May 10, 2011

Are you feeling your training?

In the eight days since I ran the Vancouver marathon on May 1, I've used daily walks, plenty of sleep, and a full day of yoga to kickstart my recovery. A couple of hot baths with Epsom salts helped, too.

And I've done plenty of thinking about my next goal and how I will prepare for it. In the past year, I've not used a coach to guide my daily training, though certainly used the lessons previous coaches have taught me. Most importantly, I used what I felt like doing as my main guideline in training.

Marathons have been my focus since 2006. That year I ran a 3:13, a PB by 11 minutes, and improved that in my next mararathon in 2007 to 3:08. In October 2008 I lowered my best time to 3:07:10 (after running a 3:15 and 3:12 in between), which I haven't bettered since. I ran two 3:10s in 2009, one of which was good enough to secure my first marathon victory and set the course record at the North Olympic Discovery Marathon, and did a 3:11 at the 2010 Rotterdam marathon.    

While I was happy with those times, they also begged the question if 3:07 was simply the fastest I could run? I was still training, and training consistently, following a superb program from the great coach I'd been working with for five years. Perhaps I just needed to be more patient.

But I also felt that something wasn't right.

Perhaps I just needed a break, not so much from running, but possibly from the routine (as varied as it was) I'd been following for fiive years. I still loved my runs, I just struggled with aspects of my training, especially the timed intervals which stressed me out. I decided not to immediately ask for a new program from my coach and to just play it by ear for a while.

Not long after was when I decided to prepare for my first 50-miler because it was something completely different - an ultra on trails - that allowed me try something new without too many expectations. And after enjoying that race, I signed up for a 100km on the road and used it as an reason to drop all my speed work.

I was enjoying the long and 'easy' runs, most of all I was enjoying the freedom of training and the change of pace. In the end, I didn't do any structured interval training for four months. I did plenty of running, and training on the trails included hill work but it was done as I saw fit on the day.

By December 2010 I was excited again about training for another marathon. And by January I tried  the local Tuesday Runs, weekly sessions focusing on intervals and time trials, of the Squamish Titans.
Those Tuesday Runs were a great way to ease back into speed work. The group atmosphere made it mentally so much easier, and I soon relied on those sessions as my key (read: only) interval training.

My other key workout were of course the long runs - in the past five years or so, I've absolutely falling in love with long runs and rarely have a problem motivating myself to do them. Hency my joy in preparing for and running those ultras as a break from the quest for a faster marathon.

By mid-December my long runs were 2hr 10mins, and they increased slowly from there to 3 hours, of which I did five before the Vancouver marathon. I did wonder if one structured interval session (compared with the two weekly ones I used to do) would be enough to improve my speed? In my preparation for the Vancouver marathon, I did only four sessions a week (instead of the five I used to do in previous years).

Even so, I also knew that my key sessions, Tuesdays and Sundays, were not only going superb, I also loved doing them.

In the meantime I was working on the manuscript for my fifth book, A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km, which made me think of all the reasons I run any distance. Importantly, some of the research bolstered my confidence in the approach I was taking to my training. One book in particular opened my eyes to the benefits of following your intuition in your running, the superb Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald.

So when I ran 3:07:41 nine days ago (only 31 seconds short of a PB and my second-fastest marathon time), it did a few things: it confirmed that the training that felt right was right and it confirmed my belief that I can run faster. It also made me realize that the past year, or even two years, have been a journey, a transitional phase as I've been feeling my way around using the experience I've gained in my 15 years of running to help get the best out of myself, to become a self-coached athlete.

The knowledge that my previous coaches instilled in me has been and still is very important, in particular my former triathlon coach Australia's John Hill and my former running coach Australia's Pat Carroll have been essential. I'll keep applying the lessons I learned under their guidance, the lessons that work for me and feel right.

In the past week, I've been developing my own training program for the Bellingham Bay Marathon. As advocated by Fitzgerald in Run, I will be using my intuition to decide what training best builds my confidence (mental and therefore physical confidece). I'm convinced I can better my 3:07:10 marathon PB, and I'll use the training that feels right to achieve it.

Attending the Whistler Yoga Conference this past weekend confirmed for me that I need to work on my strength and flexibility to find that extra gear in my running, so I'm planning to incorporate a form of yoga in my quest for the sub-3 marathon.

All this said, I feel ready for my first run since the Vancouver marathon so I'll be attending the Tuesday Runs session tonight.

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