It was my first day back in the pool after taking about three days off...hacking up hairballs which would make my veterinarian friend's herd of cats (not necessarily the ones her husband herds on a daily basis) jealous can make you strongly consider that...and reconsider it after a hairball makes you shut a track workout down 30 seconds into your sixth 600-meter repeat the evening before...you think strongly about taking a few moments to breathe every so often.
So, there I was, catching my breath at the same time as a friend of mine in the next lane. She turned to me and said, 'I need to get you to help me get faster on the run. I have a 16-miler this weekend.'
I said, 'I take it you're about six weeks out from a marathon.'
She said, 'Yep! Good guess.' I'm a coach. I usually can figure this out.
Her concern is that she lacks raw speed for the marathon. Naturally, her point of view is that she needs more mileage & more volume in order to ensure a stronger finish to the marathon. Since she's finished a couple of marathons she understands fairly well what works for her.
At that point, I played devil's advocate, or better yet...voice of reason.
'There has to be a balance. And when I talk about balance I mean it in several areas: What you're looking for is not necessarily an increase in speed as much as not slowing down in the later miles of your marathon - beyond twenty - compared to the former ones. That means a balance of a long run at desired marathon pace, what I like to call a semi-long run at desired marathon pace, & a 50-50 mix of shorter pieces at higher tempo or recovery pace...easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy stuff. That's the easy balance.'
'The more challenging balance is three-fold: First, longer distance races are more about strength, not raw speed. If you are going to focus on speed, then number two, you have to train hard enough to bring about the physiological adaptations which lead to faster running but not so hard you beat yourself up & end up injured.'
At that point she said, 'that's what the pool is for,' to which I nodded my head in agreement.
'Gotcha. Recovery is also a key, eating the right food at the right time, in the right quantity. Third, and I think most importantly, you have to take in account all the other responsibilities you have in your life. We are guilty of laying out a training plan in pen-&-ink rather than in pencil. You're a mother, a wife, a pathologist, & have other responsibilities which I don't know but can bet are fairly time-consuming.'
I then mentioned Coach Pat McCrann's book, Train To Live, Live To Train: The Ultimate Insider's Guide To Building The Ultimate Fitness Lifestyle, & explained to her she needed to think in terms of a baseline training week, as well as the amount of time she could squirrel away during a four-to-six-week build-up toward a goal event...whether it is a marathon or a triathlon, I don't think it makes much difference...
'Bottom line is that you need to do the right things without feeling guilty about being a bad mother, a bad employee or a bad person altogether. Let's begin by thinking about how much time a week you can train without checking your baggage for an extended guilt trip and move forward from there.'
She then thanked me and said, 'we should run Chicago together. I think you'd enjoy it.'
Just what every coach needs. Another woman to torment them over 26.2 miles.