Thursday, July 13, 2017

Intentional Training

Every year I learn a little more about myself, about marathons, and about effective training. For years I merely trained to finish the race, occasionally with a time goal or the goal of a new personal best, even if by only seconds. I knew in my heart that I had more talent than what is shown in my race results. Sometimes weather was the factor, sometimes illness (yes, I have plenty of bad luck on race day), sometimes I ran with friends, and sometimes it really was "for fun" or to finish happy. I was definitely better at coaching other runners than myself.

Last year, after a two year marathon hiatus and some health problems, I got back into the marathon game. Because I had lost speed and fitness, I was not in personal best shape when I set out on my journey to Louisiana. Through hard work and a tough training schedule I turned it around and knew that I could beat my 4:17:53 best time, but probably just barely. While race day weather didn't allow for that, and because I was still in the process of figuring out how best to handle my asthma in humid conditions, I couldn't push myself as hard as I wanted to without it being detrimental to my health. I am still happy with the race, although it was very far off my goal. It allowed me to come into this current training season with more mental strength than I've had in all previous marathons.

Back in April I made the choice that this was my year to be in my best shape ever. After feeling so miserable on our relay at the end of March, I knew it was time to make big changes. I got my medication problems figured out, I got my nutrition figured out, I lost weight and gained muscle, and because of all this work over the last three months, I am a much better runner. I've written about my progress a bit in previous blog posts. My training officially starts on Monday and I am ready for it. I have spent the last few months building my aerobic fitness in the warm summer conditions and slowly building speed through our interval and hill workouts. I got back on my bike and I got back into the gym on a more consistent basis. While our weather has decidedly taken a turn for the worse over the last month, my ability to handle it has increased positively. I am running just as well in the heat as I did in the cold and I'm still gaining speed. It's the first time this has ever happened to me in my decade of running in Texas. I no longer dread our workouts when it's 80 degrees out and the dew point is in the 70s. I know it will be uncomfortable, but I also know that my body can handle it....FINALLY.

You really have no idea how incredible this feeling is, not only physically, but MENTALLY. Knowing that I don't have to necessarily suffer through the summer is huge! Don't get me is very uncomfortable running Thursday nights in triple digit heat (even though we do run in the shade), and I'd really prefer not having to try to beat the heat by running my long runs at 6am. But I am definitely more comfortable with the uncomfortable than I have ever been. Please let this feeling last!

I've also become much more intentional and focused with all aspects of my training. I'm better about wearing my heart rate monitor to be sure I'm not overdoing it in the heat, and to see if I'm adapting to the training. I'm analyzing my splits more than I probably ever have to look for improvement, even small improvement. I had to purchase a new multi-sport Garmin and finally upgraded to a Bluetooth capable model, the 920xt (thanks to my dear friend Doug!), and it's changed everything for me! My data analysis is now on a whole new level and I'm not sure why I suffered with the 910xt for as long as I did (okay, I didn't suffer. That watch was fantastic. I just sucked at syncing it to Garmin Connect). Being able to see how the watch can estimate my VO2 max (47!) and laugh at its race predictor (3:31 marathon my ass) is pretty darn cool. I've only worn it for a few runs so far, so I'm still assuming that marathon prediction will increase significantly with more run data, although it keeps getting faster so far. Strange watch.

Training like this has taken so much weight off my shoulders. I'm not stressing about my long run pace at all anymore, whereas I used to be so bummed if I didn't train at a certain pace all the time. By focusing more on my heartrate and cadence I'm able to steadily improve my aerobic fitness. Looking back on runs from years ago, my heart rate was ridiculous. I was burning myself out and not even realizing it. I'm consistently running on average with a heart rate probably 20 beats per minute less than I was back in those early marathon days. By being so specific with my easy/long run training, my body is efficiently feeding its muscles and burning fat as fuel. This is where the bulk of marathon training should fall. Because of the summer heat I can't always keep my heart rate quite this low (my target is keeping it below 140, or at least under that for the average), particularly running up hills, but that's okay. A heart rate a bit higher will help me build my cardiorespiratory capacity and improve my muscle strength and this is the zone I'll probably spend the most time in on race day. Several of my long runs down the road will include portions at race pace in order to simulate the feeling for race day. Then there are the tough runs...intervals and hill sprints. This is where I get into the anaerobic zone, and therefore improve my lactate threshold and performance. Proper recovery from the tougher workouts is vital (yay recovery runs!) to be able to continue to perform well during those particularly hard weeks. I'm just continuing to chant that mantra of "easy pace, easy pace, easy pace" (no matter how much my teammates laugh at how anal I've become). My long slow runs are paying dividends during hard workouts and will (hopefully, oh pretty please) pay off on race day.

Being okay with that pace and with that heat index is a long process

The crazy thing about analyzing the data is being able to quantify how I'm getting more efficient, while still getting faster. Tuesday's interval workout was a beast, but my heartrate never got into the red zone, not even once! My highest heart rate was 163 and the average stayed under 150. I was working very hard and practically threw up a couple times from the effort, but knowing that I technically was not overtaxing my system is a huge bonus (I'm going to chalk the pukey feeling to the Gatorade I drank after the previous night's bike ride....I have very little sugar in my diet but really needed the rehydration after the heat, so Gatorade it was....and it was so delicious). Being able to see this kind of data is helping me during each hard run. Even through the discomfort I know I can do it, even when my brain is trying to tell me I need to give up. I also realize that I can push myself even harder at our next interval workout.

Shit is getting serious starting on Monday. Every week my miles will increase. There are some weeks when I am running 6 days, and I'm not going to like it very much. But there's a Boston Qualifier inside of me and I need to find her and push her and make her do what's she's capable of doing.

Also, please be good to me on December 10, Mississippi weather. Pretty please.


  1. I appreciate this entry so much. I've been looking for a more effective way to train when you are over age 50. I have the mental vigor to improve but not the confidence. My dilemma has been how to run faster without sacrificing my health in the process. Seeing your excellent progress using low-heart-rate training has put my mind at ease and given me lots of hope. I am eager to follow your example of fitness AND speed. That combo is attainable! Thank you for showing us how.