Moving Down To The Marathon
I ran my very first marathon at the 2007 Houston Marathon in 2:22:21 missed the Olympic Trials standard by 21 seconds. It was brutal. Almost exactly 7 years later (yesterday, January 19th) I ran the 2014 Carlsbad Marathon in 2:22:15….only a full 6 seconds faster!
At face value, one might think that this marginal progression would upset me. They’d think I’d be disappointed with my most recent performance and question how “slow” ultra running might be limiting my “speed”?
But I’m not upset or disappointed at all! In fact, I am quite pleased with my 2:22, 2nd place finish at Carlsbad (even though it was my 8th career marathon finish and far off my personal best of 2:16:52 set back in 2011). Why?
Well, here are couple reasons:
1. Carlsbad is a pretty hilly course! There were a lot of little hills that amassed to around 1,000ft. of vertical climbing over the 26.2 miles. Furthermore, there were also quite a few U-turns (some that I accidently took extra wide when almost getting lost and running the wrong way!).
2. I competed well. Despite going out waaay to slow with a first mile split of 5:40 and dropping back to 6th place (due to my lack of marathon –pace specific speedwork and because the race started in the dark), I was able to rally as the race progressed and finish with one of the strongest last 10km of any marathon I’ve run. While, I couldn’t catch eventual winner Abiyot Endale of Ethiopia (a 13:39 5km, 2:15 marathon runner), I did pass 2013 Philly Marathon Champion Abebe Mekiyura of Ethiopia (2:15 marathon PR as well) and “outkicked” Mario Macias (13:38 5km, 28:02 10km, 2:15 Marathon and 2:08 Pikes Peak Ascent PRs) in the final half mile. These guys are better runners than I am, but because I went out so conservatively and ran my own race I was able to nab 2nd place.
AND, (here’s the big one):
3. I was “Moving Down.” By this I mean that my last year of racing has been pretty much ultra marathon racing (and training). I raced three 100kms, three 50-milers and a 50km all on the trails/mountains in 2013 and much of my foundation of training was geared towards those efforts. Instead logging the typical 120 miles a week I would train on the roads for past marathons I only averaged around 90 miles a week for Carlsbad (part of this was because I was training for TNF50 in December but then was knocked out with the flu for an entire week and didn’t run at all). So ultimately I had about 5-weeks of “marathon specific” workouts…with no long tempo runs even close to 2:20 marathon pace!
In all my other marathons I was “Moving Up in distance.” I’ve found that in my progression of distance running this has always been a more natural progression for me: move up from racing the mile and PR in the 2-mile event; move up from the 5km in college and do really well at the 10km. When I ran that first marathon in Houston I was coming off of 8km cross country training and adding in some 22 mile long runs here and there. Marathon pace would feel more like a “jog.” At Carlsbad, coming off of trail 50-milers raced at 7:30s/mile pace, marathon pace (5:20s per mile) felt more like a sprint! All speed is relative.
Variety is the spice of Life (and Running)
So why even bother moving down (or up) in race distance? Why try to mix it up at a race distance that isn’t your favorite, on a surface that isn’t as fun? (Notice this goes both ways with roadies moving up from 5km to marathon to ultra trail races, AND ultra-trail specialists moving down to pavement pounding marathons and half marathons…or even a track race!).
Well, ultimately the saying variety [in racing (and more importantly training)] is the spice of life seems to hold true here. In a way, this change can mean addressing your weaknesses (or things you may neglect) so you can become a better all-around runner. I think there are some refreshing mental/attitude benefits of periodizing your training this way that can help one avoid injury/burnout as well as overtaining. Physically, the benefits are easier to spot:
Variety in racing and training means a new stimulus for your body to respond and adapt too. The key is to make that adaptation a positive adaptation. Certain stresses elicit specific responses in the body at the cellular level.
For example, for a ultra-runner moving down to marathon and under distances on the road (or track) a new stimulus of speed training can be addressed. Working on the high intensity of Lactate Threshold and Vo2max efforts can improve your ability to power up hills. The higher velocity and faster running surfaces trigger more fast-twitch muscle fibers in your legs to improve your running form, get a higher stride rate and improve mechanical efficiency at all sub-maximal speeds.
(For more on this idea of training different systems in the body by moving down (or up) in distance, check out my “Training Talk” video here
…also please subscribe to my YouTube channel!:)
On the flip-side (and I hope this eventually applies to me if I actually can run a sub 2:15 one day) moving up in distance and training and racing for longer events (ie a marathon roadie doing a trail-ultra 50-miler) can improve your fat burning utilization, while giving you that extra tendon and muscular strength and endurance to conquer the last few miles of a half marathon or the last 10km of a road marathon race. The uneven surfaces of long trail runs and inevitable hills work the leg muscles a bit differently (as well as your core/lower back) while allowing a break from the pounding impact force of pavement. Just by training on a lot of hills can build speed and strength!
Already, I can say that mentally the marathon distance is much easier to conquer (wrapping my head around “only” 26 miles seems a lot easier than 50 or 62) and my ability to “close” the last 10km without a major melt down has already seemed to improve. I caught fellow Team Colorado Mario Macias with less than a mile to go and was able to muster up a “kick” in the final half mile to hold him off (as well as 2:15 marathoner Kenyan )
Moving On…(and hopefully progressing)
Now I get to move back up in distance as a prepare for a spring of racing ultras, including the Tarawera 100km in New Zealand and the Lake Sonoma 50 in CA. I’m pulled in all sorts of directions from short distance mountain races to track ultras and the challenge of steeping up a crazy 100-miler. There are too many races to choose from and I know in order to compete and be sustainable in the sport I’ll have to pick my battles carefully.
One thing I know for sure though is that I still want to qualify for my 3rd US Olympic Marathon Trials. The time standard is now the fastest it’s ever been in US history, with a standard of 2:18:00 just to meet the “B” standard and gain entry. However, I’m now even more confident now that on a fast course, with 2months of specific road/track speedwork under my belt I can achieve this goal.
Thanks for reading and change it up in 2014!
I credit my new, light Huaka shoes from HOKA One One for allowing me to run well again on the roads. Instead of cringing on the downhills I was able to FLY with a couple sub 5min miles during the race! Furthermore, my legs don’t feel as crappy and sore the day after.
I credit products from Flora Health as allowing me to utilize fat better as a fuel (and thus spare glycogen stores for the final 10km of the race) so that I could run a stronger, more even paced-race (as well as being healthier overall in general thanks to all their vitamins, minerals and nutrient products!
During the race I took 5 Vfuel gels. I never had any stomach distress (I usually do at some point in a marathon) and never hit any major wall (like I do in most of my marathons).
At sunrise I flipped down my Smith Optics Pivlock V2 shades (my favorite for running in) and was able to relax my facial muscles and jaw more as I didn’t have to squint with the glare of the sun.
Despite feeling like the pace was mechanically very fast, I was still mobile enough in my hips and upper leg muscles to hold most of my mile splits in the 5:20 range long into the race while my competitors faded. I credit this muscle mobility to the massage and acupuncture work I get done at Integrative Healing Acupuncutre and Wellness here in Boulder.
Before and after the race, both Sandi and I had some nutritious and delicious snacks in the form of Ugo Bars. These healthy bars are the first thing I ate to recover after finishing the marathon!
Also before and after the race (yes I checked a bag and traveled with some cans!) I indulged in my favorite Avery Brews. Nothing like the bursting flavor of hops and the unique craft brew taste of a Boulder-made Avery!
To check my mile splits and average pace I used a Garmin 910XT and uploaded my results on Strava here. Strava has helped me track and analyze my training for the past year and I now use it for every run, workout and race!
Finally, my Drymax socks kept my feet blister-free even in relatively warm conditions, pounding out 26.2 miles fairly hard on the pavement. I used to finish with blood stains visible on my shoes!
About the Author (Author Profile)2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, Mountain runner, Author of "Running For The Hansons," trail runner, videos for Vo2max Productioins, LLC.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Daily News, Tues, Jan 21 | January 21, 2014
- 5 Questions with Sage Canaday | Daily Relay | January 22, 2014
- Sole Man: 12 Things About Maximalist Shoes | February 8, 2014
- Sole Man: 12 Things About Maximalist Shoes | Running Craze | February 8, 2014
- Training for the 2014 Tarawera Ultra Marathon | February 26, 2014