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Marathon Bias

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald Dec 22, 2007

There is a well-known Ironman bias in the sport of triathlon. Shorter races, especially sprints, are considered inherently less "serious" than the Ironman. Any triathlete who becomes a serious competitor feels compelled to move up to the Ironman distance sooner or later. I know it from personal experience. After gaining experience with a few sprints and Olympic distance races I climbed the ladder to half Ironmans and ultimately, inevitably, an Ironman. After devoting a full summer to training as much as 22 hours a week, I placed 51st at Ironman Wisconsin. Not quite what I was hoping for.


Subsequently I decided I might be better suited to shorter races. The next year, on about half as much training, I finished first in my age group and second overall in the Long Beach Triathlon.



In running, the marathon bias is not as extreme as triathlon's Ironman bias, but it does exist. There aren't many highly competitive runners who race a lot of 5K's and 10K's and never do a marathon. I've succumbed to the marathon bias, too. I've run 10 of them now, and I've never run a particularly good one. When I plug my 5K, 10K, and even my half-marathon PR's into those race performance equivalence calculators they always tell me I should be able to run a much faster marathon than I actually have done.



Every runner has a best distance, and mine is most certainly not the marathon. With this reality in mind, my recent search for a next big racing goal to follow my latest disappointing marathon earlier this month led me to decide to peak for the Carlsbad 5000 in April. I'm going to try and take 10 or 15 seconds out of my 5K PR of 15:56. If you're a born 5K or 10K runner who has fallen for the marathon bias as well, why not join me in setting a goal to run a fast short race this spring? Leave the marathons to the marathoners!



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A Time to Slack

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald Dec 11, 2007


Every distance runner is a little crazy. I'm no exception. Just three days after my disappointing marathon performance on December 2, I began to entertain the idea of trying to milk my fitness peak for six more weeks and run the Rock n' Roll Arizona Marathon on January 13. That hare-brained scheme lasted exactly one day. During my second post-marathon recovery run I developed a pain in my right heel and decided to stay off it for a week to prevent it from becoming a severe problem. This decision eliminated any possibility of milking my fitness peak and running another marathon, which was, of course, a bad idea anyway, even before I got hurt.



Since then I've been blowing off steam by riding the stationary bike and lifting weights at the gym. I enjoy lifting weights and find that putting some effort into building strength in the winter helps me get off to a good start when I shift my focus back towards running in the spring. It's also nice to get a mental break from the grind of running every day. After several weeks of focusing on alternative activities I always find that the hunger to run returns in full force. Thus, when I do resume focused run training I am more motivated and enjoy my workouts more than I would if I did not give myself that mental break.



It's also not a bad thing to prioritize other facets of life above exercise in general at certain times (and there's no better time than the holiday season). As competitive athletes we have to make many sacrifices. The need to train hard consistently limits our travel, our social lives, and other opportunities. I don't think it's healthy to make such sacrifices year-round. Currently I'm exercising just 30 minutes a day, six days a week, and it feels great. My wife and I are enjoying more quality time together and getting out of the house more often than usual to do fun stuff.



My heel is already feeling better, but I'm in no hurry to test it. In fact, although injuries are normally the bane of my existence, I'm actually glad this one happened. It kept my runner's insanity in check.



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Run and Learn

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald Dec 3, 2007

During the 30-minute bus ride from my hotel in Sacramento to the starting line of yesterday's California International Marathon, I sat next to a fellow runner who was about to tackle his 35th marathon. During this conversation he remarked that one learns something from each marathon. I agreed, and added that one learns the most from marathons that don't go well.


Unfortunately, my race did not go well. My goal time, as I have mentioned often in this blog, was 2:39. I ran the first half right on pace, but then fell apart and staggered to a 2:47:45 finish. What did I learn? A few things. First, I learned that the weather does not always cooperate on race day. In this case, conditions were almost perfect: chilly, overcast, and dry. But there were also strong, blustery winds that hit runners smack in the face through roughly half of the course. Running into these winds was like running uphill. When I first encountered them, I should have adujsted my time goal just as I would have done if the temperature had been 75 degrees. I should have maintained the effort level associated running at my goal pace of 6:05 per mile in perfect conditions, which would have required that I slow down to perhaps 6:20 per mile, instead of increasing my effort level in order to stick to 6:05 pace. It would have been disappointing, but less so than falling apart was.



I also learned that if you're going to run a marathon on a hilly course, you had better run a lot of hills in training. The California International Marathon bills itself as "The Fast Marathon in The West" due to its net elevation drop of more than 300 feet. However, the fine print is that this elevation drop is achieved through 1,100 feet of uphill running and 1,400+ feet of downhill running. This doesn't mean it's impossible to run a fast time at CIM, but it does make it a less than optimal course for those who train in completely flat areas, as I do, and who are particularly susceptible to muscle damage resulting from downhill running, as I believe I am. When I finished yesterday's marathon I felt that I had enough energy left to run another four or five miles, but my legs had been toast since mile 16.



In retrospect, I shouldn't have picked this marathon. I should have gone with a pancake-flat marathon such as Chicago or Rock n' Roll Arizona. Oh, well: run and learn.



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