You know sometimes things just come together in life and running when you don't really expect them too. At the beginning of this year I set significant PRs in everything from the 5K to the marathon. Honestly, I saw it coming. After 2006, I had been suffering with a hip injury for much of a year and my running, or at least mileage had been spotty at best. I really approached 2008 with a conservative mindset just to get me healthy enough to run marathons again and I accomplished that in NYC 2008 in November. At the same time, however, I wasn't training as much as I wanted to and was doing little speedwork and taking extra off days or cross training days. So while I ran a respectable 3:15, just 3 minutes off my first marathon time, I certainly knew that if I could ramp up my training just a bit and spend a little more time in training with some speedwork and get beyond the 40 mile weeks I had been doing that I was going to have a big leap in my race performances. So when I started running PRs all over the place early in the year it didn't really surprise me that much, even if some of my particular races like the 1:00:55 10 miler I ran were beyond the expectations I had for that training cycle.
My winter/spring training cycle was thus relatively easy. There was nothing too complicated about it. I started running more, running faster, and running more consistently and that's all I needed to do. This past summer has been a different story. There was no obvious next step. Of course I could always add more mileage or harder workouts or just build off the previous cycle and assume that more running over time would take me where I needed to go. But frankly there were no guarantees and I desperately wanted another shot at going under 3 hours this fall on a tough course in NYC after I had only managed a strep-throat induced 3:02 on a very flat course in May. I basically made the decision to up my mileage even more or at least to keep it at the highest levels I had done for a longer period of time and farther out from the marathon and then drop my mileage down and do more faster running closer to race day. It was a luxury I had never really had before to start without having to really build up my mileage to what I considered an acceptable level for the marathon.
Still, I didn't expect my summer running to be as tough as it was. Part of this may have been that I didn't give myself enough time to rest after the May 3 marathon because I wanted to do the 5 borough NYRR half-marathon series this year and had to get back on track for a May 30 half in Brooklyn. Regardless, I plugged away all summer and was consistently hitting 75-85 mile weeks with an occassional down week from late June through early September, topping out with one 93 mile week. Without looking at the data specifically, I'm sure I ran at least twice as many 70+ mile weeks as I ever had building up to a marathon even before I was into the final 10 weeks of training. While more mileage seemed like a great idea, it didn't really seem to be working for me after awhile. The Brooklyn Half went fine and was an OK race in 1:25:59---two minutes off my PR, and the weekend after that I ran a 18:07 5K, just three seconds off my PR. But after that it seemed to go downhill as I added all the mileage and all my race times just started to spiral downward as the weather warmed and I added more mileage. Really the biggest problem was that I started to feel very clueless about my training, believing that I had not given myself a necessary down period after the previous marathon and that there was now nothing I could do about it in time for NYC in Novemeber. It all hit the fan more or less when I ran an awful side-stitch and agony filled 1:29:54 in the NYC Half Marathon in mid-August. At that point I kind of felt resigned to the fact that this was just going to be a failed training cycle in terms of improving my running and getting back into the conversation for a sub three time.
Regardless, I was determined to stick out what I had set out to do until the end. So I kept plugging away at my high mileage weeks until the beginning of September when I planned on cutting back the mileage and upping the intensity and hoped that along with cooler weather would see my plan through even though I didn't have much hope for it. One signficant change I did make in my running in about August, I should mention is that I started doing my long runs at a slower pace, perhaps even at what some would consider too slow at around 8:30/mile. Frankly, the end of all my long runs had become a struggle and I used to relish the longest run of the week more than any other and it was getting to the point that I wasn't enjoying them at all. So I decided to make them more fun by running with someone a bit slower who I thought would keep me company a bit and perhaps make the running more fun for me just from the company and by not pushing the pace at all. So she started to join me for the second half or so of my 20 milers and I started to have fun doing them again even if I didn't really think at first that this really had much of a benefit to it from a training perspective, but I didn't think it would do any harm either since it seemed an improvement over bonking at the end of 18-20 mile training runs.
As fortune would have it, I fell in love with my new long-run partner. Literally, head over heels in love, though it had much much more of a foundation than just the running we did together. As our relationship grew, I really became much happier and I thought a lot less about running and in a sense it became much less important to me because I was just so incredibly happy and running stopped being the most important thing in my life, which it may have started to become without me realizing it. At the end of the day this all my made my running come together finally in the last couple months before the NYC marathon. I'm sure the slower long runs helped as did making running more fun. The two bigger factors probably were though that my training plan of doing heavy mileage and then starting to cut back the miles actually gave me a really strong foundation and proved to be a decent plan particularly as the weather made it easier for me as well, and that I stopped focussing on running so much and was just so happy with the rest of my life to an extent I didn't realize was possible.
Three weeks ago I ran a 1:24:30 in the Queens Half Marathon on a day I wasn't even really shooting for a fast time and didn't expect to do well after all the bad races I had had all summer. It wasn't a PR, but it was only about 40 seconds off, and on a very hilly course with lots of turns and I had not focussed on it as a goal race at all with any sort of taper aside from the gradual reduction in mileage I was starting leading up to November. Thus I think that that race was an indication to me at least that I might be headed in the right direction and at least wouldn't be awful in NYC. Then two weeks later I did a little 1.7 mile race and placed very high up in the overall standings while maintaining a 5:30/mile pace. Since I hadn't been doing a lot of fast running, it felt really good to know that I could do that and I started to believe more. Then yesterday I went out to run my goal/tune-up half marathon on Staten Island three weeks out from the NYC Marathon and ended up running 1:21:45, which was a 2+ minute PR on a day that frankly my legs didn't feel all that fresh or great. I have no idea what marathon day will bring for me and I know it might just not be my day etc. but I certainly know again that it is at least possible to think about breaking 3 hours and frankly less than 2 months that was starting to sound crazy. I think the best part is that if I have a bad day I'm also more OK with that than I would have been in the past. But yes I really do want to break 3, it seems like a long road from my first marathon three years ago when I foolishly thought I could do that. But hey for the moment, I'm pretty happy with the half marathon time!