Given that I'm five weeks into this training cycle and about to run my first official race of 2010 this coming weekend, I thought it'd be appropriate to assess and analyze how my training for the New Jersey Marathon has been progressing so far. For the purposes of this discussion, it might be helpful to refer to the training plan as it was originally designed. (see here)
For those who like things short and sweet, I'll give you the pictorial version:
For those who prefer a longer and more detailed explanation, I decided to bring things up in terms of the workouts I deem most important in terms of marathon preparation. In all the previous marathons I've run, I can almost always predict my successes and failures on the road based on the progress (or lack thereof) I've made on these specific workouts. Although the number and variety of these sessions have increased over the years, I think the general goal of optimizing aerobic fitness and improving running economy while incorporating speed, strength, and endurance have remained pretty much the same. Here then is how I've done on my key workouts:
Long Runs - 17 Miles & Up
Scheduled - 2; Completed - 3
Assessment: Since it's early (5 weeks in, 11 more to go), all my long runs thus far have been 18 miles or less. I inadvertently did one more than I was supposed to last week when I a ran a few more miles with a very fun friend (TK of pigtailsflying - read her report of our exploits), albeit at a slower pace for me. Overall, I think I'm doing okay in this department although I have a little trouble maintaining a steady pace in the cold and windy conditions I've been doing these in. I'm experimenting with fueling as I run these to get a sense of how to get the most "bang for the buck" in the later miles. (I want to find ways to avoid the energy-sag in miles 20-22 if I can). Going forward, I realize I need to practice LSDs on long stretches of flats because I think I tend to lose focus when there aren't uphills and downhills to break up the monotony (one of the pitfalls of doing most long runs in Central Park). As I have multiple 20-milers scheduled in next several weeks, I still have ample opportunity to work on this part of the mental game.
Tempo Runs (6M@6:30; 4M@6:25; 5M@6:25)
Scheduled - 3; Completed - 3
Assessment: Since I've been running tempos since my first marathon, I approach these sessions almost like visiting an old friend. Although they can be exhausting, especially when you blast off at the beginning and run the first mile at interval pace like I tend to do, I feel familiar and comfortable with these workouts. I love the feeling of being in the tempo zone where you're running much faster than you are accustomed to but not too fast that you feel you're about to keel over at any second. The trick is to sustain that effort for as long as possible before your mind starts to get bored or panic that the end is still too far away. Going forward, I know I have a bad habit of starting too quick, sagging in middle, and sprinting to make my time in the last mile. And this is sometime I hope to work on in the next few sessions
Speed Intervals (4x800's; 5x800's; 4x1M)
Scheduled - 3; Completed - 2
Assessment: This year, I'm trying to take emphasis off mile repeats, which I've been accustomed to for a long time and focus more on running 800s which I only discovered last fall. It is ironic then that I failed in my only mile repeat session of this training cycle session so far. In retrospect, I knew I wasn't ready to do that particular workout because I was coming off a double long double speedwork session a couple of days prior and sub-6 pace was a bit aggressive for so early in this training cycle. The two 800s sessions however were less of a struggle for me. I have been doing these on the treadmill exclusively because there really isn't any track close by to where I live. Maybe I will measure out a piece of road so I can run these outdoors in the future but for now, I like being able to set a specific pace and not have to check my watch for my split times while I'm running. Going forward, I want to get my comfortable running at 800 pace as I increase the number of sets gradually to 8.
Marathon Paced (6M@6:52)
Scheduled - 1; Completed - 2
Assessment: Again, because it's still early, MP runs have been few and far between. I ran a scheduled one in the second week of training and an unscheduled one in the fourth week when I mistakenly ran a progressive eight miler as a marathon paced six mile run. Since the objective here is to get the body familiar with moving at marathon pace, I think it's important to avoid fluctuations in speed for these as you're running. I have a tendency to run these 5-10 secs/mi faster than I should, which kind of defeats the purpose. Going forward, I must concentrate on maintain a narrower window in my pace and slowing down to a more suitable speed for these workouts.
Hill Workouts (4xHill, 5xHill)
Scheduled - 2; Completed - 1
Assessment: So these for me are completely new. I completely sucked it up for the first workout because I set my inclines way too high (at 6 and 7%) for a beginning getting started in treadmill hill training. The second workout went a lot better as I set my inclines at 4 and 5% which is about the grading of Harlem Hill and a little more. I was able to finish five sets without feeling completely exhausted. Although I am running a flat marathon, I'm hoping these workouts will help me build some leg strength and execute a good sprint in the later miles when I'll be doubting myself and fighting fatigue.
Assessement: I've been fairly successful keeping these low intensity workouts at the appropriate intensity and heart rate zone. Sometimes I get antsy that I'm dragging a bit and running paces that are so slow for me (7:40-8 min/mi) but I try to remember the overall purpose for these runs is for muscle building and repairing. Keeping my eyes on heart rate and not pace as I'm running has proven quite beneficial. Also, I should avoid thinking about what my average pace was for most of my runs at this point last year.
Overall, I think I'm pretty satisfied with how things have been going so far. I haven't as yet missed a scheduled run, my weekly mileage is always a few miles more than what I planned and I'm definitely running more than I was at this point last year when I was training for Boston (despite it being about 5 degrees colder on average than last year!) I'm slightly anxious that I don't have any objective measure of my progress so far since I haven't as yet run any races, but this will change later this weekend after the Cherry Tree Ten Miler in Prospect Park. One thing I do note though is that my legs feel stronger and healthier than they've been in a very long time. No twinges, no pain, no feelings of instability even on my speedier workouts (Knocking on wood right now!). That's a very good sign heading into the bulk of the training plan where there will be more miles, more long runs, and more hills, tempos, and intervals to tackle. I'm cautiously optimistic to see what the spring may bring!
Now, if only the sunnier weather and warmer temperatures can get here sooner rather than later...that would be most fabulous!