My planned workout this morning was a one-mile warm-up followed by eight miles at my goal marathon pace of six minutes per mile. Despite the 90-degree heat, all was going well until, with less than a mile to go, I felt a sudden, sharp twinge in my right hamstrings. Five years ago I would have doggedly finished the workout according to plan--after all, I was so close to completing it, and the pain wasn't completely debilitating. But years of living to regret such stubborness has taught me that discretion is the better part of valor, so I immediately slowed to a jog and took the shortest way home.
I am confident that, thanks to my caution, I will be ready for an easy run tomorrow and ready also for my next planned high-intensity workout on Friday. If I had froced myself to run that last 0.9 mile at six-minute pace, who knows? I might have completely ruined my next two or three weeks of training.
Bailing out of workouts due to unforeseen pain is frustrating. Believe me, I was cursing under my breath when I pulled up lame this morning. That's what makes it so hard to act sensibly and refuse to run through pain. But in the big picture it is much better to maintain a strict, zero-tolerance policy towards "red-flag" pain. You'll experience much less frustration and achieve far better results in the long run. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Hopefully you won't have to (if you haven't already).
I ran a 5K road race this morning. My goal time, based on recent workout performances, was 16:55. My finishing time was (drum roll please): 16:55. How often does that happen? I took second place overall, one second behind a 16-year-old kid who went out too fast but saved just enough to outkick me after I caught him with a tenth of a mile to go. While my time was a minute off my PR, I am very happy with it because it's faster than I've run in quite a while and the race was an early tune-up race in my preparations for the California International Marathon on December 6.
I have a system for marathon tune-up races: I like to run a 5K, a 10K, and a half-marathon, in that order. Ideally, the 5K falls 12 weeks out from the marathon, the 10K falls eight weeks out, and the half-marathon falls four weeks out. But it doesn't have to work out so perfectly, and it never does. I think the most important thing is to do one race at each of these distances, and in order of ascending distance.
Why? Well, between 16 and 12 weeks before a marathon, it's a good idea to do a fair amount of training at 5K pace and faster, because it develops a solid level of neuromuscular fitness (i.e. speed, stride power, anaerobic efficiency, and fatigue resistance at higher speeds) that helps you get more out of your more marathon-specific training later. It also happens to be good preparation for a 5K race, so why not run one?
Between 12 and 8 weeks before a marathon, it's a good idea to do a fair amount of training at 10K pace, because it extends the speed and fatigue resistance you built through the faster training you did earlier, making your fitness slightly more marathon-specific. It's also good preparation for a 10K race, so why not run one? Not to mention, a 10K tune-up race is the toughest, most beneficial sort of 10K-pace workout you can do.
Between 8 and 4 weeks before a marathon, it's a good idea to do a fair amount of half-marathon-pace training, which continues the process of extending your speed and fatigue resistance. Running a half-marathon tune-up race will reward this work and amplify its effect. Because you're also doing some very long endurance runs at this point in your marathon preparations, you should be ready to bust out a fine half-marathon performance.
It works for me!
My next race will be a 10K, of course. I'm trying to decide between a very competitive race on September 16 and a low-key event on September 29.
I'm working with elite running coach Brad Hudson on a book entitled Run Faster from 5K to the Marathon, which will be published by Random House next year. One of Brad's signature training methods is steep hill sprints: very short (8-10 seconds) sprints up a very steep hill. He has his runners do 8 or 10 of them at a time, once or twice a week, at the end of an easy run. They are meant to increase stride power and running-specific strength.
I've started to incorporate steep hill sprints into my training for the California International Marathon. To avoid injury, I began with one (as Brad himself recommends), then advanced to two, and just today I did a set of three. I have a strong feel they are going to be quite beneficial, but quite apart from the anticipated physical benefits, I am just loving the experience of running at top speed. I can't remember the last time I sprinted before I started doing these hill sprints. It's such an exhilarating feeling to hold nothing back.
As small children, we only ran at top speed. Then we became "runners" and forgot how to sprint. It's kind of sad. I am coming to believe that everyone who calls himself or herself a runner should sprint a little.
I am big on cross-training. I'm so big on it, I wrote a whole book about it: Runner's World Guide to Cross-Training. Recently I've gotten into a new type of cross-training that is not mentioned in that book: slideboarding. A slideboard is a long, narrow, thin, rectangular sheet of plastic that you lay on the floor and "skate" on from side to side while wearing fabric booties. They are mainly used by hockey players, speedskaters, and skiers for off-season training, but I have a hunch that slideboarding might be hugely beneficial for runners.
Why? Because it's highly complementary to running. On the one hand, slideboarding provides an excellent cardiovascular and muscle conditioning workout for the legs, just like running. On the other hand, slideboarding is a non-impact activity, so it provides an extra fitness boost without increasing injury risk. More important, unlike running, slideboarding is a lateral motion activity, so it strengthens lots of important lateral stability muscles that are crucial to minimizing stress on the joints during running but are not really strengthened by running itself. Slideboarding is particularly good for the muscles of the outer hips and buttocks, which tend to be especially weak in runners who are especially injury-prone, like me.
I just started using my slideboard this week. While I am confident it will prevent injuries in the long run, it will only cause an injury in the short run if I do too much of it too soon, as it is taxing muscles that my body had more or less forgotten even existed. At present I'm doing just a few minutes each night (I run in the late morning). I will eventually build up to 20-30 minutes per session, 4-5 times per week. I will give you a progress report down the road.