Σάββατο, 21 Απριλίου 2012

My story to a 2:44 Barcelona marathon in 2012

I thought I should share my experience and plan for a personal best of 2:44:30 at the 2012 Barcelona Marathon. Hope this is usefull for runners of all levels.

Start with a small intro:
I 've been a runner for 6 years more or less. During this period I have completed several marathons, countless smaller distance events, and a dozen or more ultra distance runs (2x100milers included). Since I am a working man as well, I have learned to make the most of my training, and on top keep my running mojo alive an kicking. I must admit that no injuries have bothered me all these years. My marathon achievements timeline is like this:
  • 2007 - Athens Classic marathon (one of the toughest official marathon routes): 3:20
  • 2008 - Athens Classic marathon: 3:10
  • 2009 -  Pafos marathon in Cyprus: 3:05, Athens Classic marathon: 3:05
  • 2010 - Rotterdam marathon: 2:56, Athens Classic: 2:56
  • 2011 - Thessaloniki marathon: 2:49
  • 2012 - Barcelona marathon: 2:44
 I have no coach and never had one. I am running all distances and usually I participate to more than 10 events per year (all inclusive, some triathlons as well). I was born in 1971 (making me 41 years old at the time of this article).

Basic principles
Barcelona Marathon 2012 took place on 25th of March. I started my preparation in mid November (a bit more than 4 months to prepare), with a goal to improve b 3-4 minutes my achievement of 2011 at Thessaloniki marathon (2:49). Before starting my training plan, I had a period of 6 months in which I was preparing for an Ironman and a 100miler on the mountains. Basically I was with zero speedwork for 5 months (before November 2011), while I had huge milleage at very slow pace (training for my 100miler).

My job is an office work of 9-11 hours per day, 5 days per week. I am married with no children. My time is quite limited, but I really enjoy running and training. I read a lot of sports books, and I like to try and test new things on my training plan. Pilars of my training:
  • Avoid injuries
  • Enjoy as much as possible
  • Make the most of my limited training time (effective training)
The plan
My plan was based on these priciples:
  1. Consistent interval training with "tunnel vision" effort, 2 times per week (followed by focused 30minutes of stretching)
  2. Surprisingly slow long runs
  3. 4 days per week with morning - evening runs (double workouts)
  4. One easy day per week, one easy week per month
  5. Core strength training 4 times per week (abs, back)
  6. Leg strength for 7 weeks at the start of the preparation period
  7. Monitoring body weight and trying to lose as much as possible from the extra kilos added during the annual off-period.
Points 1,2 above are the most crucial as I came to understand over the previous years but especially this year. No mercy on the intervals! These are usually the less popular runs and usually unpleasant ones. When I do my interval sessions, I have one thing in mind: They are "expensive" for my mentality, so better make them count! Also the slow runs were done at approximately 1min to 1:10 slower than my target race pace. Meaning that I was running at 5:00 - 5:15 per kilometer, which felt really slow for me. But... if I push a bit more, then even though I am ok during this run, it takes longer to recover for my next session! And of course, there is no gain in going 4:40 instead of 5:05 per kilometer! So ... why go faster?

The double workouts helped in the sense, that the evening run, was always on heavy legs. This is good for getting used to running while tired.

Abs and back excersises help technique, stability and eficiency in style. They are the easiest way to improve performance, yet I see very few people doing them!

Leg strength at the early part of the period, involved balanced routines for all the leg. Quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes.

My milleage per week, never exceeded 120km and never went below 70km (except during tappering and sickness week).

Getting things done
A period of 4 months for preparation is the longest preparation period I have ever been through! Many things can go wrong!!! During this period I had one thing on my mind. Always look at the coming week and not further. If I was feeling slugish, I would exchange a hard session with an easier one, or even cancel. As long as this is a limited incident, it does not affect the plan at all. And it makes me recover and feel better.

I am using Training Peaks online service to keep track of my workouts. When I am running I do not pay attention to my watch. I do not care at all about heart rate or pace. But I record everything so that I can review later my workout. Especially for the interval sessions, I think it is important always to review the data so that I can pin point (mostly based on heart rate data) if I have been trying as hard as I should during all the intervals. Training Peaks, is the best platform I have seen so far, and I have tried a few! They have some excellent features (for members only) that evaluate the stress that each session is imposing on your body, the long term load according to your training (based on volume as well as intensity), and finally an indication of the fitness level! The diagram of my preparation period is presented in the picture below.
The blue line indicates my accumulated training load according to the training stress score per day. The purple line indicates the tiredness and stress accumulated in my body. The orange line represents the training stress balance, or for simplicity how fresh I am at a given time. For top performance, TSB should be either "0" or slightly positive, and the purple line should either "0" or negative.

Overall in this period, I executed 20 interval sessions with distances ranging from 400m to 1000m and usually 7 repetitions going up to maximum 10. I did almost every week a non stop, easy going long run ranging from 21km to 34km with some uphill in them. Included two half marathon distance races in early February and early March (bit displaced my "test race 2" in the chart). Early to mid February had to slow down due to illness. But there was no stress. My intervals were going well and had no injuries. So nothing could make me feel stressed, even a 10 day fall back.

From starting line to finish line
With 25th of March approaching, I started to cool down my training. I have noticed from past experience, that when I take a "low" week, usually I feel really fresh from the mid of the following week. So there is an obvious delay. So I applied this to my tappering for the marathon. My really low week was the week before the race-week. I rested a lot, and did less interval sessions. On race week, I did almost every day short runs of 5-7k and one 5x intervals session. So I arrived at the start line fresh, but also strong without sacrificing my fitness. Training Peaks helped a lot in this direction as well. I included a bit of mountan biking these last 10 days as well, as a low stress but excellent aerobic exercise. My target was a 2:45-2:46 finish time.

So on 25th of March I stood at the start line happy and strong. The weather was on the hot side with 18degC early in the morning expecting to go to 20-21degC at the later stages of the marathon. The route is a slightly hilly one with about 280m of total accumulated ascent. My race plan was to take advantage of the cooler temperature of the morning and push it a bit more in the first half. This was not a race for negative split for me. I passed the half marathon in 1:19:07 and was feeling good, but I knew that the sun and the heat would take their toll eventually. At the 27th km I saw some runners suffering from stomach problems, and we were already at 20degC and out in the open part of the route, next to the beach front. The next 10k were exposed to the sun, with light head wind and temperature rising. Till the 29th km, I was on track for a 2:41 marathon. But it was then that I decided to secure my race since I was seeing more and more runners around me sufering from the heat. I would be very happy to go faster than my plan. So I settled to a comfortable pace, a bit lower than in the early stages of the race. Till then I was at 3:48 min/km. Then I fell back to to 3:55 min/km. The last 2km to the finish line are uphill in this race, so eventually I run these at 4:10 min/km, which was my slowest kilometer in the race. I never went faster than 3:30 and never slower than 4:10 per kilometer. When I crossed the finish line, my legs were tired but not in pain, the clock was at 2:44:30 and I was happy! There were more than 17.000 runners in this marathon. I passed the 5th kilometer 123rd, the half marathon 119th and finished 121st. I think I had a good plan.

The organization is top notch. I would dare say that it was the best orgnized event I have ever run. The route is not a really fast one, since it has some ups and downs and the hot weather possibility is very likely! One thing that I know that affects me a lot, is the heat.

Looking forward for my next marathon in 2013 with a goal to break the 2:40 mark. Staying healthy and running happily is the only way to this.

Enjoy your training.

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