I've had a combination of really good marathon experiences and really bad marathon experiences at this point.
The race day experience doesn't bother me too much. The marathon is a challenging distance to run well, because little problems early on (and even 24 hours before) multiply over the 26 mile 385 yard distance:
- Blisters start before the halfway point.
- Lack of proper fueling or hydration shows up between miles 15 and 20.
- Unseasonably warm weather usually takes it's toll for the 8-10 minute miler about the time you hit mile 20-23.
- Eating the wrong thing that morning becomes exponentially nasty with every mile you're out on the course.
The problem is, I've had 3 bouts with injury, including one that occurred within 7 weeks of this year's Chicago marathon. There's an aggressive mileage target that I want to hit (80-100 miles per week) for the performance that I want out of my marathon. The mileage itself is not an issue: I've successfully run 80+ mile weeks before with only the expected fatigue. The problem is scheduling that mileage into my routine.
I end up injured because I stubbornly stick to my mileage target on weeks that I don't have the time to follow-through. That means that I:
- Stack too many runs in a day [triples with well over 20 miles total]
- Run too fast [within 10 seconds per mile of my marathon PR for every run]
- Start building up 5 or more miles per week at a time.
I guess the whole "marathons disrupt a runner's progress" line of thinking finally got to me. (See: The Marathon: A Race too Far?)
I've completed 7 marathons so far, and I've only had a consistent 16 week training period for 3 of them.
- My first one was a 4:34 PR in Outer Banks, NC [My first marathon, ever]
- The second one was a 3:39 PR at Flying Pig.
- The third one was a 3:32 PR at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.
The others? I came off of injury or ran 4-6 weeks after another marathon. Two of them were extremely hilly marathons:
- 4:42 at Hatfield-McCoy six weeks after a 3:39 PR at Flying Pig (I also vacationed the week before and had sore leg muscles when I start).
- 4:32 at Flying Monkey coming off of 6 weeks of injury.
- 3:49 in Memphis after a 3:32 in Indianapolis--the second marathon wasn't hilly and I was still in good shape.
- 4:24:50 in Chicago after injury within 7 weeks of the race and 86'F high downtown.
So far, it appears that the recipe for the greatest chance of success is having at least 16 solid, consistent weeks of training. Also, after running the marathon, my running takes a huge step backward for at least a month. To get to where I want to be for marathon training, I think I need to back off the focus on the marathon.
So, instead, I'm going for some INSANELY lofty goals for my current ability--basically, race paces below 7 minutes for all races up to the half.
- A 19 minute 5k
- A sub-40 10k
- A sub-70 10 miler
- A sub-90 half
I can do 5k training plans in increments of 4 weeks, and even the half in 12 weeks. I can also race a 5k every weekend without really risking injury if I run easy the rest of the week.
Don't think that I'm giving up on the marathon; I have a ticket that I need punched for the NYC marathon next year.