I got into Denver late on Thursday night and headed to my friend Kelly’s house, where I’d be staying on Thursday and Friday nights. Despite being exhausted, I couldn’t resist staying up to catch up on life over a delicious bottle of wine! I finally crawled into bed at midnight (which to me felt like 2am Eastern, since I don’t adjust my body’s clock when I’m in Dallas and prefer to stay on Eastern time).
The next morning, 6am wakeup came far too early – but it was time for me to head out to my RRCA training course. I was going to get my coaching certification! I didn’t know much about what to expect going into it, but right off the bat I was in awe: one of the other students in my class was Lorraine Moller, the bronze medalist in the marathon at the 1992 Olympics!!! It was so neat to get her insight on everything as we progressed through the class.
However, there was a lot about the class that did not make me happy – and actually made me feel pretty bad about myself and my running ability. While at the beginning of the course we discussed how there are many types of coaches and running goals (to win a race, to complete a marathon, to lose weight, etc), the class seemed to be mostly focused on coaching fast runners who want to get faster. I was really upset by some of the things that were discussed – for example, that “beginning marathoners” are those with times of 3:45 or more (in 70 marathons I have never yet broken 3:49 – am I a beginner?). It was recommended that if someone is a “slow marathoner” and finishing in 4 hours or more, that they shouldn’t do a long run of more than 3 hours, because chances are they are “only” doing that marathon as a bucket list once-in-a-lifetime thing, and therefore shouldn’t waste time training more than 18 miles. Um, I beg to differ!
I may apparently be a slow beginner, but I think the best thing that you can do is as many long runs close to the marathon distance as you can squeeze in. While most people hate the last 6-8 miles or so of a race because they hit the wall and are exhausted and hurting, my favorite part of a race is generally the last 6-8 miles. My body is so used to the 26.2 distance that it’s the equivalent of what other people feel when they run a 10K (hmm, funny how those training for a 10K definitely run more than 6.2 miles in training!) – you’re tired at the end, sure, but the body is used to running that far and it’s not shutting down or giving up yet. As a result, around mile 20, I usually find that those around me are slowing down – but I’m going at the same pace I have been since the beginning of the race, and using pretty much the same form. If it’s your very first marathon, I agree that there’s some value to getting to experience the magic of it being the first time hitting a long distance during the race – but I also would not recommend doing a marathon without having done at least one 20 mile training run, and I think the more you can get in, the more comfortable your body will be on race day.
Furthermore, I was really disheartened by how the class emphasized high mileage above all else. While I know that it’s a bit crazy that I tend to just run marathons and not train in between (weekly mileage: 26.2 miles), and I wouldn’t recommend that to those whom I train, I also don’t think that 50 mile weeks are right for everyone. The point was hammered home repeatedly that crosstraining is not going to help your running at all and is a complete waste of time; only running will make you a better runner. I completely disagree with this – of course you have to practice running in order to develop good form and running economy (which is critical for a marathon, where one little tweak in your form can make a huge difference over the long distance). However, I think you can save a lot of wear and tear on your feet and knees by weight training, getting your heart rate up on the elliptical, or just doing basically any kind of workout that helps burn calories and stay fit. If you’re training for a sub-3 hour marathon, maybe running 80-100 miles per week is the only way to do it, but for the vast majority of us out there who are (gasp) 3:45+ marathoners, there is a lot of benefit to crosstraining a few days a week instead of just pounding our bodies into the ground.
By Saturday afternoon, I was in a miserable mood, feeling like I was the black sheep of the class who believed that it was okay to just run a race and not try to win it. As I later discussed on Sunday night with friends, I believe that a race is as much about the journey as it is the destination. My favorite races were not those in which I PRed (in fact, I only remember snippets from the Kentucky Derby Marathon where my current PR was set), but those in which I had a blast along the way. I can remember every mile of the 2:40 half marathon I got to run with my mom, and I still list Running With the Horses as my favorite small marathon, despite it taking me nearly 5:45 to finish due to some knee issues. Am I proud of some of my faster finishes? Sure, but to me, getting a fast time is not the only measure of a race.
So when the course finally ended, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and I bolted for the safety of friends. My friend Caitlin moved to Denver with her husband last summer, and we had made plans to check out the awesome Denver beer scene that night. (This may not have been the best idea given that I woke up on Saturday with that nasty back-of-the-throat that signals the start of illness, but I couldn’t resist.) We headed for Wynkoop Brewing Company, which offered 2 oz pours of every beer on tap for just $1 each, and I gratefully enjoyed that along with a bowl of steamed mussels, some bread, and a plate of the most delicious hand cut fries I’ve ever tried. Mussels and beer: the perfect pre-race meal!
Post Wynkoop, we checked out one other beer bar in the area, and then I headed back to my hotel to rest up. 10pm – not nearly as I wanted given that I had to wake up at 4:30am to get to the race! I hoped that my impending illness wouldn’t manifest (perhaps the alcohol would kill the nasty bacteria??) and that I’d wake up in a bit more positive spirits than I was in on Friday and Saturday – after all, 4+ hours is a lot of time to spend out running and miserable.