Marathon Training

I kicked off marathon training last weekend with my longest run ever (20 miles). For my long run, I employed a foolish strategy of taking no nutrition or fluids. This was intentional. A compelling comment on the fall marathon thread on Slowtwitch had me thinking–a poster had admitted to a curious method of letting himself “bonk” on long runs during marathon training in order to become familiar with hitting the wall and to practice pushing through it. That sounded really hardcore, so I was game to try it.

I found the wall around mile 17, and it was like nothing I’ve ever felt. Bonking on the bike is mostly a fatigued, crappy feeling that develops over time–the long run bonk felt musculoskeletal, and came on instantaneously. My legs were suddenly leaden and crampy and every stride felt forced. The final three miles were as hard as the initial 17, for which I settled in at around goal M-pace +~0:10 without too much trouble (definitely very hard, but manageable).

Now I know what marathoners are talking about. I think the forced bonk was actually a valuable exercise, though I wouldn’t wish it on another. The key is to not experience this during a marathon. If you are trained properly, and if you pace properly, you shouldn’t find it on race day. Here’s hoping.


Training Week: 9/8-9/14

Swim: 17,600 Yards (4:02) 
Bike: 145 Miles (6:48)
Run: 23.5 Miles (2:54)
Total*: 100 Points (13:44)

Swim: It looks like I did a lot of swimming this week, but very little of it was hard, so I feel like it was significantly less. I capped the week with a 5K pull in the pool–by far my longest straight swim ever, and with a buoy between my legs. It felt like doing a really boring long run (it took almost 80 minutes). I got the idea in my head while looking at the Leadman 250 race, which includes a 5K swim–I wondered what swimming that far would feel like, and I was trying to let my legs recover so I turned it into a pull workout. I probably won’t be doing this again any time soon.

Delaware Diamondman Bike

Bike: After the Delaware Diamondman on Sunday, my legs were more or less trashed all week. I logged a moderate 55-mile ride in the middle of the week, but the high power just wasn’t there.

Run: On Monday and Tuesday, my quads were so tender I was having issues going up and down stairs and walking back and forth between my apartment and the office, so running was out. By Thursday, the sharp pains had subsided and I completed my typical hill session, though my legs were still carrying quite a bit of fatigue.

Total: Following Sunday’s race and in advance of my season finale 70.3 on September 30th, this week didn’t contain a whole lot of training. I am a little disappointed in the slowness of my recovery from the race, but since it was my first half iron distance I probably shouldn’t be surprised. With two weeks to go until Pocono 70.3, the hay is pretty much in the barn, even though I would have preferred to stuff a little more in there with some harder workouts this week.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Miles x 4) + (Bike Miles / 4) + Run Miles = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Training Week 9/1-9/7

Swim: 10,100 Yards (2:17) 
Bike: 60 Miles (3:00)
Run: 32 Miles (3:46)
Total*: 70 Points (9:04)

Swim: I didn’t get in nearly the swimming I had hoped for this week. The water at the Jersey shore was not only rough but filled with Jellyfish, and I stupidly decided not to bring my wetsuit. I could feel the slimy backs of the jellyfish with my hands as I swam. Disgusting. So I bagged a few days of swimming–not the end of the world–but I managed to get over 10K yards in three pool workouts during the back half of the week. I have started using a pull buoy for some sets–I find that isolating my upper body strengthens my pull and the buoy teaches me to keep my hips elevated. Not sure whether this is normal, but I can pull within a few seconds per 100 of my regular steady state swim pace.

Bike: I also decided not to bring my bike to the shore, so I missed my regular long ride. Two sweet spot-heavy sessions of 90 minutes each were all I could manage, as I was really dragging this week and hoping to have somewhat fresh legs for the half-Ironman in Delaware on Sunday.

The highlight of the week was getting a professional fit on my bike. I feel much better and more dialed in on my bike–it turns out my seat was almost 2 cm too low, which is a ton. Most importantly, I am now in a position that will both yield better power production and be more aerodynamic. I have only ridden with the new fit once outdoors, but I noticed a big difference.

Run: I kicked the week off with a 17-mile long run in Island Beach State Park in Jersey. Since I got a late start, the humidity quickly became stifling and I only had one short water stop planned. I clicked off some good miles in the middle, but only averaged 6:35 pace with a heart rate that would usually merit about 30 seconds per mile faster. The dehydration (and lack of electrolytes, probably) really affected me during the run and afterward–for a couple days following, my legs were feeling beaten down. Runs that deplete like this definitely detract from (and aren’t necessary for) half Ironman training, as I had to can a cycling workout due to the lasting fatigue. However, since I am considering a fall marathon and had the next day slotted for rest, I thought I could make it work. Lesson learned.

Total: This was a disappointing week of training. I planned to head into the Delaware Diamondman weekend having completed both a substantive week of training and feeling somewhat fresh. But I was feeling run down and dead legged, and in order to stay healthy and feel strong going into the race, which I am treating more as a dress rehearsal/key training effort for Pocono 70.3 later this month, I missed several workouts. However, sometimes it’s important to listen to your body and take the rest; part of training is knowing when you should push more and when you need to lay off.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Miles x 4) + (Bike Miles / 4) + Run Miles = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Training Week: 8/25-8/31

Swim: 15,800 Yards (3:41) 
Bike: 194 Miles (9:05)
Run: 34 Miles (4:30)
Total*: 118.5 Points (17:17)

Swim: I closed this week with a 1.5 mile swim in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of the Jersey shore, where I will be spending Labor Day weekend and (mostly, after Saturday morning’s long run) taking a little bit of a load off from training. Other than that, this week was more of the same in the pool–no great sets to speak of, just trekking to the pool and getting work done. The swim is the discipline in which I intend to maintain high volume, and maybe even increase the yardage slightly, in the next month of training. Despite there being a small performance return on time investment in the water, it causes the least lasting fatigue and carries the least injury risk, so in my view it’s a good place to spend time when you have it.

Bike: No excitement on the bike this week. I wasn’t able to get out of Philadelphia for my long ride, so I completed my long 80 miler (as well as another 54 mile ride) on the Schuylkill River Trail. With the addition of a couple 90-minute trainer rides of sweet spot and threshold intervals, it was another strong cycling week in volume and intensity.

Run: Other than a 14-mile long run in oppressive humidity, the run mileage this week was almost all easy, aerobic stuff–I am trying to keep the run volume up as much as possible without crippling my ability to complete strong cycling workouts, which are more important for me right now.

Total: Another solid week to close out August, which was far and away my highest-volume month of training yet and the most in each sport individually: 70,400 yards (40 miles) of swimming; 768 miles of biking; and 135 miles of running. I am happy with the recent training I have completed and think I can start scaling back the volume and scaling up the intensity in coming weeks, starting with a full dress rehearsal at the Delaware Diamondman half Iron/70.3 on September 9th.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Miles x 4) + (Bike Miles / 4) + Run Miles = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Training Week: 8/18-8/24

Swim: 17,600 Yards (3:54) 
Bike: 220 Miles (10:41)
Run: 32 Miles (3:25)
Total*: 127 Points (18:00)

Swim: This was a solid, consistent week of swimming. My recent focus has been on lengthening sets–I am now doing 15 x 200 rather than 12 x 200, 8 x 400 instead of 8 x 300–in order to simulate the demands of a lengthy, 1.2-mile swim. When I leave the pool with fatigued shoulders and feel lingering soreness the next day, I know I’ve done my job. I’m getting stronger in the water–I am now doing my 400s at the pace I was doing my 200s at the beginning of the summer–but the time improvements are slim and getting slimmer. I am reaching a natural plateau that I may not exceed without a change in routine (i.e. more and/or harder swimming, working with a coach, swimming with a team/group, strapping plastic slats on my hands and binding my feet together…things like that). That said, this plateau may fall within the “good enough” level for age-group triathlon swimming and the additional effort may not be the best use of time and energy, but we’ll see how I fair in upcoming races.

Bike: The bike was good news and bad news this week. I had a breakthrough on Saturday, when I drove down to the flatlands of coastal Delaware to ride the Diamondman 70.3 course, where I’ll be competing September 9th. The prescribed workout was ~80 miles with 56 miles hard (around half-Iron level), but I felt strong and ended up holding around 10 watts higher on the hard portion than I had planned, or 251W average (~3.85 W/kg) for a 2:22 split (23.6 mph). I have never seen north of 250 watts for such a long period, and I was comfortable doing extended stretches in the 260-270W range, which was extremely difficult for me to maintain not long ago. However, the effort took its toll–I felt trashed at the end despite proper fueling. Had I needed to, I doubt I could have run a fast half marathon in that state. So I learned something important with the workout: my 235-240W target for half-Iron competition is probably right, even though I’m capable of better.

For the bad news, I was riding in a bike lane when a car pulled out from the right side of the road and ran directly into me. I went crashing over the hood of the car before rolling off and hitting the pavement. Luckily, I and my bike are okay–I have some elbow and hip soreness and my front wheel needs to be trued, but other than that we escaped unharmed. However, my iPhone, which was in my jersey pocket, was not so lucky. The driver said he didn’t see me, and I suppose this kind of thing is inevitable. I hate to ride the trainer more–I can’t get nearly the same power for my perceived exertion that I can outside, and it’s terribly boring–but cycling in Philadelphia is so dangerous; almost every ride I have some sort of close call. The bike paths, with all the weaving pedestrians and cruisers riding two abreast, are almost as hazardous as the roads. Nothing makes me miss living in Colorado like cycling in Philly.

Ethiopian Fare

Run: After Saturday’s bike effort, my legs felt a little sluggish at the outset of my Sunday long run, but after 3-4 miles I had warmed up and was running smooth and fast. Within the 15-mile run, I was able to split 10K, 10 Mile, and half marathon segments of 37:01, 1:00:17, and 1:20:35, the last of which is about what I’d hope (though not necessarily expect) to run at the end of a half Ironman. That night, I refueled with Ethiopian fare to emulate my (athletically superior) distance-running brethren from the horn of Africa.

Though I will never outrun the Bekeles down the home stretch, the comfort with which I am holding various paces in my runs (and at comparatively low heart rates) is proof that I am developing good run fitness on low mileage (24 miles per week average in 2012). If I can stay healthy enough to increase my mileage by 25% in 2013 (to, say, 30 miles per week on average), I am sure I’ll continue to make gains.

Total: This was an excellent week in terms of volume and performance. On top of back-to-back breakout workouts over the weekend, I logged a healthy amount of training all week. In general, my body seems to be coping with the training stress better than ever–I recovered quickly from the long bike and run, and I feel only moderate fatigue at the close of one of my highest-volume weeks ever. If I can continue this kind of quantity and quality of training in the coming weeks, I should be prepared to perform at my best at the end of September.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Miles x 4) + (Bike Miles / 4) + Run Miles = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Training Week: 8/11-8/17

Swim: 12,300 Yards (2:43) 
Bike: 107 Miles (5:53)
Run: 21 Miles (2:38)
Total*: 76 Points (11:16)

Swim: Despite this being a recovery week with less cycling and running, I didn’t get to the pool as much as I had hoped. I did have one frighteningly quick workout where I saw some splits I haven’t seen before (unfortunately, this was balanced by a couple agonizing sessions, including a long 8 x 500 meter set on a 30-second rest interval that caused at least as much psychological as physiological stress). As I have learned, the swim will be there as long as I can keep the consistency, which is a lot more difficult in practice than it is on paper.

Bike: The highlight of this week was a long ride in western Maryland that followed a good chunk of the bike course of the Savageman Tri, a race that is infamous for its difficulty. The ride was supposed to be another hard 4-hour ride at upper-tempo/half-Ironman pace–this will be perfect, I thought–and things were going fine for the first 15 to 20 miles as I was able to average north of 245W over gorgeous rolling terrain. Then the descents started to scalp my gains–on the bright side, I set a new PR for max speed at 49.3 mph–and the ascents started to test my physical wherewithal.

By the time I was halfway through the ride, I had already put in three extended efforts at close to threshold power–6.5, 11, and 6 minutes, respectively, pushing north of 270W, which was what I needed in my lowest gear to keep from falling over. Needless to say, I was gassed. Then at mile 40, things just got silly. Starting with the famous Westernport Wall (“the steepest climb in all of road triathlon”), the ascent to the top of Savage Mountain (around 2,500 feet of elevation gain, it appears) was cruel and unusual–every bit as challenging as Colorado’s front range. 220W was all I could muster for the next 10 miles, which took me almost 50 minutes.

The Westernport Wall

The descents, too, were treacherous, but the scenery was beautiful, and I highly recommend the West Virginia/Western Maryland area for some choice (albeit challenging) riding. When all was said and done, I’d ridden 70 miles in 4 hours (a paltry 17.3 mph) at a disappointing power level (213W avg / 230W normalized) but with 7,800(!) feet of elevation gain. One day, I will be back to take on the full bike leg as part of the Savageman Triathlon, and I’ll actually come ready with the proper gearing and a healthy respect for the terrain.

Run: After Saturday’s ride, I took a full day off on Sunday (typically my long-run day), so this week was consequently light on the run. This rest was welcome, as I plan to get in a few 30+ mile weeks in the coming month of training.

Total: This was a much-needed recovery week after four consecutive high-volume weeks. Still, I got in a couple good rides on the bike, a few solid swim sessions, and my typical Thursday hill intervals for the run. This coming weekend and week, it’s back to real business with some heavy volume and intensity planned. Just six weeks out from my key race, the time to make incremental fitness gains is short, though I feel that I’m almost where I want to be in all three disciplines. As always, the wild card is staying healthy enough to get in adequate run training, though as my strength, I have some leeway there.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Miles x 4) + (Bike Miles / 4) + Run Miles = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Training Week: 8/4-8/10

Swim: 17,600 Yards (3:56) 
Bike: 174 Miles (8:37)
Run: 32 Miles (3:42)
Total*: 115.5 Points (16:16)

Swim: My swim is definitely back, and all it took was brutal consistency. With over 60K yards in the last four weeks, I’m now comfortable where I am. A strong 6 x 400 set (in 5:43 average, short-course meters) gave me confidence that the work is paying off and that I’ll be more than capable of swimming 1:20 / 100 yard pace in wetsuit races this fall.

Bike: The highlight of this week was Saturday’s 82-mile, four-hour tempo ride in the Pocono mountains with over 6K feet of climbing. I set out to do 55 miles at 240W (half-Ironman goal power) followed by some endurance riding, but after a brief stop for a Red Bull and a Gatorade I felt strong enough to continue pushing back to the house. Ultimately, I probably rode too hard, averaging 238W (3.6 W/Kg) and 245W normalized for an IF of 0.87 and a 298 TSS (i.e. tantamount to an Ironman bike effort).

Poconos Morning

Run: After my Poconos ride, I transitioned immediately into a hard four-mile brick run, which started out being painful and ended up being excruciating, but on the bright side my body seemed to accept the Ironman Perform I’d taken in order to test the nutrition I’ll receive on race day. The next morning, I logged a 14-mile long run with over 1,000 feet of climbing. It wasn’t my best effort, but I pushed through on tired legs…which are really the only running legs you have in triathlon.

I continue to have niggling pain in my hip, but I was thrilled to get in another 30-mile running week. If I can stay healthy enough to maintain this consistency in the coming weeks, I am confident I’ll be where I want to be in late September.

Total: This was supposed to be a low-volume week, but I couldn’t pass up the big training opportunity in the Poconos, and I had difficulty taking down time for more than a couple days. Frankly, I’m a little annoyed to see the total tally because I do feel a bit overtrained–I had to cut short a tempo run yesterday, and my legs often feel like lead. But this is what happens when you have no coach, have a fly by the seat of your pants training plan, and are a foolish, inexperienced athlete with no self control!

This coming weekend, I have another hilly ~80-mile tempo ride planned for Saturday morning, but I intend to take Sunday and Monday a little easier. We’ll see.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Miles x 4) + (Bike Miles / 4) + Run Miles = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.