But Is It Enough Hay For A Marathon?

Many runners who are participating in the TCSNYC Marathon had their last legitimately long run yesterday. I know I did, and I think I saw a few of you out there too. So as they say “the hay is in the barn” and next week we’re on our way to taper town.
I managed to run 21 “Nike App miles” at 9:23, a bit better clip than my goal marathon pace of 9:30. But I would be lying if I said it made me feel more confident about the marathon. If anything I was disappointed to think that my training has not paid off as “bigly” as I had hoped. On the other hand I wonder if I’m being realistic, and maybe running over 20 miles is just hard no matter how much you train.
Last year I ran the TCSNYC Marathon in 4 hours and 51 minutes, a blistering pace of 11:07. My goal, based on my half marathon times, was 9:00 but I never had a single split as low as that. And despite running super slow I bonked hard at mile 20. The final 6 miles were agony, the likes of which I never wanted to feel again.
It only took me a week or so to go from “I’m never doing that again” to “what could I have done differently”. After doing a bunch of reading I decided that my training program did not put enough hay in my barn. So once I was selected to run again this year I designed my own 20 week training program that had me running 878 miles in preparation, versus 611 miles last year, about a 44% increase. I also adjusted my pace goal to 9:30, closer to the pace I naturally seem to run on my long runs.
Until yesterday I felt that this approach was really paying off. I’ve been running 7 miles effortlessly almost every morning and in fact have gotten to the point where I can’t wait to do it. I defeated the twin nemeses of hot runs and late runs in the Area 13.1 Half Marathon in August. I’ve been running long runs of up to 20 miles and feeling perfectly fine during and after despite the summer heat and the hilly neighborhood. Last week I repeated my pre-marathon 13.1 race at Little River Canyon and bested last years’ time by nearly 3 minutes. I was convinced that my dress rehearsal run would go even better than it did last year when I ran 21 miles @9:39 and felt great afterwards.
I carbo loaded Friday night. I woke up early on Saturday to fly to New York like I was catching a bus to Staten Island, then waited until 10:30AM to run. Did all my pre-race fueling and headed out the door. It was on the warm side, low 70s, but felt cooler under cloud cover. I ran a new route on the trails alongside the Bronx River Parkway and was really enjoying the early autumn scenery. Mile 1 was too fast at 8:53. Through mile 10 I was cruising along at 9:04, repeating my mantra “you’re not bonking until you are”. But as hard as I tried I couldn’t seem to slow down. I ran faster than my goal pace every mile until 17, and you know what happened then. Pain. Suffering. And 10:02 per mile. I didn’t feel much better than I did at the end of last year’s marathon, and I was pretty sure if I ran another 9 miles I would have felt at least as bad.
Now it’s easy to say I went out too fast and that was the problem, but last year my dress rehearsal long run was just as long and only a little bit slower yet I felt like I could easily have run a few more miles. Then I ran the marathon a lot slower but was red alert by mile 20. So despite going out a little quick I was expecting my bigger haystack to allow me to run the 21 mile dress rehearsal a little faster than last year and still feel at least as good. Didn’t happen. Uh oh. Where does that leave me for the marathon?
There were some encouraging signs along the way that more hay will make a better day. I’ve always tracked my runs using my Nike Running app so that’s what I use for historical comparison. But I find it’s not particularly accurate when it comes to distance. I also use Map My Run and find that it is even less so. I’ve added a Garmin watch since last year and that seems to be far less liberal when it comes to tracking distance and I suspect it is more accurate. Still I’m happy to rely on the Nike App for distance or even the generous Map My Run when the run is getting especially difficult. Yesterday when Map My Run announced that I had reached my 20 mile distance goal I was ready to stop. In fact by mile 17 I was contemplating a walking break but since it was my dress rehearsal I wanted to make sure I completed a genuine 20 mile run. I waited until my Forerunner said it was 20 miles, and then I ran a little past that. I actually started to feel a little better a got a bit faster. My last mile was 22 seconds faster than the prior mile. Could that be breaking through the wall?
2 final thoughts: First is the unpredictability of performance. I’ve known from past athletic endeavors that some days you have it and some days you don’t, regardless of preparation. I tend not to think of running that way even though I intellectually get that the same rules must apply. So maybe last year’s dress rehearsal was just a good day, and the marathon was not. Who’s to say this year won’t be the opposite? Second is the reality of running a marathon – I’m probably not going to feel great no matter what I do. If so it pays to embrace that fact, run the way I’ve trained and just expect to hurt. If I don’t end in agony I can chalk it up to all that extra hay. If I do I’ll say running a marathon is just too hard and I’ll never do it again. Just like I did last year.

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