Run Less, Run Faster Round II

I started this second round of marathon training with hopes and aspirations for a BQ. For my first marathon, I ran 3:54 at Wineglass. I needed to knock off 9 minutes. It wasn’t unreasonable to think that I could do this. A stretch goal, but stretch goals are good. They force us out of complacency. As you know from my last post, I missed this goal by a mile, or rather 2 miles based on the pace I should have running and the additional 17 minutes I took in crossing the finish line.

I’ll go over what I think went well in this second round of marathon training and the things I think were less than optimal.

What Went Well

  • Went into training much healthier and in better fitness: Unlike last year where I went into marathon training after almost 2 months of no running, I entered training in better fitness. I had been ill with bronchitis for several months in the beginning of the year, but I overcame it by May. In June when marathon training began, it was all systems go.
  • Increased mileage: Last year I averaged about 26 miles per week. This year I averaged about 30 miles per week. I did mainly by adding another short run during the week, so rather than running three days a week, I ran 4 days a week most weeks.
  • Six 20-mile training runs: Last year I did five 20-milers. This year I did six.
  • Hill training and downhill training: Thanks to Prospect Park and all the bridge runs I did plenty of hill training. Steamtown may be a downhill course, but there are still rolling hills to contend with. Also I got some quality downhill training in (Run for the Red Poconos Half, All-Out Runapalooza Half, & 18.12 Challenge).
  • Notable training runs (early 17-miler in 2:35:29, 2-mile run in 14:34, 17.9 mile run in 2:37:47): I had some really stellar training runs. Two of these runs (2-miler and ~18-miler were runs that I could not have done at all last year. These gave me confidence that despite the lack of visible progress, something was happening underneath. Somehow on the magic of race day, the cover would be thrown off, and I would turn into a sleek running machine.

What Went Wrong

  • Not strictly adhering to the RLRF training plan: Last year I was pretty good about sticking to RLRF. Not perfectly, but good enough. This year. . . I deviated from it more often. It partially had to do with feeling more comfortable with marathon training, so I felt less motivated to stick to it perfectly. In the second half, I skipped the RLRF track work outs altogether. I kept the mileage the same, but did the speed work that I felt like doing.
  • Lower quality 20-milers: I may have done six 20-milers, but those 20-milers were of lower quality than last year’s. Because of the higher heat index this past summer, I took longer breaks, ran slower paces, and did more doubles (breaking up the long run into two shorter runs during the same day). I think this had a big impact on my day at Steamtown. Because of the great 18-miler, I thought that the summer of slogging through long slow runs would still be fine and somehow I would pull off a great marathon. I think I was in good shape for running a great 18-miler. In the late miles of Steamtown, I felt slightly undertrained. Putting in quality 20-milers matter a lot and there are no substitutions for me.
  • Still no cross-training: Once again, I had grand plans, or at least modest hopes that I would do more cross-training. I found a yoga studio that I like. I even found a weight-lifting gym that I love. Still I found difficulty with going because for both the yoga studio and the weight-lifting gym, I have to drive. When I lived in Astoria, cross-training was a lot easier because I could easily walk over. It’s difficult to explain just how difficult driving is in NYC to people who don’t live in this area. Parking is difficult to find, to the point where often if you find a good spot, you refuse to go anywhere because you don’t want to give up the spot. And I’m lucky because I live in what is known to be a “good parking zone,” meaning it’s relatively easy to find parking. Driving is slow and hard in Brooklyn. It takes me 20 mins to go 2 miles. So there’s a lot of mental block going on in terms of cross-training and I can’t get over the hump. I didn’t cross-train at all last year and I still did fine, so I can’t say that not doing cross-training is what hurt me, but it probably didn’t help.

I still love Run Less, Run Faster. I don’t blame my lack of success on the plan. All summer long I knew the second marathon training cycle wasn’t going as well. I thought I could pull a miracle out, but it wasn’t to be.

I went out for an easy run today and I felt great. Last year, I didn’t run for two weeks after Wineglass because my legs felt like rubber. It took two months until I felt like myself while running. This year, one week out, my legs feel fresh. The annoying part was that I ran my marathon pace and it felt easy, the way it NEVER DID AT THE START LAST WEEK. ARGH!!!!!! NOW MY LEGS FEEL LIKE RUNNING.

I’m going to run a few more easy runs this week. Next week, I’ll reintroduce some sort speed and tempo runs and slowly build up mileage. I have a few more shorter races and I’d like to pull out a PR somewhere to salvage what I can of this fall racing season.

21 thoughts on “Run Less, Run Faster Round II

  1. So sorry to hear that you fell short of your goal. The hardest part of marathon training is spending all of that time working towards a goal and coming up short on race day. It’s definitely the risk you take going in. Summer training is also incredibly hard and unpredictable. That was why I did the Poconos as my race of choice last year. I don’t love winter running but it is far easier to deal with on long runs than the humidity. But it was still a gamble. I know you’ve got that BQ in you!

    • As much as I don’t like summer’s humid runs, I can’t handle NY’s blistery winter runs. Growing up in CA has made me soft. WAAH!

      The Poconos Marathon is late enough in spring that most of 20-milers would be during the warmer parts of spring. If I still had any desire to marathon training, I’d seriously think about doing Poconos. I need a break from marathoning and am looking forward to focusing on getting faster at shorter distances.

      • Focusing on shorter distances is not a bad idea for a while. I spent this summer playing around with 10k as a target distance. By the time I started my Autumn training cycle I was in a pretty good place and felt quite confident having seen some major improvement in my 10k times.

    • My legs feel 100% normal now, like I hadn’t ran a marathon at all. I’m still going to be conservative with my running this week because I know there are “microtears” that I can’t feel, but it’s amazing how quickly I feel recovered compared to last year.

  2. It’s really hard to run long in the heat like that. I’m so impressed that you managed to do that many 20-milers, even if they weren’t the quality you’d hoped for.

    Here’s hoping for some PRs, especially now that it’s cooling off!

  3. @saulbee, weird, WordPress doesn’t have a reply button for your comment. Shruggie emoji here.

    I totally concur with you that faster at shorter distances leads to being faster at longer one.

  4. I hate that you/we just never know how your body/legs will be come race day. Ugh!!!

    From what I remember about RLRF, the cross training was crucial. It wasn’t just about running less but the less days were accounted for with the cross training. That meant sill needing a lot of time for training. And holy shit, six 20 milers. You are a beast.

    • Yes, RLRF stresses the importance of cross-training, but the first study testing this program had no cross training and people still improved. I also did this last year without cross -training, so I don’t think it’s strictly necessary.

  5. Oof. The marathon is just a different beast – there’s a huge element of luck thrown in there. I think you still have a BQ in you, and I totally know what it’s like to have unfinished business with the marathon! I still can’t believe you did SIX 20-milers in the heat, even if they weren’t quite the quality you wanted. That’s amazing!

    From what I understand about the RLRF/ FIRST training plan, it was basically created from/ for triathletes, so the cross-training is absolutely essential to building cardiovascular capacity. And then strength work is additional to that cardio x-training. Don’t write it off before trying it with the full complement of cross-training! 🙂 (Basically, imagine you are a triathlete, and then train that way using the RLRF schedule.)

    • I did RLRF last year without cross-training with fewer miles and running only 3 days (this year I ran 4 days) and I had a substantially better marathon time. I don’t think cross-training is strictly necessary. I think it’s good to do, but I think it’s possible to get most of the benefits without cross-training.

  6. I hear you about cross training. I recall my first marathon and how I did no cross training and suffered the consequences. That’s one of the reasons I learned to swim and now swim 2-3 times a week. It’s hard though as most of us have lives outside of training so we don’t always have the time.

  7. IMHO cross-training is key for making the most out of FIRST, and the authors make sure to mention this quite a few times in the book 🙂 They specifically state that it should be an aerobic activity (biking is best), and not yoga, pilates, weights etc. I love spinning, so this was never a problem for me – just did spin class 2-3 times a week in the gym.

    Also, I believe now that 20 miles is not enough, and it’s important to do at least one 21 or 22-miler. Given the program prescribes five 20-milers, it could be the last 1 or 2 of these five.

    Couple other things I tried the last time (for Boston). One was adding a fourth, easy, 6 to 9 mile run. Another was reducing the prescribed pace slightly, e.g. I did most of my intervals at around 5K pace, and ran the longer runs a bit slower too. Finally, I injected a bit of Daniels into my long runs, i.e. alternated long intervals of easy pace with intervals of marathon or even tempo pace… It’s an extension of the idea of progression, or fast-finish long runs… The training went well, but I still fell short of my expectations on the race day, so proper marathon training remains a conundrum for me too 🙂

    Good luck with your next one!

    • I know the creators emphasize cross-training, but I followed the plan last year with less mileage and no cross-training and I did much better at Wineglass. The very first RLRF study was done without cross-training and there were significant improvements in time. Obviously I think in order to give yourself the best chance, doing cross training is necessary, but I think most of the benefits comes from the runs themselves.

      Mostly I’m glad to no longer be marathon training. I like getting up in the morning and running what I feel like instead feeling constrained by a plan.

    • RLRF has their own recommendations for cross-training (swimming, rowing, and cycling) because their idea is that you’re working the cardiovascular system without additional impact and strain on the leg muscles. Personally I prefer powerlifting, but that’s my own preference.

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