April 28, 2014

Taking stock before Vancouver marathon

Six days to go until the BMO Vancouver Marathon. A year ago I could not race, I could not even run. So I am extra grateful to be on the start line in 2014 as one of the elite runners again.  

It will be my fifth start at this event, which has brought me both my slowest and my fastest times for the 10 marathons I have run since moving (back) to Canada 6-1/2 years ago: 3:12:56 in 2008 and 3:00:29 in 2012. The latter was a breakthrough marathon, a personal best by 5:37. 

Like in 2012, I plan to start at 4:15/km pace, and aim to finish in 2:59. I am confident but also well aware that there are no guarantees in the marathon: this will be my 18th after all. While it may seem that I have been at this Sub-3 marathon thing for a while, this is only my third marathon that I am actually starting at Sub-3 pace.

Last December I began the Seattle marathon at Sub-3 pace too. Things were a little different. After a one-year enforced layoff from running starting in July 2012 because of injury, I had to build up my training again; I could not simply begin where I had left off. In the 17 weeks leading up to the 2012 Vancouver marathon, I had run 1,914 kilometres, an average of 112K a week.

In the 15 weeks leading up to the Seattle marathon in December 2013, I ran 915K, an average of 61K per week. Yet I had a fantastic race in Seattle, hitting  halfway in 89:14, or 55 seconds faster than ever, and passed 20 miles (32K) in 2:15:32, an average of 4:13 per K or 6:47 per mile. At the 2012 Vancouver marathon, I timed myself at 30K in 2:08:08. At Seattle's pace as timed by the 32K mark, I would have hit 30K in 2:06:30.

While this is a moot point in terms of finish time--Seattle offers a hilly final 10K and I finished in 3:05 there, I was encouraged to see that a year-long break from run training had not affected my speed as much as I had feared. In fact, that's an understatement; I was elated to see how quick I had come back to a similar level.

For the 2014 Vancouver marathon, I had planned to up my weekly mileage again. But I got accepted into a one-year creative writing program, landed a big book project, and also was still trying to keep up with my Czech language studies. Something had to give and it was the amount of run training I did in preparation for this marathon, though I made sure not to compromise on quality.

As it turns out, I have run 1,037K, an average of 61K per week, over the past 17 weeks, the same weekly volume I did for Seattle. This number, however, does not reflect the fact that I did longer long runs.

Before Seattle, my longest runs were three 32Ks; this time I did three 35Ks and one 39K. I managed to do them at a decent average pace too, with the first 35K at 4:57 per K, the second at 4:42, then I ran 39K at 4:45, and the final 35K at 5:02 (I was tired for that final 35K, a week following a 87:04 in the April Fool's half marathon, and after running 18K the previous day.) 

Before Vancouver 2012, my longest runs had been 32K in 5:09 per K, 35K at 5:00, 39K at 5:02, 35K at 5:03. Of course then I ran double the weekly volume from what I have been doing for this marathon, so naturally I was more fatigued for my long runs too.

In the lead-up to Seattle 2013 I ran my 32Ks at 4:51 per K, 4:56, and 4:53 respectively. (I had a few superb medium long runs including a 29K at 4:38 per K, a 17.5K at 4:28, and a 19K at 4:34.)

Last Wednesday, I did my final track workout: three 1-mile repeats. Before Vancouver 2012, I did those in 6:03, 5:54 and 5:53, hands down my fastest until then. Before Seattle 2013, I ran 6:15, 6:13 and 6:03. Last week, I ran 6:01, 6:01, and 6:04.

Photo Greg Herringer
In terms of racing, I ran the First Half in February in 88:40 (compared with 87:27 in 2012) and the April Fool's in 87:04 (compared with 86:54 in 2012). Though in April Fool's 2014, I hit 10K in 40:26 (41:00 in 2012) and 16K in 65:54 (66:32 in 2012).

I also did a couple of 10Ks, the first in fresh snow for a time of 41:52 and one race my Garmin measured at 9.5K in 39:16, or 4:09 per K -- a second slower per kilometre than I ran for more than twice the distance the following week in the half marathon. Go figure! Those 10Ks were helpful in terms of lifting my effort beyond what I would be able to achieve on my own in training.

Photo Rick Horne
In the last month, since the April Fool's half marathon, I have been quite tired, partly from running and partly from work and studies, and that has been reflected in the pace of my recent runs. It's also normal overall fatigue towards the end of marathon preparations, so I am not too worried about that.

Last week I already felt much better than the week before that, so the taper should have worked its magic by the end of this week, perfectly in time for race day on May 4.

I am grateful and excited to race! (And, yes, a little scared too but that's a good thing.)