An Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier, whaaa?

Unbelievable is the word of the day. A 2:42:35 marathon in this body is unbelievable.

indyFor as unflattering as this picture is, it perfectly represents my disbelief. Seriously, I cannot believe that I am an Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier. And my disbelief is not just due to one or two things but for many, many reasons. So to process through the race and move forward, I’ll give you some facts about why (in my mind) this shouldn’t have happened and why (I suppose) it did.

Why 2:42 makes no sense:

  • Weather: It was frickin’ freezing! There was snow the night before the race. It was 27° at the start. We had a headwind for the first half of somewhere between 18-19 mph. That is a recipe for a pulled quad, not a fast marathon.
  • Lots of racing: I just ran a PR half marathon two weeks ago. Most coaches would never suggest doing a hard race of anything more than about 10k distance within three weeks of a marathon, let alone two weeks. I didn’t expect to nail this one quite so hard, but wanted to have a good half. So I focused on that half and it was good. Well, yesterday’s race ended up pretty well too.
  • Mind-boggling PR: For me to run a 2:42 meant that I needed to run a PR by 14 minutes. That’s unreal.
  • The commute: I drove the entire 500 miles to Indy the day before the race. I took along a good friend for company, not to subject her to chauffeuring me, so I drove the whole way. And as my host and aunt reminded me, driving is really draining. It does take a lot of mental focus to keep it within the lines for 6.5 hours.

So if it makes no sense, then what happened?

imageDoing a post-race interview with the race emcee, one of the questions he asked was, “This was a 14 minute PR; that’s almost unheard of… weren’t you scared thinking, ‘Wow, this is faster than I’ve ever run?'”

Fear, yes; fear was very present. I was afraid. I was freaking out the entire way! But even though fear of failure may be very real, with this race I just positioned myself to attack the first 20 miles. I knew that there was no reason whatsoever that I shouldn’t be able to run 20 miles in just a little over two hours. Then I would let the last 6.2 just be; whatever happened in the last six miles, that was not my main concern. I just wanted a solid first 20, on pace to run a sub 2:43. The biggest surprise was just that once I hit mile 20, I was able to maintain my momentum. I was locked into my pace, and I just kept chewing away at the miles, one bite at a time. In the end, my two half marathons were almost exactly even: first half in 1:21:26, second in 1:21:09. That’s crazy.

And in fact, contrary to his question, this wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever run, I’ve run much faster in other races. This was just the longest that I’ve run that fast. It’s little tweaks of the mind like this that help you to wrap your thinking around somewhat radical improvements and big PRs.

But what, practically speaking, did I do to prep for this race:

Thought: Seems silly, but I thought this race through a lot. I feel like I thought through each mile. It was as if I had no expectations for my finish but all sorts of expectations to have a good run. I was so determined in my plan that my friend who came along with me kept saying something like, “forehead like flint.” I didn’t know what she was talking about but I heard her say that just before I headed to the start line and that was the first thing I heard from her when I saw her after the finish. Later I asked what does that even mean?! She explained that she could see the determination in my face: the night before, the morning of, and even as I was dying to cross the finish line. I read in Isaiah 50:7 where it says: “…I’ve set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” Basically, to set my face like flint means I would allow nothing, no wind, no cold, nothing, to move me from accomplishing my goal. In the past I’ve struggled to really focus in on my effort. I do believe that this race was different and I truly was set. I guess I set my face like flint.

Training: One key word that I think of when training is extension. The marathon is just extending your fast pace for longer. Seems simple, right? Here are some key aspects of my training that I think have enabled me to whack 14 minutes off of my marathon time in just four months.

  1. Mileage: You have to find a mileage sweet-spot. I like the roundness of 100 mile weeks. I may try to add more next year, but I would do that very slowly and incrementally, just as I have built up from 60, 70 or 80 miles last year to 100 this year.
  2. Pace: I never run too fast nor too slowly. My easy runs are usually around 7:45 and the majority of my fast pace runs usually end up very close to race pace. Of course you have to run faster than race pace to challenge your oxygen capacity and encourage turnover, etc. But to practice extension, the majority of my hard workouts are loooonnng and pretty close to race pace.
  3. Unorthodox workouts: How many times in the past year have I done the uber-classic American distance workout of repeat miles? Never. Not that I have anything against that workout, it just hasn’t found its way onto my workout schedule in recent months. I typically run two hard workouts per week. One is something interval-esque (which could be repeat miles, but usually isn’t) typically this falls on a Tuesday or Wednesday; for example: 10 x 5 minutes at 103% of marathon race pace with 1 minute rest between each, but the rest would be a lively jog, not just a slow slog or complete rest. Most often my other hard workout is bound up into my long run. Something like half of the 20 miles or more would be quite hard, sometimes those hard miles would fall into the middle, sometimes fast finish, and sometimes a combo of both. But I rarely just run long and easy. This makes only doing two “harder” workouts make more sense because it takes a bit longer to recover from these harder long runs.
  4. Extreme double days: About once every three or four weeks for the past three months I would do two hard runs in one day. These are the days that give me nightmares. Basically, I would do anywhere from 22-24 miles total in one day broken up into two runs and the majority of those miles would average around 90% of my marathon race pace. Something like a 14 mile tempo run in the morning and then 10 miles of long intervals in the afternoon, with about 8 of the total miles considered “easy” miles. These double days take extra recovery and need to be carefully executed to be beneficial and not detrimental, but I believe they have helped immensely with my ability to extend the faster effort into the long marathon distance.
  5. Recovery: I am careful about recovery and often will incorporate light weight-lifting into recovery. And by light I mean less reps and less exercises, not light weights. I tend to lift pretty heavy weights and do some serious strength training at least once per week quite hard and once or twice besides that, a little less hard. In addition, I do quite a bit of Pilates and that helps a ton with core strength, balance and injury prevention (I believe), which all helps me to recover well.

Speaking of recovery… Time to kick back a little. I’ve done a tiny bit of running since the race yesterday just to get the blood flowing. The rest of this week will be a reverse taper. That means I’ll pretty much do exactly what I did last week but in reverse. Then I’ll build a few more miles the next week and hopefully hit at least one or two more weeks of good, hard training before tapering a bit again leading up to California in five weeks.

Hope your running is going well and that you feel encouraged to take things to the next level.

You never know, right?!

~Susie

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19 thoughts on “An Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier, whaaa?

  1. Wow! Congratulations- amazing race. I have read your blog before- your Carmel recap, and then I saw you on Saturday racing, but definitely didn’t put it together that you were the same person. I’m very impressed with your training and race!! Hope you celebrate this one for a long time!!! 🙂

    • Thanks, Lindsey. I feel sort of like a different person (or at least a different runner) since Carmel, so I’m not surprised! Look for me again out there. Great races. Great reason to see family in Indy, too. All good. Thanks again and I am so shocked that I don’t even feel like I’ve gotten to start celebrating! Let it begin…

  2. Haven’t seen you for years but I always remember your positive spirit as a teammate. Love reading about your races and new adventures and find a lot of good thoughts here. Just shared your most recent story with my running group here in Cleveland because your mental strength is inspiring! Hoping you have a fabulous race in CA – hugs!

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