Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How much is mental (and some other stuff)

How much is Mental?

Recently I read this interesting marathon RP by an ultra marathoner named Alicia. She ran a 3:16:19 marathon PR after reading her friend's race report, where her friend, Tracy, ran 3:16:20. This was a significant PR for her. Alicia questions how much of running must be mental. I mean why 3:16:19? Her previous PR was 3:28. I find it interesting because I've been thinking about how people women in my own age group seem to be getting faster and faster. I feel like I find a new blog everyday where someone near my age is running what I consider really freaking fast for "normal" people. I've been thinking about how much I've improved over the last couple years. Why have I improved? Yes, of course, we're all running harder and further and as result we tend to get faster, but how did I get the idea that I could? A few years ago, I was absolutely convinced that my "fast" days were over. There was no way I could ever, ever, come close to my college 5K PR (18:24). At the time, I couldn't break 20:00, which I was okay with. I mean 20:xx is still fast at the local races, and so I had come to terms with the fact that I was getting slower.

Then I met AM. She was getting faster. And faster. We ran together a few times, and I mentioned that I'd never be as fast as I once was. She said, "Why not?" And I listed several very logical reasons. As time has past, I've watched her get faster and faster, but not just her. I've followed a number of other blogs, where ladies are just getting faster. If not in the marathon distance, then the half, or the 5K. And though I didn't consciously think about it, I think I must have started to believe that if these other people could do it (get faster), then so could I. I mean really, where did I get a 7:20 marathon goal pace from? Looking back on it, I think it must have been from AM. Her goal pace in 2011 was 7:20. Don't get me wrong, I trained hard, but I don't think the idea of running a faster marathon would have occurred to me if I hadn't been reading so many other marathon stories.

So what the heck is my point? Do I think running is completely mental? No, not by any means. Running is hard, and besides having to work hard at it, there is a certain amount of potential that goes along with it. What I'm writing (I think) is that with all the fellow runner bloggers out there writing about their experiences, we see more and more "normal" people pushing the envelope of their running potential. Think about it, how many regular people ran marathons 20 years ago? I have no idea where to find those statistics, but when I was growing up I never heard of anyone running marathons. The thought didn't occur to me until a college friend decided to run one. Now my kids think it's typical to go for a 20 miler.

It doesn't matter how fast you're running compared to other people, but think about how far you've come since you started. Who gave you that idea? I am fairly certain that I've gotten those ideas from a number of you. At times, I find blogging cumbersome. There's life to be lived. Splits to run. Chores to do. Kids to play with. But at the same time being able to reach out into the virtual world and see so many others' running stories makes me a better runner. So, thank you for sharing your stories...

On Recovering:

It's been about 2.5 weeks since the marathon. It seems like a lot longer than that. Anyway, the week directly following the marathon I only ran 16 miles. While I noticed the intensity of my soreness was less than in past marathons, the duration seemed to last a bit longer. For example, I generally get so sore that walking down the stairs backwards really helps. Once I actually had to scoot down the stairs on my butt for a couple days. You could say that the days following the race tell me I ran as fast as I could have. This time I didn't get that sore but I was still a bit sore by the next weekend, which hasn't happened before either.

Last week, I was back to speed training. There's a 5K I want to race in a 1.5 weeks, so while I'm "recovering", I'm also running really really hard. I ran 45 miles last week, and felt good about that. I'm not sure what will happen this week. I just went to a podiatrist today to get an ingrown toenail cut out. Right now I'm having trouble walking because I can't feel my stupid toe. I asked him for some advice regarding the general state of my traumatized toes. He said "yeah, stop running." I think he was being funny. At least that's what I'm telling myself. Anyway, my toenail issues had nothing to do with the marathon, but I guess it's probably caused by my running in general. As the doctor said "running can cause trauma." You said it doc! I'm totally traumatized when I can't run! Oh wait, you meant actual running...

So, I'm sort of recovered. Recovered from the race, but now recovering from having my toe sliced open.

Lingering Training Thoughts:

Some of the comments to my last post, as well as finding more running blogs (of typical runners, not elite) had me thinking a bit more about training. Michelle asked about long run pace, which is something I struggle with. I usually want to run faster. It's a mental thing. If I did 20 miles at 7:30 pace, then it stands to reason I can do 26.2 at 7:30 pace (or really close to it). Except that didn't happen for me at Providence in May. In 2011, the average pace of my long runs were 7:47 pace (two 20 milers and one 22 miler), and I still ran slower than 7:47 pace on race day. Arguably, maybe I just had a bad day. For both races. Or maybe race pace long runs aren't a method in which I can expect to achieve optimal performance. What has been striking a chord with me recently is how different we all are when it comes to what works for training. I've run into a few blogs of people that run 35-40 miles a week and are in the 3:20 range for a marathon time! I've already written about how that didn't work very well for me.

Raina mentioned that Pfizinger (super famous runner/coach) suggests 10%-20% below your goal pace for long runs. I did out my averages and I was about 6%-10% below my goal pace for my long runs during this last training cycle. I feel fairly comfortable with that. My long runs were always on the last day of a build week, so my legs were never fresh, and my long run course is hilly. But I am not sure that anything much slower than 10% would work for me. I can't say for certain, because I haven't tried it, but I have a feeling 20% is way too slow for me. As it is, the average heart rate for my long runs was about 136. If I were running 20% slower, I imagine my HR might barely be in the 130 range. Raina also mentioned running the second half of the long run faster than the first half. I didn't mention that previously, but that's how I run my long runs. I run the first half very easy, and the second half harder. The last couple miles were usually slightly faster than MP.

Then AM mentioned running 16 miles really hard versus 24 miles really slow. And I've seen this in other places too. There are some training plans that don't go over 16 miles. Here's the deal though, that might be an awesome training technique for some runners, but I know that I can run 16-18 miles really hard, and I'm pretty sure if I trained like that and didn't run 20 milers I would surely hit a brick wall during my marathon. In fact, I think I need longer than 20 milers in my training plan.

The point is there are so many different training possibilities, and what works for one runner doesn't necessarily work for another. And the implication of one training plan over another becomes more important as we get faster and closer to our potential.

One last training thought. Pam asked about my treadmill running. I really haven't mentioned this, but almost all my hard running is done on the treadmill. I wouldn't say that TM running is ideal, but I do believe it has helped me stay injury free. I did all my MP runs on the TM with no incline. I haven't been using an incline because I was having issues with Achilles Tendinitis, and the incline seemed to exacerbate my issues.

Feel free to share your long run thoughts. I love to hear what works for other people, and I'm still all over the map with how I feel about my long runs and how I should be running them.


Pam said...

I would have to agree that sharing our stories (in person and via the internet) has HUGE potential to expand our vision of our athletic goals, whether it's to go faster, or just to complete something that feels "big."

I never considered doing a triathlon, and then I met someone at work (a normal guy with a job and a family) who did them and I was like "I can do that!" A couple years later, an acquaintance did an ironman and it occurred to me, maybe someday... and that was all it took to plant the seed. It was the same for my first marathon- I'd always dreamed of doing one but didn't think I could until a friend started training.

Good luck with your 5k!

Karen said...

I agree on reading blogs. It definitely has helped me dream up a variety of ways of challenging myself that has only helped my running. Different training styles and workouts have helped me break away from the "one size fits all" training plans we find online.

And it just helps to see that all of us can get better if we just keep working at it.

chris said...

Katie, you need to read "Connected: The power of our social networks" by Cristakis and Fowler. It talks about how the people in our social circle influence us in ways that might not always be conscious. I think this is what happens with running blogs. As far as your running, I have always been impressed with you bc when we ran together you were/had been either sick or injured; I remember running a 20 miler @ 8 pace with you in 2009, only to hear a year later that that was your only 20 miler. So mentally tough you are.

I think you and I benefit from similar type of training. Like you, I need the 20 milers, and I need to run them on the fast side. I also need the hard intervals and hard tempos. Is it physical, mental? Probably both. I think it is pretty hard to separate the mental and the physical, bc they are so interrelates, in ways that are not always conscious.

I hope your toe is healing well. Thankful for nail polish because otherwise I would never shoe my toes in public.

chris said...

Ooop, Chris is AM....

Christie said...

Frequently read your blog and always love your perspective.

I think it is so important to reset our 'normal.' A year ago I started running and a 'normal' marathon for me was 4:30... now my normal is 3:20's. Mentally, we have to always be resetting our mindsets or I don't think that we will continue breaking through barriers.

Everything is all relative... how high is high - how fast is 'fast.' :)

Tia said...

Interesting observations about blogging and improved performance. I have often wondered how much blogging has helped contribute to my improved times. I know I do the training and put in the work but I have learned so much from other runners- how they train and their success and failures. I know I have thought before- "If so and so can do this then surely I can...."

As far as recovery- I'm taking off this week after the marathon. Feels strange not to be running but I need the break! Everything surrounding NYC took a lot out of me physically and mentally.

Good luck with your upcoming 5K! I love that distance!

Raina said...

Mind over matter...right? ha! Now I just need to start thinking I can run sub three...except for sometimes that doesn't work so well. Blogging does produce a sort of positive competition it seems. Or maybe not. I don't know. Ha! Could be negative too. :) I am undecided and rambling.

Whatever you did for your long runs worked for you! And I am willing to bet we all have some sort of recipe that is different. Bet your higher mileage helped a lot this time too.

Get that toe better!!!

sea legs girl said...

Great post. We all inspire each other - and from across the globe. It's pretty amazing! Plus the fastest women these days are well into their fourties. It is such an exciting time in women's running because, as you said, only now are lots of women running so we just are starting to get an idea of what women are capable of.

Anonymous said...

Been meaning to comment- CONGRATS on your marathon time!!!!!

I noticed you do your long runs FAST (compared to what "they" say)...and it doesn't harm you. It really harmed me this year...I did my last two 20 milers at 7:40 pace...race day? 7:53...I was TOO tired. The whole race I didn't feel great. Or maybe it was the sickness I was getting over...either way, need to figure out better training for the spring.

Michelle said...

Ugh. I posted a huge comment, then lost it. Now I am too tired to rewrite it! Anyway, interesting post.

Katie M said...

Hi Katie (from the other Katie!), I came over after seeing your comment on my blog. I am drawn to other bloggers with similar times or times just lightly faster than mine. I feel like this has helped me in some of the ways the other commenters mentioned (to learn how they train but also to start believing "If they can do this, I can too"). I also believe that you can "reset your normal" like someone mentioned. A lot of the race is done in the week before the race, when you look back over your training and reassure yourself that you're read and you start visualizing your race. And focusing your mind race day is huge too! Thanks for bringing up a fascinating topic!