Are you a GRINDER or a PUSHER?; Training Musings & The Phoenix Marathon Race Report

Are you a GRINDER or a PUSHER?; Training Musings & The Phoenix Marathon Race Report

I have been thinking a lot about what type of runner I am during this training cycle. I have often told people that I am not fast, but can run at a pretty good clip for a long time. Thinking about “grinding”-running for a long time at a slower pace, like in a 100 miler or more and “pushing”-running HARD for a shorter time, like in a marathon or less, have filled my thoughts on training runs as of late. Pushing and grinding are two different animals that require different physical and mental abilities. It’s made me reflect on how friends who can run trounce me in short distances, are people I can beat if we run 100 miles or more. My usual training parter, Jeff is a great example. If we run a local “shorter” race together, he beats me easily…often I don’t see him for the majority of the race. But, if we run 50miles/100k distance it’s ON…who will win is a surprise! 100 miles or more, and I will likely finish ahead. He’s a pusher and I’m a grinder.

Another reason that I know I am a grinder is the McMillan Calculator. The calculator is a good guide in general, but I don’t look at it for my potential or estimates anymore, because I don’t fit well into the paces. For example, if I plug my 100 mile PR of 14:45 into McMillan, it spit’s out a 2:33 marathon (HOLY CRAP, I WISH…Olympic Trials Qualifier here I come!!). But, if I plug my 400 meter splits as of late (85 seconds), it spits out a marathon time of 3:54. (Now certainly, if you look at distances that are closer, the values are much more realistic for me). However, my point is that we aren’t all the same. Some of us are made to grind and some of us are made to push. Don’t let values on a chart affect your outcome! Try lots of race distances and different terrain…you never know…maybe you are much more competitive at different things. I never thought I was much of a runner. In fact, I wasn’t much of a runner. I only ran varsity my senior year, and wasn’t selected to go to state my senior year, when our team was narrowed from 7 (usual varsity runners) to 5 (usual who competed at state). I ran JV in college cross country (at a college with a total enrollment of 2500 where no one got cut), running 21-22 min 5K times. Why would I ever think I could hold an American Record in running. I DIDN’T think that AT ALL. I started running longer and realized I might be good and even competitive at longer races. It seems surreal still, that I was OBESE in 2003, was never much of a runner, and 10 years later hold some records. DREAM BIG! PUSH AND GRIND!…you never know!

After Spartathlon (end of September 2015), I looked ahead at my 2016 schedule, and realized I was going to have to do a LOT of “pushing”. I still have a couple of lifetime race goals left. I want to break 3 hours in the marathon, qualify for the USA 100k team, and break 150 miles in the 24-hour distance. With the Comrades Marathon (~56 miles), coming up at the end of May, and me not getting any younger, I decided to train to try to break 3, qualify for the 100k team, and run Comrades well. I thought all of those races would line up perfectly and would all involve “pushing”. I knew I would need a coach. I know how to go long, but don’t feel as competent self-coaching to go short. I picked someone who has coached for many years, was successful in the marathon and 100k distances, and who I thought could tolerate me and vice versa. I picked up a coach at the end of October, but had a 50 miler (11/14), a marathon (11/22), and another marathon (12/12) on the books, so initially he just helped me to keep from overtraining and start getting my legs spinning faster.

His coaching is different than I was used to and took some time to wrap my head around “his” coaching style. I used to decide how many miles I wanted to do each week and just break it up over 5 days per week and run whatever pace I felt (usually 8-8:30 pace). He had me running minutes per day instead of miles per day, running 7 days in stead of 5 (but less total mileage), and running more by feel (what’s that?). At first, he had me doing short “speed work” running (like 1,2,1,2,1 of minutes hard/then recovery). I asked how hard? what pace?, and he answered “faster”. Really?! Faster?! WTH…like that’s worth coaching dollars. Run faster? WOW. That’s genius! But, as stupid as it seems, that WAS EXACTLY what I needed. I always work hard, so it’s not like I’m not going to push hard enough, but if he had given me paces in line with breaking 3 hours in the marathon, I would have failed miserably and HATED speed work more than I already do. As a self-coached grinder, I have avoided speed and hills (unless I had to do some course specific training) for the last 4-5 years. It took me some time to just get my legs spinning again. His no-nonsense, suck-it up coaching is perfect for me. No fluff. Just do what I say. That’s exactly what I need. No, huggy, you can do it crap…that kind of motivation makes me barf instead of helping me. If you ever see me at a race, “How bad do you want it?” helps much more than “You can do it!”

In this training cycle, I know that I have gotten faster, and I love it!! The work is hard (duh) and I still have to talk myself through the really hard workouts, but am no longer freaking and stressing out about them. I think because I have always sucked at speed, I have a lot of anxiety about doing it. When I run with my “pusher” training partner doing speed work, it stresses me out if he is ahead of me. I know it sounds bizarre and it’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m a bit psycho with speed work. I’ve told him that I will do my speed work on my own. Since we don’t get to run together many days per week, if our schedules mesh, we take the opportunity to run together, sometimes on speed work days. Because it intimidates me, in order for him to help, he has to run behind me and yell at me if I start to fade or fall off. If he gets ahead of me, I think, “I SUCK” and want to quit. It’s ridiculous and I am working on getting ok with him ahead of me. I have been proud of myself, and proud of my coach selection, because for the first time in my life, I am now just doing my speed work like a good little soldier instead of being full of anxiety. It is what it is. If I run as hard as I can, that’s all I can do, regardless of what the watch says. I haven’t quite reached the level my coach would like me to in regard to thinking about speed work. He wants me to get to where I will approach my speed workouts with a “kicking ass and taking names” attitude/approach. I am confident that I will get there, but am not quite there yet.

Anyway, I pretty much had 10 weeks from last chunk of races to focus on breaking 3 hours in the marathon. I ran as hard as I could for the entire training cycle, but knew going into the Phoenix Marathon last weekend I wasn’t quite there. I was going for it, regardless of hotter than usual temps and feeling like I was probably in 3:02 shape. I wish I had another 4-6 weeks, but race day was there. I prepared for race week by carbo-loading, sleeping well, tapering, and taking my Race Day Boost. I had done everything I could.

Race morning came and my husband, Mike drove me to the bus to shuttle to the start. We hit some traffic, but made it in time to catch the busses. Upon arriving, I had enough time to wait in the long porta-potty lines and jog 1/2 mile (not as much as I would have liked) prior to the start. “Boom”, the gun went off and away we went. My first mile was 6:36. I told myself to slow down. I knew if all the stars aligned, the only way to make my sub 3 was to run this evenly. I wanted to be at the 1/2 at 1:29:15-1:29:30 to give myself a little buffer. I finally got closer to my 6:50 pace and maintained it. Around mile 4-6, there was a small, but long uphill. At 6, I was right on 6:52 pace and had lost the small buffer from the first 4 miles. I picked it back up a bit and got a few seconds back, and was back on the pace I wanted to be. At mile 10, I felt like I was running too hard, looked at my watch thinking I would see too aggressive of a pace and need to back down. Instead, it said 6:48 or 6:49. I was running at close to max before 1/2 way point. I knew I was in trouble. At mile 11, I told my husband it wasn’t going to happen. He told me to quit being negative. It was weird. I had said it, sort of matter of factly, knowing my lot, but never thinking negative the whole race. I pushed as long as I could in a sort of Zen-like focus. I came through the 1/2 at 1:29:10 just where I wanted to be. A friend from the 50sub4 Marathon Club, Joe Legat saw me and cheered me on. It gave me a boost. I was still hanging on until mile 15, when I hit a 7:01. I turned on my iPod and ran focused and hard. I stopped looking at my watch. It didn’t matter what it said, I ran as hard as I could. I broke the race down from mile to mile, just holding on as long as I could. I passed a ton of people in the last 6-8 miles. At 24, a girl said if you want to break 3, you have 13 minutes. 13 minutes to run 2.2…I ran hard, but that would be a good pace for me if I hadn’t already ran 24 miles. I pushed as hard as I could, ending with 3:03:06. I was happy with it. I didn’t accomplish my goal, but I KNOW I HAVE IT IN ME…I just need to work on my speed a little more. I need to work on my weaknesses to make me better and I am proud that I am currently doing just that. I am also enjoying running less total weekly mileage right now. Any niggle/pain I had up to Spartathlon is gone. I have lost a little weight. I feel faster and fitter and know I will continue to improve. I look forward to the upcoming year.

635930178387359967    FullSizeRender

During the marathon, I wore Altra One 2.5’s, which are perfect for the marathon and shorter distances for me! Between switching to Altras over a year ago and wearing Drymax socks, I no longer have the insane blisters that I used to have. I wore my Running Skirts Ultra skirt, with 3 pockets, which are great for carrying Hammer gels and Endurolytes that I took during the race.