Training Journal: March 14-March 20

Respect the cut back week

This was a week for stepping back. My long run shortened up a bit. I ran fewer hills. My race pace run added another mile at race pace but the overall volume did not change. I even cut back on a recovery run day, opting to give my feet a break.

These are the weeks I was never good at when I first set out to run. I wanted to go 100 miles an hour every week and struggled with staying healthy and motivated. Slowly, and painfully, I have come to realize that progressing as a runner isn’t about going full out every run every week but saving yourself for the key workouts that really matter. So I stepped back this week, from mileage in the high 30’s to back in the low 30’s because next week’s training ramps up as the push to get to Peak Week begins in earnest.

Preparing for what is ahead

The next few weeks are some of the most anticipated weeks of training I will be tackling since I started running. I will be tackling weekly mileage that I have only attempted two or three times in the five years I have run. Next week begins a string of long runs that will be the farthest I have ever traveled. It is as if I am crossing over a threshold from being a half marathoner to a full on marathon runner.

I am venturing into the unknown where I do not know what to expect or how I will handle the strain. I am looking forward to seeing how I hold up to the pounding my legs are going to soon be taking.

I follow several runners on Twitter and one of them (for the life of me, I cannot remember which) posted the following quote, which sums up how I am feeling heading into the last eight weeks of training:

“When you’re a competitive runner in training you are constantly in a process of ascending…. It’s not something that most human beings would give a moment of consideration to, that it is actually possible to be living for years in a state of constant betterment. To consider that you are better today than you were yesterday or a year ago, and that you will be better still tomorrow or next week or at tournament time your senior year. That if you’re doing it right you are an organism constantly evolving toward some agreed-upon approximation of excellence. Wouldn’t that at least be one definition of a spiritual state?”

-From Again to Carthage, by John L. Parker, Jr.

The journey to May 15th continues…


Weekly mileage: 33 miles

Yearly mileage: 302.1 miles


Training Journal: March 7-March 13

Simulate Your Race

A nearby resident enjoying the unseasonably warm day would have heard a crazy man shouting. “COME ON! IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?!?!?!?!” That resident then would have seen a runner, haggard, his hair a windblown mess, trudging up the steep slope of a hill.

That runner was me. Yes I was shouting, not at anyone running with me, but at myself. No, I’m not crazy. Or too crazy, that is. But at the end of a punishing 16-mile run that I designed to conclude with a four-mile climb, my legs and lungs were rebelling and I had decided I needed a little vocal encouragement to finish my task.

Any quality run offers the opportunity to simulate an element of your race. While the course for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon is relatively flat, it does feature several hills, including a brutal final climb during the last two miles of the race.

To simulate making a lengthy climb while tired I planned my 16-mile long run as an out and back run, going downhill over the first four miles or so, traveling the next eight miles (including a turnaround) on flatter ground, then finally enduring a tiring four-mile climb to finish up the run. The climb is an exaggeration of what I will be tackling in May, but completing it built confidence in my fitness and in my ability to maintain a steady pace while battling the fatigue that comes at the end of a challenging run.

But Don’t Overdo

Adding in the climb was a great challenge at the end of the long run, and I may have overdone a bit. Shorter hill runs have been a staple of the base-building phase of my training and two days after my long run (with the end of run climb being an adjustment I added in) I was scheduled to run eight miles on a hilly course. My legs did not feel ready. With each step my calves felt like they were enduring the concussive blasts from fireworks. Step. Boom. Step. Pow. Step. Crackle. I probably should have just run a flat eight mile run. I did not, not wanting to stray from the plan (counterintuitive since my adjustment to my long run had already led me to stray from it).

I completed the run, but my legs felt flayed. I dealt with little aches and pains, especially in my calves, all the way through the weekend. It was a none too subtle reminder that training walks you along a rather thin line between being too easy and being too punishing. Drop a couple of challenging runs and you will not progress much. Add too many in and you will increase your injury risk. I will be smarter with the little tweaks I make in the coming weeks.

Work Down To Your Goal Pace

Like most runners I am obsessive, especially about hitting my splits. I have always struggled the most to hit my goal times during tempo runs. Yet, in the past, I have been unwilling to yield any ground. If a workout calls for five miles at tempo pace, I want to hit that pace for every mile.

The only problem is that I have a proven track record of getting stronger as I run. When I have expelled too much energy early on trying to hit my tempo splits, my tempo runs usually end up looking something like this sample eight-mile run (with five miles planned at tempo pace):

Miles 1 and 2 (warm up miles): 18:00

Mile 3: 6:40 (target half marathon pace)

Mile 4: 6:40

Mile 5: 6:45

Mile 6: 7:15

Mile 7: Death, I mean, 8:30

Mile 8 (cool down mile): 9:30

The end result is a workout that 1) doesn’t mirror my race strategy of easing into a race pace, 2) doesn’t play to my strengths and 3) results in me running fewer miles at my planned pace.

This cycle I have worked conscientiously to dial back the early speed and ease into my tempo runs. The results thus far have been promising. My tempo run last Saturday was a planned seven mile run with three miles at marathon pace (6:55). It looked like this:

Miles 1 and 2 (warm up miles): 18:30

Mile 3: 7:05

Mile 4: 6:55

Mile 5: 6:46

Miles 6 and 7 (cool down miles) 19:00

This is running that resembles me at my best. I completed all three miles at a hard pace, averaged my marathon pace over the length of the tempo miles, and found it easier drop down to my target time (and then beyond it) rather than expending energy trying to capture that goal pace immediately.

Enjoy the Elements:

Every now and then Mother Nature offers an early reprieve from the deep freeze of winter in Cleveland.

Every now and then it is possible to get in eight miles without three layers of clothing.

Every now and then.

Last week brought an unexpected warm spell to Cleveland, with temperatures reaching into the high 60’s. This was a wonderful time to shed the layers (and layers and layers) needed to keep warm during brutally cold Northeast Ohio winter days and enjoy a few days of running in shorts and short sleeves.

Race training can be a grind. Every now and then, it’s nice to grind it out with a soft breeze and the sun on your face in March.

Every now and then.


Weekly mileage: 39 miles

Yearly mileage: 269.1 miles

Training Journal: February 29-March 6


Three weeks into the basebuilding phase of my marathon training pain that had been building in my right second toe became unbearable. Aches and pains are a part of running. This was something more serious; pain that made walking almost unbearable. I had been altering my training for several weeks, running well below what I wanted to run and what I felt would prepare me to have any sort of success in my May marathon.So I made the decision every runner dreads: to stop running. I took 12 days off. Better to heal up (I hoped) and re-start healthy than keep limping along. The approach worked and with a few tweaks to my running schedule, I am back on track for May.

The end of the nine-day training block…for now

Last month I raved about the virtues of a nine-day training block, where add in more easy miles and recovery days into the typical seven-day training schedule. Last fall this allowed me to build fitness more gradually and without injuries. I credit my big PR in my fall half marathon last year to this adaptation and had built my spring marathon plan to accommodate the same schedule. With my injury forcing me to drop mileage for several weeks and then requiring me to take 12 days off, I was well behind, maybe even impossibly behind, in my program to continue it as written and still have a chance to meet my goals for my May race.

Looking at the seven-day plan my training plan was based on, I decided to re-adopt a seven-day training block, at least for this spring, in an attempt to build enough fitness to not just finish my first marathon but attempt to tackle more audacious goal I still hope to chase.

Adapting your training mid-plan is not a dangerous thing to do if done right. Running coach Brad Hudson strongly advocates adapting your training from your pre-constructed plan in response to several factors that change during training and it makes a good deal of sense. Injuries, sickness, poor responses to planned runs, an inability to meet time goals all may indicate a need to alter even the most carefully constructed training plan.

The reason I felt I could make the change back to a seven-day training block was because the program I was following was light on hard workouts during the basebuilding phase of training, those early weeks of training when you are focused on building the endurance and strength to handle the tougher workouts that come later. During half marathon training the plan I followed included three hard quality workouts each week. Even with a high level of fitness I found this wore me out in the early segments of training. My marathon program, on the other hand, only has two such workouts during the first seven weeks before it ramps it up to three a week. Having lost nearly a month of quality training to my injury, I felt I could recover enough mileage to adequately build my base fitness before tackling three harder workouts a week. So far that thinking has proven correct: in four weeks I have run 25, 27, 31, and now 35 miles and felt stronger each week doing so.

Hitting the wall

Training for a race needs to include experimenting with how you will fuel, a reality that smacked me over the head last week. Typically I can go about 10 miles during a long run before I need to fuel up with a gel. I have, in fact, run a full 13 miles without needing to fuel. During long runs I typically take a gel about 7-8 miles in. During my 14-mile run on Thursday I took my GU hit right around 7.5 miles into my run and kept on moving. At Mile 13 I started to feel all the signs of plummeting blood sugar. The last mile was a horrible shuffle with me constantly telling myself to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. I finished, but it was not pretty.

I cannot figure out why I experienced the drop in blood sugar. I ate a decent breakfast then fueled up mid-run like I always do. The lesson, though, is valuable. I have been wondering how my body will respond in the coming weeks as my long run mileage ramps up from 14 miles to 16 then 18 then 20. It seems I may need to consider taking a gel every six or seven miles rather than waiting longer. I have to remember that my old stopping point, 13.1 miles, will only be the halfway point in May. It is no longer enough to be able to keep pushing at the 13.1 mile mark. I have to work on keeping myself running strong for the second half of the race to come.

Building Strength

An important goal I wanted to implement for 2016 was following a structured strength program. The temporary move back to a seven-day training block has helped me implement one. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, which feature harder runs, I run in the morning and then, in the evening, follow a strength plan outlined in Quick Strength for Runners. The plan is progressive, focusing first on building core strength and balance and then adding in exercises to strengthen your legs and upper body. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays I add more core work, body-weight exercises to build upper body strength, and work my hip flexors which have been a problem area for me in the past. Before every run I do several glute exercises to activiate those muscles (another problem area for me in the past and a concern for anyone who sits too long during the day) and follow every run with more glute exercises to improve overall glute strength. I credit this consistency with strength training with helping me come back quickly from my toe injury and handling the increasing mileage without any injury hiccups.

It’s a process, and sometimes it hurts

My last quality workout of the week was a six-mile run that included three miles at race pace. Nothing I haven’t tackled before. When I ran the workout on Saturday though, my legs felt sluggish, my muslces tight. It was simply one of those workouts where I wasn’t going to feel good.

I used to long for the workouts where I felt free and easy and the miles just melted away with seemingly little effort. I have come to recognize that these workouts are few and far between and, though memorable when they happen, not the end all be all of training. The longer I run, the more my body just accepts that this time on the road is just another day at the office and we will get through the workout.

I used to think I was doing something wrong if my workouts didn’t have that free and easy feeling. Then I read a quote that changed my perspective on racing and training. The essence of the quote was that it is important not to wish that every run or race will be painless, but rather to embrace the idea that with running pain and difficulty are going to be a part of the game. Satruday was just one of those runs. I got through it. The race pace miles were logged, another successful day at the office. On to next week.