Three Marathons in Sixteen Weeks

Starting with the Napa Valley Marathon this weekend (Running USA preview here), I'm racing three marathons in a sixteen week span (as well as a couple of 50 mile ultras and a 10 miler): Napa (3/2), Boston (4/21), and Grandma's (6/21).  The focus on each race varies, but if all goes well, I'm hoping to come out of it all with an Olympic Trials Qualifying mark of sub-2:18:00.  Grandma's will cap the first half of my 2014 season, and I plan on taking a short break after the race before building up to the second half of my year.

Before I do any racing, it's hard to know exactly where my fitness is, but what I would call my "reasonable goals" are as follows: PR at Napa (sub-2:22:53), sub-2:20 at Boston, sub-2:18:00 at Grandma's.  If things go really well, I might exceed those goals by a minute or two.  Or I might not meet them at all; but I think they're good targets.  

I ran a 2:25:39 at last year's Napa Valley Marathon, good for fourth place.  It was my first serious race in a year, run on about 3-4 months solid training after a long injury layoff in 2012.  Which is to say I was not very strong and certainly not sharp.  This year's effort will share the latter aspect—I am not race sharp by any means.  I've been doing very few workouts; instead mainly focusing on quality aerobic running and building my mileage up.

In contrast to last year, however, I should be much stronger.  I got sick for about a week after the Pyscho WyCo 50k, but came back with a solid long run this weekend: a 24.2 miler with 1,390 feet of elevation gain, which I completed in a 6:10/mile average.  I know that I could not have done this run in training at this time last year.  In fact, when visiting Bloomington in late March 2013, I did this exact run and only managed a 6:48/mile average.  I am without a doubt significantly stronger than I was last year.  The question is just how much.  Napa is a quick course, and I've got some good competition coming from past champ Chris Mocko, so hopefully a PR is in the cards.  Either way, it will be a good indicator to let me know how realistic my Boston and Grandma's goals are.

Between Napa and Boston, I've got a seven week block with no racing plans—a perfect time to make some significant strength gains.  My mileage the last month has been in the 80-90 mpw range, and I hope to push it into the 100-120 range for the middle five weeks of the next training block.  I will still be running very few structured or intensive workouts.  Instead, I will work on hill springing/bounding, hill sprints, functional strength work, and hilly trail runs.  The mileage alone should enhance my aerobic strength (the "engine"), but I hope the work on the "chassis" will help me to run faster at Boston as well.  I also plan to include four solid long run workouts in the Boston buildup:

  • I hope to repeat my Boltinghouse run from this past weekend (linked above) two more times.  It is a grueling road route that will give me strength for the uphills and quad conditioning for the downhills. I also may try to hit the track at the end of these runs for a bit of quick stuff—maybe a few miles of alternating fast and moderate 400s shooting to average around MP, or simply a few fast miles.  This is tough to do 20+ miles into a run; but it's great for one's ability to close well in a marathon.
  • I also plan on two basic tempo/progression type of long runs on flatter ground.  Maybe a 15-20 mile basic tempo in the 5:40-5:50/mile pace range, and maybe a 20 mile progression in 5 mile segments (something like 6:00s, 5:45s, 5:30s, 5:15s for each segment if fitness allows).
So the whole Boston buildup will be Fundamental in nature.  I'll be building some great strength, but there really won't be a true Marathon Specific focus to the training.  I'm sneaking in a few workouts that will touch on specificity, but not much.  I'm hoping I can run sub-2:20 on strength.  If we have good weather in Boston, it can be a PR course.  It's net down; the Newton hills are really pretty mild compared to what I encounter in training and ultra racing; and I've got much better conditioning to the eccentric loading of the quads (when running downhill) than most marathoners.

After Boston, I'll have 9 weeks to Grandma's.  Now if I was smart, and I wanted to truly maximize my chances for running an Olympic Trials Qualifier, I would not race during those 9 weeks, except maybe a 10 miler or half marathon.  Instead, I'm racing two intensely competitive 50 mile trail races.  Which is certainly going to make things interesting. :)

I'll be doing more marathon specific work, as well as some quicker track workouts in the week leading up to Grandma's.  I'll also be doing a proper taper for the race.  But the simple fact is that much of that 9 week block will be recovery and tapering given my racing schedule.  So it will be interesting to see how much I can improve from Boston to Grandma's.

The OTQ is a big goal of mine, but the Trials don't happen until February 2016.  I've got this fall and all of next year to chase the standard if I can't quite hit it this spring.  So while I'll be racing all three of these marathons seriously, I'm treating them more as developmental races.  None of them will be raced optimally, but I'm hoping to hit some good results all the same.  I also get the chance to reacquaint myself with how to race a marathon well.