During the my last month of training leading up the last Sunday's race I realized that I had been doing the bulk of my running at a very low pace, so much so that when I tried to do a fast finish run my legs felt very ungainly and my arms seemed to loose connection to me legs. Doing those long runs at such a slow pace is the right thing to do. Had I done say a twenty mile run at marathon pace I would be exhausted for the next couple of days and incapable of doing any useful training for a week or two. A typical marathon pace falls somewhere in the mid to high zone 2. Zone 3 should be avoided, as that is getting up into tempo range, where breathing becomes hard and the effort cannot be sustained for so long an event. I spent most of my long run training at the top of zone 1, literally 1.9, bumping over into the low zone 2 only occasionally.
I have been working on running at low effort levels while maintaining a high cadence -- 80 one foot strikes per minute or better -- but in spite of much improvement still cannot manage to stay in zone 1 without dropping down to the 70 - 72 range. I ran several long runs in the 18 - 20 mile range that I ran this way and felt reasonably good afterwards. Good old fashioned base training.
During those final weeks when I tried to run faster I finally hit a sweet spot where my feet seemed to float with little effort. This happened right around 80 BPM. I found that at this cadence I could increase my pace considerably with only a small increase in HR. Looking back on my training plan I realize now that I should have scheduled one medium distance run mid-week to be done at or just above race pace. Call it tempo if you like, perhaps "below tempo" would be more accurate. Whatever you call it, the problem was my fixed training schedule did not present a useful time slot for such a workout.
My race plan called for a reasonable warm-up period of about two miles, a long mid section done at a higher effort than my long run practice pace, and the last five miles as fast as my tired legs would go. I expected to be running at a HR in the high zone 2, just dropping into zone 1 during the one minute walk periods. I was also prepared for my HR to be evevated as compared to a workout, due to the stress of racing. What I found was that to hit my desired pace I frequently ran my HR up into zone 3. Not high enough to be a genuine tempo run, but almost. Again, those one minute breaks allowed me to keep this up for several hours. I am sure I could have done the entire race this way were it not for the heat that hit hard around mile 20.
Below is my Time in Heart RAte Zone chart from Training Peaks. I am not surprised at how much time I spent in zone 3 based on what I saw while running. I am surprised that I spent that much time in zone 3. To be sure, it was low zone 3, but my plan was to not go above high zone 2.
Below is my Performance Management Chart for the period I was doing marathon specific training. From 8/3 to 9/27 I was doing a blended marathon + century ride training. Poor weather made some workouts impossible, and the weather was so bad that I skipped the century ride. I did do the hundred miles later, on 10/11, with my friend Steve Davidson who was training for Ironman Florida. Looking at this period I would say that my overall intensity was too low. My Training Stress Balance (TSB) (the yellow line) is much too high, meaning I was not working very hard, and the Chronic Training Load (CTL) (the blue line) just meanders up and down. I was not getting any more fit. The make-up century ride, closely followed by a hard Tantalus Ride the following Tuesday, finally brought my PMC data into the proper proportions for a gain in fitness.
The first big spike in Acute Training Load (ATL) comes the following weekend, my first truly long run at 16 miles. From there through to the marathon you can see a regular progression of long runs on Sunday mornings. The bobble in early November was caused by a failed long run on 11/8 followed by the Val Nolasco Half Marathon on 11/15, which I did not run as hard as I might have because I was practicing my marathon pace. Even so you can see a nice steady improvement in CTL as the ATL peaks every Sunday in a steady progression up until the start of my taper. From there my TSB shots up high, just what it wanted for a race like this.
I would consider this a textbook case of what a PMC should look like, except the pattern visible in the last three months should be present from the start. On balance, had I worked that hard that long I might of burned out mid-November. This is why training plans are part science, part art.
One thing I learned during those long Sunday morning runs was the need to maintain better posture. By the end of a long run I had serious pain where my glutes attach to my hip bone. The other hot spot was just below my scapula. I discovered that I was running with my head tilted down. On shorter runs, like what I had been doing during triathlon season, the effort of holding up my sagging head went unnoticed, but after several hours the effort revealed itself. I learned to balance my head on to of my shoulders and to lift my mid-section up out of my hips by engageing my abs, and like magic the pains went away. No pain at all during or after the race.
Even more exciting was the complete lack of drama in my left leg. Despite being right handed it is my left leg that gets pushed into doing most of the work. For several years I have been struggling to lefty to articulate as smoothly as righty. I often find myself running with a clip-clop so pronounced you might think I was wearing two different makes of running shoes. All the hard work paid off. On Sunday, both legs started off extremely well. Around mile 21 it was righty who started to complain -- the quads (rectus femoris) and adductors started to hurt as if they wanted to cramp. I have been disabled by severe calf cramps on training runs and did not want to become part of the carnage I was running past, so I slowed down a bit and extended my walk periods enough to take in a little more water. After the race it was my right quad that hurt the most, not the left. Interesting.