily caloric intake to make up for the 2,000 or so calories burned on a 20-mile run. In reality, it’s cool the day of the run, but confusing and annoying the rest of the week. “Wait,” my body seems to say at the end of every meal, “I thought it was all-you-can-eat, all-the-time. No?” It’s hard to keep all those extra calories healthy, which is a pretty major priority of mine, and a goal that is not at all conducive to my propensity for eating mass quantities of brownie batter after long runs (I only did this once. But still … )

And there’s the matter of my joints. The amped-up core routine I started back in July seems to have kept my longtime hip problems at bay. But I’d forgotten how, even when everything goes well, the final miles of really long runs sometimes hurt so badly, you wonder if something is broken. This past week, everything from my ankles to my right IT band (i.e., not the one I usually have problems with) ached for the last few miles of my 16-miler. I was fine until I stopped, in which case I had to shake myself out and half-limp for a few strides until I loosened up again. I felt fine after, too, but that sensation can’t possibly be a good thing.

And how about the urge to, as one runner-friend described it, wrap oneself in bubble wrap until race day to prevent injury or illness? One of my favorite things about training for a distance race is the way it forces me to adopt healthier habits, going to bed earlier, drinking less wine, eating better food. But I’m to the point now that I’m popping echinacea a few times a day, eating enough Vitamin C-rich foods to kill a large horse and considering taking Airborne as a preventative measure. I’ve also turned down a couple backpacking trips for fear that they’ll trash my legs and twist my ankles. While I get that bubble-wrap urge before half-marathons, too, it typically only applies to the week before the race rather than the month beforehand. Oh — and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I’m popping a prescription anti-inflammatory per day to keep swelling at bay. It’s with my doctor’s blessing, of course, but again, nothing I want to keep up for the long-term.

Yep. I think I may be fine with halves. But here’s the thing: This line of thinking sounds dangerously familiar to me. I ran my first marathon with the idea that it’s something I’d do only once, so I could cross it off my life to-do list. But that finish line is seductive, and the next day at work, I spent the entire day searching for my next marathon. We’ll see if this race has a similar effect.

In other running news: I almost skipped my group run with Pacers Silver Spring last night thanks to the aforementioned sneezing and sniffling. But I remembered the neck rule, and since all my symptoms were above my neck, I gave it a shot. I headed out on a gloriously cool fall night with three of my running buddies who typically help me push the pace. We managed a roughly five-mile run in less than 40 minutes — 7:49-minute-mile pace, according to my nike +! A nice reminder of another rule of thumb: When in doubt, always remind yourself you usually feel better after a run than you did before it.


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The infrastraucture of success

My long runs are getting longer, and planning for them is getting tougher every week.

This week marks my first 15-miler, the longest I’ll have run since before I hurt my hip in 2007. Last time I trained for a marathon, I did so to cope with Steve’s first deployment. This was both an effective coping mechanism for me, healthier than drinking lots of wine and cheaper than shopping, and a nice way to avoid the inevitable clash between my training and real life — both for me and those around me.

Even last week’s 13-miler took some orchestration. My cousin had invited us over for margaritas on Friday night, and we had plans to be in Solomons Island until late on Saturday. I got around being a party pooper in either case by waking up extra-early on Thursday morning to complete my long run then.

I’m employing a similar tactic this week, as we’ve been planning a backpacking trip to the Shenandoah for Labor Day weekend, like, forever. I’ll wake up even earlier this Thursday morning to make sure I have all the juice my legs need for the run. Whatever’s left over, I can use hiking (or maybe trudging) through the mountains.

Fifteen miles is long enough that it’s time to start thinking about logistics days before the run itself — setting up what I’ve heard referred to as “the infrastructure of success,” or planning life around a priority event rather than the other way around. I picked up eggplant, tomatoes and peppers from the farmers market last week to make my favorite vehicle for carbo-loading, roasted vegetable lasagna tonight, giving me guaranteed leftovers in case things get busy later in the week. I’m figuring out a route that lets me stash water in an easily available place — most likely a 5-mile loop I’ll drive to and then do three times, unlike last week’s out-and-back route that didn’t include a single water fountain. And I’ve stocked up on energy gels after discovering last week mine were all long expired. Do energy gels go bad, you might ask? I doubt it. But they taste so bad to begin with, I wasn’t about to find out mid-run.

Finally, 15 miles is long enough to start making annoying requests of friends and family members. That backpacking trip? Steve would likely hike twice the distance we’re planning — about 13 miles over three days — if it weren’t for my 15-miler this week and the threat of 17 miles next week. I’m even nervous about the 13 miles, and have identified “escape” routes on our relief map of the park in case my hip starts acting up. Poor Steve must feel like he has a toddler rather than a wife — I can’t stay out too late or walk too far, and I always must travel with water and snacks.

I’ve gotta believe Steve takes these sacrifices like a champ not only because, well, he’s a champ, but because he knows that running — specifically, training for a big goal-race like a marathon — gives me focus and purpose, no matter how the rest of my life is going, and forces me into the healthier habits I wish I had, anyway. It makes me a better, happier, friendlier and more peaceful person, which has got to be worth a truncated hiking route and a few early nights — right?


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