TITLE: Running in the Middle AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 27, 2009 3:28 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Many runners spend too much time thinking about the beginning and the end of a race, and little or no time focusing on the middle. In a 5K, that can work all right, because it's almost like a sustained sprint. You worry about not going out too fast in the first mile, and you think about kicking for the last mile or half mile, and there isn't much else. But in a longer race, especially a marathon, the middle is the bulk of the experience. Even if you think of the beginning as 5 miles long and the end as the 10K that starts at the 20-mile marker, fifteen miles remain in between. A lot of runners don't have much of a plan for that part of the race and so go on autopilot. That's too bad, because the middle often determines how fast I run the whole race and, more importantly, how I feel about my race when I'm done. If you let the middle of a marathon fill your mind with thoughts about being done, it can make you miserable. Many runners think about their time while running; I know I do. "I'm on a pace for 3:45. My goal was 3:35. This is already turning out wrong..." As sports psychologist Jeff Simons says,
Time is what happens after you cross the line. Changing your time is all that happens while you are in the process of running. That's where the focus needs to be.
Treating the middle as valuable in its own right is one way to get the mind off being done and back where it should be: right where you are on the course. I think this is also true of marathon training plans. Beginners and experienced runners alike start off excited and meticulous about their training in weeks one and two and three; they also know how important it is to pay careful attention to how they taper in the last few weeks leading up to the race. But the plan is twelve, sixteen, or even twenty weeks long. There is a lot of middle... How attentive I am during those weeks to my mileage, pace, diet, and body have as much effect on race day as my taper, maybe more. Given where I am mileage- and health-wise, I am treating all the parts of my marathon training this year with care -- especially the middle. I have designed a plan that consists of a slow, meticulous build-up of mileage. I'm putting more emphasis on the middle weeks, during which I hope to prepare my body for long runs again with a series of 12-, 14- and 16-milers before getting to the heavy stuff -- 18- and 20-milers -- toward the end of my middle. I am consciously delaying speed until August, well into the middle of my training, by which time I hope my body has adapted to more stress than it's been able to withstand for the last many months. In my current state, the biggest contributor to my time will be stamina at the slower paces. Once I have that in hand, I'll worry about taking my speed up a notch, to see whether my body is ready for that set of stresses. On Sunday morning, I ran my first 14-miler since 2007 while training for Marine Corps. It went very well, much better than the twelve miles I ran the week before. The body adapts in fits ad starts, and it's always interesting to see how a long run will feel. This one left me felling energized, though I did take a good nap in the afternoon! I feel ready for this week, which aims to let my body consolidate on the last three weeks and so culminates in a 12-miler. Here's hoping that my body cooperates and lets me stay on a path to higher mileage throughout the rest of the middle. -----