A “prep race” may not be part of a typical marathon training program, but I tried it once before and liked it. The idea is to complete a longer shorter race two days after my peak long run before a marathon. For this training cycle, it was a 28-mile run – my longest to date. I start my taper two weeks out, after completing this prep race. It may seem short, but my weekly average mileage really isn’t that high, so I don’t think I need as much.
Half the goal of this 15k was getting to the start line without tight or sore legs (from the long run). The other half was to see what I could do on tired legs, and still keep good form. I thought this would give me a good idea of what pace to shoot for in the marathon.
This was a tiny, flat race that kept you on a paved bike path, so you didn’t have to worry about traffic. There was a 5k and 10k option as well, but it seemed like only about 300 people total. The morning of, I felt good – no tightness or soreness. I knew once I started running, my legs would be tired once I started running, but I hoped to find a steady pace and run with a constant, mild-ish burn after the first few miles. I had a good warm up with some dynamic stretching and then it was go time.
Mile 1 – 6:58
Mile 2 – 6:53
Mile 3 – 6:52
Mile 4 – 6:36
Mile 5 – 6:34
Mile 6 – 6:36
Mile 7 – 6:34
Mile 8 – 6:34
Mile 9 – 6:38
and a kick at the end!
Reminding myself that my legs were just tired, and nothing else, I was able to steady the pace and finish strong. I was pretty happy with the results and how I felt. Though a prep race isn’t typically the time to PR, I ended up shaving 9 seconds on my previous 15k best. But there’s always room for critical analysis. After seeing my splits, the third mile should have been a bit faster. Cadence was slow (average 172), but was expected on heavy legs.
Marathon training is a work in progress. I’m searching for the best plan for the best results my body can give. But the human body adapts, and there’s so many changing variables that even if you find your perfect formula, it won’t work for forever. Though in theory, I suppose if you hit your race goal with a good plan and then considerably lose your level of fitness afterwards you would probably get good results again with the same plan. I know the plan I just completed may seem a bit crazy to a lot of runners, but I feel like I’m on to something. I’m ready to see what I can do in New York.
I knew before I started this training cycle it would be my last time using this plan. Not that I ever end up sticking to the original plan anyway, but for the last several marathon races I’ve had similar training plans. I felt like my body was almost ready to switch things up.
My last summer race was a half-marathon at the end of August. It was time to “get down to business” and put in some early, long, hard miles. I missed my first 20-miler due to illness, but I was able to pound out a 22 the next week. Going out for a 20-miler again, I quit at 18. It sounds silly to stop just 2 miles short of what I was supposed to do, but I was done. I could tell I was getting stressed with work, life, and running in general. I didn’t have time to take a break from training, but the break came anyway. I left the house the next week with the intention of doing 24 miles. I did 4.5, walked home, and ate almost an ENTIRE pint of fudge mind ice cream – and it was only “almost” a full pint because my husband had apparently already had a few bites. Otherwise, it would have been the whole thing. Physically and mentally, I couldn’t. I didn’t run the next day, but I squeezed in a 10-miler on Sunday (which is normally a rest day). I needed to get my head together. I only had a little over a month left to train. However, I made those last weeks count – 22, 24, 26, 20, 16, RACE!
For the first time in a training cycle, I did a prep-race – two days after that last 20-miler. It was a small 15k, and the point was to see what I could do on legs that didn’t have much time to recover from a long run. I also thought it would be good for me personally to get some competitive energy out of me so I wouldn’t get overly excited and go out too fast again for the marathon. The race went well, with a 6:41 average pace. My legs were tired when I started, but not sore. My recovery routine was working out pretty well. With that and the past four weeks of solid long runs, I was getting excited for Charlotte. I tapered, I carbed up, I packed, and I was off. In and out of the expo in record time, I enjoyed the time I had with my family. My mom and brother were running the half together.
Looking back, I had a few rough patches in training, but overall I PR-ed a lot in my long runs this time around. I had gotten faster. My mid-week runs remained solid, and my nutrition strategy improved. I increased HoneyStinger intake and added Pasokin (a peanut butter candy) around miles 14 and 18.
Race morning I woke up feeling great. I knew the weather would be cool, so I packed arm warmers, but generally high-thirties, low-forties seem to be when I perform the best – even when I don’t live/train in that weather. Everything was perfect. This race was going to be so good – I was going to break three hours, and I was going to win (small race).
Leaving my mom and brother in their corral, I made my way to the front to get behind the 3-hour pacer. I was wearing my watch (for the first time during a marathon) to make sure I took it easy, but since there was a pace group I wanted to run with the extra support. There I go.
Immediately, I lost the pace group. I thought they were in front of me, so I figured I’d catch them after the pack dwindled. My first 2 miles were too fast, but then I quickly settled at my 6:50 goal pace. I was confused at why the pace group would be so far ahead, but whatever, I had my watch. I felt great through mile 9, and then suddenly the pace group came up behind me. How did I get ahead of them? I don’t know, but now there were two other female contenders. Just before the half, I started realizing something wasn’t right. But I couldn’t tell what it was. My legs, feet, and joints weren’t giving me any issues, and my breathing seemed okay. Nutrition was fine, and the weather conditions didn’t change. I just started feeling…awful. And almost sleepy tired. Identifying the problem in a distance race is half the battle because as soon as you identify the issue, you can use your mind power to start battling it. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure it out. My goal pace began slipping away and I couldn’t bring it back.
At mile 19 they had a race clock, and when I looked at the time, my first thought was that one day, I will have just finished the marathon by then – I will have run 7 more miles by that time. My second thought was on that day, I hope I will remember how miserable and defeated I felt now. I never want to take fast for granted and forget what I had to do to get there.
The second place female dropped out, so I took her spot. I plundered on through mile 24, but had to start walking/jogging. I quickly fell into 3rd, but not before I gave one last “sprint” to try and keep my standing. It last for about 10 yards. I had nothing left in me and couldn’t compete. My stomach and head started to ache and then came nausea. I threw up in my mouth a bit. Even thinking about eating or drinking anything made it worse. And then it hit me. I was severely dehydrated. I hadn’t thought about how much (or little) fluid I’d been taking in, but I realized it wasn’t much. The cooler weather made me not feel thirsty, so I didn’t hydrate like I should have from the start. I understood. But it was WAY too late. Dragging myself the last few miles, I finished 4th female at 3:19:18 (small race). There was no hiding my disastrous mistake – into the medic tent I went.
Disappointment trumped any frustration I might have had. I had nothing to show for my training, and my next full wasn’t until June. I made a terrible mistake that ruined what would have been a great race. I was ready to break 3 hours, but I didn’t. It was a completely empty Nutella jar in the cupboard. It was there. I smelled it. But I didn’t taste it.