Thursday, May 9, 2013

Turning It Up To Eleven

One more long run this weekend, at the peak of my marathon training, and then I'll be officially 3 weeks from my race and at the start of the taper. I've spoken about the taper before and how its both something I look forward to and hate all at the same time. I look forward to getting rest and getting back some of my time as training volume will decrease. But decreasing the volume also messes with your mind. I admit I get a little addicted to my training at times. And when I am taking rest days (like today even), or running shorter distances, I feel like I need to do more or I question whether I'm slacking. That all being said, I know what I need to tell myself in those moments of doubt, those moments the taper gremlins try to mess with my head - I have worked harder than I ever have to train for this marathon so there is just no questioning my readiness allowed.

When I first set my schedule to train for this marathon, I set it up to be very much like what I did leading up to Victoria last year. I allowed for 4-5 days of running and 2 days of weight training each week. I felt quite prepared for Victoria, but of course, much went wrong on race day, most of that I am sure I can attribute to getting sick rather than being ill-prepared. But really, it's hard to know. I just know that neither marathon went well last year (in terms of finish time or pain experienced), and if I plan on doing another 2 this year, I have to do everything it takes to make sure I'm as prepared as I can for them to go better. If I can comfortably run a 2-hour half marathon, there's no reason I should need any more than 4:30 to complete a marathon. In fact, I should be able to do it in less. But I haven't yet proven that to myself. What I have learned in the few years I've become a runner is that I have to work a bit harder than the average bear to see results. I am not naturally fast. But I also know that I have above average endurance, patience, and drive. I'm literally willing to do whatever it takes to achieve my goals. Perhaps my history has a lot to do with that. Perhaps if I were always fit to begin with, I wouldn't be so determined to do this and to improve my performance. But since I've worked so hard to get to where I am today, I insist on myself that I continue to work hard. I want to see where I can get to tomorrow. I didn't run one marathon to scratch it off a bucket list. I plan to run several and see where it leads me.

So yes, I've turned my training up to eleven. Why go to ten, when you can go to eleven! 

It all started a few months ago when I accidentally ran a mid-week long run. I didn't map out the route I wanted to do in advance and just thought one up in my head. I ran way longer than I had planned to and then worried I'd be too tired to do my workout the next day. I was a little tired, but nothing that alarmed me. I know my body and since I quite literally hate taking rest in my training, I always know when I need it. I didn't need it then. In fact, doing a longer run mid-week made it somehow easier to do my weekend long run. Perhaps I was onto something. I was starting to question my training schedule. It was based on what I'd done previously, based on beginner marathon training schedules I'd become familiar with through working with Running Room and with Team In Training - both that offer clinics for those with less experience who might be training for their first or second marathon. I hadn't taken into account that I'm not a beginner marathoner anymore. I've run 2 marathons now, so really, I am ready to take it up a notch. And since I have to work harder than the average bear to improve speed, I need to take it up that notch.

Things got a little clearer after talking running with some friends of mine who are much faster than me and well-experienced in marathoning too. I talked to my friend David about his training schedule and he offered me advice on what I could do better - I thought he was nuts with what he was suggesting and shrugged it off thinking, "easy for you to say, you're an elite runner who wins races". But really, what he was suggesting would work for me - I just go my own pace. I have the endurance to do it, so why not, really? He suggested doing less weight training (only 1 day a week) and incorporating 2 days of speedwork into my week instead of the 1 day I was previously doing. So yes my weekly mileage would also go up as a result. 

David explained how his coach,
John Hill, has him and the rest of his VFAC club doing a long tempo run on Tuesdays and speed intervals on Thursdays. He suggested I try a session with John, since he has a second group he works with (not the elite VFAC crew) that I would fit in well with. I remembered what he said, but didn't think at the time it was for me. But then we went for a run together at a faster pace than I'm used to, and I felt great after. Going faster that day made going slower the next long run that much easier. A few days later, I ran with one of our TNT participants, Derek (an experienced 3:30'ish marathoner) and he told me a bit about what he does in his training. He too does a mid-week long run and takes the middle section of that long run at a faster tempo.

After meeting John at the April Fool's Run last month, and talking to him about his Tuesday interval group, he invited me to give it a try. I took him up on the offer but admit I was quite nervous and not sure what to expect when I arrived. How could I possibly be ready for something called "Advanced Road Running Performance Clinic", I thought, but really I wasn't giving myself enough credit. I knew that I wouldn't be anywhere close to being as fast as the others in the group, but that I am really strong and more than fit enough to try my darndest to keep up and run hard even when I'm tired. The rest of the group was incredibly welcoming and as we went for a warm-up spin around the trails of Stanley Park, they explained how the sessions work. Every week is a little different, and they suspected we'd be doing intervals on the seawall rather than work on the track. They also warned me that John would give me homework and it might scare me a little. I was excited for the challenge! 

So yes, I was one of the slowest in the group, but it didn't matter. Everyone was happy to have me and asked if I'd be back. The answer was a definite yes, because they are such a lovely group of runners to be with and I was so impressed with the experience on every level. John set it up so well so that no matter what ability you're at, you finish your run at the same time (using staggered start times). He's a whiz with numbers and knows every athlete individually - their abilities and their goal races, so he knows what pace and time he wants each runner to complete each interval. The time he suggests for you is slightly above your comfort level yet totally attainable, especially because you are chasing runners in the group who are faster than you. He also gives you feedback and shouts your pace at you partway through the interval so you know if you're on target or if you have to push harder/less. I felt really good achieving the targets he laid out and I appreciated the feedback. Other runners in the group told me how they felt when they first joined (also nervous and a bit intimidated) but how it's made such a difference to their training, their speed, and their race results. What was being offered in this group session is simply not possible to replicate by yourself.

I admit that when John gave me my "homework" after the first session, I did laugh a little to myself. It wasn't so much that it was too much, but it was more that it was so different from what I had been doing. It was going to be a new adventure and a drastic change to my current habits. The mid-week long tempos were quite significantly longer than what I thought I needed to do. The structure of the week was much different than I was used to - intervals on Tuesday and tempos on Thursday. But I've followed John's recommendations and seen the results already. My mileage has increased hugely, but it's been very manageable. I feel strong, confident, and not overly fatigued at all like I worried I would be. After doing two days of speedwork every week, the long runs on the weekend feel easy and much more manageable. My legs are ready for it.

I couldn't go to the interval session the following week due to a meeting, but I came up with my own schedule for that week based on the schedule for the previous one. I had my second session with the group last week and we worked on the track that day. Again, I was blown away - a different type of workout, but equally challenging and empowering. I got two weeks worth of homework (there was no group session this week) catered toward my abilities and my upcoming goal race. I've followed it exactly and I'm thrilled with how I'm doing. My 35km run that I just completed on Monday was strong; the only hard part was stopping! Recovery has been not bad at all. I have a long tempo to do tomorrow (24km total, 21km at tempo pace) and I'm excited about it. And In previous marathon trainings I'd done, I would have never imagined doing a 38km training run, especially not 2 days after running 24km, but that's what I'm doing this weekend according to this schedule and I'm quite looking forward to it. I know I'm ready and I know it'll pay dividends on race day.

So yes, looks like I've found a new coach and a group to train with once a week. It's a huge confidence boost to see I'm ready to take on something with the word "Advanced" in its title. I may have signed up a little late for training for this current marathon, but better late than never! I know that this last month of hard work though will still make a difference. I can already feel it. And I'm excited to see how a full program of this work with John leading up to my fall marathon will impact my performance. Maybe a 4-hour marathon is in the cards!

Thanks for reading! Hope you've enjoyed my enthusiasm. I really couldn't be happier with how things are going!


  1. Wow Zahida! This is so exciting! I'm so pleased for you. Another great post!

  2. Thank you, Kristy, for sharing in my excitement!!! :)

  3. Glad you're enjoying the next Tier of running! Keep it up and the rewards will be worth it!

  4. Thank you, David! It certainly helps to have the influence of friends who also have their training turned right up to eleven! Thank you for encouraging me to take it to the next level.