So, you want to run a marathon!
Where to begin?
Well, I think step 1 is to begin with a plan! Ordinarily, I would say step 1 is to get get fit for your most important piece of equipment, a pair of shoes, by the best running specialty store in town, i.e. The Trak Shak, but I'm assuming if you're considering running a marathon, you're seasoned a bit and have already made this wise decision. (Note, I will obviously be talking about shoes in future installments of this marathon blog.)
So, back to The Plan! There are many, many things to consider when choosing a marathon training plan. You must consider your running background, your goals for this distance, your lifestyle, and the conditions under which you'll be training. There are also many, many generic and successful plans you can find by clicking on a link embedded in a marathon website. For instance, check out the Mercedes Marathon training program here! If your goal is to simply "GET TO THE FINISH LINE" follow this plan to a T, and it will get you there! There are also a multitude of other plans on major marathon websites that can help you achieve time goals and even get you to a Boston qualifier! My plan? Well, let's just say it was a bit more "fluid"!
It all started with a friend and fellow Trak Shak'er, Q, and me deciding to train for a marathon in 2014. We threw a couple of races around and came up with 7 Bridges in October. The decision was made about 22 weeks out from race day. Most training programs you see are around 20 weeks, thus my first snafu! Most of my training "blocks" in college were around 10 weeks! This meant 10 weeks of focus and very hard training centered around a goal race. TWENTY WEEKS sounds like an eternity! So, I did what I think all aspiring marathoners, half marathoners, 10K'ers, and 5K'ers should do, I USED MY RESOURCES! When you hear the term resources now-a-days, the first thought in everyone's mind is the internet, but when you live in such an awesome running community, like Birmingham, with magnificent coaches, an unbelievable track club, running Mecca like The Trak Shak, and dozens of accomplished marathoners running and training every day, you shouldn't surf any further. I am extra lucky to work in "Mecca" with college coaches, Boston qualifiers, everyday runners, and my old coach, who just so happens to be an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier! So, I asked the old coach, Scott, what do you think about me training for a marathon in October? His first response, "How many weeks?". When I say 22, he automatically, knowing all of the aforementioned criteria and most importantly, ME, says "It's too long." These simple words of advice meant so much for me and my plan!
OK! Finally! MY PLAN! Considering the factors I mentioned in the second paragraph. My running background: I ran in college, have run a bit since, have trained for and attempted one marathon, unsuccessfully, and have had a long laundry list of lower leg running injuries. My goals for the marathon: honestly, to finish! My lifestyle: I work full time, have a beautiful family, travel some, run regularly, and like beer. The conditions under which I would be training: A FREAKING, ALABAMA SUMMER!
The first 10 weeks were focused on two things, strength and consistency, AND there was no thought of the marathon. I wanted to keep my mileage around 40 miles per week, with one hard work out, mainly hills, and one long run no longer than an hour and twenty minutes. It seems pretty straight forward and maybe to a few, rather conservative. The main goal was to stay healthy! I basically committed to a 12 week marathon program!
The first 10 weeks, CHECK! Consistent and healthy! Now, down to the nitty-gritty! Two main focuses during this last 12 week block, the long run and the workout. Considering my struggles with the heat and humidity of the Summer, I decided to focus more on time with my long runs, rather than distance. I knew I was going to have to adjust my pace considering the humidity, so I didn't "sweat" the distance. If I was going for an hour and 40 minute run and only got in 12 miles, so be it! The long runs were to start at an hour and a half and increase by 10 minutes each week. That would have gotten me to a 3 hour long run, 3 weeks from the marathon. PERFECT! Or so I thought! About 7 weeks out, my wife and new head coach, said, you may want to think about picking it up a bit, and she was right! While focusing on time rather than distance helped me slow it down a bit, struggle through some soupy conditions and not force mileage, it was really holding me back from getting in those 18 & 20 milers that are necessary for the marathon. Luckily, the weather started to cooperate a bit and I was able to nail down two 18 milers, a 20 miler and a "sufferfest" of a 22 miler!
The one workout a week shifted from the early hill repeats to intervals. I knew I needed to do some longer intervals, and was really dreading it! Why? The first workout of cross country season, after returning from Summer break was MILE REPEATS! I dreaded that workout every year! The first was 4 x mile at 1 minute faster than easy run pace, so 6 minute pace. I nailed the first workout and that boosted by confidence! The next three weeks were 5 x mile, 6 x mile and 6 x mile. During the last workout, I tweaked my calf a bit, and knew from past bad experiences with calf issues, I had to change something. This is where age really helps! I actually listened to my body and shifted my workouts from repeats to more tempos. That next week I hit a 5 mile tempo at just over 6 minute pace, and what do ya know, no calf issues! The tempos increased to my final workout before the marathon, a 12 miler with 10 miles at just under race pace. Those 10 miles were all around 6:40's.
FINALLY! The taper! When I was younger, I hated the taper! You go from this intense routine of not missing runs or workouts, moving your schedule around to make sure you fit in your long run, trying to get in bed early, and focusing on hydration, to BACK OFF! BUT man I was craving the taper, and I took advantage. If the schedule said 8 miles, I did 5 or 6. My last "long run" was a 13 miler two weeks before and then after that, there wasn't a run longer than 6. I really felt fresh come race day.
Well, I may have gotten a bit long winded with this post! I think my reasoning and point of sharing this plan is to relay to our customers and followers, while you HAVE to have a plan, it's very important to listen to your body and adapt accordingly! If I would have followed a 20 week, intense workout plan, I would have ended up on the injured reserve, looking to do Rocket City in December! While my mileage wasn't really high, and my workouts weren't overly intense, I was very pleased to have reached my training goal, which was simply to make it through healthy, because what's the point if you can't make it to the start line?!!
OK! What's next? Another opportunity for me to get long winded!!! 22 weeks and over a dozen pairs of shoes to mention!! Stay tuned!