Experience – What You Can’t Train For

I have had some time to reflect over the past month since my “A Race” for the year, the Houston Marathon back in January. I set a lofty goal for myself – to better my previous marathon time by over 8 minutes and complete the 26.2 miles in under 3 hours.  I came really close, finishing the race in 3:01 and some change, 7 minutes faster than my PR at the 2014 Chicago Marathon. As with anyone who misses a goal by such a short margin, I was a bit disappointed in myself. I had perfect race day conditions, took care of myself weeks before the race and had smartly increased my running volume leading up to the race.  So… what happened? I have asked myself that question so many times and honestly I don’t think I have the answer.  What I can say is that I gave it my all on that day and I’m proud of the way I ran the race.

So now on to the race recap… the marathon itself was well organized, with lots of support, fluids and a great expo. The race also ends inside a convention center which allows runners to warm-up after the race.

As for the my race specifically – after looking back and analyzing my splits: I started off conservatively keeping the 3 hour pace group in my sight. By mile 8 I had built a 90 second buffer so I found a pack of runners and tucked in. The pace hovered around 6:38 to 6:50, and felt comfortable. Around mile 17 my legs started feeling heavy.  I focused on my form, fluids, nutrition and keeping with the 3 hour pack. It was not till mile 22 when the fatigue really hit me instantly and in a big way, one that I had not experienced before. I felt myself slowing drastically. It did not help that the pack also started to thin out right at the same time. I looked around trying to find someone stronger to hang onto and found no one around.

Mile 24 was brutal. I kept thinking to myself, only 2 miles “Man the F’ up!” but this is where the race course starts to change in elevation as runners dip under (and then back up) three underpasses. Climbing back up from those underpasses felt like climbing a 14’er. At one point I looked down at my watch and noticed that I had done mile 25 in 7:25. That is the moment that I realized my sub 3 had vanished. Feeling defeated and yet still determined to finish strong, I just shut my eyes for the next mile and shuffled into the arms of a volunteer at the finish line who ushered me towards the medical tent.  Of course they insisted that we have the photographer take a picture of me in a near comatose state before actually making it to the medical tent. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m sure that picture is a real keeper.

Again I’m extremely happy with the new PR but what could I have done differently to cut out  one extra minute?  This race gave me something that you just can’t train for – race experience. I read something the other day where Deena Kastor discussed how important experience was at her level of competition and it’s what makes her able to compete with others much younger. My pacing in the beginning of the race definitely had a negative impact on those last few miles. Having been more consistent and maintaining within +/- 5 seconds would have been more efficient in saving energy than yo-yoing around. And while I felt like I was increasing my mileage and being strategic in the weeks leading up to the race, incorporating more long tempo runs where the last miles get progressively faster from marathon race pace to half marathon race pace would have also helped. Training your body to push harder on tired legs can make the difference in hitting your target times. (Stay tuned for another post where I will go more into detail about this.)

It has now been about a month since my race. My body was a mess after the race and I took a good three weeks off to recover (physically but also mentally). This is my first week back and I am starting to slowly build volume and focus on getting in shape for Boston. I will be training with some very fast guys in town which will make it a very interesting next few weeks.  No real goals for my race in Boston. It will be a great victory lap after all of the work it took to qualify for such a high caliber event. It will also be fun to run the race with Jay, a good friend who has been such a huge support these last few years.  

Boston is setting up to be one hell of a party. We will have the support of our wonderful friends Ian and Lehiwa and the gals that hold this race crew together – Ashley and Michelle.  Next Stop – Boston Marathon!  

Hiring a coach

With the beginning of the new year comes goal setting and planning for how to achieve those goals. Seeking out the perfect race or race destination for the upcoming season is exciting and rejuvenating at this point in the off-season . Whether your goal is to complete your first race, improve your times, qualify for Boston or win your age group – now is when runners often start seeking the help of a coach. Coaches are essential, not only to keep athletes accountable but also to safely guide them to a successful season. Finding a coach is not always easy and a huge part of the search is for the right personality fit and coaching style to bring out the best in you throughout the year. Below are some guidelines which will help in your journey to finding that perfect coach – good luck!

Commit to a relationship:
First; are you sure you are ready to commit to a long term relationship? As with all new partnerships you will have a period of adjustment which is perfectly normal. This new relationship will be based on trust and an open dialogue. So, trust the professional you hire to do all the strategizing and planning, all you have to do is put in the work. Within a short period of time you will quickly know if it’s a match or if it’s time to look for another coach.

Think of it like dating.  You have to get to know one another before knowing if you’re compatible. Make sure their philosophy and methodology compliment your lifestyle and goals. You might find that some coaches align themselves with long training miles which will require a big time commitment on your part. While others rely heavily on cross-training which might involve more gear or a gym membership. Some are very technical and hands on, where others prefer to be hands off. So, it is important for you to interview several potential coaches to ensure that you are both on the same page.

Setting expectations and goals upfront is critical. Discuss your goals, limitations, injuries and even travel plans you might have. This will serve as a road map for your season.  Along the way establish benchmarks where you can gauge progress to make sure you are still on track. This also helps you evaluate if the coaching is meeting your expectations and realign things if needed before you get too far into a season of training.

With communication being key, your coach should provide clear instructions for each workout.  At all times you should know the purpose or goal for the training phase you are in.  Your job as an athlete is to provide your coach with honest feedback on each workout. To include how you felt, any pains, or discomfort you might be having during your training. Your coach relies heavily on this feedback and data to adjust your training as needed.

This relationship works best when both parties are invested. Most coaches are driven by the passion they have for the sport, so ask questions and make the most of your investment.  As long as you put in the work,  a good coach will work even harder to see you reach your goals.