B&A Trail Marathon training: It’s taper time!

This weekend was my last weekend of heavy duty marathon training for the B&A Trail Marathon. The Hal Higdon Advanced 2 marathon training plan that I am following called for 10 miles on Saturday and 20 miles on Sunday, but I also had plans to travel out of town for my friend Staci’s baby sprinkle and birthday, which happens to fall on St. Patrick’s Day. So I banged out my 20 miles Friday morning before heading out of town, took a rest day Saturday, and then ran my 10 miles when I got home this afternoon. One thing I’ve learned over my years of marathon training is that you have to be flexible. I have no problem flipping my workouts around if that’s what suits my schedule.

So now I am officially in taper mode! The B&A Trail Marathon is on April 8, three weeks from today.

I am excited to see how I do in this marathon. When I decided to sign up for it, I initially told myself that I would take it easy — I already had my BQ from the Rehoboth Marathon, with five minutes to spare. And the Hal Higdon plan I followed to get that time was certainly aggressive. I thought of going back to the plan I’d followed for my previous three marathons, which had me taking two rest days per week and running only one 20 miler, three weeks out from the race.

But at the same time, I really enjoyed pushing myself and seeing what I was capable of. So I decided to follow the same plan again, with some modifications. I followed the exact same long run schedule, which included three 20 milers, beginning seven weeks out from the race. On those weekends where a 20-mile long run was on the schedule, I also had 10 miles to run either the day before or the day after (the plan says to run the 10 miles Saturday and the 20 Sunday, but again, I modify depending on my schedule). I took one rest day, usually Friday, every week.

This time around, I omitted the hill training on the Naval Academy Bridge — the B&A Trail is super flat anyway — and I wasn’t as diligent about my speed work. I only did three rounds of Yasso 800s instead of six rounds, as I did last time. (This training cycle, I ran four 400s, then six 800s, then eight 800s this past week. In my opinion, this workout is the hardest of all. Give me the long run any day!)

I also run four days a week instead of the six days the plan calls for, because I do kickboxing on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I am reluctant to give that up! When I trained for Rehoboth, I sometimes squeezed in a run before kickboxing class — but only sometimes. Would I be faster if I focused exclusively on running? Probably. But I love kickboxing, and I think the cross-training keeps me strong and injury-free. It works for me!

I think I am capable of going sub-3:40 in the B&A Trail Marathon, which would be another BQ. Of course, unless I can beat my 3:35:00 time from Rehoboth, it’s not going to matter. Could it happen? Maybe, but if it doesn’t, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Hell, if I don’t BQ again, I’m not going to beat myself up over it, because I already have a solid time. (Although the other night, I did have a dream that I ran a 3:43 marathon and was really upset about it! My God, get a grip, woman.)

It will be really interesting to see how backing off the speed training and omitting the hill training affects my race time. If I end up running 3:35ish again, I’ll know that the key to my success is likely running multiple 20-milers. And if I finish in the 3:40-something range, I’ll know that speed work and possibly hill training is what makes me a faster marathoner.

I’m going in with one big advantage — I have run just about all of my long runs on the B&A Trail! I’ve never been so familiar with a marathon course.

Questions for anyone reading this: Do you prefer speed training/sprint workouts or long runs (or do you think both suck, haha!) Do you think they are equally important in marathon training?

Speed work makes the dream work

…. or something like that.

As I mentioned before, I’m following Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training plan as I prepare for the Rehoboth Marathon. It’s far more challenging than the plan I’ve followed previously, incorporating hill repeats, speed workouts and a total of three 20-mile long runs leading up to the race. (My old plan had me running one 20-miler before the taper.) But let’s talk about those speed workouts.

This is my first time doing Yasso 800s, which are supposed to be a way to predict your marathon finishing time. They’re named for Bart Yasso, longtime race services manager at Runner’s World magazine and a seasoned marathoner and ultramarathoner. (I’m reading his book now — review to come!)

Basically, Yasso realized that he could gauge his marathon time based on how long it took him to run 800 meters, or a half-mile. If you can run, say, 800 meters (two laps around your typical high school track) in four minutes, you will likely bang out a four-hour marathon. Training to run a 3:30 marathon? Then run your Yasso 800s in three minutes and 30 seconds. You get the idea. Here’s the whole history of Yasso 800s and how Bart came up with the concept.

With the plan I am following, I’m running my 800s every third week. I started with four repeats three weeks ago and will progress up to eight repeats. In between each 800-meter sprint, I jog for 400 meters to recover. I’ve been shooting for 800s in 3:35. My Boston qualifying standard is 3:40, but I’m trying to give myself a solid cushion, so a 3:35 marathon is my ultimate goal! It means I need to knock seven minutes off my marathon time– definitely not impossible.

I’m not going to lie — speed work is not my favorite thing to do. In fact, I think it kind of blows. So I’m hoping this is as effective as the pros say! Three weeks ago, I went to the track at the local high school and ran my 800s as the football team practiced in the background. Tonight, it was pouring, so I ran my five repeats on the treadmill. Works just as well.

Not everyone believes in the total accuracy of the Yasso 800s — this article notes there’s no scientific data to back up its legitimacy as a time predictor. So we’ll see! Regardless, it’s certainly challenging my body and helping me to mix up my training.