I wish I had taken up running at an earlier age.
If I had, I would have had gotten my racing screw-ups out of the way while I still had time to correct my mistakes and had the fresh, young legs in subsequent years to benefit from the experience.
I ran the Des Moines marathon on Sunday, although “ran” is a pretty generous term. It was my 9th marathon, my third in Des Moines and my 17th long-distance race overall.
Sunday’s race was my worst-ever for a marathon. I finished in 4 hours, 58 minutes and some change. And I had to break back into a shuffle/run in order to ensure that I beat the 5-hour threshold.
I felt pretty darn good through the halfway point. At about the 16-mile mark, I could feel myself struggling to keep pace. By the 18-mile mark, I knew it would be a long day. By the 24-mile mark, I sat on my butt for a minute or so just to give my quads a break. I’ve never felt that sensation in a race before, and I hope I never do again.
The meltdown in Des Moines comes seven months after a setting a new PR in New Orleans. Talk about highs and lows.
How do you have your best race and your worst race in the same calendar year? Well, it’s a two-step plan.
- Step 1: Convince yourself that you can convert a planned 22-mile training run into an easy 26-mile race and not see any detrimental effects.
Early in the year, I planned on running two marathons: New Orleans in March and Des Moines in October. But when a trail marathon was announced for my hometown, I couldn’t resist entering — even if this event came just five weeks before my main race.
I thought about running the half marathon in my hometown, but the siren song of the marathon was too great. How could I miss the inaugural marathon?
- Step 2: Disregard the three-week taper you had planned and move to a two-week taper.
This, I think, was the coup de grâce.
I drew up my training plan in the early summer, and I outlined my long runs, speedwork and taper. But when other events got in the way of completing my long runs as planned, I had to make changes. And instead of sacrificing a long run, I decided to do just one more before beginning my taper. Getting in that one more long run meant decreasing the taper from three weeks to two weeks.
This mistake was compounded by the additional long runs I undertook this summer. I planned for a 20-week training cycle, which gave me plenty of time to log mileage. In the 10 weeks leading up to Des Moines, I ran five long runs of 18 miles or longer, which includes the not-originally-planned marathon. The extra long runs definitely stressed my legs in particular and my body in general. I struggled on several of the long runs. But I seemed to bounce back enough by the next long run that I felt that I was making progress.
Even with the extra long runs during my training period and the extra marathon, I really think moving away from a three-week taper was the biggest mistake. The extra rest the three week taper would have provided might — just might — have made the other stressors pay dividends. But I’ll never know.
I was extremely disappointed on Sunday. It’s hard to see 20 weeks of hard training and many additional weeks of base building go for naught. But I guess they really didn’t. Mistakes are an opportunity for growth.
In past races and training, I’ve learned that I can no longer simply train through injuries, that heat will negatively impact a race pace and you have to add some fuel to the tank to finish strong. I’ve learned these lessons by making the requisite mistakes.
Now I’ve learned the value of a proper taper.
With that in mind, there’s only one thing to do: Pick out the next race and lay out a training plan. And this time, I’ll try to do a better job of sticking to the plan.