Ten Weeks and then a Taper: Reflections on a Marathon-and-Beyond Training Cycle

Yesterday I started a two-week taper for the Oakland Marathon, and now I’m reflecting on what I did right—and what I might have done better—over the past ten weeks.

I finished 2011 with a solid mileage base and raced a 50K on new year’s eve. On January 1, I wrote in my log, “Recovery from Rodeo Beach 50K” and recorded zero miles, followed by a relatively easy week. Then I began to build up to the March 25 Oakland Marathon, which will be followed by the Miwok 100K on May 5.

This is the first time I’ve tried to balance training for a road marathon with preparing for a longer ultra trail distance (my first 100K). The not-exactly-compatible dual efforts could end up sabotaging both races, like when I try to work the grill and bake the dessert while hosting a dinner party, only to burn both and miss out on socializing with my guests. We’ll see.

I wrote on my new year’s training plan, “Build up to 80 mi/week!” OK, sure, why not? But I have never been a super-high-mileage runner—not so long ago, my weekly average was 20-30, and I’d peak around 40—so trying to double that volume turned out to be wishful (foolish?) thinking. There is no way I can run 80 miles/week unless I seriously compromise my parenting, sleep, work or all of the above.

But I did have a pretty darn good ten weeks during which more went well than off—in spite of a funk four weeks ago (see “Not Exactly Inspiring”). To put things in context, the Oakland Marathon will be my 40th marathon or ultra (not including marathon-or-longer training runs) since my first in 1995. I’ve completed 26 marathons, 10 50Ks and 3 50-milers.

My plan during this training period has been to regain some zip in my slower trail legs by getting back to weekly speedwork and doing some pace-oriented long runs on flatter, paved courses, plus increase my trail mileage. Could I do it and not fall apart? Also, I had to build up distance and endurance for Miwok before April because April is pretty shot for training, given that I’ll need a week to recover from the Oakland Marathon, then we’re traveling for Spring Break, then by late April I should taper. That leaves only about a week in April for higher mileage and a final long run before Miwok.

Some training notes from Jan. 1 through now on what went well:

– Completed six runs that were 20 miles or longer, the two longest being 28 and 35. No major problems or bonks.

– Built up to a peak week of almost 70. Most weeks were in the 50 – 60 range.

– Had a successful practice race (the Jan. 22 Brooks Falls 30K in Pacifica; here’s the report).

– Started a new Wednesday routine: hour-long boot camp class for strength training, followed by an easy 6 to 8 mile trail run. In addition to the weekly class, I lifted weights and did core and balance exercises at least twice/week.

– Alternated easy/hard days, for three relatively easy and three quality training runs each week: a Tuesday medium-length run with some tempo miles mixed in, a Thursday track workout, and a weekend long run.

– Dropped a couple of pounds, so I feel more fit. I tend to put on weight when increasing mileage, due to a revved-up appetite combined with fatigue that mistakes dehydration and sleep deprivation for hunger. A few weeks ago I made a concerted effort to break the cycle of nighttime munching and that extra glass of wine or beer. I ate and drank moderately, got more sleep, and felt so much better in the morning. My weight is now between 132 – 134. I’ve given up trying to get it back down to the skinnier range it was in, 128 – 130, when I was in my mid-30s and running faster. But I’m happy it’s no longer stubbornly lodged at 135 – 136. I sound like I’m obsessing about a few pounds, which I probably am, but runners know that a few pounds can make a difference in terms of how you feel and how fast you go.

– Prevented injury, save for a flareup in the ball of my foot when I did a finish-fast, pace-oriented 20-miler on Feb. 18 on a flat, paved road. Back on the trail, it went away. My chief concern with the Oakland Marathon is this flareup—I hope it doesn’t plague me along those 26.2.

– For the most part, I stayed positive mentally and enjoyed this buildup. It felt more like a journey than a duty. I listened to many great podcasts on the longer runs (This American Life, NPR’s Fresh Air, Freakonomics, How Stuff Works, Ultraruner Podcast and a new favorite, Running Stupid).

My weekly running totals from Jan. 2 through March 11. How's that for old school and low tech?

What I wish I had done more of or better:

– A back-to-back run, such as a 26-mile marathon training run on road followed by a long, hilly trail run the next day lasting at least three hours. I fear I don’t have the endurance that comes from running consecutive days on tired legs. The closest I came was a 20-miler, followed by an hour-long recovery trail run, followed by a 28-mile trail run on the third day.

– I’m proud I did a solo run of 6+ hours and 35 miles the other day, but I wish I had gone even farther and stayed out longer—or done another long run the following day—to gain the confidence I’ll need to cover 62 very hilly miles over approx. 12 hours for Miwok in May.

Self-portrait on my iPhone at Briones Reservoir two-thirds of the way through a solo 35-miler.

– I never did doubles—running twice in a day—which most serious runners work into their training. Oh, well. I have the best of intentions to try that, but then the afternoon rolls around and I’d rather be with my kids or go to the grocery store.

So now, if I can sleep well, keep my weight down and stay healthy for these two weeks, I should have a pretty good run at Oakland. I don’t plan to PR (it’s not a PR course and I’m not in the shape for road marathons that I was in when I PR’ed with a 3:05 at Napa three years ago). But, I would like to get under 3:15, or at least 3:20. My time at the Oakland Marathon last year was 3:26, but I took it easy as a training run for last year’s American River 50.

This is the kind of blog post that only runner nerds would read through, and I fear it gives a misimpression of my priorities. Missing from this post is the back story of the past ten weeks—all that unfolded, with stress but ultimately with happiness, concerning my family and work. Contrary to what that bar graph and these paragraphs suggest, running isn’t front and center in my life.

But oh, how I enjoy this hobby that nurtures health, boosts confidence and occasionally kindles a good idea.

Call for comments: What would you suggest I might do differently or could do better training-wise?

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7 Responses to Ten Weeks and then a Taper: Reflections on a Marathon-and-Beyond Training Cycle

  1. John Nguyen March 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    I guess that makes me a running nerd! I like the low-tech graph! You are clearly ready for this marathon. I’m trying to balance my training schedule and my kids too, so its interesting to hear about someone going through something similar. Good luck with the Oakland Marathon!
    John Nguyen recently posted..Way Too Cool 50K 2012 Race Report – Short VersionMy Profile

  2. ken michal March 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Sounds like you’ve got a good base, Sarah! Especially for Miwok, confidence is going to make a huge difference!! Trust yourself and your training! There are people who run 100’s on way less mileage…

    One thing I would suggest is at least one back to back long run. Maybe head out for an easy 13 the day after Oakland? I think this gets you used to running on dead legs way more than double days! (At least that’s what works for me!)

    Can’t wait to hear about Oakland!

    All Day!
    ken michal recently posted..Running Stupid CV (Dave Mackey Interview)My Profile

  3. Amanda Gibson March 18, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    This story was an amazing read. I am so proud of how you seem to be handling all the training. I stumbled upon your blog through ultrarunnerpodcast.com and have to admit, I am totally inspired. The first 2/3rds I thought I was reading the account of some guy’s adventure, then I realize you are Sarah, a woman! I have been training for some longer trail runs. I hope to some day have as many accomplishments as you! Power to the she!

  4. jennifer March 21, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Add me to the running nerd camp, because I love this kind of post. 🙂

    The only thing I’d say in response is that, in my experience, back-to-backs are overrated. There’s probably some benefit to running on tired legs (more for a 100-mile than a 100K), but I think it’s mostly psychological. That second run is by definition not a quality run, and it impedes your recovery from the first run. What you did (20/6-ish/28) sounds even better to me.

    Is your ball of the foot pain a neuroma? I’ve been struggling with one for months now. It’s fine on the trail, but it can really act up on the roads. 🙁 Time to see Dr. Hannaford again…

  5. GoldenTrailsDave March 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Did you do any specific hill work outs other than on your long runs? Like running up Claremont Canyon during the week, for example?

    • Sarah March 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

      Hi Dave — yeah, I run hills almost every day by virtue of where we live, and on my “hard” days I try to push the pace up them. In my n’hood we have a .4-mile loop with a good quarter-mile uphill–not sure of the grade, but it’s steep but runnable. I have some other big long hills around North Oakland that are some favorites. At least once/month I try to go to the Lafayette Res Rim trail, which is all up and down. I also like combining a hill/speed workout midweek by starting at Big Bear on Redwood Road, warming up by running up & over MacDonald Grade, doing a tempo or faster pace to Stone Bridge on Goldenrod/Brandon, and then when I return over the MacDonald Grade I try to run hard up the 1.5-mi hill. I don’t do Claremont Cyn specifically but get to the Strawberry Cyn firetrails now and then.


  1. URP Daily News | UltraRunnerPodcast.com - March 14, 2012

    […] Sarah Lavender Smith tries to taper for a marathon and train for a 100k at the same time.  Will it work? […]

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