It’s all over but the marathon

I wanted to write this before I ran so, regardless of how the day goes, the training will be documented from my pre-race perspective. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the marathon. Beginning with the 1998 Vancouver Marathon, I ran at least two a year for a few years and had results that made me very happy and … not so much – everything from 3:06 to 3:41. My frequency dwindled starting around 2005 and I only ran three more, the final being the 2009 Boston Marathon.

While there were other life issues mitigating my time for training, I’d developed very problematic calf muscles that had the habit of locking in the late stages of the distance. This happened in all three of my last races, but since I managed to squeak another Boston qualifier (after not doing so a couple times) at the 2007 California International Marathon, I figured I’d better use it, lest I not run the distance much any more, nor qualify again if I did. Adding to the calf woes, in no particular order, over the past few years I’ve also had neuromas in my left foot, wonky left adductor muscles causing multiple low grade groin pulls and sports hernia surgery.

After I decided to hang up the 42.2km shoes, I still kept running and doing a variety of shorter and middle distances, including some trail races and a season of multi-sport. All through this time, I was also an avid ultimate player and have cycled a fair bit in the past few years. In other words, I’ve hardly been inactive. But having my last three marathons all end in a way with which I wasn’t happy, has never sat well with me. A return was always sitting in the back of my mind and eating at my grey matter.

Taking the plunge

When I saw a call for participants for a Fortius Centre injury prevention run study last fall, I thought, “Why not?” I got in and began their 16 week training program the week of January 10th. I was already a patient/customer, as my physio works at Fortius and I’ve had some massage therapy there as well.

For this study you could commit to either the full or half. As I generally keep my running at a level where I could do a half at pretty much any time, and I’ve been carrying unsatisfactory marathon finish baggage around, it only felt right to commit to the full. Plus, being seven years removed from Boston, I was really interested to see how my now 51 year old legs would hold up to the training and the race.

Finally, all study participants received a Garmin 225 GPS watch, a free V02Max test, a free biometric gait analysis (I paid for one a couple years ago and found it really useful) and a semi-customized training plan. So, probably $700-800 worth of goodies in exchange for agreeing to record some data daily (sleep, voided morning weight and daily activity) and attending a weekly coached track session. We also got a Nike Fuel Band, as it would seem they wanted data to improve the product. I’ll just say they have a long way to go.

Goals and training approach

I went into this with pragmatic goals. My M50-54 Boston standard is now 3:30 (likely minus a couple minutes for cutoff), and as I’ve only ever finished slower than 3:20 twice (Seattle ’06 and Boston ’09), I’d really just like to be under 3:30. It’s not a hard goal and I won’t be shattered if I don’t meet it (depending, of course, on how I don’t meet it). Allowing for age and fading experience with the distance, if I have a good day, a sub-3:30 seems doable. I’ll say in the early part of this post that training went quite well, too, but more on that a little later.

I used to attend group Sunday and Wednesday training runs religiously, but as my distance running subsided and various other activity and life issues happened, I’ve become accustomed to solo training most of the time. I purposely did my long runs solo for this as I wanted to really focus on hitting the time from my plan and a fairly specific pace. I must say, though, that I really enjoyed the group track sessions, always consisting of a range-of-motion warm-up, short drills, the interval workout and a very short strength session. If my return to distance running sticks after this, I might just have to start running with people more regularly again.

It was quite easy to plan pacing for all runs with the plan, as we were given charts with virtually all long, tempo, threshold and various interval times, broken down based on our mile time trials. We did one every two weeks and adjusted our training paces accordingly. There were three required runs per week, with the 16-week plan broken down into pretty typical training phases. We could either do short easy runs or cross-training 2-3 times a week, as well.

I’ll just give a little (well, maybe big) shout out here to Curb Ivanic, Fortius strength and conditioning coach. Experienced, supportive and a real pleasure to be around, but mostly, the author of a really solid plan that, in no small part, is likely why my training went so well.

Doing the work

As I said, the program began in the second week of January. I’d actually been running about 30-35k a week and staying healthy for quite a few months, the last injury being some kind of indeterminant knee strain in summer 2015. However, right around Christmas I had a minor calf/achilles strain (truly my Achilles heal at times) and was worrying about entering the program already carrying a tweak. Happily, it began to ease up a lot within a week or so and, by taking a couple of the early track workouts easy and keeping my other runs mellow, it was completely gone by the end of the second week of the study. Aside from a little ongoing QL muscle tightness and lingering knee stuff from last summer (both of which haven’t impeded my running, just been there), I’ve been injury-free throughout.

While I did add a fourth run several times, I consciously chose to stick with three workout runs a week, but typically paced them a little faster than the plan and pretty much always maxxed out the time range for any given run. In general I used cycling on my cross-training/easy optional run days. There were a few Saturday road rides on the nice spring days, but mostly I used TrainerRoad virtual power workouts in my basement, so I could control the intensity and duration. Cycling is always a good form of cross-training for running, as it helps correct imbalances by working different muscles, and you can do a pretty hard aerobic workout without the pounding your joints take from additional running.

If I was going to credit anything other than Curb’s training plan for a healthy 16 weeks, it would be regular sweet spot (threshold) riding on the trainer and very regularly doing a short core/strength session after virtually every run. Not only did it build slowly and very continually, but I really liked that there weren’t big dips in mileage for recovery weeks. I also found a two week taper much more to my liking than three. We’ll see how doing 36k two weeks before the marathon works out, but the body feels pretty good with about 16 hours until race time.

There’s nothing remarkable about how any of the training went for me; all pretty much to plan and I really didn’t veer from the schedule much at all. About the only thing I wonder about is only having very short hill workouts the first three weeks. As there was speedwork throughout and threshold/tempo runs alternating weekly after the hills, I ensured quite a few of my long runs included hills.

By the numbers

I averaged just about four runs/50km, and two cycling sessions/75km per week over the 16 weeks of the study. Again, I consciously chose to not load my running volume heavily, but was very happy with my biggest weeks in the mid-60s, topping out at 68km.

Running: 62 runs, 65 hours, 790 kms
Cycling: 35 rides, 45 hours, 1,190 kms

At any rate, I’ll write another post if there’s a decent race report to be had, but at roughly T minus 14, it’s time to chill and add a few more calories to the tank.

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