Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Next up: Mississippi Blues Half

My original plan after qualifying for Boston had been to take a month or two to really rest and recuperate. But I couldn't resist one last challenge: Qualifying for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon.

Unlike Boston, New York opens up most of its slots to any runner who can go the distance. There are no "qualifying times," just a lottery to winnow the 100,000 or so runners who want to run the race down to a manageable 40,000. But there are a couple of ways to get around the lottery system, and one of them seems like it might be manageable for me.

New York has a way to qualify and get a guaranteed entry slot, you just have to be quite a bit faster than you do for Boston. For my age group, the qualifying time is a 3:10 marathon (compared to 3:25 for Boston). That's 12 minutes faster than I've ever run, and unfortunately, for next year's race, the qualifying time must be run before January 31, which wouldn't give me enough time to prepare.

Fortunately, you don't have to run a full marathon; you can also qualify with a half marathon at a bit faster clip: 1:30. Since I've done a 1:31, that seems attainable, and since it doesn't take as long to train for a half, it just might be doable before the deadline.

There's one other catch to the deadline: After January 31, the standards tighten, to a 3:00 marathon and a 1:25 half for my age group. That means a race in January might be my only shot at qualifying. Unfortunately I have previous commitments for two weeks in January, and marathon pickings are quite slim at the end of the month. That leaves the weekend of January 7. There is a marathon/half marathon being run that day, in Jackson, MS: The Mississippi Blues. A couple friends will be running the marathon, so I can share a room with them and run the race without spending much money. The course looks to be relatively flat, so it's a reasonable place to try for a qualifying time.

So what do I do next? Normally a marathon requires at least a month to recover before training hard again. I'm going to have to accelerate that quite a bit. After running just 14 miles last week, this week I'll be back up to 40 miles, all at a relatively easy pace. Then I'll start ramping up quite aggressively, with a hard training run at the end of next week and a total of 50 miles. That's cutting things rather close, with that hard run coming just four weeks after the marathon. My core training period will be just three weeks long, and I'm going to run 55, 55, and 70 miles those weeks. Then I will have one week to taper before the race.

A one-week taper may not seem like much, but I think it's the only way I'll be able to peak in time for Mississippi while giving myself enough time to recover from Richmond. There's some science behind this plan as well. World-class ultrarunner Jonathan Savage has noted that many runners—even distance runners—tend to do better at the end of competitions lasting a week or more than they do at the start. So he has created a tapering plan that calls for an extremely heavy amount of mileage 2 to 3 weeks before a race. He calls it a three phase taper. The phases are Overload, Reduction, and Rebound.

The overload phase consists of an increased training load, typically 20% more. This period has to be kept fairly short to prevent overtraining, typically 1-4 weeks. The level of overload will depend on how intense the normal training load is. A runner who is already training near their maximum capability would want to overload for a shorter time than a runner who has more training headroom. Many training plans tend to have the peak training load towards the end of the program, but often the peak is a little too early and too minor to be considered an overload period.
The reduction phase is the same as the traditional taper, with reduced training load. Typically a greater reduction in training load for a shorter period is used with a three phase taper than with a traditional single phase taper.
The rebound is a short increase in training load, just before competition. This approach was developed from the observation that some athletes in multiday competitions such as track races have their performance improve as the heats progress. How much the training load should be increased is not well defined, but the general idea is to focus on increased intensity with a moderate uptick in volume. The rebound should be in the last few days before competition.
Savage tried this approach before Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon, bumping his training up to over 170 miles two weeks before the race, then tapering quickly while maintaining intensity, and running a fairly hard 6 miles the day before the race, when many runners might just rest or run a mile or two to keep their muscles loose.

My plan won't be quite so intense, with just a 70-mile overload week, and probably 5 miles the day before the race. Savage believes that you shouldn't run slower than race pace during a taper, so I'm going to try that too, doing all my taper-week runs at race pace of 6:47 per mile. It sounds crazy, but I think it's the only way I have a chance at running a NY-qualifying time.

Details of today's run are below.

No comments:

Post a Comment