|October 17, 2011||Posted by Lauren under Marathon Training, Running|
Last Tuesday I ran 20 miles. Then yesterday I ran 15. It was technically my first week of the taper for MCM.
While I know two double digit long runs within a week doesn’t exactly sound like your typical taper schedule, given my training over the past 4 months, it was actually pretty fitting. My mileage this time around has been all over the place. I’ve had a series of mini tapers and recovery weeks, I’ve run long runs wherever I could fit them in, and have pretty much just made things up as I went along.
I didn’t start off the training cycle planning for it to be this way. I was going to stick to a strict plan, build up mileage the traditional way, and prepare for this marathon as best as I could. But if you click on my training page, you’ll notice that plan was never created. Sure, I sat down a couple of times and roughly sketched out the progression of long runs to see what I had to do to build up to 20 miles, but then I just went about stumbling through marathon training, one week at a time.
Why would I ever do this?? Well after a few weeks of training this summer, it became pretty clear that I needed to do something different. I was having a hard time adjusting, and was struggling with my mental attitude. So partially by design and partially because of circumstance, this summer I conducted a plan-less training experiment. And I don’t mean the type of “non-plan” that meant I would sit down at the beginning of each week and outline the type of workouts I needed to fit in. I mean that beyond knowing when my races were and when I’d have to run my first 20-miler in order to fit in 2 – 3 of them, I literally had no plan.
I know what most of you are thinking already, so before you object that this is not the way you do things when training for such a big race, let me just say: I know. I don’t think this is a good idea for first time marathoners and I’m not actually advocating for others to do the same. But I’d like to think that I’ve been training long enough to know what I need to do to prepare for a marathon. By this point, I don’t really need a day by day schedule to tell me what to run. I understand the amount of miles I should put in, the speed work I should do, and the types of cross training (like lifting) that can make me a better runner. In theory, I should be fine just making things up as I go.
But what I discovered after my 16(ish) week experiment? I like having structure.
I like having the plan spelled out before me in black and white. I like looking at this week and all the weeks after that to see what I need to accomplish and what it will lead to. I like seeing how each training run builds on the one before that, and just how far I’ve come to get to that point. Structure isn’t something that I feel weighed down or stressed out by – structure actually helps me thrive.
I know I’m not alone in this. There’s a reason people spend hours researching training styles and writing up training plans; or spend money to hire an experienced coach to guide them through training. Lots of runners thrive on structure – on numbers and data and a general order.
That wasn’t me this summer, however. For whatever reason, I didn’t really want all that feedback and guidance. I wanted to do what I wanted, when I wanted. And although typing it out this way makes me sound like the spoiled runner-child, the reality is – it worked out okay. …or at least I think it did. My only real worry every week was getting in my long run, and I sort of enjoyed the break. My mileage wasn’t as high as it has been in the past (as it probably should have been) and I didn’t go through that normal progression of buiding up to a peak before cutting back gradually during the taper. But I made it. Sort of. Here I am, two weeks out from my marathon, feeling ready to race. I may not be in any shape to run a PR time, but I know I’ll be able to do finish.
So why am I rambling on about all this? Because now that I’ve made it to the taper phase, I’m kind of lost. Since my mileage was all over the place and my last 20-miler was on a Tuesday of the following week, my weekly mileage never peaked at a certain number. Which means I can’t really follow the standard formulas – reducing your peak mileage by 20% the first week, then by 40% – 50% the following week, and finally cutting back enough the week of your marathon so that leading up to the race, you only run about 1/3 of your peak mileage (source: here and here). All I can do at this point, I suppose, is focus on the basics. As with the rest of my training, I know what long runs I need to do to lead up to the marathon. And I know the other taper “rules” I should be following, like:
- Run easy – Besides one short marathon pace workout in the middle of the week and some 100 meter striders following my runs, I plan on (trying) to keep my runs slow and easy. This means no going out and averaging 7:45’s during my weekday runs even if I’m feeling awesome. The focus should be on recovery.
- Get lots of sleep – Getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night is not one of my strong points. So the goal for the next two weeks is to rest up.
- Prepare my mental game – I’ve struggled with my mental attitude more than anything this training cycle. It’s gotten better in the past couple of weeks, but I know it still isn’t where it needs to be if I want to tackle 26.2 at the end of the month. I have two more weeks to psyche myself up for this race.
- Hydrate – Even though yesterday’s weather was cool and not at all humid, I could tell I was dehyrdated a couple of miles into the run. When you plan on running for 2 hours, this is not a good way to start. For the next two weeks, I need to focus on being hydrated every single day.
- Ice – As much as I love my pink and green racing flats, I have to admit that my knees haven’t been the same since I tore down the side of a mountain in Oregon while wearing them. For the past month and a half, I’ve been struggling on and off with knee pain. I plan to spend extra time icing this week and next, to make sure that pain doesn’t get in the way of MCM.
- Carbo-loading – You can’t just shovel in a bunch of carbs the night before a big race and think that your glycogen stores will be topped off. It’s better to start increasing the amount of carbs gradually (as well as focusing on eating healthy fats and proteins a couple of weeks before the race). Fortunately, that’s one thing I’m pretty good at already.
I know we’ve all heard it said 1,000 times before – trust the taper. But whenever I get to this phase of marathon training, I find that it’s easier said than done. I get antsy and nervous, and all I can think about is running my stress away. This time, I’m finding that trusting the taper is even harder than ever. I know my training is what it is – I can’t change it now. All I can do is focus on getting rest, and hope that I’ve done enough.
I guess we’ll find out in 13 days…