Sunday, October 29, 2017

Post marathon review of what worked well and where I can improve

The end of September marked the end of the 2017 "racing season" for me and with that, some changes to my schedule and my mindset. October has been filled with rest, alarm clocks set a little later, training lighter, and my schedule a bit more flexible. There's been lots of catching up with friends, a few extra glasses of wine, a bit later nights out, and enjoying the things I don't always let myself while in training mode (i.e. I ate SO MANY donuts in October!!)

It also has been filled with thought and reflection on the year as well as planning and evaluating for what I want to do and what I am capable of (physically AND mentally) in the year ahead. But before going full force into next year and next goals, I wanted to write a post reflecting back on this last year and last season in terms of what went well and what I still could work on. I wrote a post like this after the Chicago Marathon and found it really helpful so wanted to write this out so I can remind myself of it in the future.

Although this is focused around the Berlin Marathon, I am sort of expanding it a little bit in some areas as to what went well / what didn't for the entire season as a whole. So let's get into it.

What worked well:

1. Marathon training with a coach. Although technically last year I worked with a coach while training for NYC, I barely did what he said thinking I knew what I was doing on my own since it was my 4th marathon. I skipped all the cross training he put it, did a bit of speed work, but mostly felt like I knew what I needed to do to cross the finish line and would be fine.

This year, I did exactly what my coach told me to do and nothing else, trusting him to get me to my goal and made my focus just about execution of the plan. The training was very different from anything that I had done before and much of it made me nervous. I didn't know how I would perform on this type of training plan and I had a hard time always seeing progress. I sought out advice from my personal coach, Jerome, as well as the other ITL coaches Adam, George, and Chris whenever I could. I asked for feedback and relied on Jerome mostly for regular encouragement, support, and answers to my questions.

Even throughout this entire year, not just Berlin, the coaching that I received 1000% percent was invaluable. From the very first month in January, during my trip to Switzerland, to the very last stretch of training while I went to Cancun for a wedding - Jerome found a way to make my training schedule fit with my personal schedule. When I realized the timing of Cancun and Berlin, I was so nervous of how I would make it work. And we did. Without a doubt. Everything worked and Jerome never let training compromise something I wanted to do socially. I am so appreciative of that and I can't say enough about how coaching this year helped me to step up my game.

Even right now, as much as I have been enjoying the lighter month, I feel best about myself when I am eating clean and exercising regularly. I have more energy, it affects my mood, and training has also become a de facto way to see friends on a daily basis. I also know that when I don't have a set schedule, I get very lazy. So I took a week off and then after that asked Jerome to keep building my workouts for me. I really have come to rely on what I get out of coaching and having that regular schedule and support.

2. High mileage + variety of running.  I debated putting this as basically a sub-bullet under "working with a coach" along with the next one on the list but decided to leave it as its own thing. In this training cycle into Berlin, throughout August and September I had multiple 50-60 mile weeks of running. Prior to this year, my top mileage in training for any marathon was always 40 miles at MAX at PEAK week. I exceeded that by a lot but never ran more than 16 miles at a time, whereas in other training plans, that 40 mile week would include a 20-miler. I ran 6x a week vs. 4x a week in other training cycles and all of that paid off.

I also for the first time added so much variety to my running of speed work, tempo runs, hill repeats, trail runs, long bricks, etc. and these changes all added up, both mentally and physically, to help me get stronger.

3. Cross training all the way through. I put this as its own thing on the list because in the past I said something that I wanted to improve on was cross training through the entire training cycle. I think I did that well here, including some big bike rides all the way through to the end of July and then had long bike rides + runs into August. Up until I left for Berlin I was swimming at least once a week and had time on my bike at least once a week as well for hill repeats. It all helped! Swimming was therapeutic for me and although it was shorter than what I'd do while triathlon training and there wasn't a lot of intensity behind it, but it was good to have in the mix!

4. No social media before the race. Social media is a blessing and a curse at times. In the days leading up to the race, I felt like it was stressing me out to be on social media so I cut myself off leading up to the race. I think this really helped me to stay focused and remind myself why I was doing this race. I think this is a "best practice" (to use Corporate speak) that I will continue with in upcoming races.

5. Don't look at or stress about the weather, just plan for it all. Okay, so I didn't do a super good job at this at all before Chattanooga Half, so I forced myself to try and be better before Berlin. There was rain in the forecast at times but I honestly just tried not to pay attention. I packed clothing for a variety of temperatures and conditions - hot, cold, rainy, sunny, etc. Last year at NYC I had packed and planned for cold weather and then was too warm. So this year, I was smarter and just prepped for everything and hoped for the best - putting together a plan in just the day before the race vs. obsessively checking the weather for any changes every hour.

6. Marathon week hydration. I worked really hard all year to stay hydrated and was worried about it while traveling overseas for a race. On the flight over to Europe and as soon as I arrived, I was drinking as much water as possible in that week leading up to the race. I was buying and carrying water with me everywhere, using the bathroom constantly, but I made sure to drink a ton of water, even though it is hard when traveling and in Europe. I was really happy with my diligence in doing this. I drank a ton of water the week before through Friday, then Saturday just drank to taste. I also threw in a Nuun a day. Sunday morning I used the bathroom before going to the race and didn't have to use a porta potty at the start or have the urge to use the bathroom at all throughout the race. I was happy with my plan!

7. Focused on the little things. Okay, so this is the opposite advice that people give about life, but in this training cycle I really worked to try and pay attention to the "little things" to stay healthy outside of the workouts. Foam rolling, massage, chiropractor, stretching, nutrition for training runs, sunscreen, core work, lunges, etc. all were a part of training outside of the runs and rides themselves. My hip injury I had earlier in the year forced me to focus on planks, leg lifts, etc. and all of which I hated, but knew I had to do to stay healthy. I got a standing desk at work as well which REALLY helped me I think to not be sitting all day, as well as I altered how I sleep to alleviate pressure on my right hip. It was a struggle to adapt to, but it helped. I kept these little things in my mind throughout the year and asked my coach to build in even just 15 minutes of stretching into my schedule. I know now that if something is in TrainingPeaks - I WILL do it. So having that dedicated stretching time was really helpful.

8. Assign purpose to what I was doing on race day. This might be a bit wishy-washy but I felt like I had a really good mental focus on race day. I had a very strong mental plan to carry me through the race and part of that was to assign bigger purpose to what I was doing beyond just trying to run a specific time. I thought of it as another run that I just needed to go out and execute on for the first half, and in the end, some of the things that carried me through were thinking about my friends and others who I wanted to be strong for. This really helped keep me pushing at the end of the race.

9. Go after a scary time goal. Well, this is the first time I went into training with a time goal in mind. It scared me a lot but I think it was a good thing to go after something that was a reach for me. It forced me to be diligent, to stay focused, and to work hard. It made the feeling of accomplishment different and a bit more deeply satisfying. I had time goals for everything I did this year and although sometimes that always might not work out, for me and for this year, it helped me to push.

10. Reminding myself to have fun. Throughout everything I had to continually remind myself to have fun. Scary goals are good and focus is good but the end of the day we do this all for fun. Reminding myself that the night before the marathon when I started to stress was important. And the runs I had with friends were so important to this throughout the entire training cycle. Jerome helped me remind me of that as well. I definitely amped up my training this year, but I can confidently say that I didn't lose the fun in it at all, which I am proud of. I did have to remind myself a few times, which I will continue to do as time goes on I am sure.

  • Traveling early. The decision to fly to Europe earlier in the week was mostly due to logistics but I loved having a few extra days to adjust time wise. If I do more international races, traveling a week ahead of time needs to be on the list of things to do.
  • Running in shorts. This is the first year I ever have felt comfortable running in shorts!! I really liked it and invested in some new shorts this year and wore them for the marathon for the first time. 
  • Shake out run the day before. I debated if I should do my last run two days before or the day before the race, but it seemed to work well doing it the day before. Will plan to continue that!
  • Seeing a movie the day before. I don't know why I never thought of this but it was the perfect day-before-a-race activity. You're sitting down, legs are up, relaxed, take your mind off things for a while. Perfect. And bonus points if it is a motivating or encouraging movie.
  • Body glide! This race was so successful for me with no chafing issues and I have this to thank for that.
  • Not having any fans there. Now, this isn't something that I am necessarily going to tell people to NOT come to my races, but it is important for me to remember that I did fine without having anyone at the race and it actually alleviated any stress of looking for people on the course. I was able to focus on myself the entire race vs. searching crowds for family at specific points. This was actually a good thing for me.
  • Listen/read race recaps. I was really glad I had listened to the Berlin Marathon podcast recaps on the way over and had read other people's race recaps before the race. It helped to know what to expect!
  • No music. I didn't listen to music AT ALL and it worked out great for me. I carried my phone with me in case I needed it but never pulled it out. I was really happy with this decision all around and it worked out well for this race.
What could have been done better:

1. Sleep. I have never been good at getting enough sleep. I spend way too much time in my evenings on my phone and on social media that would be much more value add in my life if it were sleeping time! I really would like to get better at disciplining myself to just put the phone down and go to bed at the end of the night.

2. Sneakers. Since I began running I have been running in Saucony Rides. However, since last year and the latest edition in the Ride line, I have not been finding them to be comfortable. I purchased an older version of the sneaker off of Amazon and ran in those this year, swapping with a few different other versions I have, but I never tracked mileage on them and at this point, am not sure which ones are the oldest. I think that I need to find a new sneaker beyond the Saucony Rides since I don't like the new versions and I also need to be better at tracking miles on my shoes. Right now, I think all of my sneakers I am rotating are probably past their prime but I have been putting off buying new ones. I would also like to get trail running sneakers as well and just have been procrastinating that as well. Becoming more diligent about my running shoes is an area where I definitely need to improve. 

3. Do not think about and compare with others. This could be on this list multiple times. I really need to drill this in to my brain somehow. Running and training is about me and the goals I set for myself. But I always struggle with looking at others around me and comparing or focusing on what other people are doing. This is definitely an area for me to improve moving forward.

4. Diet and nutrition through to race week. Now, I will be honest that I did SO much better with nutrition this year than any other year and got my weight down to the lowest I have ever been in my adult life. I felt great and strong. However, in the last 6 weeks before the race, my nutrition faltered a bit. Due to various celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, and my trip to Cancun and that darn buffet - I backtracked and struggled a bit in the home stretch. I know that there is always going to be SOMETHING and I need to be able to live life, however, the pattern remains that as the training ramps up, my nutrition struggles. I would love to keep working at that.

5. Pay even more attention to the little things. So, I had this on my list of things that went well, but it also belongs on where I could improve. I did much better at this than in the past but there is still so much more room to grow here. I found myself dropping some of the core work and strength exercises once I was feeling recovered from my hip injury. I made it through this training cycle okay with that but need to keep really focused at all these little things the more aggressive future training and goals become. I have told my coach to keep the stretched on my TrainingPeaks moving forward.

6. Go to the race expo as early as possible. Ugh, that expo in Berlin stressed me out so much and the clothing situation was insane! Newly added to my list is to get to that expo as EARLY AS POSSIBLE at a race. In and out, get it done, buy your stuff, and go home. I don't want to deal with that again!

7. Sports bras. Okay, I wrote about this before about how my sports bras fought with me throughout the year and I had some major chafing issues. Although race day bra was ok - I have to make some improvements with the others in my collection. It is about 5 weeks since the marathon and I still have scars on my chest from the last weeks of training and chafing issues, so I think those bad boys are here to stay. Just call me Eve from now on.

8. Not spiking HR at the end of the run. So this is one I am not sure about but have been thinking about a lot. As I wrote in my race recap, I was super steady throughout the entire marathon and then when I got to mile 20 (kilometer 32) I decided to try and push it. At this time my HR spiked really high and it never recovered. Should I have just stuck steady where I was? I a little bit think I should have. This strategy and race plan is something I will need to evaluate in my next marathon.

9. Don't read your own race recaps from races you weren't happy with. Future Katelyn: just don't read your NYC or Kansas City marathon recaps the night before your race. Just don't. They'll stress you out.

10. Confidence. At this point, I think I can say I am a seasoned marathoner. I have done 5 standalone marathons. Five!! I have gained some experience in what works well for me, what doesn't, what it is like to push hard for a long time, and what I need to do to toe the line healthy. I need to start to have a bit more confidence in myself as I go for more marathons and races in the future. Confidence doesn't come easy for me but want to keep working at it.

Up for discussion:
1. Crowds at the race. Okay, the first of two points that I am still evaluating on and am curious about following the marathon is the crowds. I have always considered crowds and big marathons to be a good thing after my bad experience in Kansas City. However, I did get crowded and boxed in a number of times in Berlin and ended up running a half a mile extra. Would I do better in a smaller race where I could run a straight line? That had crowds but was not crowded? I am not sure and have been debating this in my head. It is something I'd like to explore in the future and take another stab at a smaller race to see how I do. At this point I have done four HUGE marathons and one small marathon. I am curious to try something in between.

2. Recreating every detail of past races that went well. Part of me felt a little stressed trying to recreate every detail of past races and what went well. Although I think it is certainly helpful to stick to what works (nothing new on race day!) I didn't need to become obsessive with it. I feel like I did a good job of finding that right balance but something I can keep in my mind moving forward. I am still up in the air as to what traditions are helpful and what traditions are not just superstition in my mind as it has worked for me once. There is more to test out and explore for me in the marathon world with some of my race day/week traditions here.

So there you have it! My good/bad of Berlin Marathon and thoughts of where I can improve and what I should continue. This is a list that I know I will look back on many times in the future and hope it was somewhat valuable for everyone else as well!

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