Friday, March 30, 2018


One thing I'm admittedly bad at is reading too much into one workout. When a major one goes poorly, my confidence tanks. On the other hand, a good one is sometimes all I need to carry me through a big PR. It’s a lot of pressure to put on myself, but sometimes that works: knowing that I have no option but to succeed. Sometimes, though, it doesn't.... as evidenced by a recent marathon pace workout.

I prefer to run my last marathon pace (MP) effort 3-4 weeks before the marathon. But this season, I had my heart set on racing both the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and the Monument Avenue 10K, which are four and three weeks out from Pittsburgh, respectively. I didn’t want to run the MP the weekend before those races either, because that would be three hard weekends in a row (and that’s gotten me into trouble before). So I decided to do the last MP six weeks out. When I planned this all out, I knew thinking I could hit that pace that early was ambitious, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. I figured if it went well that early in the season, I’d really be set to race well at Pittsburgh. And because I stubbornly wanted to do those other two races, I didn’t see a way around it.

The problem with this run is that I really, 100% needed to nail it. I usually gradually work my way down to marathon pace over the course of the season; I just don’t retain the speed over the off-season to jump into goal pace right away (though most plans assume you do it that way). For example, this season I wanted to do four MPs (each a few weeks apart) with the following goals:
8 miles at 6:30
10 miles at 6:25
13 miles at 6:20
16 miles at 6:17 (OTQ pace)

I needed to nail that last one because (a) even if I nailed the others, it’s the only chance I gave myself to do a long effort at goal pace, (b) I didn’t nail all the others (the 13 miler was actually 6:29, though I had a cold that day and it was crazy windy), and (c) I get a lot of confidence from this workout: running 16 miles at OTQ pace was the best evidence I had going into CIM that I could qualify and I relied on it heavily. I’m not sure I can convince myself to go after an OTQ without it.

Well, I didn’t nail it. I averaged 6:21 pace, which is faster than the windy 13 miler and a hair faster (but much longer!) than the 10 miler (actual pace for that was 6:22), so most people will probably think I’m insane in how much this run disappointed me. I went in believing I could do it and, though I was obviously struggling, I don’t think I ever fully gave up on myself. I told myself I’d make up time on the downhills, but I didn’t. With a few miles to go, I was still trying to calculate a way I could make it: Just run the last two miles at 5:50 pace! (Told you I was ambitious…) But I didn’t pick it up, even slightly, even in the final mile. I just didn’t have it and I don’t have any excuses, really, which makes it harder to get over than the 13 miler.

… Except, of course, the major one I stubbornly refuse to accept: that it was too early in the season to expect to hit this workout.

Instead, I spent days fretting about what I would do. I worry that I’m in over my head trying to run so crazy fast on a hilly course. Why the heck did I pick Pittsburgh? I started looking for other races to do (something flat for crying out loud!), maybe even a week or two later. But of course I ran up against the same problems that made me pick Pittsburgh in the first place.

I know I sound crazy with all this, but I really want to prove to myself I can run at OTQ pace for a long chunk. I didn’t used to be quite so anal and, looking back now, I see that I was often able to run faster in races than during these workouts. But I keep coming back to CIM. Again, I know it’s problematic to keep comparing everything to that season, but I know how crucial running 16 miles at goal pace was for my confidence. And with a harder course and no pacers, I’m going to need all the help I can get.

So I fretted and fretted about this very bad run, until finally my stubbornness unclenched slightly and allowed some logic to seep back in. If I’m going to compare everything to CIM, I need to be fair. And six weeks out from CIM, I ran 13 miles at 6:18 pace, six seconds off my goal pace. This workout was six weeks out from Pittsburgh, and I ran 16 miles four seconds per mile off my goal pace. That’s both farther and faster at the same point in training. If I give myself another shot in a few weeks, I might just be able to shave off those seconds, just like I did before CIM. (Three weeks out I ran 16 miles averaging 6:12—OTQ pace at the time.) Which means I need to try again.

Trying again in a few weeks means admitting that I can’t do everything I wanted this season: I’m going to have to skip the Monument 10K and redo this workout that weekend. I’m surprisingly disappointed to miss out on the 10K; it's only a 10K after all. But I was hoping for a chance to PR at some distance this spring, and my 10K PR is probably the softest PR I have. (It’s actually from the first part of a half marathon.) I was also looking forward to running a big hometown race and all the “It’s not RVA without the 10K” signs around town have seeped into my subconscious. But racing Cherry Blossom and having another chance at this workout make more sense for my marathon prep than doing a 10K. The good news is that not racing Monument means I’ll be able to cheer on Husband instead and try to give back a little bit of all the support he gives me.

And after all that desperate Googling for other marathons, doing just the opposite—finally signing up for Pittsburgh—got me surprisingly excited, because I got to do so as an elite, which comes with travel assistance and other perks (like another personalized bib!). Maybe it seems silly and insignificant, but sometimes someone else believing in you, based on some time you ran in what seems like another lifetime, helps you believe in yourself.

I was so bummed after this workout that I avoided writing about it in my log until this morning, but writing this all out has helped, as did looking back at other seasons and accurately assessing what I’ve done in the past. (So I encourage you to journal or keep a log. Even if you don’t share your neuroses, stubbornness, and ambitious plans that flop with the world.) I’m embarrassed how much this workout threw me off, but I need to be realistic about where I'm at, understand that I can't do everything, and prioritize what will help most for the marathon. And give myself another chance to see what I can do with a few more weeks of training.

Moving on... 

Dream big,


  1. I think it's so smart to skip the 10K. The OTQ is what matters after all, right?