60 days until the Chicago Marathon
A lump developed in my throat as I read this tweet. Woah, my race is coming fast. The last 12 months have been an absolute whirlwind of ups and downs for me from a running perspective. After coming back down from my highs - and lows - from Boston, I set my sights on running a half marathon PB, which I finally nailed in October in Vancouver (after a less than ideal race in Ottawa at the Army Run). Heading into the New Year, I was feeling stronger and more confident than ever. That was until I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, a nemesis that would keep me away from doing my favourite thing for 4 months.
And now here I am, in early August, in week 8 of my training program for the Chicago Marathon. I am marathon training. A few months ago, I would have given anything (well, almost anything) to be able to run for 10 minutes, let alone for 60+ kilometres in a week. I have come such a long way. 3 months ago, my weeks were filled with physio sessions, strength and mobility exercises, riding the bike for hours to keep from going crazy and wearing that stupid (but helpful) Strasbourg Sock to bed every night. Oh, and no running. My poor wife has probably never heard me complain so much.
But now I’m running. I’m training. I’m training for one of the biggest and best marathons in the world. I am doing what I love to do most in this world. And I couldn’t be happier about it. A few weeks back, I was beginning to ramp up my volume as I tentatively began my marathon training program. After a very successful, and most importantly pain free, 16km long run, I was ecstatic and declared that I was back. Back to running. Back to training. Back to my happy place.
Since then, my training has only gotten better. Longer. Faster. Stronger. Here’s a quick recap of where things are at, some new things I’ve been trying, and what lays ahead.
Hiking and Trail Runs
While I am training for a classic road race with a flat pavement course, it's always good to mix in some trail runs and hikes to keep the body guessing while building strength in other areas. During this last segment of training, we spent 9 days in Scotland on vacation where we found some epic hikes in Edinburgh and Loch Ness as well as an absolutely stunning and challenging trail run in Braemar, in the heart of Cairngorms National Park.
Once back from our Scotland trip, together with some friends we started "Hiking Mondays" in which we've committed to hitting up some of the hiking and running trail in Gatineau Park every Monday night in an effort to discover and take advantage of the incredible terrain and scenery right in our backyard.
Fast friends with fast feet
I’ve always been a solo runner. Aside from joining Katie occasionally on her training runs, I’ve never really enjoyed running with others. Running is my time. My time to think. To challenge myself. To disconnect from the rest of the world. After a brief stint of running with Coach Dave and his crew before I got hurt this past winter, I’ve been continuously curious about the notion of a run club. Then I came across the Ott City Run Club (OCRC), a laid back community-based group of 20 and 30 something year olds who meet every Tuesday near my place for evening runs.
After weeks of Katie encouraging me to go, I finally went and of course, I loved it. Noticing I was a new face in the crowd, I was quickly welcomed by a few of the organizers and other runners. And, since this is Ottawa, of course I knew a few familiar faces in the crowd, including my speedy buddy Scott. The runs typically range from about 5k to 12k with no set paces - people just take off in groups and you do your own thing. Everyone meets back in the park at the end of the run for some high fives, a group photo, and the occasional freezie on a hot day.
One of the things that kept me from running in a group for a long time was my undying need to go “run my own run”. I had a plan for a reason. I had set distances, paces and workouts that I needed to do each week. Running with others would mess up that plan. I’ve since learned that the benefits I get from running with the OCRC crew is that unpredictability. I still get my 3 core runs in a week - tempo, hills and long run - but save Tuesday nights as my wildcard night. I never really know what I’m going to get. Will it be 6k easy? 10k tempo? It’s kind of exciting. While OCRC is open to everyone of all abilities, there are some great runners in this group. Like some seriously fast guys and gals. I call them fast friends with fast feet. Running with a group like this pushes you. Pushes you to maybe run a bit faster, or to hold on for an extra kilometre. It pushes you to keep up with the fast guys and maybe even practice some race techniques, like drafting. Now, I wouldn't do this with every workout, but doing it once a week makes me a stronger, faster, better runner.
So thanks to Kayla and the good folks at OCRC for this incredible group. I look forward to it every week.
Tempo workouts are key to getting faster for longer periods of time. Tempos can be one of the hardest workouts for a runner as keeping a sustained fast pace can be challenging and uncomfortable. This past week, Dave had me running 12k with 3x10 minute tempo. That means that after a 10-15 minute light warm up I had to run at tempo pace for 10 straight minutes three times with 90 second breaks in between. 90 seconds. That is not a lot of recovery time before jumping back into a hard pace for 10 minutes. Your tempo pace is typically faster than your marathon race pace and your heart rate should be in mid zone 4. For me, my tempos should be under 4:00 - somewhere between 3:50 and 3:55 would be about right. And yes, the entire workout would be a total of 12k. No easy feat.
This particular workout fell later in the week for me after a few days of hard efforts. I was already tired and sore going in and I knew that I would have a hard time hitting those paces. Due to my hectic schedule, I was also forced to do this workout at 9PM. While there are some lights along the canal, there are some stretches that are almost completely dark which made this run that much more challenging for me. The workout was hard as expected, but I was proud of my ability to push through, run hard, and hang on to those faster paces, even thought I wasn’t able to hit the tempos I wanted. My three tempo interval paces were 4:09, 4:03, 4:02. Fast, but not fast enough. I need to get those tempos under 4 minutes. Next time.
The Long Run
The long run is the pinnacle of your training in a given week. It becomes a benchmark for where your fitness and endurance is at. Have a bad long run, and you will be in the dumps, your confidence shot. But have a strong long run and you’re beaming with pride and exuberance. So for, my long runs have been going very well. Coach Dave has me running them at a 4:30-4:40 pace, which is a good challenge, but quite attainable for me.
This past weekend my long run workout was a bit different. My plan had me running a 25km long run with the first ¾ at my regular long run pace (4:30-4:40) and the last ¼ at a faster pace, but slower than race pace (somewhere in the 4:20s). The purpose of this workout is to train the body to continue to run hard a strong when fatigued and to simulate the mental and physical strain in the last 10k of a marathon. I love a challenge like this.
The run went exactly as planned. After 19km (my first three quarters) my average pace was a 4:37 - right on target. Now it was time to turn up the speed a bit and fight through those tired legs for the final 6k of the hilly cottage roads. It was a struggle, but I did it and I finished really strong. Here were my final 6 kilometre splits:
20k - 4:29
21k - 4:22
22k - 4:21
23k - 4:19
24k - 4:12
25k - 4:14
This one felt great, another large confidence boost. As I wrapped up week 7 of my training, I also completed the largest volume training week so far - 62km of running, 40km of cycling, some strength workouts and volleyball. I’m feeling strong and confident now and am looking forward to week 8 - my rest week - before I begin to ramp things back up in week 9. I'm still hyper-aware of my foot and still feel some strain and tightness from time to time. My foam roller and I have never been better friends and I've been spending a few extra hours every week focused on mobility and recovery with increased stretching and yoga exercises. Remember, running isn't just about running. You need to take care of your body, before, during and after your workouts. This is a lesson that I've learned the hard way, and a mistake that I am determined to never make again.