Road to the Philly Marathon 2 – Strength Gains, Speed Pains

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A field off of the Moose Hill trail in Sharon. I’ve been focusing on developing leg strength by logging miles on trails and grass these past few weeks.

It’s been an up-and-down few weeks of training. On one hand, my cardio and stamina are at an all-time high, and I’m putting in the type of quality volume I’ll need to run a fast half marathon this summer and a fast marathon in Philadelphia in November. On the other hand, my foot speed has taken a huge hit these past few months, and I’m struggling to maintain speeds I was crushing a few months ago.

Training

My plan was to start this month with a 65-mile week followed by a 70-mile week, which would have been a nice block in my aerobic base for the months ahead. I hit the 65-mile week without much trouble, but around 41 miles into the second week, I could feel my body really breaking down, and my paces were suffering. I think I did a little too much running on the soft surfaces, challenging muscles that weren’t strong enough to handle that type of volume. I decided to pull in the reigns and cap the week at 62 miles.

Rainy run on the Stony Brook trail in Wrentham.

Rainy run on the Stony Brook trail in Wrentham.

Even though I hadn’t hit my mileage goals, I got in some decent workouts and had a few encouraging runs throughout the 14-day span. On May 5th, I put in just over 15 hilly miles in the mud on Battle Road in Concord. I held 6:48 pace for the run while staying relaxed and never leaving my aerobic zone. On May 10th, I hit 5:05 pace for a hard 1.2 mile fartlek burst during a workout at Millenium Park in West Roxbury. And on May 15th, I was able to crank out a nice 15k fartlek around 6:10 pace on a bike path in Providence.

But as a whole, I haven’t been recovering well from these runs, and even though I’m arguably training at my highest level yet, I haven’t felt strong during my workouts. The “feeling” of running fast is just as important as your times, because it means your body is firing on all cylinders and adapting to the stress of training. I feel like I’ve been searching for that feeling for the past two months, and I still haven’t found it.

So I used this past week to pull back and let my body absorb some of the training I had done over that two-week block. The rest did my body good, as I noticed my energy levels returning to normal around Thursday. I was expecting to run somewhere around 16:15-16:25 on Saturday at a local 5k, thinking my mileage would carry me to a solid performance. But I was nowhere even close to that, finishing in 17:11. Considering I had run almost that exact time during a speed workout two months ago, I was pretty pissed. My legs felt like they were in quicksand the entire race.

Moving Forward

What’s become abundantly clear these past two months is that more than most runners, I need speed work to run near my best. I’m a slow-twitcher all the way, and no matter how strong my heart and lungs are, they simply aren’t enough to carry me through races. I was 43 seconds off of my 5k PR on Saturday, and that’s a tough pill to swallow.
As tempted as I am to drive down to track right now and start cranking out 400s, I need to continue looking at things from a long-term perspective. I’m hoping to peak on July 17th for a local half marathon, so I won’t be introducing interval work until at least the second week of June. It’s rough having to wait, but I’m not ignorant enough to think I can do eight weeks of intervals without crashing and burning.

So with that mindset, I have a couple of weeks before my hard training starts. My lungs and heart are already there – now it’s just about getting my legs up to speed.

I did some hard hills this morning at Blue Hills, including a 3-minute burst up a 24% grade rocky trail for a Strava CR. This weekend, I’m going to do another 5k to keep my body used to moving at a fast pace (and hopefully take away a result I’m happy with). That will end my strength building period, allowing me to maintain volume next month while I’m busting out 150 meter sprints and 400s on the track to improve my running economy for July 17th.

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Even though my footspeed isn’t there right now, I’m still feeling pretty good about my overall training. Since I started training again six weeks ago, I’ve gotten in 317 miles over grass and technical trails and up a lot of hills. The variety of terrain has strengthened my connective tissue and made my legs more powerful. The only missing ingredient is speed work, which is right around the corner.

Shoe Talk

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For the past year, I’ve been running in New Balance Fresh Foam Zantes, which, at 7.6 oz, are among the lightest road shoes on the market. To this day, the shoes still feel fast while providing enough stability to keep my feet and ankles sturdy in potholes and rooty areas of trails. I’m going to continue training in Zantes for the forseeable future.

However, I recently purchased a pair of New Balance 1400s so I could race in something a bit lighter than the Zantes. At 6.5 oz, the 1400s feel light, but they don’t provide the same type of stability you’d get in a regular road training shoe. I also am not of a fan of the shoe’s rigidness, which seems to hold back my springing ability upon contact with the ground. Even the Zantes seem to provide more flexibility and “pop” with each step. I will probably put in a few hundred miles on the 1400s and then try out something else afterwards.

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