For those who have committed to a marathon in the early fall, you are now entering what I have jokingly called the dog days of the training cycle. In the coming weeks, you will see your highest mileage weeks, as well as the hottest temperatures outside, and without a doubt, these weeks will be your biggest test of both mental and physical conditioning to date. If you are in your first marathon training experience, it may send you into a bit of a mental tail spin. The extra mileage can put you at greater risk for injury. The hotter temperatures open up the door to more hydration issues that need to be addressed. With all these things to consider, why would anyone choose to run an early fall marathon??? Ugh! The dogs days indeed! When you don’t want to do anything, but you know you must to be race day ready.
Last year, when I was training for my first marathon in late October, I was training hard for it, following my plan. At the time, I wasn’t working, so I had lots of time to focus on training. Which was one reason I chose the Hal Higdon intermediate 1 plan. I thought I would be able to handle it without the other distractions of life to impede my running. At some point about 6-7 weeks in advance of my marathon, I felt depleted – mentally and physically. I was almost in tears when it was time for a run. I had to take a couple extra rest days because I physically was exhausted. Then the extra rest days made me worried that I couldn’t complete my training and wouldn’t be ready for the race. So I tried to push myself even more, and the cycle of being depleted continued. Finally after a particularly bad run, I made the decision to drop my training back to an easier plan; I took it back to the Hal Higdon novice 2 plan.
The result of taking my training back a notch: I felt FANTASTIC! Giving myself the permission to ease up a bit – while still trusting that I would be ready for race day – made a huge difference in my experience. My body was able to feel stronger by cutting a few miles off my plan each week. My attitude toward training was different; I didn’t dread the running any more. I looked at each week and felt that the slightly adjusted mileage was so much more doable. And because of that, I completed the training with a renewed sense of purpose and energy.
Then on race day, I was able to go the distance. Maybe not as fast as I had originally planned (well, there were other factors that went into that, such as a bulging disc in my back), but I crossed the finish line and did it (leg) injury free and with a smile on my face.
Fast forward to today. I’m back to following the Hal Higdon intermediate 1 plan (loosely, as I have the Marathon du Medoc in early September, which is a fun marathon that I am not worried about my time. The timing of this then my first ‘real’ marathon in the fall, Chicago, makes it a bit hard to follow a plan to the letter). I am coming up on a 41-mi week and a 44-mi week in August (my longest mileage weeks ever) and I’m working a full time job this summer. In a couple weeks, I’ll know whether I can complete those weeks. And neither of them are my 20-mi long run weeks, so I’ll have that to look forward to as well. All I know is that if I can’t finish the miles as they are outlined in the plan, I’ll still be giving it my best shot. This year, though, I have given myself permission to cut back if I find I can’t make all the miles happen.
Whether I can meet the intermediate plan mileage goals or not, I’ll still be ready to line up in the Medoc (and drink wine along the way!) and then again a month later in Chicago, where I will be shooting for a PR of 4 hrs. My dog days of training are here, and I’m ready to take them on and enjoy the challenge this year. No dread for me, as I know that I will get through them and will be ready for race day – whether I complete the planned mileage or not.
Are you struggling with the upcoming longer mileage weeks, these dog days of training? Are you feeling it physically, mentally or both? Be kind to yourself and allow yourself the chance to ease up on your miles a bit – even take an extra rest day when you need it – to ensure you can go the full distance.
I look forward to seeing you at the start line on race day!