What’s up RunTriBike Athletes! Welcome to the last chapter in my return to the marathon series. As a quick recap, after months of training to rebuild my fitness to compete at the New York City Marathon Mother Nature forced me to change plans. I was going to have fun and stay healthy on a day with record high temps. After a week off, I quickly realized during my first run back that my potential to truly race was unrealized. I still had a ton of fitness at my disposal to push towards a new race to actualize my goals. The idea of back-to-back marathon training was lingering.
What Races Are Available For This Back-To-Back Marathon Training?
Looking at the available upcoming races my choices were clear, California International Marathon or Houston Marathon. This decision couldn’t be made on emotion despite my eagerness to redeem myself after NYC. I looked at a number of different variables. Cost of travel and sign up were easy to review. Researching the predicted weather, course layout and elevation was next. Finally, the time available to recover and improve my fitness was decided upon. After weighing the pros and cons, it quickly became apparent that the Houston Marathon was the better choice. So I decided to go for it and booked my lodging as well as signed up for the race.
Race Decided. Bring On A Coach?
The next process was reaching out to a trusted friend and coach to help guide me safely to race day. Despite my experience and ability to train myself, I reached out. I did this because this would be a first for me. I would bee training for back to back marathons with less than 3 months between races. This is something I wouldn’t have considered if I was new to the marathon. Since the NYC Marathon was my 5th marathon and 6th marathon training cycle I felt comfortable going this route.
In my first article, I trained for more than 12 weeks for Boston 2020. Unfortunately, due to COVID I was unable to race. At this point, my training age (how long I have been training for over my lifetime) came into play. Having trained for a long time meant my body was able to adapt for back to back marathons. Never attempting this before, I preferred having a coach in my corner to guide me. This would also take the pressure off of creating a training plan during the upcoming holiday season.
Getting Back Into Training
As I mentioned, my first week after New York I took completely off. The two weeks following that week were very conservative. The main focus was time on feet and recovery, rebuilding my base without overly stressing my body. There were a couple of pick ups or strides in one or two of my runs per week. Aside from that, intensity was very low, which felt really nice and easy. After this brief reprieve, training began to ramp back up to include two workouts per week. One of the workouts was more intense in nature but slightly shorter in distance. The other was within my long run focusing on improving my aerobic capacity. Each week got progressively more intense with more time dedicated to training.
My training peaked just before and after Christmas. This was done to purposely make the holiday week a down week to recover due to the travel and stress of the holidays. It’s important to recognize that even good stress is stress. This is especially true when you factor in a change in nutrition, drinking, travel and potentially poor sleep due to the busy and long days.
Getting Sick. Not Optimal.
Despite me doing my best to prioritize my training, I still got sick three weeks prior to the Houston Marathon. A head cold that turned into severe laryngitis that resulted in me losing my voice for nearly a week. During that time there was no choice but to pull back on training, ultimately forcing me into an early taper. I took extra days off. This also included removing my long run and subbing easy efforts for speed work. The best thing I could do was respect my body’s limits to ensure I was 100% by race day.
The week leading up to Houston, I was surprisingly calm. Despite being sick leading up to the race, I knew the six months of hard work had paid off. I was the fittest I’d ever been and ready for show time. I also knew I was ready for a break. Training consistently at a high intensity and long duration is hard on the body. We’re not meant to be at our peak level of fitness for more than a couple of weeks. At this point I had been training at this intensity for nearly 3 months. That and training through the holiday season were the main reasons I got sick when I did. My body was at a tipping point and desperately needed an off season after this final marathon attempt.
It’s Race Day
On the day of the Houston Marathon, things unfortunately turned for the worst quickly. Despite careful preparation and selection I woke up with food poisoning. I prayed it was just nerves forcing me to run to the bathroom. Despite this feeling, I got myself ready and to the starting line. I did so with plenty of time for extra bathroom trips. Once in the starting corral the outcome was very clear but I still prayed for a miracle. I started the race and kept my effort conservative, even still the race got hard quickly, too quickly. By 15k I was toast and yet again had to make a hard decision; suffer through or drop out. Despite my emotional investment I made the logical choice and stopped at the next medical tent.
Post Race Feeling
In the immediate days following the race, I felt a mix of frustration, sadness, shame and relief. Frustration and sadness that after all my hard work, one poor choice in food took me out of the race. Shame because this was now my second failed race in three months. I questioned my ability as a runner and coach. Wondering as many runners do when in the face of failure if I even belong running. But lastly, I felt relief because I promised myself at the start of this second attempt I would walk away and be content with the results. What mattered most is that I tried.
Looking back now, months later, I am still saddened and disappointed that my return to the marathon was so anticlimactic. But I no longer feel shame or question my belonging in this sport. I know that these performances don’t reflect all the hard work and my ability. I know that I will one day get that 3:05 marathon (or faster.) All of this time and effort has given me a greater capacity and stronger base. I can leverage that when I choose to train hard and race again.
Dust Myself off And Try Again?
These experiences have also given me a greater emotional capacity for my runners. Not every runner succeeds at reaching their goals the first time. Much of running is about preserving both physically and mentally. So by having these setbacks myself, I have learned a hard lesson. These lessons will help me guide my athletes when they inevitably experience this type of loss themselves.
Despite not achieving my goals in either event, I walked away having the best training cycle in my running career. I have undoubtedly grown as an athlete. Previously, I would have done anything to finish and punished myself relentlessly for a less than perfect performance. Ultimately, carrying that guilt and anxiety into my next training cycle and race. That anxiety would have only stunted my progress further. Now I can appreciate these races for the opportunities they were. The ability to practice enjoying the process of training versus focusing solely on the outcome of it. Running and racing for the love of the sport above everything else.
Let’s Get Back To The Fun Of Running
And one day when I return to the marathon my goals will be recognized. Until then I’m just going to enjoy the run.