Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rose Colored Race Glasses

Something that I still struggle to understand is the why most marathon training plans are expected to work? I’ve followed a couple of different plans only to come up short of my goal on race day. Typically they propose running various types of runs, each run with a different purpose, and incorporating a long run once a week with the focus on time rather than tempo. I understand the intent and potential benefits of the shorter, faster runs. That seems fairly obvious. However, the goal of the long slow run is where the running water starts to get a little murky.

Regarding the long training run, the vast majority of information that I’ve found supports the same conclusion. Training for more than three hours is not advisable. Some studies even suggest that training in excess of three hours is detrimental to your conditioning. You get beyond the point of making any gains and actually start doing harm. So my question is this: if you can’t finish a marathon in three hours, and you don’t do any training runs lasting more than three hours, how exactly does one make the leap from three hours to finishing the remaining miles to complete a marathon?

I’ve followed a plan that included a twenty two mile long distance run, another that never went further than twenty miles. In both plans the longest of the training runs beat me up pretty good. I remember completing both runs and felling very glad I didn’t have to run one more mile. From that point the long runs begin to taper off through race day. Are we just hoping that the race gods will smile on us that day? Or are the people creating the marathon training plans simply wearing rose colored race glasses?

Is there something to training faster than you anticipate running in the race that will carry you through the last miles? Maybe. But how a tempo run at one minute faster than race pace for five or six miles equates to a holding slower pace for twenty six miles is beyond me. The hill repeats or interval runs, while exceptionally grueling if done right, push your conditioning and your fortitude to the limits yet somehow seem insignificant when running more than ten miles at any pace.

I have yet to follow a training plan that specifically talks about fuel during long runs. Perhaps it’s one of those subjects that is so unique to each individual runner that there is little if any common ground, and as such it is ignored. Besides, I train without any food or water on all runs. I have never exceed twenty two miles outside of a race, so I’m wondering does the additional few miles actually warrant some form of race fuel? I don’t yet have that answer.

One thing I have learned, albeit not from reading any literature is that I don’t want to attempt anything in a race that I have not done in practice. Forget about the race gods smiling on me that day, or other romantic notions that some runners seems to hold dear. Before my next marathon I will run twenty six miles more than once while training. I will absolutely test my long distance limits, mentally and physically, without an audience and competition of the race. I will build upon each previous attempt until I am comfortable with the distance. The confidence I develop on my pre race training marathons will get me through the last few miles in the race regardless of the race conditions. And if all things go well on that particular day, perhaps I’ll be wearing the rose colored race glasses as I cross the finish line.

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