Back in May 2016 I entered to ballot for the London Marathon. I hadn’t been running for two months, so it was time to go for some gentle runs again. It was also time to review my notes from my 2015 marathon and try to understand what caused the training for it to be so hard that I at some point completely gave up (I did come to my senses a good month before race day, so there was time to salvage the training).
The main problems in 2015 were:
- Once the long runs got long, they were so hard work that I ended up limping, walking long stretches, aching, and not recovering before the next run (which of course perpetuated the problem)
- The shortest runs eventually got to the point where there was nothing short about them. And it felt like everything was long and hard and painful.
- I was trying to do the 3 weekly “short” runs in the lunchbreaks, and the constant juggling of the diary, trying to start early and work late so that I had time for an hour’s run plus stretches and shower (and gulfing down a sandwich) became a mental and emotional drain
So when I had entered the ballot, my plan was to build up to around 40 km per week, and then plateau there for 4-5 months. That would give my body time to get thoroughly used to that level of running, so that when it became time to the real marathon training, I would be starting from a great base.
On 14 July the notes from my run ended with “Left achilles aching (what else is new?!), but next week is going to be a reduced-mileage 3-run week, so I think (and hope and pray) that I'm still on the safe side of the precarious line.”
Optimism is a fine thing. But then my old friend Mr. Gout came to visit and refused to leave. After a week I went to see the GP and got steroids which took another week to solve the issue. And by then the good habit had been broken, inertia took over, I decided that running with regular pain is not worth it. So my running shoes were collecting dust and the water bottles enjoying their dry spell.
The next entry in the log is from 17 September, so the break lasted a good two months. It was a good first run. 5 km of slow running, with my heart rate clearly showing that I was completely unfit. A few days later I did the same route and got the same HR readings. Soon I added a few cycle rides and swims in the local pool into the mix, and by 3 October I was back up to 4 runs a week with distances varying between 5 km and 7 km.
By then I also received the annual rejection notice from London Marathon. Never mind, I had a place in Copenhagen in May 2017 which would mean a month longer for training than London. Time to put a plan together and address the failings mentioned above.
- Long runs being horribly long: Obviously there’s no way around having long training runs in a marathon plan. But whereas my 2015 plan (based on Hal Higdon’s Novice Marathon plan) had the longest run being 50% of the weekly distance and the 2nd longest being half of the longest, I decided to now make the 2nd longest 2/3 of the longest and ensure that long run remained less than 50% of the total weekly distance. The logic being that it would make the long runs less extreme compared to the rest of the week.
- Everything being long and hard and painful: I decided that when the short runs were getting back to the level from 2015, I’d introduce an extra run each week. That means fewer recovery days, but also more short days to break the impression of everything being long. Hopefully by this point I’d be strong handle the extra physical strain in order to get less psychological srain.
- Juggling the work diary: The downside of a spring marathon is a lot of winter training. Cold and possibly icy. I could see that would only add to my stress of diaryjuggling. So I agreed with the Mrs that I could turn a corner of the garage into a “gym” and bought a treadmill. Now I can train at any time of the day without having to worry about fitting things into a lunchbreak and without worrying about the road being icy.
The plan is split into 4 phases (actually 5 including recovery):
Phase 1: The base build
This is what should have happened between May and July but got postponed to October to now. That means there’s no time for a plateau which is frustrating, but I’ve only got one person to thank for that.
4 runs per week. Every 3rd week is a recovery week where I skip the shortest run to have more consecutive recovery. Every week the long run is 1 km longer than the previous week and so is one of the non-long runs (except for the recovery weeks).
On the non-recovery weeks I allocated 10% of the weekly distance to speedwork. It quite quickly became apparent that I wasn’t strong enough to increase distance and speed at the same time, so the speedwork got dropped completely.
The phase was due to last until my long run was up to HM distance.
Phase 2: The hard slog
5 runs per week to avoid the short runs becoming too long. To address the issue of the long runs being awfully long, the recovery week now sees the long run reduced by around 30% instead of a short run being skipped. The increase is still 1 km per week for the long runs (except for the recovery week) and 1 km more for one of the non-long runs.
This will carry on for 3 sets of “two normal plus one recovery” weeks. So a total of 9 weeks which will bring me to 30 km for the longest run.
Phase 3: Gentle over extending
To give more recovery, the week-by-week pattern now changes to one recovery week for every normal week. So the long run is only long every other week. That should help with injury prevention and also with the sheer tedium of thinking that all the runs are so very long. It also helps with being able to schedule weekend activities without having to reserve 4+ hours for a run every Saturday.
I have planned for the long runs to still increase 1 km each week in this phase. That’ll take me to 36 km for the longest. Many marathon plans suggests to stop around 20 miles, so there’s scope to dial the ambitions down a notch if I end up struggling.
The non-long runs will not be extended in this phase. They’re likely to be at 40 km combined, and that’s probably as much mileage as my legs can handle and as much time as my work/run/life balance can handle.
This will carry on for 3 sets of “one week normal plus one week recovery”. So a total of 6 weeks.
Phase 4: Taper + race
Nothing unusual here. Drastic reduction in both the long run and the non-long runs.
Phase 5: Recovery
To a large extent it will depend on how knackered I feel after the race, but I’m hoping to build back up to around 40-50 km as total weekly distance so that if I want to run a marathon in 2018 as well, I’ll be starting from a far more solid base than this year.
I have booked a HM five weeks after the marathon to force myself to get the distance back up before all the fitness disappears. I really, really do not want another mojo crisis this time!
So far I have completed the base building phase 1. The end date of the phase was determined by the Brass Monkey HM I completed yesterday in 2:27 (which happens to be 7 min/km, which also happens to be my target marathon pace).
I’m slightly nervous about the 5 runs per week. It will mean running a short Tuesday, a 2/3 long Wed, a short Thurs, a long Sat and a short Sun. I think my legs can handle it, but the pattern doesn’t leave much time to move things around when life happens – such as +Wednesday this week where I’ve got to be in London for a meeting. But it’s only 3 x 3 weeks, so by 19 March it’ll be over.
While it will be hard work, I’m also looking forward. The distances are creeping up to where I’ll soon be setting month-by-month distance PBs, and as the short runs last week were 8+14+9 km, I do look forward to the shorter days introduced by also running Sunday.