Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Worked for Me (a post-mortem of the Surf City Marathon)

My friend, Laura called me on Sunday to congratulate me on my race.  She is also on a quest for a sub-four marathon and asked what I did differently.  Here are my thoughts:

I increased mileage by at least ten miles per week.   Prior to June of this past year, I kept my mileage relatively low.  I did long runs on the weekends, but only ran two other days during the week, sometimes three.  My mileage rarely got above thirty, if ever.  I had mistakenly thought that too many miles would mean over-training.  I didn't realize that having my long run such a high percentage of my week would make it that much harder to recover from that long run.
This time I was scheduled to run much higher mileage.  Due to circumstances, I didn't get in all those miles, but I came pretty close some weeks.  I was scheduled to run a peak week of 49 miles.  My actual peak week was 47 miles.  I ran five days a week.  My average mileage was well over thirty miles per week.  That includes some weeks that I took off due to injury.

result:  The higher weekly mileage helped me recover from my long runs more effectively.  

I think another thing that helped me was running back to back on the weekends.  It goes against the concept of alternating hard and easy workouts, but I tried to take it relatively easy on Saturdays.  If we did longer mileage, we usually kept it at a nice easy pace.  I also kept my long runs at an easy pace.  Usually, my Saturday runs were eight to ten miles and my Sunday runs were the longer sixteen, eighteen, twenty mile runs.

For my previous marathons, I did almost all my runs at or near race pace.  I tried keeping my pace in the low 9's and would be frustrated if I ran near 10-minute-miles.  My "tempo" runs were very fast... often faster than a 10K pace.  I rarely ran at less than 90% effort.

I learned in my RRCA training the benefit of running more slowly.  I wrote a post about it here.  Long runs should be run at around a 75-80% effort in order to train your body to effectively use glycogen.  I now train close to RRCA guidelines, which also correspond pretty closely to McMillan paces.  My long runs are usually around 10:00 per mile.   

So while I upped my intensity in terms of days run per week and back-to-back long runs, I took it down in terms of speed.   I didn't do a lot of speedwork this go around.  I did a few pace runs where I ran race pace (9:00).  I did one or two half marathon pace runs (8:30), but not too much in terms of fast intervals at the track.  I think that will be next.

I also did quite a bit of hills.  In the early stages of this cycle, I did hill repeats.  As I got into the higher mileage, I just ran at least two hilly routes a week.  I mixed it up where sometimes the hills would get my heart rate going (like in the repeats) and other times I slowed down so that my heart rate stayed consistent.  I think it really helped, even though Surf City is a relatively flat course. 

result:  I feel like I can run forever.  My body uses fuel much more efficiently.  I didn't hit the wall until mile twenty-four!  I'm pretty sure that if I slowed it down, I might even be able to run further than 26.2 miles.

I didn't change much in terms of nutrition.  In fact, I think this is still an area where I can improve.  I failed to think in terms of fuel and often ate whatever I felt like.  I think I could even take my performance to a higher level if I think more carefully about my overall diet during my training.  This is a special challenge when you have picky kids.*

I did do the week before the race a little differently.  In the past, I have done straight carbo loading a few days prior to the race.  This time, even though there are mixed opinions whether this works, I did a carbohydrate depletion early in the week.  On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I tried to do a modified Adkins-style diet.  For example, I ate Trader Joes Chile Lime Chicken Burgers with cheese and avocado and no bun and I snacked on hard boiled eggs.  I didn't take it to the extreme, but I did try to consciously cut some of the carbs.  Starting on Thursday, I ate waffles for breakfast (in addition to my daily Luna Bar) and added extra brown rice to my El Pollo Loco Chicken Bowl and had things like pretzels for snacks.  I had pasta for dinner on all three nights.

Whether there is scientific proof behind this method or not, I'm not sure.  I think it worked for me.  I did not hit the "wall" until well after mile twenty.  I felt that pain of the glycogen depletion so much later than previous races or long runs.   At mile twenty-four, when it finally caught up to me, I was close enough to the end to push through it.

result- My carbo loading plan left me feeling well-fueled for the race.

race plan--
A race plan is so tough to get right.  Our only plan in 2008 was to keep it nice and slow in the beginning.  We may have gone too slow, keeping us out there on the course longer than necessary.  By the time we hit the later miles, we were so tired and sore that we couldn't have made up time.  I don't know if we would have had a better result had we gone out a little faster.  I doubt it.  In 2009, I had a plan but didn't stick to it.  I went out quite a bit faster than I had planned to, because I was feeling good.  I mentally wanted to "bank" some time in the early miles to give me room when I slowed down in the later miles.  Planning for positive splits only ensures that you'll get them.

For Surf City, I had a race plan and I stuck to it.  I knew I wanted to keep it between 9:00 and 9:09 for the first part of the race.  I knew that my fresh legs might want to go out closer to 8:50.  I believe that  sticking to my plan is the biggest factor in how I finished.  I not only made my goal, but I ran the late miles stronger than many of the earlier miles.  I might have been able to go out faster and still finished with the same time.  But it wouldn't have been as fun to have a fantastic time up until mile eighteen or so, only to walk much of the last few miles.  Finishing strong was a more important goal to me than finishing under four hours.  The most miserable feeling in the world is that hopeless feeling in the latter part of a marathon when you question everything.  I am happy to say that I never felt that during this race.

Yes, there is the chance that I could have gone out at 8:50 and continued to be strong throughout and gone on to hit my BQ time of 3:50.  But I didn't want to chance it.  I have no regrets on how I ran this race.

Another part of my race plan was nutrition.  I decided to eat my Gu's at specific intervals.  I think in the past, I was much less strict with myself.  I also don't think I ate as often in the past.  This time I decided to have a Gu every four miles.  I think in the past I had one every five miles or so.  So at four, eight, twelve, sixteen and twenty miles, I ate a Gu**.  At one point around mile eighteen I couldn't remember if I had eaten one recently.  Since I was following my plan, I knew that I had to have had one at mile sixteen.  I nearly skipped my Gu at mile twenty-four, thinking that I was so close to the end.  After about a quarter mile, I rethought that and decided to stick with the plan.

I didn't have a specific plan in terms of hydration.  I brought 40 ounces in my hydration belt.  I had twenty ounces of water and twenty ounces of Vitalyte.  In the later miles, I drank mostly Vitalyte unless I was eating a Gu.  It was getting a bit hot and I was sweating, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of electrolytes.  I also took an Endurolyte around mile fifteen or sixteen, I think.

result: Knowing to consciously hold myself back was huge.  Staying smart and running consistent splits was the key to this race.  I also stuck with my nutrition plan during the race.

Thanks for reading.  I hope that some of my post-marathon thoughts helped some of you who might be in the same boat I was-- only a couple of marathons under my belt looking to take it to another level.  I am excited to keep moving forward.  What's next?  BQ?  We'll see.

*An example of this is when I tried making a basic switch by changing to brown rice.  There was a revolt in my house.  Even my husband, who will eat almost anything, asked to return to white rice.  Now I try to add 1/4 to 1/3 of quinoa to white rice in order to make it a bit healthier.
**I like Just Plain in the beginning of the race and Espresso Love in the later miles.


Teamarcia said...

Great post-mortem analysis! I still have much to learn about going out slow and sticking to the plan.

Unknown said...

I'm running back to back on the weekends right now as well. My coach thinks it will have a big payoff come my half marathon. Sounds like it was key for you for your marathon, so maybe he's right!

Heather said...

Thanks for the great post today! I really needed to read it after our conversation on yesterday :)

Tricia said...

thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed this.

MCM Mama said...

Great analysis! You've given me some useful ideas.

Irene said...

It looks like a recipe for success!
Also factor in not getting injured and not getting sick! :) I'd say you had a perfect marathon day. Now I need to go back and click on all of your links. I've learned a lot from this post!

L.B. said...

This post is awesome! I've got it bookmarked and will use this as part of my next marathon training plan. It all just makes sense.

I'd love to be able to put in the amount of mileage you put in. We'll see if I can take the next step in my running adventure and how supportive my family is of that. I can get away with carving out one weekend morning for runs but two... that might take some convincing.

Lindsay said...

very detailed analysis of your training and race! all quality lessons-learned and they've definitely made you a stronger, faster runner!

Angela said...

I think qualifying for Boston is definitely within your reach!

The next time Matthew trains for a marathon, he is going to have to up his weekly mileage. For his three marathons, he has done what you did--ran only 3 or 4 times a week, including his long run.

He is so jealous that you had a great race, especially mentally, that you enjoyed miles 20-23, and that you beat him! LOL


Glenn Jones said...

Tremendous post Lisa! I'm favoriting this one and will visit, visit, and revisit as my appointment with the streets of Los Angeles get closer.

RunnerMom said...

Congrats on a great race!!! That was a wonderful breakdown of what works! Thanks for sharing that. I think I ran my 2nd marathon much like your 2nd one--going a bit fast at first in an attempt to "bank" some time--then slowing down in later miles 20-26. I don't know if I'll do a #3, but WOW, each marathon is such a learning experience!

Terri said...

You have been quite the serious blogger over the last few weeks, wow!

i am so proud of you for how well you did in that race, and how disciplined you were with yourself. I know my brother has been very disciplined in his races with the Gu - religious in taking them every 45 minutes lke they say on the package. I'm glad it worked for you too.

you know my husband is not super thrilled about the brown rice over the white rice either. I personally like the taste though!

prashant said...

! I still have much to learn about going out slow and sticking to the plan.

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