“I love Los Angeles, and I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.”

Andy Warhol.

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That’s right, boys and girls. Some dark, wintery Northern California training ahead as preparation continues for the big bad LA Marathon in February!

I’ve been semi- secretly following a makeshift Hal Higdon plan that’s been pretty well Frankensteined into something that ol’ Hal might not condone at all. Basically, my strategy is to steadily increase mileage, diligently complete my long runs with some fast finishes thrown in every few weeks, and do goal pace workout most weeks. Easy runs easy and harder runs hard.

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Yellow highlights are pace runs. Purple are fast finish.

We will see how this evolves. But on the whole things have been going smoothly. I even got in a run during my trip to Mexico City last month, which was awesome and not at all the asthma-inducing shit show that I expected. Did you know that Mexico City’s minimum elevation is 7,382 ft? Neither had I (by comparison, our mile high city of Denver maxes out at 5,690 ft.). To my surprise, the run was absolutely magical. On Sunday mornings, the city closes several main streets to traffic and opens up these uncongested city miles to pedestrians, runners, and cyclists. On the day of my excursion many of the local running groups were out and celebrating Dia de los Muertos.  I was having so much fun that I tacked on two additional miles to explore a bit of the splendid Bosque de Chapultepec (aka a huge ass park).

The rest of this year will be focused on remaining uninjured and maintaining mileage amidst the tempting pull of lazy holidays and early dusks. And maybe one more half marathon before 2016….

“The first and great commandment is: Don’t let them scare you.”

Elmer Davis.

So I’m convinced. I’ve read every Big Sur Intl Marathon race recap on the internet. Every. Single. One. The ultrarunners bouncing up Hurricane Point. The Boston 2 Big Sur badasses taking it easy with an 8 min/mile pace. The first timers who, saved by magical mile 23 strawberries, triumph in the face of injury, headwinds, and the wall. Runners who inexplicably PR. Runners who run their slowest race ever. Runners breathless from the breathtaking Northern California coast.

As a result I am highly educated, mad with denial, and/or completely freaked out. Donno. I feel at once cautiously confident and lost in the wilderness, relaxed and petrified. But maybe this is just the nature of marathoning.

Here’s the freak out part: Because I went into training a bit late I don’t have a “plan” so to speak, but rather a somewhat haphazard schedule of weekend long runs that take me through to marathon day. The LSD increase really only began in early February and as such I’m just squeezing in a 20 miler before the taper.

This is what it is, and I’m just moving forward. Beyond the numbers, my strategy is more about listening to my body. My shins have threatened splits but although some tenderness lingers, I believe my respectful weekly mileage (some would say “shockingly low”) has kept this at bay. I’m pushing myself when it feels right, and it has, but at the first sign of injury or overtraining…Bam. I back away. Given the potential for a classic “too much too soon” kind of meltdown, my suspicion is that this approach is probably my only option.

As for the rest of the week, I’m really just making it up as I go along. And kind of to my delight, for better or worse. Again, while I’m staying conservative on mileage and run days per week, I do my cross training (yoga and strength and a little casual bike riding), and try to make every run count. I usually just rely on instinct in assessing what exactly that means.

“I feel like running a little faster today. I’ll average a half-marathon pace, or a couple of miles at 10k pace.”

“Hmm. Last time I ran a bit faster than I intended. Better take it easy, practice breathing evenly and finishing strong.”

“I want to run home from work today. But ugh I should probably do some hills. I’ll take a different turn at mile 3 and suffer over Potrero Hill.”

Fairly casual. The hope is that as long as I can complete the long runs with a disturbing smile on my face, my base fitness will pull me through. At the same time, I’m trying to let go of any time goal for Big Sur and just focus on having a smooth, relatively comfortable race that I can freaking finish without disaster. Call me Lady Denial, but I think that if I can arrive at the starting line injury-free — I’ll make it the 26.2 miles to Carmel. Seems like my best chance.

All training plans include a level of intensity of course, and this makeshift, slapdash one is no different. But what I’m learning is that intensity comes not just from mileage building and quality workouts but the effort that it takes to honestly respect how the body and mind respond. If I fail and don’t finish or don’t even start — then at least I’ve gained some valuable new insights (at least I hope I can muster that kind of mature attitude, if it comes down to it). It’s certainly an experiment, given that for Portland I stuck to a Hal Higdon plan pretty religiously (Novice 2). But this wasn’t a perfect training experience either. Weeks before the race my quads we’re shot and my calves were bricks. By the end of my taper I felt almost good as new, and at no point during the race did things fall apart. But the regimen did leave me feeling a bit fried. So I’m curious to see how this new approach works out. Even if it does bite me in the end.

Again, maybe this is just the nature of marathoning? And doing my first marathons so close together. Given that registration sold out in 59 minutes (!), I obviously feel lucky to have a spot at Big Sur and the opportunity to run what’s become an iconic course.

Finally, extra credit if you noticed that on my little schedule above I have a half marathon coming up on March 23. Truth? I really want to hit it in under 2:00. I came so damn close last August, and right now I feel really strong and my pace is on target. At this point, I really don’t think it’s an overly ambitious goal. But I hope that this confidence isn’t unfounded, and that the pace won’t leave me too ragged to complete my final long runs before BSIM. Again, the strategy is self-respect and trust, to listen to my body and if anything feels wrong — back. off. I’ve got other halfs to kill later this year…