marathon training

I haven’t written about my running in a while, and perhaps you consider that a good thing. In any case, I’m going to babble about it now.

I’ve run two marathons: Portland and Kansas City. Be aware that I use the word “run” generously here. I think I walked about a third of the Portland Marathon and about a quarter of the Kansas City Marathon. It was somewhere around mile 18 of the Kansas City Marathon, when my legs and hips were hurting, and I had run out of Advil, and I was all alone on the course, and I still had eight (point two) impossibly long miles to go, that I decided I would never run another marathon. Why was I doing this to myself? I would stick to half marathons and master those. (I’ve done eight so far.) A half marathon is a challenging, honorable distance. A sane person could make that his target distance, his specialty, and get respect.

When I crossed the finish line at Kansas City (shaving 25 minutes off my previous time, by the way), my legs and hips and knees hurting so badly that I didn’t think I could ever walk upright again, my vision so tightly focused that I felt I was in a tunnel, my brain in OMG-let’s-shut-this-jerk-down-immediately mode, my senses slowly doing the same, I realized that I would keep running full marathons. I’d just beaten Kansas City. I could do it again.

But I decided if I was going to keep doing this to my body, I should approach it more intelligently. I shouldn’t let myself get so beat up by them. I should make each one an improvement over the last. And so, at the turn of the year, I downloaded a marathon training plan and decided to give it a try. The app quickly invaded my calendar and laid out my daily run quotas for the next three months. (I’m signed up for the St. Louis Marathon in April. They tell me there is free beer at the end!) Now I get daily popups reminding me that I need to get running and telling me exactly how much.

This plan is based on time spent running rather than a goal distance to run. So on this last Sunday, for example, I was to run 65 minutes at an easy pace to warm up, followed by 20 minutes at race pace, and then 5 minutes at an easy pace to cool down. (That’s a really long warm up.) It didn’t matter how much distance I covered as long as I ran for the specified time. I’ve asked around and done a little online research, and this kind of time-based training plan is actually well regarded.

Unfortunately, because I am a slower runner, I really am not getting a lot of distance logged in a week. My “race pace” is probably an easy, cool-down pace for more experienced (talented) runners. Compounding this is the treadmill I use that is down in my basement. I am the third owner (at least). It’s an old machine, an off brand, a cut-rate, entry-level product, and it’s pretty beaten up. I am certain that it hasn’t been (or even can be) calibrated since it left the factory to record distance properly. For example, I know how far I can go if I run continuously outside for 65 minutes. I (and the satellites) have documented it a number of times. It’s a fairly consistent distance. When I finished that same time on my treadmill Sunday, the evil machine’s odometer reported about half that distance covered. (The longest run I’ve ever made on my treadmill was reported as 9 miles. If this calibration issue is real, then that may have been an 18 mile run!) There appears to be no way to calibrate this low-end machine, but that’s not really important since I am training for time rather than distance. The treadmill still allows me to keep throwing one foot in front of the other. Endlessly. And when I face that full marathon in April, I’ll already know the distance it covers. My challenge will be to withstand the time it takes me to do so. (I know it sounds touchy-feely, but I have found that running a marathon truly is a journey into myself. I get to see just how much is in me, how much I can call on myself, rely on myself, trust myself. It sounds hokey, I know, but I really do learn a lot about myself in those lonely, painful upper miles.)

I’ve been on this training plan for three weeks now. And the biggest surprise to me is that I’ve actually stuck to it! (I’ve only skipped one session, a twenty-minute easy-paced run in the first week, but GrandsonKenneth was visiting that evening, so I feel I had a good excuse.) I fully expected skeptical Paul to step in by now and assert that these things are a bunch of hooey. Yet there is something about having a written plan that makes me feel obligated to carry through with it. I discuss it with my wife, explaining what each day’s run will entail, as much to boost my own confidence as to give me one more person to hold me accountable. (Important to note: the plan does not call for running every day. Right now Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays are rest days. And runners are constantly chided to honor rest days. So I don’t have any complaint there.) Tuesdays and Thursdays call for easier runs. Wednesdays are more challenging with a mix of easy and race pace times during the run. And Sundays are the long-run days. Over these last three weeks, the duration of each of these sessions has gotten longer. When I first downloaded the app and scanned the requirements down the road, I knew I would be dropping out by about now. There was no way I was going to subject myself to what the app would be calling for over time. I was certain those distant three weeks ago that I couldn’t do what I was going to be called on to do. Yet without exception, I have done it. I’ve met the duration goals every time. Maybe there is something to these training plans.

Right now I’m stuck with running inside on the treadmill. The weather has been cold, the evenings dark, the roads and sidewalks just as often icy as not. Running for time is easy on a treadmill. The evil machine even has a timer on it (that I’ve confirmed is more or less accurate when compared to the timer on my phone). I can just keep going for the time required. Running outside will be different. If I were to run outside for today’s quota of time (45 minutes at an easy pace) I would feel frustrated because I know I would want to go farther (rather than merely longer). Running for distance is easier outside. And that may be how I finally abandon this training plan. Once the weather breaks, let’s say March will bring consistent outdoor running conditions, I will probably disdain the dreadmill in the dark basement and grab my miles outside. I will probably easily meet the time requirements of the training plan, but I’ll also probably go longer. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, especially since it will be closer to the actual marathon. I’ll want to build more miles in my base. And it may be that all of this indoor training will have helped me to do that.

Assuming I survive the St. Louis Marathon, I intend to find one to run in the fall. I’m in the lottery for the New York City Marathon, but I have no realistic expectation of getting in. I have found one in December though that looks especially appealing. It’s on a “pancake-flat course” on the island of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They start the run before dawn so runners don’t suffer too much from the heat (in December!). No doubt I’ll follow a training plan for whatever fall marathon I run. But I may go for a distance training plan then since I will have the opportunity to run outside. Stay tuned.

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One Comment on “marathon training”

  1. When I began running, it was for time, not miles. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and may go back to time this spring/ summer as I am supposed to be running longer. It seems to take some of the pressure off, knowing I don’t have to go fast or hit a certain mileage. I’ll be following along your journey. 🙂

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