Note: This post is sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute. Opinions are entirely my own.
It’s been a full three years since I last ran a marathon, and over five since I last ran one hard. Or, to be fair (since they’re all hard), the last time I was last in PR-shape.
Although I haven’t exactly sat around since then, the training I’ve done for ultras has been much more relaxed and slower-paced than what I ever did as a marathoner. Lots of hills because of where I live, but I can count on one hand the number of speed workouts I’ve done since qualifying for Boston back in 2009.
So a return to marathons — to gasping for air during workouts, to hurrying through water stops, and to not walking the hills — will surely be no picnic. But it’s a change, and as someone who will take change over boredom any day of the week, it’s one I’m ready for.
I don’t know if I’m going for PR. Certainly not in this first marathon back; I think it’ll take me two races and a full year to get anywhere close to my 3:09:59 best. I’d love to run Boston again, and because I’ll be 35 next year (whaaat?), 3:09 would get me in again, even under the new, tougher standards.
But somehow that’s not enough to motivate me. What I’d really like — the big, impossible goal that I seem to require in order to be excited — is to one day break three hours: to run a marathon time that starts with “2”. But alas, for now, I dream …
Even though I’m not in the shape that 2009 Matt was, I’ve got a leg up on that punk-ass 28-year-old whippersnapper. And that leg’s name is Wisdom from Experience (admittedly not a great name).
What I mean is this: ultramarathon training has caused me to grow. I’m smarter. It takes a completely different mindset to run a 50- or 100-miler, and a better understanding of what works, nutritionally. I’ve learned how to better train in the heat, which shoes work best for me, and how to eat better in general (I consider my 100% vegan diet another huge advantage I have over younger, just-turned-vegetarian Matt).
And finally, I think ultras have made me better at not letting up, even when it hurts.
Let’s get specific though. Here are three ways in which, even before the training for my marathon comeback has begun, I’m doing it smarter than ever before.
1. I chose a training plan that matches who I am
No, my training plan isn’t an insightful, funny, confident guy with boyish good looks. (But thanks.)
Half a decade of running ultras has taught me one hugely important lesson about myself: I love running … for the first hour. After that, unless it’s race day, I get bored and hate it.
So running three to six miles every day is great — lots of time to listen to audiobooks and podcasts while I’m engaging my body. Doesn’t get any better than that.
But weekend long runs, 15 or 20 and even sometimes 30 miles? Not my cup of tea.
So this time, I chose a plan that matches who I am. It’s by the Hanson brothers, and while the mileage is just as high as I’ve ever run, it’s spread more evenly throughout the week than it is in most plans. This means that runs during the week are longer — usually six to eight miles, so staying close to an hour — but the weekend long runs are shorter. Instead of 18-, 20-, and 22-milers, the Hanson plan maxes out at 16. Still a long run with plenty of time to get bored, but for me on a Sunday morning, two and half hours is far more agreeable than three or four.
I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Hanson plan. Surely, for a first or even a second marathon, there’s something to be said for the confidence that logging a 20-miler gives you. But having done a lot of running and learned a lot about myself in the process, I think a plan with fewer long runs might keep me motivated more than any has before.
2. I’m giving myself plenty of time to train
It took me six marathons and seven years to qualify for Boston, but the irony of it all is that I’d have gotten there quicker if I’d have been more patient. I was confident and passionate and on a mission — and although I may have never made it without those qualities, in one way they slowed me down.
Every time I trained for a race back then, I tried to do too much, in too little time. If 3:10:59 was the time I needed to qualify, it didn’t matter that my last marathon had taken me almost four hours. And if the race I wanted to run was 14 weeks away, it didn’t matter that my training plan was 18 weeks long — who wants to wait four and a half months anyway?
As a result, I was constantly on the edge of injury. I always felt “behind” in my training. And most race days, even when they yielded PR’s, felt like disappointments.
I almost did that again this time: in the excitement for running that #writeandrun31 created for me, I came very close to signing up for race that was just 14 weeks away — when the Hanson advanced plan is 18 weeks long.
And then … I didn’t. Instead of the doing the impulsive, I chose what I can best describe as the wise. (And old and grown-up and boring, but what are you gonna do?) And I’m happy with that choice.
I haven’t chosen a race yet, but I’m looking mainly at races in September and October, a full six months or more from now. I’ve got to figure out what to do in the meantime before training officially starts (another lesson I’ve learned: if I don’t have a plan before the plan, that’s not good either), but with another round of #writeandrun31 starting in March, I’ll have plenty to keep myself motivated.
3. I’m drinking tart cherry juice for recovery
I first discovered tart cherry juice by way of a week-long trial last year, during which I was shocked to experience noticeable improvement in a nagging shoulder injury I’d been dealing with for more than six months. Since then, I’ve become something of an evangelist for the natural anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries (and to be totally transparent, this post and others this year are sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute).
But I wasn’t actually training for anything then, so I couldn’t really speak to how well cherries help runners recover from workouts, as they’re purported to do, even finding their way into the routines of elites like vegan ultramarathon hero Scott Jurek. The science is there — you can read the details in my post right before my trial last year, but the gist is that drinking tart cherry juice twice a day (one study specifically had athletes drink it before and after races) may speed up recovery by lessening inflammation, muscle pain, and oxidative stress.
So that’s what I’ll be doing, drinking 8 ounces of tart cherry juice (or more often, 2 tablespoons of concentrate) twice per day — once in my morning smoothie, and once directly following my workout. That’s a decent amount of added sugar to my diet, and while I’m not concerned about it immediately post-workout, I’ll make adjustments to my smoothie so that it’s not overly sweet and doesn’t pack more sugar than I need.
Given how well I’ve responded to tart cherry juice in my trial and since then, I’m excited to see how it works when I’m training hard again … and yes, that means speed workouts.
The best laid plans …
In theory, this all seems great. The cagey veteran relies on his wits to overcome his failing body, like Kirk Gibson knocking one out of park on two bad legs in the ’88 World Series.
Okay, so my body isn’t exactly failing, and it’s a stretch to call me cagey. Come to think of it, I have no idea what that word means. But I do know that when it comes to training for a race that’s many months away, a lot can happen. Better than any foolproof plan is having the foresight to know that everything won’t work; no matter how perfect your approach seems at the outset, you’ll need to make adjustments. And I will.
But I’m happy to be back to running again, and to have a goal that excites me. Onward!