(As always, all supplements and products I mentioned in this post were not sponsored. Legal…legal…legal. Please proceed with caution. If necessary, talk to your coach before using any of the products. I am, however, sponsored by Fleet Feet New Balance Racing Team.)
This was the first time that I have done a winter full-marathon training block. I will not glamorize it. It was tough with the cold, wind, and limited sunlight. Halfway through the training, I was running with my ski gloves over running gloves and booty shorts under windproof leggings, swearing that I would never do another winter marathon training block again. But now that I am on the other side of it, I am thinking – maybe? But before looking ahead, I want to look back at this training block and the race to reflect and learn.
Here are the things that helped me during this training cycle:
Didn’t go into a training cycle with barely any running
Learning from my mistake of going into my last training cycle with no base training, I wanted to have a solid 20-30 miles weekly before the start of this training cycle. After the Chicago Marathon 2021, I did a short 5k training block to prep for a turkey trot, and maintained 25 miles/week up till this training cycle started. I definitely noticed the difference. My body was not as tired or achy throughout this training block as in previous times.
Aimed for the highest mileage from the start of the training, and ran the easy runs easy
For the 6-9 miles runs, and the 45mins-1hour runs, I aimed to do the highest amount during this training cycle. The mileage of these mid-week medium-long runs add up. Chris McClung from Running Rogue Podcast talked about the benefit of medium-long runs in a recent episode. To make sure that my body could recover from the increased mileage, for the first time ever, I actually ran the easy miles easy (about 1’30 – 2 mins slower than my marathon race pace)!
Stayed at my pace, and be ok with running solo
I am in between pace groups on my running team. For my last training cycle, I was jumping in between the faster and the slower groups. It’s very tempting to go with the faster group. But I knew I would end up falling behind or running at a different threshold pace, which would defeat the purpose of the runs.
With many canceled “organized group runs” due to the terrible winter weather conditions, and my attempt to stay at my targeted pace (instead of joining my training partners for their own organized long runs), I ended up running many lonely miles by myself on the 606 (the 2.7-mile elevated running path on the west side of Chicago). I grew to love them. It’s just my punk rock music playlist, the howling wind, and my heavy breathing. These runs allowed me to clear my mind, and practice for the solo time during the race.
Practiced the race day fueling plan
Since Maurten was what’s available on the course in Boston, I tried their gels during some of my long runs. No negative reactions to the gels, but I just don’t like the texture of them. This helped me to figure out that I wouldn’t mind picking up 1-2 Maurten gels on the course, but I wouldn’t want all of my gels to be Maurten (more on race day fuel plan later).
Besides using every Saturday long run as practice runs for fueling (pre-run food, gel, drink mix), I also used the last long run to do a practice trial for Boston’s early wake-up and late-start. It allowed me to discover that I needed more food than my normal pre-run fuel (coffee, banana, frosted flakes, Maurten 320 Drink Mix). I added a plain bagel for race day, and it worked out great for my body.
Despite all the positive changes I made during this training cycle, I still fell short on a couple of things. Here are the things that I would like to do for the next training block:
Having a proper plan for aerobic cross-training, and strength training
Here we go again. I know this was on my “to-do” list last time, and I honestly just didn’t make it a priority for this training block. About half of the cross-training days for this training block ended up being rest days. I canceled my gym membership in the beginning of the pandemic. Not having access to a gym made cross-training a bit tricky in the winter. I did a couple day passes to a small gym by my place, and 3 weeks before the race, I finally was able to get a spin bike for our home gym. In total, I did 3 Peloton cycling classes before the race. That’s all I did for aerobic cross-training. Not ideal. But now that I have a spin bike at home, there is no excuse for slacking next time.
I still had the same old issue with weights. My amazing (read pushy) husband built a basic whole-body training plan for me that includes lower body, upper body, and abs, but I got bored after 4 weeks. I would procrastinate until it was too late to work out and use it as an excuse to get out of it. I took some Peloton strength classes here and there, but it was not consistent. I need to find a style of strength training that I enjoy so that I will actually stick to it next time.
Stop stressing about one missed run or one bad run
This got really bad towards the end of this training cycle when I got sick for a couple of weeks (not Covid). I knew deep down that the best thing for me to do was to let my body fully rest and recover, but emotionally, I didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t stop having hot and sweaty (literally) nightmares about Boston every single night. The stress affected my work and life. For a brief moment there, I lost my love for this sport.
This is part of the reason why this post is coming a bit late. Since I was sick up to the day before the race, I didn’t have enough time to process my emotions. Despite having an amazing race result, I didn’t feel the kind of joy that I felt in my previous races. As I was crossing the finish line, I was just relieved that this huge stressor was gone, and I didn’t disappoint anyone.
Typing this down right now made me realize how unhealthy that was. I am proud of how I executed my race plan. But I cannot let the race result determine everything. I also want to be able to enjoy the process, be proud of all the hard work that I have put in, and trust the training.
I don’t have a plan for how to tackle this in the future yet. But I am noting the problem. And hopefully, when things happen next time, I can be more graceful with myself.
Cannot do a post-mortem without looking at the race day. I had an Instagram post to recap the race day. This part is to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. And honestly, besides not being able to fully enjoy the day due to my anxiety coming into the race, it was a great day. Lots of goods, not much bad. As Josh said, I was a good little soldier who masked all of the emotions and executed the plan.
Getting enough rest and fluid before the race
Me being sick leading up to the race actually helped in this case. I was napping whenever I can, and being very adamant about hygration the week before the week. Despite having to get up at 4:30am on race day, I felt rested when I started the race.
Perfect execution of race fuel plan
Nailing down my race fuel plan has been a big goal since my last training cycle. A gel every 4 miles has been working great for me, but I would still miss the exact mile marker a couple of times during training.
When I was writing down my race mantra and race plan on my arm, I wrote down the split and elapsed time for every 4 miles. This served as a great reminder to take the gel when I was checking my elapsed time. Here is my race day plan:
Mile 4 – Gatorade with caffeine
Mile 8 – Gatorade with caffeine
[picked up two Maurten gels at mile 11.8, and stuffed them in my shorts pocket]
Mile 12 – Maurten with caffeine
Mile 16 – Gatorade without caffeine
Mile 20 – Gatorade without caffeine
Mile 24 – Maurten without caffeine
The only adjustment I made on race day was that I started having the last Maurten gel at mile 23, instead of 24, because it takes me a while to finish that jello-like gel, and I didn’t want to be still eating the gel when I crossed the finish line.
THE MEH (insert shrug emoji)
Didn’t stick to my race plan
I worked with my coaches (shout out to Cynthia and Mike!) to build a race plan based on the course. Here is the actual plan:
Mile 1-4 (downhill): Marathon Race Pace (MRP) + 10 sec
Mile 5-16 (relatively flat): MRP
Mile 17-21 (uphill): MRP +5 sec
Mile 22 (downhill): MRP
Mile 23-26.2: MRP-16 sec
I actually started MRP + 15 sec in the first mile. I panicked and overcorrected to 2 miles at MRP, and 1 mile at MRP – 5 sec. I settled back down to 2-5 sec under MRP between mile 5-16. I knew I was ahead of my target the whole time. But I was feeling ok with the pace. I decided to stay with it. I thought I could either surprise myself, or I would use the extra time on the hills later. It worked out. My slowest mile was on heartbreak hill on mile 21, in which I ran MRP + 30sec. But I was still able to finish strong, and finished right on target.
Maybe I would have more legs for climbing the hills if I had stuck to my plan. Guess we’ll never know. That’s why this is not a “bad’, but rather a “meh”.
Not sharing my race goal
As I wrote down my split/elapsed time on my arm, I was reflecting on all of the self-doubt and negative talk that I had cast on myself. I am a big believer in the power of vulnerability. The power of sharing your big goals, and the courage to chase after them. But I didn’t do that this time. I didn’t really tell people my goal time (3:10:00 was the goal), and I didn’t share my bib number to allow others to track me. Because I was scared. I was scared that I would disappoint others and myself. I felt like hiding the goal from others gave me a way out in case I had a bad race. It was like I was already finding excuses for myself before the race even started.
I want to be better at this. Be ok with being vulnerable. And feel empowered by my big goals and dreams. I may not hit my goals every time. But the courage of chasing after them is the beauty of this sport.