This was Cherry Blossom week. Which for most people was a goal race and maybe the peak of their spring, but for me was the kick off of the first week of marathon training. I tapered for it, and raced it, but it felt more like a beginning than an end.
Which makes me even happier with my race.
It's been a long road. In 2012-early 2013, I was as fit as I've even been. Then came the long cycle of injury, followed by trying too hard to climb back up too quickly this past fall.
I had two goals for this spring. One was to regain some of my speed at shorter distances, the other was to discipline myself to keeping my workouts very restrained - 80% effort. My belief was that adhering to the second goal of very controlled workouts was the best way to achieve the first goal. This was because, in the past, I had noted that I always improved the fastest when my workouts were slower and more controlled. "Going to the well" and "giving my all" in workouts always seemed to result in stagnation.
But it's been hard. When you have a group of friends running just ahead of you, it takes a lot of restraint not to chase the pack, and to instead run your own pace. Especially when you finish workouts with plenty in the tank, and feel a bit sheepish that you didn't work harder while everyone else was digging deep. But I forced myself to do so, telling myself I needed to do this consistently for several months, and then assess where I was.
And...I'm pretty happy with where I am. Judging from yesterday's performance at Cherry Blossom, as well as my performance at Monument Avenue 10K, I'm close to the same shape I was in early 2012. There were times I doubted I could get there again, and yet I'm here. At age 40 (almost 41) no less.
What's even cooler to note is that my workout paces on the track are consistently slower than they were both in 2012 and this past fall (by about 5-10 seconds a mile). Back in 2012 I was running 800s in the low 2:50s, with the occasional 2:4x. Now? They're generally just under 3 minutes. Maybe low 2:5x for the last one or two. Similarly, I'm tempoing about 10 seconds per mile slower than I was 3 years ago.
So...not only have I improved a TON over the past few months, but my differential between my workouts and my race performances has exploded. I'm tempoing 4 miles on the track SLOWER than I'm racing 15K, which is awesome.
Apparently I've managed to hit that balance of training to race, rather than racing my training. Yay me.
There's a trap that most runners fall into, when doing workouts. We see a chart where paces on the chart for different intervals correspond to race times, and we think that if we can just gut it out and hit those intervals in practice, we'll achieve the corresponding times on race day.
In actuality, it's the reverse, at least for me. It's not your goals that should determine your training paces (with the exception of practicing specific race pace); rather, your current fitness and how you feel that day should determine how you train. Exhibit A, of course, is that fact that I'm now running race times faster, and my workouts slower.
It makes sense, when I see it mapped out here. But I have to keep reminding myself of this, as I go into marathon training. The fastest way to achieve my goals is, ironically enough, to continue to keep my workouts very controlled.
Likewise, I've also slowed my easy runs way down. I used to run them in the mid-low 8:xx pace. Now I shoot for 9-9:30+ pace. Heck, 10:00 is fine.
There were a few reasons I used to get sucked into running my easy days at the faster speed - one was simply keeping pace with others (I'm now more careful about whom I do my easy days with), another was picking up pace because I had to be done by a certain time (I now start earlier or just run less miles). The third was that I was afraid that if I ran too slowly, I'd fall into bad form habits and become a shuffler. I address the last concern by doing drills and a few gentle (5-10K pace) strides after each run. It definitely seems to be working.
The test over the next two months will be whether I can adhere to these easy and yet so tough principles (controlled workouts, very slow easy runs) while marathon training. Only one way to find out.