NYC Marathon Training Recap Week 6

Week 6 By the Numbers: 

Miles Run: 33.5

Longest Run: 12 miles

Gym Sessions: 0 

Miles Biked: 77.8

Week 6 of the Pfitzinger 18/55 marathon training plan is a recovery week: lower mileage, no hard workouts, and a chance to let my body heal before the next "mesocycle" of training. The first six weeks of my plan focus purely on endurance, but the second six-week block is designed to increase my lactate threshold as well — pushing my body to adapt to be more efficient and run harder over those long distances.

Pfitzinger writes quite a bit about lactate thresholds, race pace, and physiological adaptations in The Running Bible Advanced Marathoning, which is so much more than just a series of training plans. I don’t just want a training plan handed to me: I like to read about how they’re designed, the method behind the workouts, and how the body handles (or doesn't) long distance running.

Ideally, marathon pace should fall just below the lactate threshold pace, the level of exertion where lactate byproducts accumulate in the muscles and blood too quickly for the body to clear them out — a major limiting factor for a marathoner trying to push themselves as hard as possible but over a long distance. The higher your lactate threshold, the harder you can work and the faster you can run over the course of the whole marathon.

With no intense speed or tempo workouts to speak of, Week Six's first run was a simple 8-miler with some quick 100m strides at the end. These strides aren't a real track workout, just short intervals to practice leg turnover, make you think about form, and end the run with a bang. I like to do them on a flat stretch of sidewalk near my apartment, even if running back and forth on concrete is boring and a bit tough on the joints! It's much less stressful than trying to do them on the go as I head home at the end of my run — red lights, pedestrians, and other obstacles don't mix well with these little sprints. 

When I plan my route for a run ending with strides, I leave plenty of distance at the end — for instance, this 8-miler only needed to be about 7 miles long because I had 10x100m + recovery jogs ready to tack on at the end. I run the same routes regularly and usually find it easy to adjust them, especially on an out-and-back — I can just run 3.5 familiar miles, then back the way I came for a total of 7.  But somehow I convinced myself to turn back early and had to run around the block even more than usual this day! Running pre-coffee doesn't usually affect me, but some days I wonder if I'm really awake at all.

My strides are not nearly as quick as I'd like — but I try not to use them as a real fitness test because I'm starting from a standstill and am wildly inconsistent about when I take off and when I start my watch. I'm trying to focus on their value to me as a runner, not just the paces I hit, but it's hard to ignore the fact that my 100m sprinting pace is the same as my 1-mile PR from last year. Things aren't looking good for next month's Fifth Avenue Mile, but without abandoning marathon training to work on short speeds there's nothing I can do about it — if I've learned one thing from Advanced Marathoning, it's that the physiological adaptations to excel at various distances are completely different.  

In addition to the monotony and hard sidewalk, another downside to running back and forth on one street is the attention it gets from passers by. Early in the morning there aren't many pedestrians out, and catcalling is rarely an issue but I've still had a few people interrupt or harass me. Last year, a man walking a huge dog outside my apartment started heckling me when I visibly changed course to avoid running too close to them during my strides. As a rule I give dogs a wide berth: if they're off leash and I startle them or they decide to attack me, I want some space — but even if they're on the leash and dart out in front of me, that leash might trip me and hurt both of us. When this man jeered at me and yelled that his dog was a nice one, I made the mistake of responding "I don't like dogs" and "I can never be sure if she'll get in my way".

The next thing I knew he was screaming curses at me and the one other woman on the street, and I was practically in tears I was so angry and afraid. This week, a man walking his dog in the same place took an interest in me and started asking questions about how many laps I had, how fast I run, and what my name was and bragging about how much he could squat — at first I thought they were the same pair, though in hindsight I doubt it. But I was still quite uncomfortable (not to mention out of breath from my strides) and didn't want to be making small talk.

Unfortunately, as much as I believe a person should have the right to not engage with other people, it's considered pretty aggressive, and the path of least resistance for me that morning was to smile and respond politely as I ran. Part of me wishes I'd laid down the law and told him I was too busy to chat, but when I think back to how threatened I felt last year, I admit to myself that chafing at that interaction is still easier on me than fearing an angry man with a large dog. 

Wednesday’s recovery run was a rainy but uneventful one, but Thursday’s left me really shaken: I woke up with sharp heel/Achilles pain in the same spot that has been flaring up during some long runs, and again struggled to make it down the block when I went out for my second general aerobic run of the week. I’m very nervous about injuring myself again, perhaps even more than being undertrained for the marathon, so I cut the run almost immediately and did PT exercises instead of aggravating my heel more.

I have been bike commuting consistently and have a hunch that the extra calf workout with no stretching afterward is tightening my lower legs up at an alarming rate. I want to balance and supplement my running with my bike commutes, not detract from my training, so I need to find a way to keep this stress from building up and make sure my rest days are still restful. Hopefully keeping a foam roller/calf stretcher under my desk, along with a consistent routine to get my body adapted to this new normal should do the trick!

I took Friday off to give my heel time to rest, and on Saturday went for a cautious run. I had a terrible night’s sleep (complete with blaring flash flood alert on my phone) so I considered just doing my 4-mile recovery run, but once I got moving I felt strong and energetic so I returned to Thursday’s 8 miles. The torrential downpour that caught me around mile 3 was refreshing and fun, and when the sun came back out, the impromptu tempo run felt like a treat, not an obligation. 

After that confidence boost I was really looking forward to Sunday’s long run — a comparatively short 12 miles! Marathon training’s perspective shifts never fail to amaze me. Distances that were once my absolute limit are now my easy recovery runs, long runs from another era are now “short” or casual mid-week runs, and my truly long runs have ballooned into intimidating challenges and sources of pride as they grow nearer to 20 miles than 10.

This week’s 12 was hot and humid, like so many other summer runs. I wish I was adapting faster to these conditions —I still struggle more than I’d like once I start to overheat— but the run wasn’t anything extraordinary. I'm still feeling the pain in my heel, which is a bit worrisome, but I've been icing it after my runs and trying not to run until I'm warmed up and ready to go. Hopefully lots more stretching and pre-hab will calm this down and keep it from turning into a serious injury.

The week of running wasn't too bad overall (especially with so many miles on the bike) but I have to admit I haven't been to the gym in weeks, and I'm really feeling it. I know that strength training for my legs, as well as upper body and core, will make me a stronger runner overall, but I just don't know how to fit any more workouts into my schedule. Running takes up an incredible amount of time, and I'm only able to fit in so much bicycling because it takes the place of my subway commute — it isn't an addition to my routine. Finding the time and energy for two-a-day workouts multiple times a week doesn't feel realistic anymore. I think I need to dial back my expectations and focus on fitting in just one or two weekly lifting sessions to maintain the progress I've made so far, instead of trying to cram in a morning run and evening weightlifting session. I'm going to try pairing a short lift with my quicker recovery runs —which isn't ideal because I'd like to keep my "easy days easy and hard days hard" to maximize recovery time— but I think it's a compromise worth trying out. 

Next week is back to the grind with my lactate threshold workouts and hopefully a little more lifting than I've seen recently.