Category Archives: learning

Marine Corps Marathon Training: The Things We Did Differently

Let’s say the training for this fall marathon actually started in January, with an e-mail to a friend-turned-coach that included some stubbornness on my end and a LOT of patience on hers. Let’s look back at life one year ago and question whether/not I’d ever choose to be tied to my HRM and the numbers and science of running? That’s a definite “No, thanks!” 

Let’s just call it like it is – things are a bit different around here these days.

- I frequent the (once-boycotted) gym, and know how to properly do a dead-lift so that I can walk normal the next day.
- I haven’t looked at, or thought about, my total weekly mileage in months.
- I have an entirely different running vocab in my brain now. (MAF!)
- I know a lot of math and science go into a sport that I once considered pretty simple. (At least I’m not the one doing it, though.)
- I ignore my pace on most runs, and usually couldn’t care less about it.

image

What does that mean? All of the following made up 16+ weeks of training in a way I’ve never fully trained for a full(-marathon) before:

imageBuilding the base, and dedicating an appropriate amount of time to the 26.2 mile distance.

image Strength-training workouts, twice each week. Exercises that focused on building the running muscles we need when fatigue really sets in.

image Running mostly by time, and allowing my heart to become more efficient so that within that time frame, more and more miles were covered.

imageKeeping stress really low, as much and as often as possible. Life stress affects training stress, which means you either progress or regress – your choice.

imagePaying very close attention to nutritional detail. See above: stress.

imageTrusting the whole process. All the time.

BONUS image: Reading through this book to do a little self-education on the training method that was running my life. Pun-totes-intended. That was a game-changer.

One thing has stayed the same: I have a lofty goal, and I’m pretty damn excited to chase it down.

Marine Corps Marathon Goal 2014

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It’s worth mentioning that this central California lifestyle we’ve adopted is also quite different than that of DC living. Our little Monterey community is slow and quiet, sunny and peaceful. Not better or worse than DC (you know I love me some District days!), but nowhere close to as busy or bustling.

Then we went and dumped California trail races on the calendar, because oh-my-god they happen all the time and we gotta run on all the dirt! Big thanks to the Coach for letting all of these sneak in there.

2014-09-06 10.58.05 2014-09-14 14.11.45

2014-08-02 07.27.05 2014-08-18 06.45.31-2

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And now…

My brain is absolutely in taper-mode-overdrive, dripping little doses of anxiety here and there every time I think about running for 26.2 miles yet again. It’s a funny thing our memory does – to mostly forget the worst, but remember just enough of it to invoke panic in a moment of weakness. Taper becomes a focus of pushing those moments into the dump, and being like “Brain, CHILL OUT. We know what we’re doing!”

There were so many things done differently with this training cycle, and therein lies just enough mystery for wonder. But either way, I wanted to be more dedicated, run stronger, run faster and run MAF into the ground. Check! 

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MCM Training: Maintaining the Machine

This past Saturday was my “Last Long-a** Run”, as defined by the Coach and our current standard for “long”. For the fourth week in a row, I had over 3-hours to kill on the run with a lot of specifics in between. My legs know the GMP well, have courted it successfully and are moving quickly to the next phase of their relationship.

I’m in that place where I think about the race and instantly feel my heart-rate increase (enhanced by the fact that I am now very well aware of when and how quickly my heart is pumping blood). I feel anxiety, excitement, nausea and impatience to just GO all in one very fleeting moment.  It’s marathon month. Before I know, it’ll be marathon week – DC, I can’t wait to see you! – and then, just like that, it’s marathon DAY and, for the third time, I’m staring at the familiar red arch.

image

Photo source: csnwashington.com

Last Saturday’s run wasn’t my strongest, but I finished all three hours + thirty minutes and 22 miles. Press Stop; complete the run; instantly remember that this is possible and I am capable.

But in the middle? Oh, yep there were familiar moments of sheer panic with a few mind tricks I know all too well; remember how fatigued you feel at miles 20, 21, 22….remember how you question your sanity every time you get close to the end but couldn’t feel farther from the finish…remember how much it hurts to run for 26 miles?! I don’t, really. At least not well enough to throw in the towel. Because if memory truly served us well we’d never do any of this again. Instead, memory puts up a good fight but loses to adrenaline 10 times out of 10.

——

For the next 20 days the key is to remember I’m not looking at that starting line just yet, but I’ve taken all of the BIG steps. For 20 days, I maintain, recover, build, eat and sleep. I listen acutely to every message sent from every system. I do my part in Coach K’s plan to “not accidentally kill” any part of the machine we’ve carefully put together!

And when the anxiety predictably loses its battle to my insane excitement and adoration for this race, I remember this:

mcm 2014_I Will

Doing what these legs do best – run DC.

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Convert Confessions: Why I Train+Coach by Heart Rate

If I could talk some sense into 24-year-old me, who gave the “heart-rate training” a try but promptly dropped it because ‘why the heck would I run SO SLOWLY?!’, I’d do it. In a heart beat.

I confess: I’ve been converted. I’ve become dependent on twice the gear and technology that you would have found me wearing as early as two years ago. I’m that runner who checks my watch, quite frequently. I’m the gal who you’re probably passing on the trails, but won’t let it bother me. I’ve become a slave to the training plan, the slow and easy runs, the long hours on the road and the philosophy that “less is more”.

Because it works.

——————–

Dictionary:

HR: Heart rate.
HRM: Heart rate monitor.
MAF: Maximum Aerobic Function (Threshold).

——————–

Polar-HRM_running
((My gear: Polar RC3GPS watch and HRM))

I started this year off on a totally different path, wanting a Coach to guide me and teach me something new about the sport of running. I reached out to a friend, curious about how this might work, and promptly answered “okay, I’m in!” when she said, “Work with me!”.

Trickster: she said it would just start out with some HR, a little bit of running by time vs. mileage, and we’ll just see how it goes.

What actually happened: I trained for the Charlottesville marathon solely by HR, MAF and a lot of TrainingPeaks logging. You’re smooth, Coach. Really smooth.

cvillemarathon_done.coach

Was it my fastest marathon? Holy geeze, not even close. Was it my best executed? No. Doubt. Whatsoever. Would I have done my training differently? Yep, and it would have done more harm than good.

I learned what it means to build your aerobic base, prioritize training needs, minimize stress, listen to the body, and train my legs to run no matter how ridiculously fatigued they felt. And that meant that in mile 24, as we climbed another ridiculous hill and, mentally, I wanted it to be over 10 miles ago, I was passing people.

While I wasn’t thrilled with my time, I had faith in what brought me there. Left to my own devices, that race would have destroyed me even more than it did.

2014-07-28 15.36.13

What’s all this HR, HRM, MAF stuff about, anyway?

For endurance athletes in any sport, training your aerobic system is more important than anything (aside from managing and minimizing stress). Monitoring your heart rate allows you to objectively measure individual runs and your progress throughout training. Shutting pace out of your head for 90% of your training runs, and basing everything on effort, allows your body to do what it’s capable of on that day and in that moment.

Running at or below your Max Aerobic Function/Threshold allows you to develop your aerobic muscles and systems. The more time you spend doing this, the better. (Don’t worry, there’s some speed, hill and interval work thrown in there when you’re ready!) Your aerobic system functions primarily off of fat for fuel, meaning it’s got juice for days! Your anaerobic system relies on sugar, meaning you tap out quickly. When you give your aerobic system just enough stress, through training, you build its efficiency, therefore, your speed.

There ya go!

Uh, why would I run slow to go fast?

I had a come-to-your-freaking-senses moment in March, about one month out from my Spring marathon and far from any shred of sanity related to this HR crap. Coach gave me a 3-hour long run on Saturday with some GMP-work mixed in and it was one of my favorite runs. I felt exhausted at the end and thought, “OMG FINALLY.”

Then, the next day, I had an 8K race (which Coach knew about, of course). My instructions were simply, “warm-up for 20 minutes, STORM THE CASTLE, then cool-down and do a shake-out jog for 10 minutes”. And my brain was all like, “This chick is crazy.”

I ran 30 seconds off my 8K PR, which was set while chasing Kate two years ago and seemed almost untouchable to me on that day. Until it wasn’t.

I had been running so So SO slowly, and yet I could still run fast.
OH, GOT IT.

————-

Fast-forward to June: I had thoroughly recovered from Charlottesville, raced a trail 5K, a road 10K and started packing up for a cross-country move. I also found out I got into the Marine Corps Marathon Lottery. Time for another rodeo!

This time around? I honor it. I trust it. I know how my body will respond, when to listen to it, when to shut the tantrum up and when to just give a little and leave the watch at home. I know how to be truly disciplined, discovering more and more things about a sport that I love unconditionally.

I put in the work, walk when I have to and mentally talk myself out of the days when it just doesn’t click. Something, some system, is trying to say I’M TIRED or THAT ROAD TRIP WAS TOO LONG or I DIDN’T ASK FOR THAT FROYO and because these are all my actions and it’s okay, I will listen.

2014-08-09 10.22.06

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To solidify my convert status, I’ve taken my RRCA Running Coach certification and added in MAF/HR-based training. I’m coaching my first few athletes this way and having a small internal party every time I see progress for them. Go, go, go! It just makes sense. So far I have my favorite dude training for a Boston Qualification, and winning local trail races in the meantime.

This type of training requires a lot of you, the athlete: patience, discipline, and perhaps most importantly, faith. It means you have to bury your ego, until it’s ready to toe the starting line (and then let it get all of that pent up energy out!). It means you have to be ready to see what else your sport has to teach you. And then let that work some sciencey-magic!

————-

It’s not easy, but why should it be?
What will challenge you, will change you.

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{MCM} Endurance Training Tales: Different Long Run Options

For the first time in a long time (possibly, ever?), I put on my big-girl marathon pants and started the training process nice n’ early. MCM announced the 16-weeks mark and I could be like “ON IT!” instead of Psh.

You could say I’ve had a change-of-heart.

stubborn goals

Training never really ceased or ‘started’ after Charlottesville – it was a seamless transition from recovery to 10k-race to right-back-at-it! The Coach hasn’t given up on me, and my heart is slowly coming back to bat after throwing the moving-stress-tantrum for a few weeks.  Because Charlottesville training was so different for me, I didn’t feel the intense need to take a ton of time off, or break-up with the marathon forever (just the hilly ones, maybe). Rather, I threw my hat in the MCM lottery because hot-damn I love that race with all my heart, and fate played spades. I’m in!

We’re doing this, MCM – round 3.

This year has been all about putting my ego to rest and letting a Coach tell me what to do, how to do it, and why to stop freaking out about my slow, easy, pace. It’s been about trying a new approach to endurance training, letting someone else take the reigns. I’ve become best friends with TrainingPeaks.com, my Polar watch (RC3 GPS/HRM) and MAF training.

My weekly training schedules of yore bare little-to-no resemblance to what my calendar fills up with these days. Exhibit A: the Long Run.

What I used to do: set out to tackle an exact mileage, increasing by ~2 miles each week, taking every third week “off” (step-back). 14, 16, 18, 20 – milers. The drill.

What I do now: leave the calculating and brain-waves and mad-scientist action to the Coach, of course! My Long Runs are almost always based on time, not miles, and are typically broken down into very specific sections.

I love this for a few reasons: it’s not monotonous, it gives my brain something to think about as I chug along, it challenges me in a different way, and on that note, it’s DIFFERENT. Some days I run solely based on heart-rate ranges (a), some days there are times + pace sections (b), some days it’s based on mileage and pace sections (c) and some days I look at my schedule, scratch my head and spend 5 minutes memorizing the flavor of the day.

Say what? Lemme explain…

(a) 2:00 hours: 30 min warm-up, 60 min at MAF*, 15 min MAF + 5, 15 min cool-down.

(b) 2:00 hours: 30 min warm-up, 45 min at MAF, 30 min at 5K Pace (RPE*), 15 min cool-down.

(c) 15 miles: 2-mile warm-up, 2 miles at 9:00 min/mile, 8 miles at 8:00 min/mile, 3 mile cool-down.

Disclaimer: warm-ups, cool-downs, MAF, paces, etc. are all unique to you. These are just random examples!

*Team TAD trains by the MAF method. I hate-love it.

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If you’re feeling stagnant and ready for something new, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board. There is always something to learn about yourself, your abilities, your comfort zone boundaries and the sport, itself. Changing the Long Run is something most endurance runners are hesitant to do – it’s THE gold standard of endurance running – but trust me, it has more to offer to you.

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Charlottesville Marathon Recap: Up, On & Over

“It’s not your grace in victory that defines you, but your response to defeat.”

MC {So wise, this guy.}

—–

I crossed my fifth Marathon finish line, felt more defeated by those 26.2 miles than any other race to date, and processed the ins and outs for 48 hours. Now that I’m over the little tantrum that is accepting a race-gone-crazy, I realize those miles taught me quite a lot.

learn from failure dream a little bigger

cvillemarathon_eve.finishline

This marathon neither hides nor spares nothing. The hills of Charlottesville will sprinkle salt on your ego and chew it right up! In no review of this race will you hear anyone saying “it’s so easy!”, but rather “be ready” for what’s ahead. “It’s a beast.” Know that yes, you can have a great day on any course, including this, but it won’t be handing out any favors.

It WILL hand you a unique and picturesque college town conducive to great eats, beautiful scenery and runners with a lot of heart.

—–

I went into this race with a few goals in mind, but training the way I did left a lot of room for questions.  The Coach and I decided that, if nothing else, I needed to start easy (because that’s what you do when there are at least three hours of running ahead of you!), and see how all systems responded to the course.  Because I’m no newbie to this whole shebang – I know what it’s like to blow-up, and I can expect that and accept it and hope-with-all-hope my legs put up with it – it was also okay to have a lofty time in mind.

After what has felt like the longest winter EVER, we had a 50* and sunny morning for race day. The high was 65 – essentially this was perfect. For a system used to a few more layers and a lot less warmth? This was, uh, new. But that’s what you get with Spring marathons and that’s what we took. No gloves, no ear-warmers, no sleeves – exactly what’s expected when you think of “wonderful Spring” mornings.

cvillemarathon_before   cvillemarathon_startLine

Elevation Chart_Chartlottesville Marathon

“Easy” for today meant sticking right around the 8:45 min/mile pace for at least the first 10K. The course is split by the following sections, though: 1-5 with the half-marathoners, 6-12 loop, 13-18 out-n-back, 19-20 too close to the Finish Line area downtown, 21-23 out along the river, 24-25 UP up up, 26-26.2 finish with whatever juice you can squeeze out of those legs.

I’m at the base of the mountain running uphill
You’re either running for the top,
coming down,
or you stand still.

Miles 1-4: told me very quickly that if an 8:45 felt like this, it would be tough to drop down to 8:15s, but maybe not impossible once I warmed up. Miles 2-4 felt like a pretty steady climb, and my calves started to fight me. We’ll call that Sign #1 that this day would not be totally mine.

Mile 4 was the first family sighting, as we approached the Full-Half split (mile 5) and headed towards our own separate challenges.

cvillemarathon_mile4.2  Marathoners took a turn towards the UVA campus and started up another climb.

Miles 5 – 12 took us around the University, into a neighborhood and back. It was rolling and I fell into a stride and everything seemed A-OK. The photographic-memory knew things would be tough from here on out but I was still in a place of peace with that. Will this be a PR? Absolutely not. But it’s a marathon day, so you fight the battles in front of you.

Mile 13 couldn’t come soon enough – I needed that “halfway point”. When it did show up, I quickly saw “Mile 18” on the other side. And shortly after that? We started down Down DOWN a paved trail that twists and turns and drops you off into another neighborhood. I witnessed Elites coming up the other side, struggling. And a few stopped for water. And I thought, “Holy Whoa, this won’t be easy.”

Way up, way on
Way UP, ON and OVER

Miles 14 – 18 almost broke me. Look at that chart and you’ll know why; it was hard to swallow that we’d have to run it all TWICE (out-and-back). There were switchbacks and long miles and the sinking feeling that you still have 12, 11, 10, 9…miles to go. And that you’re counting.

Then, after that loop has snot-rocketed your ego to the dirt, you still have EIGHT miles to run. And those eight miles ain’t easy either, yo!

Are you sensing a trend?

cvillemarathon_mile20

In more moments than I cared to count, I considered stopping right here at mile 20. I knew I’d see the crew, that he would be ready to hop in with me (after running a freaking killer 1:34 half + hangin’ out for an hour), that Meg would be cheering and that we were only blocks from the  “Finish” area.

Ambivalence defined these moments. I couldn’t even project to an hour after the race, or that evening, or tomorrow and assume that I’d be disappointed. I felt I wouldn’t be. I’m almost always able to convince my mind that it’s worth fighting the moment’s fantasy of fatigue to get the satisfaction later. Not today. There was no fight, no goals, no oomph. It was just the matter-of-fact that I hadn’t trained for this course and it wasn’t “my” day. That happens. It’s fine.

And after all and all and all
It’s just a wheel we’re spinnin’ on.

What’s not fine is totally dropping the ball, anyway.  C’MON SYSTEM, we’ve gotta see this through.

He hopped in here (mile 2o) to join the party that is the last 10k…

This last loop was also the end of the half-marathon, so I got his insight – what to expect and where to expect it. We stopped briefly at the mile 22(ish) water stop, and I did a little mental check. I also got his stories for a much-needed distraction, and his pacing efforts for a much-needed boost.  One thing I knew to be true no matter what the race-day conditions: my legs have been trained for these miles. They’ve been tested over and over and taught to run through fatigue and resist with all they’ve got! Every recovery run after a Long Run, followed by the “one hour easy” Monday run brought me to these last 4 miles. I may not be flying up or down the hills, but I can absolutely run.

Miles 22 – 24 were the flattest of the entire day. We ran right along a river – with shade and cool air from the water, but without crowds – and I passed people as I let the muscles do what they could. We maintained somewhere around an 8:50 – 9:00 pace and that was that.

Miles 24-25 were demoralizing. This is THE HILL. Any glance at this race’s course chart provokes one of those “What the…” reactions – are they really throwing this in at the end?! Rude, man. So. Rude.

Me to him: “And the worst part? You can’t even justify this by telling yourself it’s the last hill. ‘Cause it’s not!”

I walked up this beast (probably just slightly slower than I would have run), until I was passed by the 4-hour pacer. Nope! That wasn’t going to happen. I picked up my feet and convinced them to push off and we ran. And we rolled over the remaining hills and listened to the crowd saying “Almost there!” and “one more hill!” and “just around the corner!” and we kept going until finally there were NO more and that Finish Line was crossed.

cvillemarathon_mile26 So close so close so close SO CLOOOOOOSE.

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And just-like-that, it’s over. Relief pours into every muscle fiber to tell them they’re done, it’s time to relax and put on some flip-flops, and they’re still alive.

Charlottesville Marathon – 4/5/2014

3:58:31

Funny story: after grabbing some food, water and other life elixirs, I heard them start to announce AG winners. My name was called for F25-29 2nd place, and I started laughing –  there’s no way – and thinking, that’s your clear sign that this course is no joke!

cvillemarathon_done.us cvilledone_certificates

Left: what?! …I ran a…how is this…HUH?!
Right: Man, what a weird day.

As it turned out later, those announcers were pretty far off! I was actually 7th in the AG. Our AG winner ran a 3:40:xx.

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cvillemarathon_Crew   cvillemarathon_watch

Would I do this course again? Definitely not the Full, but maybe the half just for a good hard challenge and an excuse to hang out in Charlottesville again!

I’m glad the box is checked. As I’ve been reminded in the days that followed, it’s not how you respond to success(es) that define you, it’s how you handle, and perhaps admit, the days of defeat. Learn the lessons, take them with you on every subsequent training run, and then the race(s).

Fuel the fire that will light up your legs for
whatever limit you plan to push past next.

Up, On & Over – Bronze Radio Return

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