My season had been off to a great start, even back in the fall during base training I could tell I was a lot stronger than in the past. I decided to make a few key changes, which I think, all attributed to my huge PB.
1st change was I began taking an iron supplement. My iron levels have always been borderline-good which honestly doesn’t really cut it for an elite female distance athlete. Why had I always resisted taking a supplement, well that’s any easy 5-letter answer USADA (United States Anti Doping Agency). Quite frankly from the age of 16 for my first international trip as a youth athlete they scared me. You see as an elite athlete we demand a level playing field and therefore pledge to compete clean. However pledging isn’t good enough so we are also routinely tested both in and out of competition. And the rule goes you are responsible for everything you take; therefore since supplements aren’t FDA regulated it’s considered take at your own risk. So for me it was easier to take nothing at all rather than worry something might be tainted. You could say I was slightly paranoid. However this past year after having my blood tested several times and each time a USOC physician recommend iron supplementation I finally gave in and started taking iron pills once daily. As a scientist I definitely know the difference between correlation and causation. So while I cannot firmly say taking an iron supplement alone can be credited with this seasons success I firmly believe it has contributed.
My next major change was I decided it was time to lift weights again. The reason I hadn’t been doing this all along was because A) it was hard to find the time with my hectic schedule, and B) I have very bad proprio-perception and awareness of my body and I tend to compensate when lifting, essentially cheating without meaning to. Therefore to ensure I am lifting both safely and effectively I need a trainer. Luckily my college trainer has kept in touch with me over the years and is one of the kindest most helpful people who will really go out of his way to help others. I asked him if he would agree to train me once a week after working with his other NYC clients and he readily agreed. Now mind you he lives on Long Island and gets paid very well from his clients, way better than I can afford on a graduate student stipend. But luckily for me I get off with just buying him dinner. I don’t think I have the same routine any two days with Court. He literally makes some of the exercises up on the go. And trust me he can find a way to make any exercise equipment 10x harder than originally intended. But the best part is almost every exercise is total body. This has really made my core a lot stronger; because he always makes sure it is engaged. I definitely feel that lifting has made my body able to bounce back from hard workouts faster. I also think it has helped to keep me injury free (knock on wood please!) as I am more well balanced and am more symmetrical in my strength. I cannot thank Court enough for all the time he has put in which has translated into valuable seconds off my time!
My next major change, which is probably dependent on the previous two, is that my mileage has been much more consistently higher. There is a big difference in the consistency of my mileage day-to-day as well as week-to-week, which adds up to a lot more total mileage each month. It started in base season and has built steadily each month. I am already 299km more this year compared to last year at this time (Jan-Mar), which is almost an entire month extra of training from last year.
My last major change has been the intensity of my workouts. Now I’m not going to lie my workout times still do not equate to my race performances. I guess I am a gamer, or thrive off of a taper, or maybe my training conditions are really a lot less ideal than most of my competitors; or maybe its some combination of the three!
How have I been able to increase my workout intensity, well the easiest way has been having someone to train with me for key hard workouts. Joey has really stepped it up and juggled his schedule around as much as possible to help me when needed as much as possible. It’s as simple as when I have 5, 4, 3, 2, 1k we wake up early get to the school 45min before the girls start so I can warm up and get through the first 5k with him. Then it’s on my own for 4k and most of the 3k before I am lucky to have key Group B and Group C girls jump in on warmup/cooldowns or in between their own workout sets and stations and join me for a lap or two on the track.
It was this very workout when the group C girls helped me with 3 of 7.5 laps of the 3k. I was joking with them saying that I need to get the American Record soon otherwise the records won’t say Maria Michta they’ll be Maria Coffey. At that moment I said I should get my name changed to Maria Michta-Coffey-O’hehir-Hempf-Cheeks-Allen-Silv-DePinto-etc –etc (please don’t feel bad if I didn’t list your name and you were there or have helped on countless other laps in the past!). How cool of a record would it be if my name took up an entire page in a record book? But honestly that’s what it would take an entire page or two of names because that’s how much help I have been blessed to get over the years from my Sachem Family. And it really is my entire Sachem family from the girls back in 2011-2012, to those who already graduated like Keira and Kelly but agree to come out when I ask now to run entire key workouts alongside me! You girls have all really helped me step up my intensity and I am so grateful!
The other way I have stepped up my intensity is I have started demanding more from myself at practice. I know that Tim often must shake his head after I report back a workout that I am happy about, one in which I am training at 10-12sec/ km slower than I race. I have decided that this is unacceptable and have really tried to close the gap between the times I hit in training and those in racing. With that being said I had a kind of “gold medal workout” just a few weeks ago. Which despite the way the name sounds is actually a bad thing. It is the title Tim reserves for workouts that he thinks you went too hard in and depleted rather than built up your engine. Just over two weeks out before World Cup Trials I had once again gotten sick. I was so rundown and congested when I went to bed Thursday night I debated texting my friend Andy and canceling my workout the next morning. However, I don’t always get the luxury of Andy’s pacing in workouts and decided to just see how it would go. Of course I woke up that morning more stuffed up than ever but at least I was less achy feeling. I decided to suck it up and go out there in the 20-degree weather and train. I was also already preparing the excuse in my head to Tim about why my times would be so slow. And then it happened I said “and go” clicked my watch and away we went. 3x 4k (2k out and 2k back course in central park, rather challenging in terms of hills) with 2 min rest. I look at my watch every 500m or so and when we hit the first 500 I couldn’t believe thinking to myself I must have looked too early or something, then with the snow still on the sides my 1k mark was unknown, but by 1500m I had a clear mark to spot and my watch showed I was flying. By the time I finished the first 4k I was in utter shock. I was glad Andy was there if for nothing other than to tell me that I had in fact started and turned around at the correct marks. He asked what our split was and I told him 18:35 over a min faster than the week before when we did 3x4k/1k. He said, “ok now we’ll just have to do that two more times!” And of course we didn’t do that two more times, but to my surprise once again it was because we were faster in 18:16 and 18:25! I told him not only had I never gone that fast on my central park hilly course, I had never gone that fast period, it was so fast that my second one was solidly under American Record pace!
I guess it really wasn’t a gold medal workout after all. Because, yes while my intensity had definitely picked up, it would still be slower than the pace I would end up racing at. I would have needed to be 18:14, 18:14, 18:14 to hit my actually race pace!