Overall, I was happy with my training for my first marathon and my experience during the marathon confirmed that I took smart steps to prepare for the race. I’ve been a fan of Hal Higdon since I first started running longer distances. Someone had suggested using his training plan for my first half marathon and afterward I felt it went well and I adapted it a bit for my second half marathon to make it more of my own. For my first marathon, I decided to base my training plan off of his Intermediate 1 plan. I made some adaptations to make it into what I felt would work best for me. I’m from the school of belief that runners need individualized plans beyond just paces to hit, so I like to customize ready-made plans to better fit my goals.
One of the adaptations I made to the training plan was upping some of the milage. I really wanted to focus on building my endurance for this race, so small tweaks like peaking at 50 miles instead of 44 made me feel more comfortable with the amount of miles I was hitting. I also did a 22 mile run instead of a second 20 miler. Physically, I didn’t and still don’t feel the 22 miler was necessary, but mentally I knew it would beneficial. I also liked how the plan was scheduled in terms of cut back weeks. Running this higher mileage for the first time, I feel the pattern of the cut back weeks was helpful for me to avoid injury and burn out.
I was happy with my results coming out of my VO2 Max test so I wasn’t concerned with improving my max. As I mentioned, endurance was really my focus during this training cycle so interval speed work wasn’t a priority. I didn’t want to do all of my runs slow and easy, so the fact that this training plan had “pace” runs in it seemed like a good fit. Not having done a marathon before, I wasn’t completely sure what pace to run these. I chose to run them between 8:50-9:30 depending on how hot it was that day. This ended up falling right in the middle of my heart rate zone 3, so come race day I felt confident that a 9 minute pace would be a reasonable goal as long as my legs held up. These runs ended up being really beneficial as my body comfortably fell into a 8:50-9 minute pace during the race and I never felt I was over-exerting myself. I did replace a few of these with a few progressive runs including a 10 mile progressive run during the first peak week and making the last 12.5 miles of my 17 mile run progressive during the Emerald City Half Marathon. I incorporated hills into my regular weekday routes all of which were much tougher climbs than any of the hills on the course.
Aside from my pace runs, I based my other runs on my heart rate. When I ran solo, I put my watch to heart rate only and ran whatever pace helped me hit the middle of zone 2 or zone 1, depending on that day’s workout. This was probably the single best thing I did for myself in training. In the beginning of training, I ran my long run with whatever pace group was in line with what my paces had been like for the week. Finally I settled into the 10:30 pace group and did the rest of my long runs with them. Some weekends this was 15-30 seconds slower than I probably needed to be going, but I was really enjoying the group and really felt I couldn’t be doing those last few long runs too slowly. I will likely stick with them this winter as well. I would say there were maybe 2-3 runs out of the entire 18 weeks (aside from when I was sick) that I didn’t feel good during. Running by heart rate really allowed me to listen to my body rather than struggling to hit a certain pace on an easy run when pace shouldn’t matter. But more on that another time.
I switched to Honey Stinger gels this year and am really happy that I did. Fruit smoothie is my favorite and overall I think the texture of the Honey Stingers are more liquid and were easier for me to take on the run than Gu. I didn’t use gels on every run – they aren’t a magic pill and I knew it was important to train my body to find other sources of fuel and not to rely on gels to get me through the marathon. For breakfast before long runs I either had a Picky Bar or a whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter. Ultimately I decided on the English muffin with peanut butter for race day. After long runs I always ate breakfast and sometimes had a protein smoothie. I carb-loaded the two days before the race and only hit the minimum amount of carbs based on my body weight. It seems my carb-loading, pre-race, and race nutrition were in line with my level of intensity for this race so it will be interesting to see how I will need to adapt and change that for higher intensity levels.
I didn’t focus a ton on strength training. Once a week I did some body weight exercises at home for my lower body and used my free weights at home for some upper body. I knew incorporating hills would be helpful for building strength as well. Part of this was simply for times-sake. Fitting in training meant getting up as early as 4am twice a week on weekdays. This on top of working full time and having a life… well, something had to be sacrificed a bit. I felt getting my mileage in was more important than pumping iron at the gym. My greater focus on strength will come back into play during the winter when I’m spending a lot more time in the gym and my mileage is lower so I am at a lower risk for injury.
I did utilize ice baths for the first time. I did these after my 18 miler and my 20 miler. I like to think that they helped (how can one really know?) and they weren’t as bad as I anticipated. I stretched after every run and used the foam roller when I felt necessary. I also had a lot of calf-hugging goodness from my compression socks. I also worked with my chiropractor at least once a month. We purposely scheduled around my bigger weeks so he could do ART and sometimes adjustments as needed. I also saw him the Friday before the marathon for one last ART session to work out the taper crazies. I think working with him was also a huge help in keeping me injury free. I began working with him last fall so he knows my problem areas well and obviously can tell if something is out of alignment.
Training on the Course
Running the second half of the course twice and an additional run on the last 10K of the course during training was really beneficial. This won’t always be an option, but if I have the ability to do it I will. Around mile 21 I remember telling myself “You’ve done this part three times, you can do it now.”
If I choose to train for a second marathon next summer I would stick to the same plan with a few more tweaks to help me further develop. The first would be to move into some higher mileage a little sooner – I think I would be okay to train in the 40 mile range for 2-3 more weeks than I did this time. I’d also like to incorporate at least one more progressive weekend long run. This was actually something I wanted to do this cycle, but just couldn’t find the right time to fit it in. Now that I’ve run a marathon, I would have the added benefit of being able to choose a true pace for my pace runs.