NYC Marathon Training Recap Weeks 14, 15, 16

WEEK 14 BY THE NUMBERS: 

Miles Run: 23.5

Longest Run:  11 miles

Gym Sessions: 0 

Miles Biked: 0

As I write this, I’m winding down my marathon training cycle and tapering down to race day; the last three weeks closed out the “work” phase of this training cycle. I’ve had a rough and inconsistent autumn and these final, critical weeks were no exception. I adjusted my workouts, rearranged some and skipped others, trying to keep up with my day job as well as my training, but for the most part I had to prioritize work over running.

I don’t want to use my schedule as an excuse for failure, and I don’t want to assume I won’t be able to reach my goal of a 3:45 time (at least this race) but I also want to be realistic about my capabilities and expectations on race day. Even at the beginning of this cycle, 3:45 felt like a stretch goal. But I hoped even if I couldn’t accomplish that, I’d still be able to PR, finishing in the 8-minute gap between that time and my PR of 3:53. Now, even that adjustment is feeling less and less doable: I’m facing a tougher course and am not as well-trained as I was last fall. In this same busy moment last year, I still had a few weeks of training left before the race day at the end of November. This year, I’ve had to make many more compromises at the peak of my training before race day on November 4, and I don’t take that lightly.

Three weeks ago, I was in a different mindset. I was still nervous about my fitness and had some light weeks of training, but was riding the high of a great workout at the Bronx 10-mile race. That marathon-pace run was taxing but a success, and I headed into the next week with optimistic attitude.  But in the days following the race, I found I was stiff and more disconcertingly, feeling sharp knee pain reminiscent of my IT band problems earlier this year on Tuesday, so I pushed my track day to Wednesday.

When I did get out to the track, I gave the 600m repeats everything I had — but that wasn’t much compared to my past efforts, and didn’t see the same results I did last time I did the same workout. In hindsight even hitting the track was a win: I had to miss my midweek 11-miler and only fit in a modified, quick tempo on Saturday before catching a red-eye to Germany for a work trip. My plan called for a 10k-ish tuneup race but without one on the schedule (and with my flight fast approaching) I decided a few confidence-boosting marathon pace miles were the best use of my time.

After landing on Germany on Sunday I attempted my 17-mile long run, but crashed and burned. The last few times I’ve gone out for a run after a long transatlantic flight, I’ve found myself sluggish and stiff, but keep trying to stick to my routine and do my Sunday long run after stepping off a red-eye. Unfortunately this run kept up the pattern of rough funs; my gait was awkward and feet were clumsy and stiff, and my ankles grew more and more painful until I was sure I’d somehow sprained them on the flight. Whatever tendon pain I was having was scarier than the thought of undertraining for the marathon, and  I bagged the run at 11 slow miles.


WEEK 15 BY THE NUMBERS: 

Miles Run: 30.5

Longest Run:  15 miles

Gym Sessions: 0 

Miles Biked: 0

The following week was a different kind of busy — instead of long days in the office, I was juggling meetings and social appointments during the Frankfurt Book Fair. My days would start relatively late, at 9 or 10am, but go nonstop through cocktails and work dinners that would keep me out until at least midnight. That schedule, daily glasses of wine, and heavy German food (or questionable convention center food) make exercising and even sleeping well a chore; having attended the fair before I knew what I was in for and did my best to eat well, drink in moderation, and accept the havoc the week would wreak on my training.

Monday’s rest day helped me adjust to the 6-hour time change, and Tuesday’s easy 7 miles were surprisingly smooth. Running 100m strides along Frankfurt’s central river was a stunning change from the concrete sidewalk outside my apartment, and the crisp air and sunrise views were inspiring. But as I expected, fatigue and a hangover caught up to me on Wednesday, and my 5x1,200m intervals felt like a Herculean effort though I barely came close to my intended paces. I had 10 miles on the schedule but shortened the total to 8.5 to squeeze in a few minutes more of sleep that morning, a compromise that I’d happily make again.

Unfortunately I also skipped Friday’s 11-miler because of an especially early start. I considered trying to shift the run back a day to Thursday, but couldn’t drag myself out of bed that day either: the two hours I’d need for my run plus time to prepare for the workday were just too much if I was going to get any sleep at all — and being at a convention all day meant I needed to prioritize sleep so I could be extroverted, sharp, and energetic in front of clients and contacts. In past years I’ve been better about training while attending this event, but this year I think the exhaustion of the prior weeks wore me down early.

The bright light at the end of this week was my long weekend of vacation in Girona, Spain. I wrote all about my long run here — instead of faithfully following my training plan and finding a 20-mile road route to follow, I dedicated my first day in Girona to a long, unstructured trail run. I started by running up and around a small mountain to see some medieval ruins, continued into some nearby suburbs, and finally finished with a few laps of the city’s small park. Instead of worrying about exact mileage, I focused more on enjoying the Spanish countryside and terrain, and was happily exhausted by the end of the day. I’m really glad I did this 15-miler the Saturday I arrived in Girona and left sightseeing for Sunday, even if that meant walking and climbing many old stone steps with sore quads! Tackling the run after a long day of walking around town would have been much worse; I think my enjoyment and excitement to explore, as well as the run’s training value, would have suffered a lot in comparison.

I fit in one more short run Monday morning before I left for Barcelona, running in a less spectacular (but still pleasant) route out another side of town along one of Girona’s several rivers. The week barely resembled my training plan, but the trail run was a highlight of the week, and a satisfying way to fit in a long run, which I hoped would carry some of the value the 20-miler on the plan would have.


WEEK 16 BY THE NUMBERS: 

Miles Run: 41.5

Longest Run:  16 miles

Gym Sessions: 0 

Miles Biked: 27.3

I flew back from Spain on Tuesday and remembering my miserable first run in Germany, decided to take an extra day to recover from the 9 hours of plane travel before hitting the track. Thursday morning I jumped into my next 5x600m workout, and it was a tough one — and cold! The warm weather had vanished from New York whole I was away, and 40-degree temperatures were a nasty surprise, especially where the winds along the East River pick up. But my splits weren’t as bad as I feared, and I think the extra day of acclimating did my legs a lot of good.

I slogged through 5.5 recovery miles the next day, and another marathon pace workout in lieu of tuneup race on Saturday. At this point I struggled more, and I started to wonder if I wasn’t having tummy troubles for some reason related to traveling. I haven’t had a chance to look back at my old training logs to search for a pattern, but I am curious if the last flare-ups of nausea and cramping coincide with international (or even domestic) travel. On the other hand, stress and returning to rushed, inconsistent eating habits and poor sleep might be the simpler explanation.

A 16-mile long run closed out this oddball week and put me firmly in taper territory. The run was another windy one but uneventful — I didn’t feel fantastic, but didn’t face any serious obstacles either. A little bit of IT band tightness and knee pain did rear its head around mile 8, but didn’t get too intense and adjusting my knee straps and paying attention to my gait helped keep that in check.

I also have a hunch that my crummy bike flares up my IT band when I let the seat slip out of place — it tilts backwards and leaves my knees and hips at an awkward angle. I’ve noticed this is an uncomfortable and less powerful position to pedal from, and assume that inefficiency stresses my legs and joints too. I am trying to be more cognizant of fixing this when it happens by jamming the seat back in line, and plan to get a full tuneup and replacement seat soon. In the mean time, I think I will try to only bike short distances so I don’t sabotage myself right on the eve of the marathon! I also want to avoid the potential for an accident or injury at this point — bike commuting through hectic midtown Manhattan is a relatively dangerous activity, and I don’t want to incur any unnecessary risks so close to the race.

I am still doubting my potential to achieve my goals, and starting to stress about my race-day plan, from outfit and weather to transportation, so I want to keep everything in my control as simple and safe as possible. I have a lot on my mind, but I don’t want to get so anxious that I don’t enjoy the race and soak it all in: even if I don’t run my ideal time, or have a perfect race, I’ve put a lot of work into this process and don’t want to waste that effort, commitment, and experience.