Countdown to Chicago

After an epic 36km long run last Friday, I was making the long drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake for my sister-in-law’s wedding when it hit me. Chicago was only one month away. It’s been this distant goal for so long now, yet all of a sudden it was around the corner. As I cruised down highway 403 I thought about how far I had come - from not being able to run at all 6 months ago, to now feeling fitter, stronger and faster than ever. Training has been going well - really well. Here’s what I’ve been up to and where I’m at.

New approach

Due to my injury earlier this year, I had to accept the fact that I would be entering a shorter training cycle for Chicago than I would have in the past - only 12 weeks compared to my regular 16. Despite this tighter window, Coach Dave reassured me that 12 weeks, while on the short side of things, was still plenty of time for a full marathon ramp up. This left me with a training plan that was far different that anything I had ever done before. Here were the main differences.

More mileage

The first thing I noticed about my plan was the significant increase in mileage. In past training cycles, I would typically run three, maybe four times a week. Typically my week revolved around 3 key workouts: 1) Hill training, 2) Speed workout (tempo, fartlek or intervals) and 3) Long run. Occasionally I would pepper in another short run and often include some sort of strength and/or cross training as well. My weekly mileage would hover around 50km a week, maxing out at about 65.

This time around I am running 5 or 6 days a week, while still doing strength and cross training a few days a week as well. My mileage quickly surpassed 70km a week and maxed out at 92km. Far more than I had ever done in the past.

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Fewer “long” runs

Despite more mileage, my plan called for fewer long runs. I still do a long run every weekend, but I’m talking about the really long runs - the 30+km ones. Given the tight schedule and heavy workload, Coach Dave only has me doing three 30+km long runs in my entire plan. For context, I did 6 in my lead up to Boston. From a cardiovascular perspective, there's not a lot of incremental benefit of runs longer than 32km, versus the much higher risk of injury. Basically, Dave doesn't want to overload me, especially given my injury history.

More rest & recovery

David has taught me not only how to train harder, but to also rest and recover properly. Those quality workouts will only do you good if you give your body a chance to recover properly from them. So with that, I’ve been way more diligent with my warm ups, cool downs, stretching, refuelling, foam rolling, massage therapy and, of course, sleeping. A good sleep is more valuable than a mediocre workout on tired legs.

Swapping hills for speed

Given that Chicago is a notoriously flat and fast course, we focused a bit on hill training early on to build some muscular strength, but then swapped them out for a series of harder speed and interval workouts to build muscular endurance. Now I’ve done speed and interval work before, but never like this. My coach has me doing 3 basic speed focused workouts:

  1. Goal pace runs (4:10-4:14) - Pretty simple. A short warm up and cool down with steady goal pace in the middle for anywhere from 8-12km. This not only helps me get comfortable with my race pace speed, but it teaches my body how to consistently hit those paces.

  2. Yasso 800s - This is a classic track workout that helps you work on your speed and recovery. Basically, after a 10-15 minute warm up I would run 5 x 800m intervals around a track at tempo (or slightly faster than tempo) pace with 800m of recovery in between. I’ve been completing those tempo 800s in about 2:45-2:55 minutes. With Yassos, you are training slightly above lactate threshold, which teaches your body tolerance to lactic acid and other metabolites that build up at higher-intensity. This is a useful and fun workout.

  3. Tempo intervals - these have been freaking intense! I’ve done tempo intervals in the past, but they would typically look like 6 x 800m with 400m rest or 4 x 1.6km with 800 rest. Instead of tracking my tempo intervals based on distance, Coach Dave has me doing them based on time. These workouts are all about going fast and hard, and holding the hell on. Here are the tempo workouts I’ve done so far:

    - 3 x 10 minute tempo, 90 second recovery
    - 4 x 9 minute tempo, 90 second recovery
    - 4 x 10 minute tempo, 90 second recovery
    - 5 x 9 minute tempo, 90 second recovery

    For these workouts, I’ve been trying to keep my tempo paces below 4:00/km. I’ve been pretty impressed with my ability to do so, and often hit them around 3:40-3:55. Let me tell you, running that fast for that long is hard. Really hard. Especially when you’re on your 4th or 5th interval. But pain is good. It teaches you how to push yourself and get through that temporary pain. It’s also made me stronger and faster, and I can already feel those benefits on my long runs and other workouts.

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Having fun with long runs

Typically, my long runs have always been about getting out there are going the distance at a long slow pace. Nothing much to it. Just chug along and get it done. Not only have my long run paces increased in this training cycle to about 4:20-4:35 (depending on the week), but the way I approach these workouts and how I execute them has changed too. For most of my long runs, I’ve been targeting a modest pace for the first three quarters (4:35) and focused on a “faster finish” - that is, completing the final quarter of the long run at an accelerated pace. This is meant to replicate the burn, pain and struggle that you’ll experience in the latter stages of a marathon.

On my most recent long run, I mixed things up even more. With 36km on the plan, I broke it down into three segments. Segment one was the first half marathon. My goal was to up my long run pace a bit closer to race pace and to complete the half marathon in just under 90 minutes, which I did almost perfectly (1:29:45). From there, the plan for segment two was to cool things off a but for the next 10-12km and work my legs into that classic steady long run pace of 4:30ish. Finally, segment three was all about replicating the burn of race day - what could I do on tired legs? Would I be able to push? Would I have any speed? Could I kick? It’s often been said that the real race in a marathon is during the final 10km. This is when the body typically starts to break down and many begin to hit the wall. Ideally, you’ve built up enough strength and endurance at this point of your training to avoid that wall and to actually race in that final stretch. With that said, segment three of my 36km long run was focused on just that. I decided to kick things up at kilometre 33 for the final 4km - and I did it. I ran them in 4:19, 4:08, 4:06 and 3:59. I can’t tell you how immense of a confidence boost it was to be able to hit those paces at that point of a long run. I’ll be thinking of this training run while I’m racing in Chicago for sure.

One month to go

With less than a month to go until race day, I gotta say I’m feeling pretty damn good. This training cycle has been like none other before it and I truly believe that it is setting me up to reach my goals. I’m experienced enough at this marathon thing now to not let my confidence and positivity to get the best of me. It has it’s place in marathon training, but I gotta keep my excitement in check and stay focused on the rest of my training and my upcoming race.

Army Run

As I enter my last 4 weeks of training before Chicago, I am prepping for my very first race of the year. Yup, we’re 9 months into 2017 and I haven’t raced yet. Crazy. This weekend, I will run the half marathon at Army Run, a fantastic race hosted right here in Ottawa. My coach made it very clear to me that this is not a true race for me, but rather a dress rehearsal for Chicago. The point of Sunday is not to go out guns a’ blazing and try to PB, but to to treat everything as a prep for Chicago race day. This is my chance to test my pre-race breakfast, my race clothing and shoes, the frequency of my gel intake and hydration, and maybe most importantly, my pacing. The goal is to finish in the 88th minute, clocking in at 1:28:something. That would be exactly what I’ll want to do in the first half in Chicago.

I’ll be checking back in next week post Army Run. Best of luck to everyone else who is running this weekend! I hope you all reach your goals.