NYC Marathon Training Recap Weeks 11, 12, 13
WEEK 11 BY THE NUMBERS:
Miles Run: 42
Longest Run: 20 miles
Gym Sessions: 0
Miles Biked: 3.3
The last three weeks of September were my most difficult weeks of training to date. As my mileage and intensity continued to ramp up, my work obligations also skyrocketed. Instead of 40-50 hours per week in the office with fewer than 8 hours at nights and over the weekend, I was looking at 50+ hours in the office and 10+ hours at home. I slept less, worked more, stressed constantly, ate poorly, wore down my immune system, and still tried to train harder, but couldn’t sustain that forever.
Week 11 of training should have kicked off with an 11-mile run, with 7 at tempo pace, but I actually started the week with an extra rest day. Stomach pains and nausea kept me on the couch all morning: when I dragged myself out the door on Wednesday I thought I might perk up and be able to power through my postponed workout. But even in my warmup I had a sinking feeling I wasn’t up to par, and I cut the 11 miles down to 6 and slogged home. My fuzzy mind, wooden legs, and snarled guts added up to another failed run and I found myself seriously questioning my motivation and ability to run a marathon.
Instead of trying to redo the workout Thursday, I gave myself the rest day on the schedule and tried to accept the botched workout at face value. The perfectionist in me wants to try again when I don’t meet my goals, but in cases like this, trying to repeat a failed workout is only going to dig me deeper into the exhausted hole that lead to the rough run in the first place.
Life doesn’t always give you a do-over. I am trying to find a balance between allowing myself to take rest days and make adjustments when I need them to improve my training and health overall, and prioritizing my training and gritting my teeth when things get tough so I don’t get used to bailing on any difficult or painful workout. Marathon training isn’t supposed to be easy; I’m still fine-tuning my sense of how much stress and exhaustion is too much, and how much will push my limits and build me up into a better runner. I’m still learning to push myself and give my all while also having the capacity to forgive myself for failed workouts.
The 12-miler I pushed through Friday morning was an improvement holistically, though I kept it slow and careful, and did the same for my 5-miler Saturday. I was not going to get back the tempo run I bombed on Tuesday, but I did want to make sure I was rested, fed, hydrated, and relaxed before my second 20-miler on Sunday. Without ignoring the fact that the tempo had value and ideally I would not skip any workouts, I needed to look ahead and make the most of my upcoming workouts, not just stay fixated on past failures.
I got up early for my 20-miler and reversed the direction of the route I took a few weeks ago. Running from Queens to Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, Randall’s Island and back home kept things interesting but was safe and simple — with plenty of bridges and elevation gain to lightly mimic the New York City Marathon itself.
I was really pleasantly surprised how well this run went: especially after such a disheartening and ineffective week, the steady passing of miles was a refreshing and motivating feeling. Of course, beautiful weather and a slew of engaging podcasts helped! I had always struggled to get into audiobooks, but I’ve fallen victim to the recent podcast craze. I read faster than most normal recording speed, so I think books have been a tough sell — but the more slickly produced and “three-dimensional” podcasts, especially investigative reported series, have me hooked, especially when played at 1.5x or double speed, so I don’t feel like the slow pace of speech drags me down and I can binge my way through entire seasons of true crime, narrative nonfiction, and human interest shows.
I wouldn’t try to pair a podcast with a tough workout but on a long aerobic run, losing myself in a brand-new, engaging story and not just daily news reports or standalone episodes has been a welcome change to my routine. Over this 20-miler and week 12’s 17-miler, I’ve caught up on Serial, listened to Slow Burn, Dr. Death, and Dirty John — all engaging, exciting, and contemporary. I think politics and crime shows keep me a bit amped up and mesh well with running, but previously I’ve noticed some shows bore me and don’t move fast enough (or require too much concentration to multitask).
WEEK 12 BY THE NUMBERS:
Miles Run: 45
Longest Run: 17 miles
Gym Sessions: 0
Miles Biked: 44.9
After a pretty solid 20-miler I expected Week 12’s first workout to be difficult but I relished getting back to the track. My 600m intervals in the mid 7:30 and 7:40 paces put my fitness right where I expect it, though this workout I noticed quite a bit of lower back and stomach pain, even before I was winded or my legs were burning. I pushed through but was a little disconcerted — this has happened on and off before, but I have never figured out what brings it on.
12 miles on Wednesday also went smoothly, but after my workday Thursday didn’t end until midnight I skipped my recovery run Friday to sleep a bit. I did not have a tuneup race on the schedule for Saturday, so I decided to just run marathon pace miles for additional practice in that zone: and I couldn’t be happier with my results. I worked hard and was physically tired, but after a smooth warmup mile got my confidence up, I laid down 7 more well-paced miles. Marathon pace’s psychological intimidation factor and my fears about being undertrained are really plaguing me; this workout helped remind me my training does have value and Sunday’s 17 miles that message. The cool weather and a fresh podcast lineup carried me through another long run to close out a harried week.
WEEK 13 BY THE NUMBERS:
Miles Run: 31
Longest Run: 18 miles
Gym Sessions: 0
Miles Biked: 49.2
Week 13 was a rough one for me: after an easy 8 miles on Tuesday my work week got so crazy I couldn’t run again until Saturday. A 9-mile track workout and 12-mile midweek long run both went out the window with 12+ hour days wearing me down, and I was really nervous about falling behind on my training. I made sure to bike commute a few days to keep my activity level up, but that’s a poor substitute for marathon-specific workouts.
I know that one or two workouts, or even one week, won’t make or break a training cycle, but I’ve been pretty insecure about hitting my workouts now and being able to run strong in November. This draining week compounded that fear and by the time I got to my easy run on Saturday I was expecting the worst. But the short run around my neighborhood went smoothly, if a bit fast, and I set my sights on the long run/workout/race combo I had planned for Sunday.
The New York Road Runners’ Bronx 10 Mile race was on Sunday, and with 14 marathon pace miles on the schedule, I decided to use the race environment for most of those miles. I didn’t want to miss the race (or the chance to knock out some 9+1 credit for next year) so to get my full workout in, I decided to warm up with 8 miles on my way to the start line, with 4 of those at my goal marathon pace, and then continue running 8:45 min/miles through the duration of the race.
I got up at 5am to cool air and low humidity, and when I left the house at 6:30 even considered wearing more than shorts and a t-shirt. But I soon warmed up as I ran over to Randall’s Island from Queens, up to the Bronx, and towards the race start. I passed quite a few other runners wearing bibs and clearly heading to the race as well; I try not to get competitive during my warmups but I did catch myself pushing the pace at times, first to keep my distance and then to keep my pride intact.
My first MP mile was a bit slow; with crummy GPS signal making it tough to lock in my goal pace and tight calves coming off the Triboro bridge, I didn’t pick up the pace as quick as I wanted, but I settled in quickly after that. I ran up into the Bronx and towards the start, and felt in control and strong as I ticked off the next 2.5 miles. I was going to try to hit 4 miles even before getting in my corral, but I was worried I’d be late or have to wait in a long port-a-potty line so instead I stopped in a bodega to use the bathroom and met my boyfriend in our race corral with only 7.5 miles down. The weather was gorgeous and my energy was high, and even though the race start was delayed a bit I didn’t get too tight or cold while waiting to get going again. I wish I’d knocked out the orphaned .5 miles while waiting so I wouldn’t have to tack them on at the end of the race, but the thought of running at any set pace around the crowded start area exhausted me and stressed me out. I held them over to the end of the race and when the starting gun finally went off, we launched right into more marathon pace miles.
I tend to run longer distances with music playing, and kept one earbud in although we chit-chatted and checked in about paces as we ran. As always, the first few minutes were crowded and there was a lot of “traffic” but the straight course quickly gave everyone room to spread out and run steadily. I felt a little strange being so sweaty at the start of the race, fueling and hydrating so long before everyone around me, and feeling my muscles and joints start to complain while everyone else was still warming up, but it was also a bit exciting to know I was going strong despite the fact that I’d already run a distance almost equal to the race itself.
The Bronx 10 Mile course is straight and fairly flat, except a steep gully of an underpass and a more shallow, longer hill right at the turnaround point. I wanted to keep my pace and effort even, practicing my strategy for the marathon, and kept an eye on my watch as well as my boyfriend pacing me. He would sometimes pull away on the downhills, where he’s faster than I am, but I’d catch up within a few minutes, playing the long game. Having a rabbit to chase and the race energy surrounding me really worked wonders, and I stuck to my goal marathon pace almost perfectly. Last year’s Bronx 10 Mile was hot and humid, but the weather this year worked in my favor and even the bright sunshine was a welcome positive influence. Around the 9-mile mark my boyfriend took off to really race his final mile —coming in at a low 7min/mile pace— while I only sped up to a low 8 min/mile pace myself. But even that smaller increase in effort was asking a lot of my legs at that point: my right quad and oddly, the front of my left ankle, were giving me trouble. I was breaking in a new pair of shoes so I think the tongue shifted over the hours I’d been running, but it was an area I’ve never struggled with before.
I finished the race in 1:26:54, or 8:42 min/mile pace, right on target for my training. After handing off my medal and post-race snacks to my boyfriend I ran that final .5 mile around the finisher zone, then we settled down to bask in the glow of a job well done. The race portion of my long run and marathon paced miles were nearly flawless: my pace varied moment to moment but I am really proud of how I stuck to my plan of running even splits. The four miles before weren’t as perfect, and I’m sure the break between sections of the long run helped me during the final 10 miles, but I am still satisfied with my effort and results. The difficult week leading up to this race and workout drained me, but ironically, needing to skip my training runs earlier left me with more days to rest and “taper” in preparation, so I think that also helped me nail this run.
This week ended on a high note but I’m still very nervous about my fitness for the full marathon. With just 5 full weeks left of training, including my taper weeks, and a big work trip looming I am concerned that I’m not training as hard —and won’t be as prepared to hit my goal— as I thought I would be. But short of dropping out or abandoning my goal, at this point all I can do is continue training, trying to eat well, sleep well, and rest well, and make the most of the journey and race day itself.