How Much Can Training Change?

I have been thinking a lot about how much training matters. I mean, training as separated from general fitness and confidence.

I missed a lot of running this week after getting a bad cold, and since outdoor has started up, it’s suddenly much easier to do a 16 minute tempo run a little faster than I should or 800m repeats than marathon-type workouts. After last weekend’s fairly (inexplicably) miserable 18.5 miler, I’ve been thinking about the difference in running every day, as I have for the past 18 years, and training, particularly training for a marathon. How much do I have to give to running? In terms of time, yes, but even more in terms of stress level (am I the only person who can’t relax when she has a 20 mile long run scheduled?) and emotional investment.

This got me to thinking about the four marathons I’ve run and how, though they seem wildly different in my mind because my expectations and the level of disappointment were different in each, in the big spectrum of marathon running, they are not really so different.

Vermont City, 2006: ran about 70 miles a week, including at least one long, hard workout mid-week and several Jack Daniels style tempo-long-tempo runs, crashed and burned and ran 3:24 after walking much of the second half. Had hoped to break 3, realistically thought I could run 3:10.

Boston 2008: got the news that I’d be running the race with 6 weeks to go and had done one run over 12 miles since Vermont CIty almost two years earlier. DId 1 16 miler, 1 20 miler and 1 18 miler, ran mostly 7 mile runs during the week. Goal was to finish and not disappoint all the people who’d given me the Bradley Award or to wound my own fragile ego. Ran 3:19

Boston 2009: ran about 50 miles a week, trained in a normal, methodical way, including about one speed workout a week and a handful of runs between 16-21 miles. Felt confident going into the race, hoped to PR. Ran 3:18.

Gansett Marathon 2011: entered on a whim about a month before the race after doing an 18 mile run on a whim. Longest run was a “I’ll pretend I was running 7:30 pace for that whole time and then it’s 20 miles” 2:30. Felt great at 10 miles and went through the half on pace to run 3:12, which felt completely reasonable in that deluded moment. Hit the wall hard at mile 16, felt very sorry for myself for the next 10 miles. Ran 3:22 (I think? I don’t remember. In this case, the real victory really was finishing)

So, is my body, when in general running shape, about a 3:25 marathon type of body, and then sometimes I can force it to run a little faster? What if I could handle more volume in training? Had a training group? Could I run 3:10? What if I didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing and just ran with the high school kids every day between now and May 7? How much do any of these things I have wasted days reading about matter? I’m usually a firm believe in mind over matter and the irrelevance of shape and talent in achieving at least modest distance running success, but at the end of this week, assessing the damage and exhaustion, I started to really question the range of influence my training actually wields.

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