Minneapolis Marathon Training: Week Six

After last week’s travel schedule and making the decision to switch to Hanson’s Marathon Method, I was really eager to start this week new.

Monday: 6 miles at an easy 10:33 pace; 1.5 -mile walk. After an 18-mile weekend, typically it’s a total relief to have a Monday where I “only” have to run 3 miles; however, my new training schedule instead tasked me with running 6 miles at an easy pace. The weather was purely splendid– 70 degrees with a light breeze. It was literally perfect. I chose a route, however, that wasn’t particularly easy. There were a lot of hills and, midway through mile 2, I had to stop at the top of a hill when running an 11:00 pace felt like trudging through mud and my breath was going way too fast and my legs were dead, heavy, and tight. It was hard to imagine that I had another 4 miles to get through, but I pushed the pace a little harder in mile 3 and got it down to around the pace of my tempo runs and felt like the heavy feeling had been shaken off (no more treadmills for me, I SWEAR IT). But the hills were awful. I kept up my pace on a few of them, but one particularly daunting hill right before mile 5, I walked up. Yes, I feel defeated when I do that, especially because I know that it’s all a mental challenge to keep pushing, but getting acquainted with what an easy pace truly feels like is tough. I did notice, however, that my last mile of running, I was going a steady 10:09 pace and I questioned why I was able to go faster in the last mile of a run that was actually pretty tough for what was supposed to be an easy-pace day. Running really is a mental sport…

Tuesday: Rest. In a sudden turn from Monday’s beautiful weather, Tuesday’s weather was totally opposite. All day long, winds of up to 40-50 mph kept gusting through to the point where it felt like I was being pushed down the sidewalks. My drive home from work, it felt like I had a loose tire on my car because the wind was so bad. In addition, freezing rain turned to snow right around 7PM. I had a planned speed work session that day but decided to call it off. Why? Because I cannot get back on that treadmill. I can’t do it. It’s making my strides too short and giving me that dead leg feeling when I run outside and I can’t handle it anymore. So, I moved my Wednesday rest day to Tuesday and my Tuesday speed work session to Wednesday. That also means tomorrow will be an easy-pace 7 mile run and Friday I will have a 7-mile tempo run. Adjustments are not ideal, but I can’t do the treadmill any longer. 

Wednesday: 1.5-mile warm-up, 10 x 400 with splits of 2:08, 2:03, 2:02, 2:04, 2:05, 2:04, 2:06, 2:08, 2:08, and 2:09; 10 x 400 recovery laps, 0.75-mile cool-down; 8 total miles at an average 10:08 pace. Ahhh, speed work. Today’s session was tough stuff. I had to battle getting lost on the way to the nearest high school, 15mph winds, and the prying eyes of high school coaching and janitorial staff as well as a practicing baseball team wondering what the heck I was doing out on the track all by myself with a “keep out” sign displayed proudly in the end zone.  No one ever said anything to me about whether I was violating property and I was prepared to push back if they did with my gentle reminder of having as much right to the publicly-funded track as the students did as long as they weren’t using it for themselves. My goals for today’s speed work were to run each 400-yard lap in 2:01 and do a recovery lap at an 11:47 pace. I quickly found out how tough that is to do on legs that are still getting accustomed to outdoor running in strong winds, but I pushed every time. The first 200 yards, I always started out very strong but the back half was straight into the wind and where I got the most tired. It didn’t feel unattainable to run at that swift of a pace, but I always fell a few seconds short of my pace goals and I was worried about that. I don’t know if that means I am overshooting my goal of a 4:00 marathon (and I’ll be honest here– a 4:15 marathon would thrill me, too) or if it was my legs adjusting to a longer stride or running into a wind that, of course, stopped as I was taking my cool down laps; however, this is what I am training for: minutes and seconds. Any one of those splits could have made the difference between my goal of 4:00 or less. But I was no doubt proud of what I had accomplished and decided that I will wait for next week’s speed session to determine whether I have set an unattainable goal for myself.

Thursday: 4 easy miles at a 10:28 pace. Thursday was windy as hell— chaotically windy. Okay, so I have run through 20 mph headwinds before– ice bitter freezing cold headwinds, may I add– but there was just no escaping it– the wind was EVERYWHERE, no matter which direction I ran I always seemed to be running into it. My legs felt insanely heavy (still getting used to Hanson’s “cumulative fatigue” philosophy) and, while I was holding a steady pace despite the wind, my heart was racing because I was actually running faster into the wind just to maintain that pace. On a less windy day, I’m sure I was running a pace around 8:00 because I know by now how labored my breathing feels when I run faster paces, but I was covering only as much ground as a 10:30 average pace. I decided to turn around at 2 miles and run with the wind for as long as I could before I got too far from home to get back, just for the sake of having some reprieve on what was supposed to be an easy running day but was feeling like a tempo run day, but when I turned around, the wind seemed to be worse and I even felt it push me off the sidewalk a little. At one point, I literally felt like I was running against a wall. I decided to cut my losses and stripped 3 miles off my easy run– my heart was pounding, my legs were seriously burning, I could barely breathe to keep up with the pace let alone get past the feeling of an invisible hand over my mouth. Somehow, I need to figure out how to adapt to living in such a windy place. And pray like heck that none of my upcoming race days will have high winds in the forecast.

Friday: 3 tempo miles at an average 9:34 pace; 2 miles warm-up and cool down. I admit that I am officially demoralized with marathon-training. Today’s run was supposed to be a 7-mile tempo at 9:09 with 1.5 miles each of warmup and cool down. Going in, I wasn’t sure I could do it but I reminded myself that I wasn’t sure I could do speed work on Wednesday and then I did and I liked it. But after dealing with high winds for three days straight, I was irked beyond belief and just plain over it. After a windy mile warmup at a 9:56 split, my first tempo mile started off fast. REALLY fast. I looked at my watch and realized I was clocking an 8:03 split. I said to myself, “Good job, Sara, but slow down! You have a lot of distance ahead of you!” But slowing down was hard. 9:09 pace times usually just happened for me– I’ve never had to think about how fast or slow that felt. I finished my second mile in 9:12, feeling shaky tired and wondering how I was going to get through the next several miles. I had gone out WAY too fast in my first mile and, even though I was running with the wind now, the pace felt exhausting to maintain and I dropped to a 9:59 split in mile two. I was irritated. After a week of running under 10:00 (which for me is slow), I felt like I was regressing. My old training plans used to be full of average pace times between 8:30 and 9:30 and now I was running hardly anything under 9:30 average paces. My legs are stiff and heavy, the wind makes me panic and run hard so I burn like I am going 8:00/mile but only going 10:00/mile, and I just can’t enjoy running when I have to meet certain pace times that I know I can meet because I have– MANY times before. This is what really gets to me about running: you can practice every single day but you don’t get better. And every time I try to get better, I somehow get worse. It’s backwards.

Saturday: Rest. I woke up on Saturday morning feeling deliriously fatigued, wholeheartedly demoralized, and nauseous. My entire body ached. I knew I had to run 8 miles but– and this is how I can usually tell when my body is calling the shots– I didn’t feel at war with myself to get out and go. I didn’t have the usual “don’t want to run today; I know I need to but I just don’t want to; but I gotta go.” My body was literally molded to the couch after I slept for hours. I drank three cups of coffee and I could barely mentally conceptualize how much time I had on the trail before I had to be home, in the shower, and on my way to my parent’s house for a family event. I knew running 8 miles was not going to do anything for me, so I let my tired body have a win.

Sunday: 13 miles at an average 11:46 pace. Sunday’s run is the first time I’ve actually wondered if there is something wrong with me besides the usual marathon training fatigue. It was a colder day than usual and there was (FINALLY) no wind, I’d had a rest day the day before– the conditions for a good strong run with a goal pace time of 9:53 (nearly a minute slower per mile than my half-marathon PR) were perfect. Literally. Except I was running feeling like there was no gas in the tank whatsoever. I pretty much trudged the entire time. The first 3 miles were brutal. I felt almost as sleep as when I was running the Run for the Ranch Marathon. I was literally in pain the entire time, my legs refused to pick up and move faster than a trudge. I finally whittled my way down to a 10:36 pace (while going up a hill, no less) which gave me some encouragement and, around mile 5-6, I was actually running okay. Not at all happy with my pace, which was somewhere under 11:00, but I tried to just ignore it and keep going. But after getting to mile 7-8, which was the end of the first loop in the 8-mile trail that circles my home, I was walking. And I could barely get myself to care. I kept going, kept trying not to think about my awful pace, kept trying not tell myself negative thoughts. I tried to ignore the feeling of cars passing me and wondering if they were judging me for giving up and walking. But when I got to mile 10, I decided to keep going for another mile. And then one more. And then finally, I decided to go one more past 12 miles so I could at least show some improvement from last week’s long-run mileage. But after pretty much shuffling through mile 12, I decided not to go for another one. I just didn’t see what good it would do to run miserably for one more mile when I was thirsty, teetering the edge of a meltdown, and wondering why the bottom of my foot hurt like I’d just run a full marathon and why I was getting pinching sensations in my left butt that were similar to what I was feeling when I had to get physical therapy for being off-balance and out of alignment nearly a year and a half ago.  The one-mile walk home might as well have been a crawl. There was literally nothing in my body, my mind, my soul to stand upright– there was only the fear that I would cut myself on the glass of a broken liquor bottle along the country road that kept me standing up.

Total weekly miles were 36— a whole 13 more miles than last week’s 23. My first week on Hanson’s Marathon Method was exhausting. The high weekly miles on their Advanced Plan was a huge shock, but I thought I could overcome it because the pace times seemed attainable.

After, well, not a lot of deep thought and more of a concession, I’ve decided to adjust my goal for the Minneapolis Marathon from a 4:00 finish to a 4:15 finish time. My personal best is a 4:38, so beating that by 38 minutes is a huge feat (even though I beat my first marathon PR by 29 minutes). I think, in reassessing my marathon finish goal, I’m looking at the effort that I can give each week to this sport, and I just don’t know how much I can give right now because my emotional parking lot is too full. While I’m still genuinely confused as to why I used to run so fast and so well like it was nothing and now an average 11:46 pace over 13 miles sounds like a death march through hell, I think a 4:15 finish or a new PR of 15 minutes is the most manageable for me right now. I enjoy running the most when I surprise myself. So I would rather adjust down and be proud of myself than aim high and disappoint myself.

Right now though, all I want is the spring in my step and the joy in my heart back.

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