Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Training leading up to my best marathon

In June of 2013, I accomplished my life-long goal of breaking 2:40 for a full marathon by running 2:39:08 at Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. In the interest of helping others to further their goals, I have decided to share my training in the weeks preceding this race. The reason is two-fold. One, it might give one of you some ideas on how to structure your marathon training plan, and two, it shows that even a less-than-stellar training cycle can still result in a good performance.

The prior fall, I had attempted to break 2:40 at the Philadelphia Marathon, where I failed by 59 seconds. This chart starts the week immediately following. My plan was as follows:

Spend two weeks doing low mileage to recover from Philadelphia, then gradually increase the miles and long runs until the end of February, where I ran the New Orleans Marathon as a long run. After that, I had a steady diet of long runs, tempo runs, and interval workouts, with some other races sprinkled in.

This all went to plan, and I even felt good enough at New Orleans to dip under 3 hours without feeling too taxed. However, in the middle of April, I nailed a tough 4x 2 mile at Tempo workout, and then immediately felt extremely fatigued and worn down. I struggled for the next three weeks, feeling awful and unable to run faster than 6:30 pace, even during races. Then my doctor gave me some antibiotics, and I felt back to normal within days. Still, I missed three solid weeks of training, and was very nervous about how Grandma's would go.

As you can see, after my illness, I jumped back into workouts pretty quickly as I still had a lot of residual fitness, and I really concentrated on doing longer, Tempo-pace intervals to get a lot of volume without a ton of stress. I also made sure that all of my long runs had some Marathon Pace work in them, to get my body used to running that pace, especially when tired.

Despite hitting some good workouts in the 5 weeks preceding the race, I was still nervous. My hamstrings became extremely tight, to the point that I even skipped my final workout and was worried that I might have to DNF at Grandma's. Luckily, they loosened up in the final days and I was able to execute my race plan perfectly to run a nearly two-minute PR and average 6:05 per mile. Without further adieu, here you go!

Week Total Mileage Workout #1 Workout #2 Workout #3 Notes
11/19/2012 - 11/25/2012 10.2 Recovery from Philadelphia - 2:40:58
11/26/2012 - 12/2/2012 31.6
12/3/2012 - 12/9/2012 50.6
12/10/2012 - 12/16/2012 54.3
12/17/2012 - 12/23/2012 53.2
12/24/2012 - 12/30/2012 43.4
12/31/2012 - 1/6/2013 57.5 17 mi @ 7:30
1/7/2013 - 1/13/2013 69.2 Freezeroo 10K - 35:54 15 mi @ 7:23
1/14/2013 - 1/20/2013 74 18 mi @ 6:56
1/21/2013 - 1/27/2013 76.4 Freezeroo 10k-ish - 37:49 10 mi @ 8:03
1/28/2013 - 2/3/2013 79.3 18 mi @ 6:47
2/4/2013 - 2/10/2013 69.9 21 mi @ 7:04
2/11/2013 - 2/17/2013 76.7 4 mi @ Tempo (6:07) 18.2 mi @ 7:08
2/18/2013 - 2/24/2013 68.8 New Orleans Marathon - 2:59:38
2/25/2013 - 3/3/2013 43.5 cruise
3/4/2013 - 3/10/2013 73.3 7x hill repeats 20.2 mi @ 7:20
3/11/2013 - 3/17/2013 80.4 Johnny's Running o' the Green - 27:17 15.7 mi @ 7:28 1 second away from my PR
3/18/2013 - 3/24/2013 80.7 4 mi @ Tempo (5:46) 20.4 mi w 6 mi @ Marathon Pace (6:00)
3/25/2013 - 3/31/2013 63.6 8x 1000m @ Interval (5:18) Spring Forward 15K - 55:50
4/1/2013 - 4/7/2013 90.4 2x 4 mi @ Tempo (5:53) ROC City Classic 10,000m - 34:21 20 mi @ 7:17 10K PR
4/8/2013 - 4/14/2013 86.7 1-2-3-2-1-2 fartlek 20 mi w 6 @ 5:56
4/15/2013 - 4/21/2013 62.7 4x 2 mi @ Tempo (5:40) Seneca 7 relay sick
4/22/2013 - 4/28/2013 56.7 Flower City Half - 1:21:57 sick
4/29/2013 - 5/5/2013 19 sick
5/6/2013 - 5/12/2013 62.4 15.2 @ 6:53
5/13/2013 - 5/19/2013 70.2 3x 2 mi @ Tempo (5:54) 19.7 mi @ 6:58
5/20/2013 - 5/26/2013 76.7 6x 1000m @ Interval (5:22) 20 mi w 2x 5 mi @ Marathon Pace (6:00)
5/27/2013 - 6/2/2013 72.9 2x 3 mi @ Tempo (5:43) 22 mi @ 7:14, last 4 @ 6:30
6/3/2013 - 6/9/2013 75.6 2x 4 mi @ Tempo (5:47) 18 mi w 4 mi @ Marathon Pace (6:03)
6/10/2013 - 6/16/2013 57.2 4x mi @ 10K (5:31) 15 mi w 4 mi @ Marathon Pace (6:00)
6/17/2013 - 6/23/2013 45.2 Grandma's Marathon - 2:39:08

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Training for a marathon is hard, but it doesn't have to be complicated

I've been following the exploits of the Northern Arizona Elite group for a while, ever since runner/writer Matt Fitzgerald joined them as a "celebrity" member in his quest to break 2:40 at the Chicago Marathon. One of the things I really respect about the group, and coach Ben Rosario, is that they share everything. There are no secrets within their group (at least about their training). You can see every run that a NAZ Elite runner did leading up to their races on their Final Surge site. (That is actually how I found out about Final Surge and decided to use it as my coaching platform).

NAZ Elite has produced a bunch of truly solid performances over the past few years. They don't have any athletes that can challenge Galen Rupp or Shalane Flanagan, but their runners post consistently good times: they had two women in the top 10 at NYC this year, and four men run 2:13 or faster. So I took a deeper dive and looked at what Ben had them doing before their races. There was the usual steady diet of doubles, long runs, and 100 mile weeks, but what surprised me was that there were very few crazy difficult workouts. In fact, I only found two workouts that looked intimidating, and they were very similar: a 3 mile tempo, some repeats totaling 3-5 miles, and another 3 mile tempo. Scaling that down to my ability level, that would be equivalent of me doing a 2 mile tempo, 2-3 miles of repeats, and another 2 mile tempo. Difficult, but not nearly as difficult as some workouts I have done. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Ryan!)

In addition, famed coach Renato Canova, who has coached many of the best marathoners in history, has a surprisingly simple philosophy as well. Basically, he believes in mimicking the stress of a marathon by running long and fast. This means doing a long run close to marathon pace, rather than just slogging along for a "Long Slow Distance" run. This is very challenging, but not complicated; in order to run fast, you must run fast. In addition, his runners do a lot of fartleks and long intervals, much like you would see in almost any training plan.

So what is the difference between the training of a successful marathoner versus one who struggles to meet their potential? My argument would be that unsuccessful marathoners typically overthink and undertrain. It's easy to think you are training hard because you are running almost every day, but if you're not doing lots of work at marathon pace or faster, you're not getting a true marathon-specific stimulus. Likewise, mileage is crucial to marathon success; more is almost always better. Furthermore, people are always looking for the newest secret workout, when it is apparent there is no secret. The trick to running a good marathon is to run a lot, and run hard. Sounds simple, but is very hard to do.

Friday, November 24, 2017

My Tenets of Running

As a follow-up to my last post, I have also been thinking about how to distill my training philosophy into a simple, enumerated list. Obviously, something as amorphous and malleable as a methodology does not lend itself to bullet items very easily, but here's my best shot:

1) Every mile counts. I have heard lots of people say "you need to run for at least x amount of minutes to reap any benefits." Sometimes x is 20, other times it's 30. It may be true that you achieve full benefit after so many minutes, but a mile is still a mile. If you only have time to run one mile, get out there and do it! 10 minutes of running are better than 0 minutes of running. And generally speaking, the more miles you run, the more fit you will be.

2) Some miles count more than others. If you were to take two runners with equal 5K times, and have them both run 50 miles per week, but tell one to only run easy, and the other to do a threshold run and an interval workout each week, who do you think will improve more? Yes, I am a big proponent of increasing mileage, but not at the expense of quality. Optimal training is derived when you find the right balance of quality and quantity, which is different for every person.

3) There is no magic workout or training. Just because some runner did 20x 400m before every big race doesn't mean there is anything special about it. Every successful runner has one thing in common: they worked hard for many years to get where they were. Consistency matters much more than any individual workout. It is much better to run 40 miles per week for 6 months than to try to run 60, get injured, and not be able to run for 6 weeks.

4) No one workout ever made a runner, but one workout can break a runner. If you're feeling achy or sore, skip or truncate your workout. It's not worth getting injured for a minuscule increase in fitness. Going back to number 3, staying healthy for a long time is the "secret" to success.

5) If you have the opportunity to run a hill, do it. Hills are probably my favorite training tool. Even if you're not charging up them repeatedly, running uphill builds strength and aerobic capacity. Runners who train on hills regularly are almost always fitter than their flat-lander associates.

6) Expensive gear doesn't make you a better runner. This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of cycling. A biker can improve their times by a very large margin by simply buying a better bike. But even the most expensive shoes (contrary to Nike's claims) won't turn a 3:30 marathoner into a 2:45 runner.

7) Effort matters more than pace. Per my last post, the point of a workout is to elicit a particular physiological stress, not to beat your paces from your last race or workout. On that note, going by effort level ensures a better response than trying to hit a pace that may or may not be feasible on that day.

8) Preventative Maintenance is better than rehab. Few runners enjoy going to the weight room or doing supplemental exercises. So we wait until we get injured and only then do we start doing the required work to fix the issue that caused the injury... Until we are healthy again and forgo the strength training to just run. But look at it this way: if you dedicate 30 minutes three times a week to working on exercises to fix your weaknesses, isn't that better than taking two to eight weeks off from running because you got injured? Work on your strength, flexibility, and muscle imbalances. It's better than being injured.

9) Don't neglect your speed. Even during base or marathon training cycles, don't completely ignore speedwork. I am a big fan of doing strides of 20-30 seconds at 800m to 5K pace a few times a week. This keeps you in touch with your speed so you don't completely lose it during the times when you are focused more on mileage and endurance.

10) Recovery is just as important as the workout. After a workout, your body needs time to recover and rebuild in order to get fitter. This means that if you are not recovering properly, you won't be improving as much. Run your easy runs slow so that you're not preventing your body from recovering. Take an extra day off if you feel you need it. Doing more workouts or running faster on your easy days is counterproductive and will lead you to injury, not success.

There. I guess that about sums it up. Does anybody have any tidbits of wisdom they live by when it comes to training?