Friday, April 29, 2016

Boston Marathon 2016 Race Recap Part I: The Road To Boston

Um...hi? I'm reviving my poor neglected blog for another marathon race report. At least not much has changed since my last post was published. The morning of the Green Bay Marathon, the temps were in the 60s and 70s, which put a bit of a damper on my race. Then it got cooler. Then warmer (for a good long stretch). Then cooler again. And then finally, on the morning of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2015, the temps were...wait for it...60s and 70s, which put a bit of a damper on my race. Then it got colder. Much, much, colder. And then on the morning of the Boston Marathon, the temps were in the 60s and 70s. Ah, the circle of life, eh? But don't worry, this story has a happy ending. But in order to understand it, I have to back up a bit...


I trained for Chicago with my good friend Pete Pfitzinger and his Advanced Marathoning 18-70 plan (basically because I couldn't find a better alternative). My training went good, but not great. I came within six seconds of my half-marathon PR on a hilly course during my tune-up race, which gave me confidence. However, my last 20-miler a week later, with 16 race-pace miles planned, turned into 10 race-pace miles followed by a major bonk.  Therefore, all bets were off on race day.

When the day dawned on the warmer side, my race plan became to go out with the 3:35 pace group and hang on as long as I could.  That turned out to be about halfway through the race, as I found myself running around Chicago's Loop while futilely chasing the group as they disappeared into the distance. The last half of the race was all about stopping the slow fade, and I finished in 3:42:27. This was a BQ of just over 2.5 minutes, but as we all know by now, that time is a "squeaker" BQ nowadays. Not to mention the fact that I had expected much more out of myself. Is it any wonder that I didn't recap the race?

"If I smile, will that make me be done faster?"
Rebooting and Retooling

Something had to be done. I know it seems insufferably whiny to complain about a Boston-qualifying marathon result, but I had trained for at least a small PR. I spent a week or so wondering where I should go from here. I finally decided to make a phone call to a local coach who has managed one of my running friends to huge and speedy PRs. One of her talents is fixing flaws in people's running form.  Since my gait has always been, well, not the most Runner's-World-cover worthy, I was hoping she could help me fix some inefficiencies, which might ward off injury. I also may have been hoping for an increase in speed, as well.

I started meeting with the coach twice per week, for about two hours each. Part of the session involved running-form drills, and part involved weight training (mostly back squats and dumbbell work, with some core work mixed in). I had never cross-trained in any way before, and didn't know a rack from a rep, but I knew there was only upside to starting. I also met some friendly ladies at the gym who made the time pass quickly!

This is not a silhouette of me, but you get the idea. Image found here.
The Boston Training Begins

After a month or so, I summoned up the courage to ask my coach if she would write me up a training plan for Boston. She asked for my PR's at different distances, and also asked what my goal was for Boston. I told her that my goal was to break out of my marathoning plateau and regain my forward progress; that would ideally mean a PR, although I understood that Boston isn't known as a PR course. 

It didn't take long to get down to business. The biggest differences between my coach's plan and Pfitz are:

(1) The lower weekly mileage. Most weeks of my Boston training cycle were in the 50s, with my highest week of the training cycle being 59 miles.

(2) The shift in emphasis from quantity to quality mileage. Except for 2-3 short recovery runs per week, each day's mileage was done at a much quicker pace than I was used to. Some days were "rhythm run" days (a pace that was on the challenging side, but still felt like a natural rhythm). Other days were tempo run days, and some days were short speed intervals done on the treadmill.

(3) A reliance on heart rate to monitor the difficulty of the day's workout. My coach closely monitored my average heart rate data for easy runs, long runs, tempo runs, and especially intervals.  It was fun to repeat the same workout in future weeks, and see a drop in my average heart rate; that was a sign it was time to make the pace more challenging!

As it turned out, most of my weekday runs ended up being done on the treadmill due to scheduling or weather. When I did manage to get outside during the week, my paces were very encouraging. All my long runs (including 4 20-milers) were done outside, with the exception of the weekend of the Olympic Trials Marathon when wind chills were too frigid for pretty much every Midwestern runner (at least those who had 20 miles on tap)!

What I look like after 20 miles on a fitness center treadmill. I know. Yikes.

Before long, I was seeing paces at least one minute-per-mile faster than my previous training cycles for all different types of workouts. But my coach was building me up very patiently, and as taper approached, always erred on the side of repeating a workout pace rather than advancing it. This frustrated me at first, but I realized that she was keeping an eye on my heart rate and wanted a pace to feel easy before moving on. As a result, my "rhythm run" pace gradually became my target marathon pace. Sneaky!

Tune-Up Races

I only raced twice during this training cycle. My first race was the Icebreaker Indoor Half Marathon in Milwaukee at the end of January. 47.7 laps around an indoor track. Sure, it sounds mind-numbing, but I did it last year and it wasn't that bad. There was no better chance to PR in January than this race, I figured; the track was flat, fast and climate-controlled to a runner-friendly 55 degrees. Even though race day coincided with the heaviest day of my monthly visitor (TMI?). I figured this would be a no-brainer. Sadly, I couldn't find anyone running my exact pace, so I believe I let myself fade mentally. I was also just beginning my marked increase in speed.  The result was an age-group victory (40-49) and 6th woman overall, but a time of only 1:43:44, which was 1:05 off my PR. My coach told me not to be discouraged, but I couldn't help myself. I knew it was still early in the cycle, however, so I shrugged it off pretty quickly!

About to ditch my arm warmers. I would have worn shorty-shorts, but...see the above paragraph...
Now that the indoor race was over, a PR was looking unlikely this cycle; my second race was the March Madness Half Marathon in Cary, Illinois, which is considered one of the toughest, hilliest half marathons in Illinois. I chose it because it is favored among runners who are tuning up for Boston; although the hills in Cary are much steeper than in Boston, it is considered a better predictor of one's Boston time than a flat-and-fast affair. I ran this race back in 2014 as my third half marathon ever. I ran the 2016 event nine minutes faster, in 1:45:08. Unfortunately, based on my heart rate data, I believe I took it a little too easy on myself, for fear of blowing up before the finish line. I don't think your heart rate in a half marathon race is supposed to be the heart rate you are used to seeing on your long runs? (Sadly, I didn't turn my Garmin over to that screen during the race; I was trying to run mostly by feel.) Even my coach (who usually looks on the bright side of results) told me that I could have run at least a few minutes faster, based on my training. Clearly, my potential used to be limited by my body and its fitness; now, my main obstacle was between my ears.

Dude #1234 needs to get on board with this attempt at a Runner's World cover audition.
Goals For Boston

One of the best benefits of having a coach, in my opinion, is for race-planning purposes. After my last 20-miler, we had a let's-get-real session, and she asked me what I believed I could run, in my heart of hearts. I told her that based on the crazy improvement in my training paces, I would be disappointed with anything less than a PR (sub 3:38:09), but I was unsure that I could do it on the Boston course. She told me that (a) I absolutely could do it on the Boston course based on my performance at March Madness, and (b) weather-permitting, I should aim much higher than a PR. I said "like 3:35?", and she said "like 3:30." A 3:30 marathon is 8:00/mile pace, which is what had become my "run all day, rhythm run" pace during this cycle.

I may have repeated that to myself a few hundred times during taper...
At the end of the conversation, I had decided to go out at around 3:35 pace, and attempt to pick it up after Heartbreak Hill if I was feeling good. As the forecasted temperature climbed during race week, it was incredibly helpful to have her there to talk me down off the ledge, and we had another race-strategy talk while I was at the Expo. But I'm getting ahead of myself...that's another post. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I'm finally catching up and I'm amazed at all the strategy that went into your amazing Boston performance! Sounds like Coach Janet knows what she's doing. Can't wait for the next installment.