Marathon Training Update #4: Going Slower to Go Longer

We’re getting down to the wire. This week is week #13 of my training program, and the marathon is five weeks away. This Saturday I will be running 19 miles. In two weekends I will be running 20, then the program will start tapering off, so that I can be well-rested to go the distance…. 26.2.

The Big Kahuna.

Overall mood: Excited 🙂

Earlier today I was sitting on my porch re-reading passages of Hal Higdon’s “Marathon.” He writes that elite runners often run 80, 90, 100, or more (!) miles per week in preparation for their races. My training program peaked at 36 miles a couple of weeks ago during week #11. Compared to those elite runners, little ol’ me is following a far more modest training regimen.

I’m fine with that. It fits with my slow and steady approach. I guesstimate that this training program is 10-15% more challenging than the training I did in the final months of 2020, when I was averaging 30 miles a week.

The biggest challenge for me during this program (other than the psychological barrier of completing 26.2 miles!) has been doing weekend long runs. Soon I will have done long runs for nine weekends in a row (specifically 14, 15, 15, 17, 18, 13, 19, 12, and 20 miles). This has forced me to be very thoughtful about my pace each week during my runs. I have felt more than ever that each run affects the next. Whether my run was short or long, I have been more deliberate in making sure that I run well while also leaving enough gas in the tank for the next run coming up.

The biggest change I’ve noticed in my running game is letting myself slow down. Two weekends ago I ran 18 miles at 9:30 min/mile, nearly the slowest long run I’ve ever done. Letting go of running fast was surprisingly challenging. Last year I averaged 8:45 min/mile over 200 runs, a point of pride, and I rarely ran slower than 9:00 min/mile. Run by run, I’ve had to wean myself off the need for speed.

This is helping. In fact, during the aforementioned 18-mile run, I had a brand new thought: “I can do 26.2 miles. I can run this marathon.” This was huge. For the first time, I could feel, I could sense, I could imagine myself running the whole thing. 26.2 miles was no longer conceptual. It is now doable.

Partly, I attribute this breakthrough to waking up that morning at 5am and driving myself out to the starting point by the trail, instead of just going out the door and running on the street. This made the run feel more “real” somehow (it was also a bit spooky driving out by the water in the dark in the cold air).

Perhaps more importantly, I attribute this breakthrough to the fact that I ran the right pace I could imagine running an entire marathon with. Sure, 9:30 min/mile is slower than I’d like to run it (especially after all this training!). And I hope to run faster than that (under 4 hours would be nice). Yet the experience of going slower is showing me that I can go longer.

And that is an awesome thing. After all, this is my first marathon, and I reckon the most important thing is that I finish it.

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One Thought to “Marathon Training Update #4: Going Slower to Go Longer”

  1. I love the wisdom of “going slower to go longer” and will remember it whenever I become impatient.

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