How to pull off a Plan B marathon

December, 8, 2012
12/08/12
6:07
PM ET
Kim SmithAP Photo/Mary SchwalmKim Smith placed sixth in Yokohama two weeks after the NYC Marathon was canceled.
NEW YORK CITY, Friday, Nov. 2, 5 p.m -- All 40,000 tapered New York City Marathon entrants had their feet up in their 80-square-foot hotel rooms, entertaining such weighty decisions as burger or pasta.

NEW YORK CITY, Friday, Nov. 2, 6 p.m. – All 40,000 tapered New York City Marathon entrants were focused with desperate intensity on their smartphones, fingers flying in search of Plan B.

While the cancellation of this year’s New York City Marathon occasioned a mass rescheduling effort, marathon preparation is such that illness, injury and plain old bad juju scuttle the best laid plans every now and then. Whether the runner never made it to the start line or cut her losses and dropped out, her mind races over the long runs, the miles, the hours, weeks, months of training. Wasted! Or is it?

Here's how three quick-thinking pros maximized their training investment -- Kim Smith with a speedy two-week turnaround/honeymoon before posting a 2:27 sixth-place finish at the Yokohama Women's Marathon; Michelle Frey's four-week mini training cycle leading to the Dec. 2 California International Marathon; and Andrew Carlson's 10-week re-peak for the Houston Marathon on Jan. 13.

"I felt I was really ready to race well and have my best marathon ever at New York City," Smith said via email. "I didn't want to waste all the hard training I'd done, so I tried to find the closest race, which was Yokohama."

Further complicating the ultra-short two-week re-peak was that she spent the time in Hawaii on her honeymoon. She managed to fit in a long run of 22 miles, some two-mile repeats and a short tempo run, but admitted, "In the end it was more difficult than I thought it would be to keep training and hold the fitness. Probably the mental side played more of a role than the physical side. It was hard to keep motivation."

RELATED: 5 Questions with Kim Smith

"I wanted to run much faster than I did," said Smith, whose marathon PR is 2:25:38. "In hindsight, it wasn't a good idea. All of us that went to Japan from NYC raced poorly. My training partner, Amy Hastings, got sick right after arriving and had to drop out. I think when you are ready for a race two weeks before, it's easy to get rundown. It was just an emotionally draining two weeks."

"I considered running Yokohama," said 2:35 marathoner Frey, "but my coach, Chris Lundstrom, and I thought it would just be two more weeks of tapering. We figured Cal International would allow a mini build-up, which I could probably use since I was a little undertrained for New York, and a two-week taper."

Wasting no time, Frey put in 22 hard miles on what would have been race day, Nov. 4, jump-starting a 120-mile first week in the abbreviated four-week plan. "It was harder mentally than physically," she said, "because of course I had been planning on doing nothing that week."

Starting off with a bang, the brisk 22-miler and big mileage, Lundstrom thought, was necessary given the four-week schedule and would be like shock treatment, mentally serving notice that the plan had changed.

Frey hit 95 miles the second week, including a tough 5-4-3-2-mile workout totaling 20 miles. The third week was 75 miles; the fourth, 55 miles including the race itself, which was run in extremely wet and windy conditions.

"It was ridiculous -- raining and so windy trash cans were blowing all over the place," she reported the day after the race. "Given the conditions, it's hard to say whether my retraining was effective or not. I thought about dropping out the whole first half because it was just so annoying to fight the wind, but physically, I wasn't tired enough to drop out. In the last 10 miles, the wind may have let up a little and I had some guys to run with, so I was able to get into a rhythm and felt pretty strong. So in that regard, I think my training was good."

Frey was the seventh-place woman in 2:42.59. The Cal International women's winner, Alisha Williams (2:34.57), another NYC refugee, reported feeling "not great" in the retraining but "awesome" during the race.

"We just thought Fukuoka, in four weeks, was too close,” said Dennis Barker, who coaches Carlson and Team USA Minnesota. "Andrew had already tapered for two weeks prior to New York and mentally needed another week to refocus. He was pretty invested in that race."

Carlson, who debuted last year at the Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:11:24, opted for the Houston Marathon as his Plan B, 10 weeks after New York City. After a week of unspecified running, he hopped back on the marathon training cycle eight weeks out, putting in 100 to 120 miles per week. Training will be focused on how he feels rather than adhering to a strict schedule, which Barker feels will lessen the chances of overtraining.

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