I've decided that Las Vegas MUST be a breakthrough race for me. 2:40 sounded like an awfully fast goal considering that I'm not going to be doing my fall marathon on a net 2600' drop course anymore, but I've decided that I still think it will be attainable. In the past, I had never done enough track work and very serious tempo workouts to obtain my maximum potential at the time in a marathon, but this time it's different. I'm doing a weekly road tempo now, a very strenuous long run every thursday (should be at least 150 minutes every week at this point), and a weekly 3x3 mile on Saturday in addition to a 3 other runs (1 easy and 2 moderate days on trails) and an off day, totalling around 65-70 miles a week, half of the mileage being in the mountains or at least on extremely hilly trails, far more difficult than any trail I had available to me in Baltimore.
My first attempt at the 3x3 9 days ago failed miserably and I quit after 2 intervals after being totally demoralized by a torrential downpour and heavy winds. Yesterday, however, was much different. I went out and did the workout slightly more conservatively than I could've (heart rate averaging 175 or 176 when I could feasibly due the workout at 179), but it was a nice first super tough threshold-boosting workout after not doing one for 2+ months. My times were 17:40, 17:48, 17:39, but I feel confident that a maximal effort for the workout could net me all 3 in less than 17:30, which I plan on attempting to hit in my next 3x3 workout on Saturday now that I know I can stomach the workout again. Also, keep in mind that I'm running these on a track at 4700' elevation, which costs me nearly 10 seconds per mile at an equivalent effort, even though I'm well acclimated at this point. In July, I had done a 3x3 at 5:40/mile at 4800' elevation, much faster than my 5:54 I did yesterday, but the indoor track I did it on was probably a few seconds short per mile, not to mention that I was running in a nice climate controlled environment free from wind.
Why the 3x3? In my previous marathons, the one thing I lacked physiologically was a high lactate threshold. I had a very strong endurance base going into most of my recent marathons and going 26.2 miles wasn't a big deal, but my legs were not able to hold up to the pace that my aerobic system was capable of for the whole distance, so I was stuck in the low 2:50s while my heart and lungs were capable of propelling me to a hypothetical 2:35, based on some lab testing I undertook. While I doubt that I'll be able to maximize my heart/lung potential from one marathon to the next, proper training can get it pretty close. The best way to boost my lactate threshold is to run tempos or long intervals as close to 179 beats per minute (my threshold point) as possible. Track workouts provide the best way to run pure flats here in Salt Lake City where there really are not many miles of flat roads. While doing tempos at 179 on roads would be beneficial, my speed would have to be slower due to the massive hills that are so abundant, so I'm sticking to the track. Fortunately, Karl is a big proponent of the 3x3 for me as well, so he was more than happy to prescribe the workout on a weekly basis, provided that I was able to use enough common sense to run them evenly, which I did a good job of yesterday (all 400 splits were between 86 and 90 except the very last lap of the last 3 mile, which I ran in 80).
Part of getting myself into top marathon form by December includes listening to my body like I never have before. I've learned from my past, especially when I seriously overtrained for Rocky Raccoon, putting in heavy mileage all at a very strenuous effort, mostly in snow, all last winter. While my endurance base definitely increased, I simply ran too much at too high of an effort and my legs were absolutely trashed by the end of the winter. Now that I have 3 key days per week, I need to make certain that I'm going into the workouts fresh. If I'm not recovered for a 3x3, the most important day of the week, I'm not going to run as fast and I'm not going to get out of it what I should. If I run really hard the day before a serious workout, I might get a little extra out of that particular run, but I'm going to be trashed going into the important workouts and my overall benefit will be lower, not to mention the fact that I will be in jeapardy of overtraining. I'm still having a bit of a problem holding back on my easy days that Karl throws in my schedule since I had always been one to push a little too hard on a daily basis, but having learned my lesson a few times now, I'm willing to do the right thing this time.
2:40 is a very lofty goal for me and I'm not totally sure that I'll be able to hit it, but I decided to run a half marathon a couple weeks out from my marathon to get a great sense for where I'm at. If I can go much under 6:00/mile on this relatively hilly half marathon course at 2500' elevation without much of a taper, I think I should be able to break 2:40 (6:06/mile) on a totally flat course under ideal conditions at sea level with a good taper. Assuming that I feel pretty close to 100% at the half in mid-late November, I'll probably base my pacing at Vegas pretty heavily on how that half goes.
In the mean time, I'm going to still be running the Helen Klein 50 on Halloween, but I don't anticipate this disrupting my training much. I'm going to taper for about a week, during which I'll probalby just run a 2x3 and skip my long run, but if it goes as well as my last couple 50s, I should be back at 100% and training well again within 3-4 days after the race.
In the mean time, my motivation is the highest it's been in a long time. I have a few friendly rivals that are set to run verygood marathons this fall (you know who you are... haha...), so just thinking about that keeps me wanting to be ready for and kill it in my key workout days. :)