Marathon Training: Up and Down

My husband (very reluctantly) sent me a CNN article this week about Ultra Marathons, “Ultramarathons go above and beyond.” The author compared the 100-mile run to a relationship. “It’s great at first, and then you have your ups and downs. Near the end, you tend to hate everything about it. And when it’s over, you forget how bad it was and sign up for another.”

Marathons can leave us mere 26.2 mortals feeling the same way, and whether it was just a bad day or training error we almost always believe we can do better if given just one more chance. Here I am 33 days from one more chance.

I corrected the errors in my training program, and then wisely corrected them again.

My plan was to peak at 55 miles per week with three 20-mile runs before I redacted everything in my calendar four weeks ago. Now my calendar includes no more than 35-mile weeks, no more than 4 days of running each week, and one 20-mile run.

Having already completed a 16-mile run before the redactions, I found myself with oodles of time to reach that pinnacle 20-mile run. To fill in the blanks, I’ve run a second 16-mile run, two 18-mile runs, and the lone 20-miler is next weekend.


The benefit of downsizing from a 6-day running schedule to 4 is that there is energy to spare (runners don’t do well with spare energy). Enter intensity.

Weight-lifters add weight. Runners add hills.

I’ve traditionally been a fan of the theory that running flat surfaces builds running economy – and it’s been a conveniently comfortable theory to hold onto – but plenty of coaches recommend hill training to build strength and speed; a strategy reinforced for me when I ran with my friend in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya where the marathoners use the road leading up the mountain for their speed work.

So this season I’ve added hills. The mostly downhill long-run route has been reversed once a week for repeats up the mountain, and because my next marathon is predominantly downhill, half the repeats are run back down. (Total elevation gain over the 2.5 mile uphill climb is 457 feet.)

The following week I go to the track for level footing.


My long-run route challenges have been well documented by now, and I reluctantly write one further word. Adding miles to the pleasantly shady/quiet/blissful/if not steep first half of my run continues to be an issue, however, and this week I had the idea to run the same 2-mile stretch that was added to the last rather disdainful 18-mile run twice. Unfortunately, my little water bottle wouldn’t take me this far.

The new solution was to begin the normal route, add the 2-mile stretch along with a new 1-mile section, then back up the mountain where extra water and Gatorade was left in the Jeep. This unknowingly added an additional 450 feet of elevation for a total of 1,200 feet of elevation with several 6- 8% grade hills in the 18-mile run.

Those first few miles were really tough, although I felt strong through the rest of the run (and there were 2 successful potty breaks along the way if you must know). Still, it’s unclear if this route will remain in the portfolio of long-run routes. . .

The first 4-1/2 miles of last weekend’s 18-mile run.
The last 6 miles are flat, all sun and 35-45mph traffic (U.S. translation: 55-65mph traffic)

This season has reminded me of the importance of the one-stressor-at-a-time rule, something I had failed to incorporate into last season’s training. If not for the reduced mileage my body would never survive the hills, and if not for the extra rest days my legs would be toast.

It has been said many times that marathon training should be tougher than the race itself.  It’s great at first, and then you have your ups and downs. Near the end, you tend to hate everything about it. And when it’s over, you forget how bad it was and start the process all over again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s