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March Marathoning (And Training)

I ran 2 marathons in the first fifteen days of March. My results were mixed, as I finished 9th in 2:52:33 at The Woodlands Marathon on the first of the month and 3rd in 2:39:52 at the Rock N Roll USA Marathon on the fifteenth. 

Hamming it up in DC 
The closing stretch to a sub-2:40 
Collecting awards
But the benefits were almost entirely positive: both marathons were, as far as road marathons are concerned, hilly and I ran around six-minute per mile pace for a little more than 40 miles total. My half marathon splits in the respective races were as follows:

1st Woodlands: 1:19:18
2nd Woodlands: 1:33:15
1st Rock N Roll: 1:19:14
2nd Rock N Roll: 1:20:38

The second half of The Woodlands resulted largely due to the conditions, which included around 70 degree temperatures and extremely high humidity. If I had been more thoughtful, I would have backed off during the first half and spared myself a painful, and slow, second half. Nevertheless, I proved to myself that, even if I don’t think I can run another step, I am able to maintain seven minute per mile pace. It's good to be reminded that steady running can be maintained, rather than walking or stopping, despite substantial suffering. Between the two marathons I ran about 120 miles: mostly easy miles (6:40 – 7:10 per mile pace) or recovery miles (7:40+ per mile pace) along with a single workout on March 11th, the Tuesday before the Rock N Roll Marathon. That workout consisted of 5 x 1,000m repeats on the track with an easy 200m jog between repeats. My splits were thus:

1st 1,000m: 3:18
2nd 1,000m: 3:16
3rd 1,000m: 3:17
4th 1,000m: 3:23
5th 1,000m: 3:20

So in the first half of March I totaled about 170 miles and ran three workouts (the marathons and the 1k repeats). It is no secret that road marathons can be used as training runs in preparation for ultra marathons: Ian Sharman has done it for years; Sage Canaday recently ran Carslbad ahead of his ultra schedule; Matt Flaherty is throwing in three this spring along with a busy ultra schedule. The distance requires a combination of speed and strength and, when run during a training block on not-so-fresh legs, can simulate the middle and later stages of an ultra marathon. But neither road marathons nor high mileage on the roads can adequately prepare a runner for ultra marathon distance on the trail. Strength training exercises are needed for any mountain-ultra-trail runner, especially those that do not have suitable trails and terrain nearby. So I’ve been adding functional strength exercises to my routine. Some of these exercises are best performed prior to a run since, in addition to strength building, they get the muscles warmed up for activity. Pre-run exercises have included:

2 x 12 reps back lunges
2 x 12 reps side lunges
2 x 10 reps side leg extension (with resistance bands)
2 x 10 reps forward leg extension (with resistance bands)
2 x 10 reps backward leg extension (with resistance bands)

Exercises outside of running have included: box jumps, runner touches (begin by standing on one leg with the other leg bent at 90 degrees, slowly extend the bent leg behind, lean forward to touch the ground, keeping the standing leg straight, and then raise up and return to the starting point), and a variety of exercises used to strengthen the lower back and stomach muscles (think here of leg raises, flutter kicks, crunches, hip lifts, etcetera).

With a bit less than six weeks until my spring goal race – the Leona Divide 50 – I will also need to include copious amounts of hill work, which is the biggest problem, as I haven’t a single hill of any consequence nearby. But the training to this end actually becomes quite simple: lots of time on the treadmill. Using varying grades, I’ll run interval workouts such as 5 x 5 minutes uphill with 2 minutes flat for rest; 4 x 10 minutes uphill with 2 minutes flat for rest; 3 x 20 minutes uphill with 2 minutes flat for rest; 2 x 30 minutes uphill with 2 minutes flat for rest. These workouts are designed with some specificity, since none of the climbs at Leona should take longer than 30 minutes.

If you’re preparing for terrain that you are unable to train on, I hope some of the above will help you out! I’ll find out April 26th if the above proved helpful for me.