November 25, 2013

Time for my first post-injury marathon

In six days I will start a marathon, my first marathon in 18 months, my first marathon since an injury stopped my training for more than a year, my first marathon since I ran my fastest in 3:00:29 in May 2012. I am excited. And scared, too.

After 16 marathons, I have great respect for this distance. And a return to training after my first injury-induced layoff in 18 years of running has only served to increase that reverence.

Forty two kilometres is a long way to run and anything can happen. There are no guarantees, except that it will be both exhilarating and hard.

I last wrote on this blog some three months ago when I had just started an 18-week marathon training program I had chosen, very excited and grateful to be able to do so. By then I had been able to build up to a long run of 18K, the longest distance I had run in 15 months, which I clearly noticed mentally and physically.

It was a challenge to start an 18K session, as much as I was grateful for my renewed ability to run that far following that enforced break. A year without run training is a very long time and, as I wrote in my previous blog post, I expected to need at least a year to get back to the level of training I had been able to do consistently before my injury.

In the lead-up to my 3:00:29 marathon, I ran more than 100K a week, as many as 140K, in daily training sessions. My mid-week runs alone were 24K, with my long runs topping out at 36K.

I could not expect to do this again straightaway. I had to return to marathon training carefully—my body would need time to get used to running again. I chose a program that maxed out at a weekly volume of 88K (though, as it turned out, I never did run that). The program had five days of running per week.

In fact, I was not entirely sure whether I would be able to get ready—physically and mentally—to run a marathon before the end of 2013.

Realizing marathon starts never come with guarantees about finish time, I also did not want to start one if I did not feel 3:15 was possible—the slowest of my last 12 marathons over the past seven years. Again, possible does not mean guarantee.

On September 14, I did a 15K race in Bellingham. I was surprised to finish in 61:41, an average pace of 4:07 per kilometre and 6:37 per mile. I remember passing the 10K mark in 40.44 there, 65 seconds faster than the Squamish 10K six weeks earlier.

Increasing my running volume was great but also tough. My weekly long runs, which slowly got longer again, felt challenging mentally and I was glad they would top out at 32K, equally glad I would only have to run three of them.

In that first post-injury 32K run at the end of September, it took me half the out-and-back run to shake the mental weight of having to go that far. I did not wear a Garmin that day, but ran for 2 hours 37 minutes to cover what I believe was 32K, so an average pace of about 5 minutes per K, just under 8-minute miles. A normal average pace for most of my (long) runs.

On October 6, I ran my first half marathon post-injury, my first 21.1K in 15 months. I was not sure what to expect. I used that race to gauge my appetite for a marathon, deciding at 16K into the race that the idea of racing 42K eight weeks later was very unappealing.

I ended up crossing the line in 87:14, my third-fastest time ever and only 20 seconds slower than my best. I ran an average 4:08 per kilometre, or 6:39 per mile, compared with 4:07 per K, or 6:38 per mile, for the PB I ran in April 2012.

Triathlete Tim helped change my mind on the marathon, saying, “I would -- you have just run 87 minutes.” I locked in the Seattle Marathon on December 1.

I had eight weeks of preparation left.

That same week, on October 10 I returned to the track for the first time in 15 months, for a session of five 800s, as per my program. I ran 3:00, 2:59, 2:57, 2:57, and 2:55, and was happy with those. By comparison, in March 2012, I had run six 800s on the same track, doing 3:01, 2:56, 2:59. 2:58, 2:59, and 2:59, while in July 2011 I had done six 800s in 3:06, 3:01, 2:59, 3:01, 3:01, and (wait for it) 3:01.

On October 14, I did a 10K race around flat Stanley Park in Vancouver. Conditions were great, and I felt good, strong. I crossed the line in 39:48, but wondered if the distance was accurate as the start line had been moved. If correct, it would mark my fourth Sub-40 10K finish ever (I ran 2 in early 2009, and No. 3 in April 2012).

On October 16, I did my second 32K run, ending up with an average of 4:56 per kilometre, covering the first half in 4:58 per K and the second in 4:54. I was very happy with that.

On October 19 I flew to the Netherlands to visit my parents and grandmother for two weeks. I had not seen them for two years, and did not want my marathon training to hijack my time there.

Over those two weeks, I (happily) ran less than half of what I was supposed to run and missed two key track sessions. But there was a great surprise too. 

I had axed a plan to do a race in the Netherlands and opted for a 29K training run instead. It was an extremely blustery Sunday morning as a big storm was about to hit the Dutch coast, later causing millions of euros of damage and claiming one life.

My Garmin showed a quick running pace in the first half, as I averaged 4:25 per kilometre over the first 17.7K. Smiling, I knew it had to be the wind that gave me wings and that it would come back to slow me down on the way home, as it did.

Still, I ended up with an average pace of 4:38 per K for those 29K—a marked increase over my usual pace of about 5 minutes per K. I wondered if something was wrong with my Garmin.

On November 4, the day after I returned home. I ran 17.5K at an average 4:28 per K, according to my Garmin. Huh.   
Four days later, on November 8, I did another semi-long run of nearly 19K, averaging 4:34K.

On November 10, it was time for my third and final 32K training run of this marathon preparation, and was pleased with a 4:53 per K average.

On November 12, there was a track workout, with five 600s. I ran them in 2:12 to 2:15, a solid pace but nothing stellar. They were hard work.

On November 16, it was time to race, a 10K in Richmond on a cold but sunny morning, with a flat out-and-back course. I felt good and ran hard, crossing the line in 39:04. If accurate, it is my fastest 10K by 35 seconds.

Four days later I ran three 1,600s on the track. I had been dreading this session because the 600s, which I was doing at the same pace I was meant to hold for the 1,600s, had already felt hard. A 600 is only 1-1/2 laps on the track, while 1,600 takes four of them.

I did not feel like digging super-deep, just 10 days away from a marathon I am still scared of running. I took 6:17, 6:13, and 6:03. Ten days before my 3:00:29 marathon in May 2012, I did the same session in 6:03, 5:54, and 5:53, i.e. a lot faster.

So, overall I take heart from some solid race results, crossing my fingers the courses were accurate, as well as some great training runs in recent weeks where I was able to hold a faster average speed than I am used to. I have three 32K runs under my belt, and I feel good, excited and am looking forward to testing my level of fitness.

On the flipside, this is the first marathon ever for which I have not done a single three-hour training run—I used to do three to five of those before each marathon! I certainly feel underdone when it comes to long runs, as those always give me confidence. This time my longest runs were still 10K short of the distance I want to cover at a fast pace this Sunday.

Also, I missed out on some key track speed sessions, as reflected in those 1,600s I did last week. That’s OK though.

I do not know the Seattle course, other than from what I have seen on online course maps, showing that it saves the hills for the end. 

Nine-time Seattle marathon winner Uli Steidl told The Seattle Times last year that it is unrealistic to expect to keep the same pace in the final third of the course, as in the first two-thirds.  "You just have to know it's coming," Steidl said of the hilly last third. "The Galer and Madison Street [hill], people are pretty afraid of it."

I am just so grateful at having been able to prepare for another marathon again and the thought of starting one, as scary as it is, is also a dream come true. I am going to keep an open mind and, as my wise friend Dessie Suttle says, "Relax and let it happen."

Marathon history (excluding my first 4 marathons of 4:18 in Ottawa 1999, 4:44 in Sydney 2001, 3:24 in Gold Coast 2003 and 3:36 in Honolulu 2003):

                                                     Finish   1st half 2nd half
5. July 2006              Gold Coast    3:13:01  96:25  96:36
6. April 2007            Canberra        3:08:48  93:04  95:44
7. July 2007              Gold Coast     3:15:13  93:14 101:59
8. May 2008             Vancouver       3:12:56  93:17  99:39
9. Sept 2008              Victoria          3:07:10  93:37  93:33
10. May 2009            Vancouver      3:10:19  94:26  95:53
11. June 2009            NODM           3:10:39  92:53  97:44
12. April 2010           Rotterdam      3:11:51  96:06  95:45
13. May 2011            Vancouver      3:07:41  93:5X  93:5X
14. Sept 2011             Bellingham    3:09:40  92:02  97:38
15. October 2011       Victoria          3:06:06  91:23  95:42
16. May 2012             Vancouver     3:00:29  90:09  90:20 * PB