Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Training for a marathon is so dramatically different than training for anything Ironman. And I was thinking about this on my long run last week - about why that was; not just physically or physiologically, but strategically, personally, emotionally even. And I was struck by two ideas, both totally obvious but somehow surprising for me to find.

The first came as I considered yet again how and why the wheels fell off for me in the marathon at Ironman last year (2009). When I had, I thought, trained with realistic, predictable metrics for realistic, predictable results. I actually laughed out loud a little at my own thick headedness when I realized the fatal flow in my marathon training logic for Ironman. Of course a stand-alone marathon is a completely different animal than an Ironman marathon. The two have mileage in common, and that's it. What I somehow overlooked, though, was articulating that obvious definition.

In a stand-alone, you race 26.2. In Ironman, you endure it.

And that's the critical difference, which looks so easy to understand, but took me all this time to actually understand and integrate into a useful thought process. Right now, I'm training to race a marathon in less than a month. I don't think it'll be a PR performance out there this time around or anything, but I'm racing it nonetheless. I have a plan right now that involves starting out with a certain pace, and increasing that pace at 4 mile intervals. Last week my 18-mile long run averaged a pace that would see me finish the marathon in around 4:09 (my personal best stand-alone is 4:03:xx). Which is all well and good.

I approached my marathon training in similar fashion for Ironman last year - I started with a really conservative pace, thinking to account for the many hours and miles that had come before the marathon. I had devised nutrition strategies based on the influence of the swim and bike efforts and nutrition. But still, I trained like I was racing the Ironman marathon. That I'd move to a new pace after getting my legs under me.

But there's no way - none - to emulate an Ironman experience in training, so that was all just folly at best, a waste of time at worst. I was thinking last week that what I should've done is gone for a 10 mile run on 3 hours of sleep. Or tried to hit a fast 6 miler immediately after a huge dinner. Or gone for a run with a huge head cold. This is hyperbole, of course, to make the point: I should've trained my body better to perform under duress. To excel, or at least maintain, when uncomfortable. To turn off its usual logic and discover a new one. This is an approach I'll refine better when I do Ironman again - whenever that is, however many years down the road. Coach Rich Strauss of Endurance Nation says Ironman isn't about who goes the fastest, it's about who slows down the least. I'm some 7 years into this game now, a year into still trying to decipher my last Ironman race so I can learn from it, and I'm still trying to understand just what that means - to slow down least.

But, I digress - it's not an Ironman year, so let's get back to this marathon coming up.

I enjoy training to race a marathon. When it can just be about that singular experience, without all the attachments that come with the larger scope of Becoming Ironman. I've enjoyed it especially this year, as I get back into shape just as fall begins, which is totally backwards from my usual M.O. I've enjoyed seeing progress and accomplishment where I didn't expect to. It's too early yet to know what reasonable expectations I might have from this marathon - right now I think a 4:15-4:20 finishing time is realistic, but I'd love to push for a 4:10 if I can. If I can stay healthy and have a solid taper...well, like I said, still too early to say for sure.

I'm really looking forward to race weekend - the energy, the atmosphere. I'm looking forward to the race - the 3rd? 4th? time I've done the Twin Cities marathon, a beautiful course. I have some ideas for racing to take me through at least Thanksgiving, and hopefully this experience leaves me healthy and hungry for the "offseason" as I try and develop a new level of fitness for myself for next summer (at least a 70.3 in the works). All good things.

A few things to look forward to in the blog, I think - a more technical analysis after my next long run, and a few products I've been using that I think would be useful to pass along. Feel free to follow me at www.twitter.com/xt4 if you feel like knowing the daily training regiment and top-of-mind thoughts as they happen.

Finally, it's Ironman week this week here in Madison - which is a week pretty supercharged with excitement and emotion for me and any Ironman endurance athletes - particularly, of course, those racing this week. Sending my best to everybody who'll tread water with the rest of the heroes come Sunday. Get your heads and hearts right. I'll be cheering you on.

1 comment:

NursAdrn said...

The marathon is a different beast for sure. Never been as sore after an IM as I am after a marathon! Good luck to you!

This year at Louisville, I picked a pace I thought I could run all day. In retrospect, should have been a touch faster. The final time was 5:39, but without walking at all and some gas to spare. The real difference for me came with long runs off of long bike rides. 105 mi/9 mi.