Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Racing During A Training Cycle
"You mentioned it's a recovery week but at the same time you were gunning for a Half PR, which can take weeks to fully recover from. Are we greedy as runners? I'm not trying to say you are, I'm just saying I've done this before and the thinking is a bit backwards; it's a week to run easy and recover and yet we have that mentality to go out and GET IT while our fitness is good. What's more important is your upcoming marathon and jeopardizing that at this point seems wrong. You agree?"
Quite frankly, this is something I spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about and analyzing during almost every marathon training cycle ...
Do I race before the marathon .. or save it all for "the big day"? If I race ... how hard do I go? What distance is okay? How far away from the marathon day should a race be? And if you've read my blog for very long ... you know I usually mess the whole thing up. I'm definitely guilty of racing a little too much, and burning up my best performances in training instead of on marathon day. And I'm guessing I'm not alone.
For me, marathon training is a bit of a trap that I usually don't have enough will power to resist. For starters, the bulk of the training is typically during the summer months when I'm close to my physical peak compared to the rest of the year. Plus, with all the miles, speed and tempo work, and strength training, I feel like I can run forever ... and usually at a fairly decent speed. But that's precisely the point where my ego takes over. For example, right now I'm undoubtedly in the best running shape of my life, and I've noticed my focus start to wain a little from the ultimate goal ... my two Fall marathons ... to shorter races where I feel I can PR. Combined with the fact that I'm 45 years old and my window of opportunity is closing quickly, I've had my eye on more shorter distance "tune up races" than normal. I think my body tricks me into grabbing all the PR's I can while they're ripe for the taking.
The problem is too many shorter races can really have an adverse cumulative effect on longer races. And one of my favorite online coaches, Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect, considers running too many "tune up races" one of top mistakes that runners make during their marathon training (here). Gaudette explains that a half marathon can be fine, about 5-7 weeks out from your marathon, if you use it as a training tool or maybe just run at marathon pace. Racing shorter races much more often than that, Jeff explains, can burn up your legs and take too long to recover to run at 100% on marathon day.
Jeff Galloway voiced similar concerns in an article (here) where he encouraged shorter "tune up races" before marathons, but warned that the inherent danger was injury. Galloway explains that racing before a marathon, especially the half-marathon distance, is a great way for new marathoners to prep both mentally, and logistically for the upcoming marathon.
While I agree with the premise of Bill's comments above, I've always viewed a half-marathon as basically an uptempo workout that I would be doing during training anyway. For example, it wouldn't be uncommon to run a 13 mile Tempo Run, with 10 of the miles about 10-15 seconds below my projected marathon pace. And isn't that basically what happens in a half-marathon? However, while this appears to be logically sound in theory, I think there are some inherent pitfalls to be aware of.
First, for some reason the "intensity" of a race takes far more of a toll on my legs than a standard uptempo workout. I've ran mid-week workouts very similar to the half-marathon race I just ran on Saturday, with very minimal soreness or adverse effect the next day. But in all honesty, my legs were pretty beat up after this race ... however, I think the 6-1/2 hour car ride immediately afterwards played the big role in that too. If we do decide to run a half-marathon as a "tune up race", it's probably wise to dial it down a little and not run the whole thing at maximum effort. (And the first time I to have enough discipline to do that, I'll let you know, ha)
Secondly, I think the timing in our training cycle has to be right for a race. We obviously don't want it butted up the weekend before the marathon. And probably just as importantly, we don't to disrupt a long run or key workout. Personally, I ran this half-marathon last weekend because it fell on a weekend when I was only going to be doing 16-18 miles for my long run, which I did in total at the half-marathon with warm up and cool down. Bill's point about racing during a recovery is very good point, and something I really debated. But personally I felt that if I recovered during every workout for the full week before, and then ran the race on Saturday, I would still reap most of the benefits of recovery.
For me, the main issue during marathon training has never been "to race, or not to race", but how many miles and what kind of intensity to train with. And to be honest, I've struck out a lot in both categories. I've ran waaaaay too many miles during a training cycle, and I've also been guilty of working out a little too much at higher speeds (which I think I'm borderline doing right now). Far too often I've stood at the starting line of a marathon without the bubbling excitement I should have felt. Rather, I stood there in the chute feeling exhausted from weeks of training, with real doubts as to whether or not I could complete the task ahead of me. And on many occasions I failed to make the finishing time I had trained all summer for.
I think I'm getting better in my approach to the whole marathon training process, simply from experience alone. But frankly, so much of it seems to be individual and an inexact science. I think if we race "smart" during a marathon training cycle, it's probably of some value. But there seems to be a lot of risk, with not much reward. I would love to hear everyone's opinions on the topic! As always, it's okay to agree or disagree with me, I just love the discussion. Hope your training's going well - have a great week!
... be great today!