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April 23, 2007

The Experiment

"One night, and one more time -
Thanks for the memories, thanks for the memories ... "
- Fall Out Boy, "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs"

One year ago, I used a lot of this space to ponder the notion of a sub-three hour marathon, and the likelihood that I would ever be able to do it again. Then after a rain-soaked 3:03 at Napa, and a near-miss 3:01 at Big Sur (see reports at right), I probably spent even more blog space lamenting the missed opportunities.

If you weren’t reading my blog back then – trust me, it’s not worth going back through the archives to get up to speed. Just understand that it involved a lot of hand-wringing and insignificant rambling (long-time readers are nodding their heads right now), and that I eventually came to terms with the outcomes – at least, that’s what I tell my therapist.

But now the Big Sur Marathon approaches again, and the question looms: how fast am I going to run it? Will I come close to 3-hours? And - most importantly, from your standpoint - if I don’t, am I going to subject you to another series of melancholy posts about what might have been?

The short answers are: I have no idea; I sure hope so; and (thankfully) not a chance. For the longer versions, keep reading.

In more than 10 years of marathoning, I’ve never gone into a race with a poorer sense of my capability than the race I’m running this weekend. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just unfamiliar. And yes, the responsibility for this lies squarely on my triathlon training.

Typically when I’m preparing for a marathon, I have a consistent buildup of mileage, with benchmark workouts to give me a sense of how fast I am in comparison to previous seasons (I don’t keep track of every workout, but one or two primary ones on a weekly basis). The race outcome is usually predicted in the numbers - for example, if I run 80 miles a week, and my 13-mile marathon-pace runs are under 90 minutes, and if I’ve done several workouts of mile repeats at 6-minute pace, I know that I’ll probably be close to three hours in the marathon.

This year, all of those calculations may as well be tossed out the window. I haven’t run nearly as much mileage as in previous years, on account of all the time I’ve spent on the bike and in the pool. And I don’t have any experience preparing for a marathon-Half IM double to compare with my current level of fitness.

Essentially, this weekend’s marathon is a grand experiment, revolving around a crucial question: For marathon success, is it better to be a dedicated high-mileage runner, or a moderate-mileage runner with good all-around conditioning? I don’t know the answer – and that’s why I have no idea how fast I’ll run.

I have some reason to be optimistic. I’ve managed to do long runs on a fairly consistent basis, topping out at 23 miles 2 weeks ago. The workouts I keep track of (marathon-pace runs and track intervals) are all faster than I did last year. My body weight is looking at the underside of 180lbs for the first time in a couple of years. I don’t have any nagging injuries threatening to derail me.

However, my skeptical side instills reason for concern. My highest running week was 65 miles – and that was back in February. Since then, weekly mileage has alternated between low 50s and mid-30s, depending on whether I did a long run or bike ride on Saturday. Yes, 20-mile runs are good, but I don’t think a 20-mile run at the end of a 50-mile week taxes your legs nearly as much as a 20-miler at the end of an 80-mile week.

I used to be a 40 mile per week runner; not coincidentally, those were the same years that I was a 3:20-3:30 marathoner. It wasn’t until I bumped my mileage up to the 70s and 80s that my marathon times dropped significantly and I started running sub-three hours – so that’s the training model I’ve come to rely upon. The idea that I might still run a fast marathon on 40 miles per week just seems counterintuitive. Although stranger things have happened, I guess.

(I actually have a strategy of how this might happen – which will be the topic of my next post.)

As far as what my reaction will be after the race – well, on that topic I’m fairly certain. It’s not going to bother me at all. The nice thing about having no expectations is that there’s no reason to be disappointed.

If the race plays out well and I end up breaking three hours, obviously I’ll be ecstatic. But if I give the race an honest effort and end up running 3:15 or 3:20, I think I’ll be OK with that. And if I come breathtakingly close and finish in 3:01 … well, I’ve been there before, too.

Remember, this race is a booty call: something to keep me occupied for a while, before I return my energy and attention to my primary interest (Wildflower) the following weekend. Booty calls always feel good at the time; it’s only when you start analyzing them afterwards that you become dissatisfied with your actions.

So I pledge that that won’t happen here. Not this year. I’ll take whatever Big Sur has to offer, then say “Thank you, Ma’am,” before slipping out the back door and taking my bike for a spin the next day.

But if you're a big fan of the anguish that comes from this blog sometimes ... don't worry, I'm sure it will be back before you know it.


craig 4/23/07, 8:22 PM  

Hope you have a great race this weekend Donald. I'll be looking forward to the printed version.

Megan 4/24/07, 6:26 AM  

Good luck Donald! We'll be cheering for you over here!

SkiRough 4/24/07, 6:31 AM  

It will be interesting to see how the race turns out! Best of luck, Donald!

Distance Running Dave 4/24/07, 8:10 AM  

Find someone around mile 21 and let them know you are in the midst of an experiment. Then give them your best Mad Scientist / Dr. Evil laugh you can manage and cruise on by.

Enjoy your booty call!

Jeremy 4/24/07, 9:14 AM  

Just go out and enjoy the booty call. Best of luck!

warriorwoman 4/24/07, 2:09 PM  

Its going to be fascinating to see how your 1/2 IM training affects your times. Good luck with both Big Sur and Wildflower, what an exciting month you have ahead of you.

turkeyssr 4/24/07, 2:18 PM  

Wow Donny! You sure do think a whole lot. All the best this weekend and I'm certain you'll be much faster at Big Sur than I ever will. -- John

olga 4/24/07, 9:24 PM  

I bet on a great time (as in fast). I believe in high mileage, but I also believe in all-around conditioning, that by time would have translated in high mileage yet without the overtraining syndrom.
Don't let me down:)

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