Trusting my Marathon Training through Lows

I’ve had big highs and big lows the last two weeks.

1) The best workout of this training cycle so far,

2) A Stillwater half marathon that was 2 minutes slower than my 1/2 split I hope to hit at Grandma’s (yikes)),

3) A bombshell of a 4×2 mile tempo run, and

4) The second best workout of this training cycle so far

Oh, marathon training, how you’ve taught me to believe in the process and trust that I’m moving closer to my goals, even when there are temporary lows that look like there is no way. I’m coaching several new marathoners right now, and one thing I had forgotten is that it takes time to develop trust in the process like this. It takes time to learn to look forward to a stretch of “low” workouts because you know they’re necessary and will result in a higher “high”.

Let me explain the workouts I mention above…

First: 3×1 mile at tempo (has been 6:10-15 so far this training cycle) w/ 2 mins recovery, 3x1k sub 3:40 w/ 400m recovery, and 3×400 in sub 80 on Tuesday, May 22nd (about 3.5 weeks from Grandma’s). I was so pumped to meet or exceed goal times in this workout! Not only that but I felt strong and smooth. I don’t think I’ve used those terms to describe a workout in a long time. My legs felt a tiny bit springier than they have lately (not great, but at least not dead!) and I cruised to an average of 6:00 for the 3 tempo miles. YES. I told myself that the 1ks were really going to hurt. Last week I had struggled to something like 3:29, 3:32, 3:33, 3:33, 3:35. I started the first interval, tucked behind Phil who was kind enough to run my pace through these, and we split our watches at 1k. 3:29. Say.. what? It was moderately hard, I’d say but no where near the effort level of last week. The next one: 3:29. And the last 3:29. All smooth and in control. The 400s were 80, 81, and 81. Meh. I’m not a 400m runner. I was so darn excited about the first part of the workout that I didn’t care that I wasn’t under the 80 sec goal time.

I also didn’t have any hip issues. No giving out, no flopping, no loss of control. You guys, I think this PRP injection really worked! You have no idea how happy this makes me – I can run again! Without worrying about my legs coming undone! Without wasting a ton of energy running oddly with a bum leg!! Maybe that’s part of the reason my times are starting to come down?

Second: Stillwater 1/2 marathon on Saturday, May 26th. I was so excited for this race. It’s a great course and is scheduled perfectly 3 weeks out from the marathon (a perfect time to try to race a 1/2!). I thought maybe I’d be able to run a low 1:20s… 1:22 maybe? We postponed going up to the cabin for Memorial Day weekend by a day so I could race (so I felt a little pressure from that — make it worth it!). I took it as a practice for race day as well: wake up early for a bagel, then tropical orange UCAN (my new favorite) mixed more concentrated in the 30-40 minutes before. Gel in shorts pocket (even though I won’t need it during a 1/2 — but good to practice carrying it? Why not since I might carry one in the marathon.)

My legs felt funny from the warm up. The day before I had run in the heat of the day and part way through started to feel a little off. I hydrated like crazy the rest of the day, but I think I was feeling the accumulated effects of a very hot & humid week here in MN (most days above 90 with dew points 62-65). I started off in the half marathon with a 6:21. Not bad, I told myself. Maybe just take it easy for the first 5k and then start to notch it down. Except… my legs were having none of it. It was just a hot, soggy day, and when we left the shaded Gateway trail, my times slipped to 6:40s. It was hard not to be negative during this race (can I find a reason to step aside? Do I have to finish?), but when those thoughts came I reminded myself I needed to train in hard conditions so racing at Grandma’s was going to be easy. Just keep running, Nichole. Get to the finish. I did, finishing 1st for women (just under a minute ahead of the 2nd place woman) and 10th overall (results here).

Photo credits: Stillwater 1/2 Marathon’s FB page
The 5k and 10kers started at 8am along with us, just farther down the course. It was one of the few races I’ve done where I haven’t had too much interference with slower 5k/10k finishers. That was nice!

Despite my disappointment in my finish time (I need to run 2 minutes faster for EACH half marathon at Grandma’s than I did at Stillwater… hmm…), I was elated that again, my hip held up. It hasn’t held up in a long distance effort like this in… years. SO HAPPY!

This was the first time I’ve done the Stillwater 1/2 marathon. They really do a great job with the event! My only regret was wanting to get up to the cabin right after the race… it would have been fun to follow up a great race with some fun shopping in downtown Stillwater!

We enjoyed a wonderful Memorial Day weekend at the cabin afterwards!

Third: The following Tuesday I headed out for my typical hard workout. This time, 4×2 miles at tempo (goal of around 6 mins again, maybe up to 6:10s). I hit the first mile in 6:08, then a 6:30 second mile for 12:38. Second one: 13:24 with the second mile of that one in 6:59. Woof. I decided to edit the 2x 2 mile segments remaining to 4×1 mile. 6:27, 6:34, 6:35, 6:46. I almost stopped after the 7th mile but then thought… just finish this. It’s not doing you much good, but it can’t be doing you harm to just finish (plus, there’s just the mental edge I gain from being stubborn enough to finish workouts!). It was another hot and steamy morning, despite starting at 6:30am.

Needless to say, any enthusiasm I had about my training had been squashed.

Fourth: But, then today happened. One of my most dreaded workouts (and Jerry knows it!): 2×6 miles at marathon pace inside an 18 miler. It was cooler this morning than in previous, but the dew point was still 63. I tried to forget about how much I knew it would hurt, how much mental strength it would take, etc. Just try to find marathon effort and cruise. It’s all too easy to think ahead and psych myself out during workouts like this. I turned Jack FM on my phone and ran to Chumbawumba (remember them?!). Craig ran with me for the entire workout, and Austin for 3 miles of the first segment (love having company!).

I averaged 6:28.1/mile for the first 6 mile segment. 6:32.1 for the second. YAY YAY YAY! *happy dance follows*

(A 6:30 pace for 26.2 miles is sub 2:50.something, so hopefully today was a true MP effort day!)

There are so many ups and downs during a marathon cycle. The key is just to take it a day at a time, execute to the best of your ability, and keep the faith even when things look like they aren’t working. Then trust in your coach or your training plan, good things will come out on the other side!

I’m looking forward to tapering these next two weeks. Hurrah!!

Your turn: What workout or race did you nail in the last two weeks? Did you have a major flop? How do you handle those ups and downs?

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  1. I’m really glad your PRP injection worked! I’ve read mostly positive things about them but it’s always good to see more (anecdotal) evidence. There are so few studies on them, which is why it’s still “experimental” for insurance companies but I do like to hear what others have to say as well. I hope this will help big time in the long term and get you back to where you need to be!

    1. I’m glad someone pointed you my way! It looks like your injury is a little different than mine — maybe more things going on? — but honestly, the PRP injection for me was like a night and day difference. I started seeing changes in my running within about 2 weeks. You mentioned seeing someone last week… did you talk to them about PRP? Or do you have a good path forward with your PT and chiro? Keep me posted! I hope you can find answers!

  2. Our legs and our paces can be such liars during marathon training and high mileage! I am like you and have trouble trusting the process, but all of these runs we’ve put in aren’t for naught. Looking forward to seeing you in less than 2 weeks!

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