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September 28, 2022

Kyle Merber’s New York City Marathon Training Update Vol. 5

Hitting the reset button and starting the rebuild of fitness from scratch (or the closest I’ve come to “scratch” since starting out in the sport more than half my life ago) has meant that each week, the usually marginal gains in fitness have actually been quite apparent. Splits that I’d have been thrilled with a couple of weeks earlier quickly feel outdated. I’m constantly having to redefine what constitutes a good session.

Having coached a number of amateur runners over the past few years, I’ve witnessed this phenomenon from afar. But now, experiencing it personally, these tangible improvements are addicting — and why my goals for the New York City Marathon have continued to evolve since first convincing myself to sign up at the beginning of summer.

Simply put, running tends to be the most fun when you can see that the work being put in leads to clear results on the other end — a concept that is not always so black and white when competing as a professional.

This past week of training, however, marked the first time that I felt some degree of stagnation during this block. Following my marathon-lengthed long run, I thought it would be wise to take a couple of easy days, although I was pleasantly shocked at how good my legs felt the next day. For all the hoopla surrounding the updated shoe technology and how it basically gives you springs for legs on race day— something I just narrowly missed the boat on during my career… please put this on my tombstone someday — the widely held assumption is that the greatest impact comes from the reduction in pounding. Suddenly the body can bounce back faster from harder efforts quicker and the overall volume of quality work can skyrocket.

That’s how most performance-enhancing drugs work. It’s not that they directly make you faster. But they allow you to handle a higher and more dense workload while aiding recovery. That’s why it’s always a red flag when an athlete is working out 5 times a week and balancing absurd mileage without getting hurt…

ANYWAY! Between the 2:40 long run, a busy week at work, and a Friday flight to Ireland, I pushed this past week’s main workout back to Thursday. The plan was to run a ladder of 4 – 3 – 2 -1  with a 2 minutes jog between each, starting at 5:20 pace and working down. It was an ominous start to the morning with multiple trips to the bathroom and a storm passing through, but with a rare 90-minute block cleared in the schedule to get it done, I was committed.

Three miles into the workout I started making compromises. My stomach was twisting and although I was flying a few seconds under pace, things were not happening organically. Rather than call the thing off entirely, I negotiated with myself and was determined to just get 10 miles in of work at 5:20 pace. If that meant the reps had to be cut short or rest added, that’d be fine.

As soon as the pressure to nail the session was removed, things began to turn. It never felt easy, but I got through it knowing that a day like this one probably prepares me better for the unpredictability of a first marathon more so than when I am firing on all cylinders. My final splits were: 4 @ 5:17 – 3 @ 5:13 – 2 @ 5:05 – 1 @ 5:05. As my buddy quipped on Strava after, I shouldn’t be allowed to complain so much if I am still hitting my times. But the watch only tells part of the story, and this felt like shit.

A few hours later as my body started to unravel a bit, I felt increasingly more positive about things. Laoise starting daycare has tested all of our immune systems, and I caught a mild viral bug. With body aches and a sore throat, I was of course worried that it was the onset of Covid, but 24 hours later I was on the up and up.

As the Friday workday wound down, I threw on the ol’ out-of-office and was ready to tackle the challenge of taking a 10-month-old on her first flight. After sitting in two hours of traffic and parking in a lot miles away, Laoise had a full-on blowout waiting to get through airport security. Immediately upon giving her a clean diaper and an outfit swap, we received news that the flight was canceled with a rebooking set for the next night. Following a short mental breakdown, we took the trip in reverse, but with a quick pit stop at Wendy’s for sustenance. Miraculously, we made it home by midnight.

If there was one positive to the whole thing, it was that we’d be able to attend a first birthday party with our friends and I could get a decent weekend run in. So on Saturday morning, I set out with no set route, pace or time in mind. There are a lot of beautiful places to run in the greater New York area, but there are few things in life I’d champion more than running in Rockefeller State Park during the fall. Living a mile from the perimeter has certainly been a blessing and by no means an accident. But it’s not a place you want to adventure unless there is life in your legs — the hills are brutal! I ended up doing a 17-mile loop, which as a guy training for the marathon, I will henceforth refer to as a medium-long run.

That night, our 8:30 pm scheduled flight finally left the runway shortly after 1 am. By the time we arrived in Tipperary the next day after 4:30 pm, it felt like my first day off in months was well-deserved. Historically, I have operated as someone who prefers jogging a slow thirty minutes as opposed to completely resting. This has been rationalized with the questionable belief that some blood flow helps flush the junk out. The truth is that even in retirement, with absolutely nothing on the line, I am still a psychopath who operates under the Kantian maxim of “no days off.”

As we speak, I am sitting in a Kilkenny pub mooching off their wi-fi and having what the lads call a sneaky pint. This is part of my mental preparation for the beginning of Irish training camp.

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