Hi there folks! The Eugene Marathon is coming up fast on April 28th and I’m registered to run it! the plan was (is?) to blog about my training process week by week but I’m a little bit behind in the blogging so I’m trying to catch up!
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to make this disclaimer first. I’m going to be blogging about what I’m doing. Some of it is going to be definitely wrong– or at least not totally right– because this is my first marathon. I’m not an expert and you shouldn’t just do things I write about doing. Consult with professionals or people that know for sure what they’re doing before you decide to do silly things like run for 4+ hours.
I knew I wanted to run a marathon as soon as I recovered from the half marathon last October but I ultimately registered on New Years Day and I was ready to get going right away. I found a 12 week training schedule that was pretty similar to the training I had done for the half marathon. Here’s the run schedule (there are also 2 cross training and 2 rest days not noted):
Week 1: run 3, 4, 9
Week 2: run 3, 6, 10
Week 3: run 3, 6, 12
Week 4: run 3, 6, 14
Week 5: run 4, 8, 16
Week 6: run 4, 8, 18
Week 7: run 4, 8, 8
Week 8: run 3, 10, 16
Week 9: run 3, 10, 18
Week 10: run 4, 10, 20
Week 11: run 3, 8, 10
Week 12: run 3, 6, race (6 on Wed, no cross-train)
I decided that I wanted to start more like 16 weeks out from the race and because I was already running regularly two 3s and a 10+ on the long run day, I felt confident enough in what I was doing to start the 12 week plan on week 3. I figured this would give me extra time in case I wanted to repeat weeks or skip a week or whatever. I also decided that for my cross training days I would do high intensity interval training or HIIT (I’ll come back to this in a minute). This all seemed smart but pretty quickly I learned my first hard lesson about marathon training:
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
I did four weeks of this training, culminating with an 18 mile run that, for a few specific reasons that I’ll get to below, left me wrecked and nearly ready to throw in the towel. I started out pushing my body and my mind way too hard, too fast. I finished all of those runs, doubled down on the HIIT doing an hour of it twice a week, and decided that wasn’t enough so I started an upper body focused weight training program on top of it. In addition to all this marathon training, I took on more work at my day job, adding on a new project that increased my time by 50%. I also set some aggressive deadlines for myself on my writing projects with the intention of having a lot of new material ready around the time of Norwescon, the weekend before the marathon. I could do all of it and for about a month I did. But it was stupid and if I hadn’t course corrected, well I probably would have figured it out but it would have been real unpleasant.
I learned some key things during this “preview” training though. Here they are:
There is no hunger like marathon training hunger (and marathon training hunger will EAT YOUR SOUL)
Okay, so the soul-eating part is hyperbole but no joke, the combination of all the miles and the cross-training and just the all of it is so intensely draining that eating enough food has become a conscious effort. I track all my activity with my trusty Apple Watch. It tells me how many calories I’ve burned doing X, Y, and Z and I plunk in what I eat into MyFitnessPal and in theory that all tells me what my dietary budget is it’s pretty simple. It’s not quite so simple. Since I’ve been tracking my activity with MFP, I’ve maintained a calorie budget surplus of 500-1000 calories. That means I am consuming less than my body needs and that’s pretty much the trick I’ve used to lose 150 pounds in the last 20ish months. I’m weighing in now at a not unhealthy for my body type 195 now. My doctor says considering my higher than average muscle to fat ratio I’m within a couple dozen pounds of my ideal weight, which doesn’t seem like anything at all after losing 150. But I can’t both do marathon training and keep up that diet. To run that far and to do the HIIT and the weight training, I’m building muscle and the calorie math doesn’t really account for that. So, I had to adjust my targets. Now, I eat every calorie to maintain energy. No more surplus in the budget. Physically, it means I’m not dropping many pounds (only a few since January) but I am losing inches on my waist and my legs are god damn pistons. It’s a real psychological twist to go from constantly limiting food to eating ALL OF IT but I’ve been making these rice cakes with peanut butter that are pretty good, you guys.
It’s better to be underdressed than overdressed for the weather
I wrote about some of my gear on the last marathon blog. The lesson I’ve learned is when to not use it. When you first go outside for a run and it’s 40 degrees, your instinct is HOLY CRAP SOAK ME IN KEROSENE AND LIGHT THE FIRE I’M COLD but if you wear too many layers, life really starts to suck about 6 miles in. You’ll warm up from the run, I swear. But wear running gloves because there’s nothing worse than numb hands.
Dehydration really, really, really, really sucks
Toward the end of my half marathon training I started getting sick after long runs. The first time, it hit me hard. I couldn’t keep down food of fluids for a couple of hours and was bedridden with nausea. It was awful. I talked to other runners and read things online and talked to my doctor about it. I started paying close attention to water consumption and my recovery foods. I reduced my post-run nausea but didn’t completely eliminate it. It’s still something I’m tinkering with and I don’t think there’s a clear cut answer, which leads to the next lesson:
Listen to your body (because it knows better than your Facebook friends)
There’s a lot of advice for runner’s and some of it is super applicable. And some of it isn’t. My body doesn’t react the same way to the same things as other people’s. This goes for your diet and all of your habits. I eat a diet that’s about even thirds, protein/fat/carbs. It’s a little higher in fat and protein and lower in carbs than a lot of commonly recommended runner’s diets but for me– particularly with my history of diabetes– it works well. I adjust and tinker and pay attention to the results but it’s important to figure out what works because your body will adapt and you don’t want to throw curve balls at yourself. I normally eat 4 eggs, 2% cottage cheese, and an english muffin for breakfast. This is what I’ve been eating just about every day for 20 months. I switched it up and did a bowl of oatmeal and a couple hard boiled eggs before a run recently and felt great– until I almost lost all of it 3 miles in.
Week -1 (and the 18 mile run that challenged my faith)
So, let me talk about that 18 mile bastard. I had done the 16 mile run the Saturday before and I felt good. I felt cocky. I had plans out of town that coming Saturday and the weather was going to be beautiful on Thursday so I decided to swap my medium and long runs around. I would do 18 miles on Thursday and then do an 8 on Sunday. I’d been working myself hard and I don’t think I’d recovered from the 16 mile run. The truth is, I was already in trouble with my routine but I was in denial about it. I had only just realized I was not eating enough and it was effecting not only my energy levels but I was noticing that my mind was fuzzier. My moods were volatile and I was sleepwalking through a lot of the days. Then I went on that run. Running that 18 hurt. I had a blister on my foot from the 16 miler and covered it with moleskin. My knees ached just about right away. My right quad and left hamstring got tight and started burning a third of the way in. I was wearing too many layers. My time was slow and the whole run felt like a slog. I didn’t drink enough water. I limped to the conclusion of the run and knew I was dehydrated and in pain like I’d never been before. I got home and felt horrible. I was nauseous for hours. I was on my feet that evening and the muscle (and knee pain passed pretty quickly) but I was still wrecked when I ran 8 miles in two days and then all of the fatigue caught up with me. I haven’t missed a running day or even a cross-training day since but the original plan was to move on to week 7 in the schedule above but I just knew that I couldn’t. So, I started over at week 1, exactly where I would have been if I hadn’t decided to get a jump start on it all.
Week 1 and 2
All right, nerds. This is my training schedule for the first two weeks. I won’t break it down in this much detail every time but this gives you an idea of my routine and what the numbers are looking like:
Sunday – 8 mile run (this is technically the tail end of week -1 mentioned above). This was along my usual training path on the Trolly Trail. For a baseline, this is what a pretty slow run looks like for me with mile splits:
- Mile 1 9’42”
- Mile 2 10’27”
- Mile 3 9’37”
- Mile 4 9’43”
- Mile 5 10’37”
- Mile 6 11’52”
- Mile 7 10’51”
- Mile 8 11’22”
This path has an incline gain in the second mile, a drop in 3 and 4 and, as I do out and back it reverses for an incline in 5 and 6, drop at 7 and relatively flat for 8. As you can see from those splits. I started out alright. 9’30” is a pretty average mile time for me with fluctuations based on my physical condition and the duration of the run. The hills hit me hard on this run and I completely ran out of steam somewhere in that 5th mile, running slower and slower until I finished up.
Monday – Rest Day. I actually don’t do a complete rest day, something I may reconsider. I have my exercise calorie target set on my AppleWatch to 850 calories every day but I dial it down to 550 on rest days. I usually still do a 30-60 minute brisk walk on the treadmill on my rest day. I do this for three reasons. 1) I am still fanatical about exercising a little bit every day. It’s very habitual for me. I’m maybe a little addicted to keeping my exercise streak with my AppleWatch. 2) I find that walking after a long run helps my muscles recover. This isn’t scientific and maybe I would recover better if I didn’t. 3) I rely on my daily exercise to keep up my mood. It’s become a necessary antidepressant and anxiety antidote. Emotionally and mentally, I need it. For this rest day, I did a 70 minute walk at a pretty slow pace (~3.7 mph)
Tuesday – 3 mile run, treadmill @ 6.2 – 7 mph. I like using the treadmill for this short run because I can really dial-in the speed. I took this run easy because I was still recovering from the 18 miles and the 8. Splits for this mile:
- Mile 1 9’26”
- Mile 2 9’04”
- Mile 3 10’01”
Wednesday – HIIT cross-training. For HIIT, I typically workouts from videos on YouTube. This is probably my favorite:
But I also like this one that the same duo lead. They just have great energy and make the workout accessible:
There are other videos from the same company (Self) and I’ll try them out as I rotate my cross-trainings. On this particular cross-training day, I did both routines for a total of an hour. I also took a brisk 15 minute walk.
Thursday- 4 mile run. I have a 3 mile loop around my house that’s the perfect length with a healthy amount of hills. This is the route I ran for my half-marathon training a lot and there’s a particular part I can repeat to do an extra mile. So, this is what I ran. This has 178ft of elevation gain pretty spread out. Splits:
- Mile 1 9’40”
- Mile 2 10’19”
- Mile 3 10’20”
- Mile 4 10’41”
I think this run demonstrates I was still recovering. Those are pretty slow times for me on my home turf.
Friday – Rest Day. I did a 30 minute brisk walk. This was ~4.4 mph.
Saturday – Long run. 9 miles. This is the same path I did the 8 mile on Sunday but instead of running out 4 and then turning around, I ran out 4.5 and turned around. Here are the splits, which are a bit better but still not my “usual” or expected. It’s worth noting this was a very cold day- just above freezing – and I got rained on. Which is every lousy when it’s so cold. There are really three things that impact a runner – sun or lack of sun, rain/snow, and wind. This particular day had close to the worst of all three conditions
- Mile 1 9’31”
- Mile 2 9’54”
- Mile 3 9’32”
- Mile 4 10’14”
- Mile 5 10’45”
- Mile 6 10’27”
- Mile 7 11’47”
- Mile 8 11’13”
- Mile 9 10’28”
Out of the gate a little faster- which is sometimes not better. Exerting too much upfront means it’s easier to run out of steam toward the end. In this case, I pushed for the first 3 miles and then I started to slow. I was completely wiped out before I hit the hills on the way back.
Sunday – Rest Day. I walked down and back up a steep hill by my house (244 ft elevation gain) in a half hour walk.
Monday – Cross-training. I did 1 and a half of my videos for 45 minutes of HIIT and walked for 15 minutes to hit my exercise targets.
Tuesday – Indoor short run. This is my speed training run and what I try to do every Tuesday. I warm up on the treadmill at 5.5mph for 5 minutes, then 6mph for another 5, and then increase the speed .1 mph for every subsequent minute up to 30. This ends up being more like 3.25 miles and it’s a challenge! Running over 7 mph is pretty taxing for me. The splits show the steady progression of speed:
- Mile 1 10’00”
- Mile 2 9’30”
- Mile 3 8’38”
- Mile 4 (partial mile) 8’38”
It was with this run that I finally started to feel like I had recovered from the 18 mile run from the a week and a half previous. In addition to the actual run, I tapered down with another 15 minutes of walking at a progressively slower pace to recover.
Wednesday – Cross-training! Both of the HIIT videos I posted above.
Thursday – 6 mile run. With this run, I did my 3 mile loop around my house twice. You can see from my splits that my times were on the slower side again. It was raining and my muscles hurt pretty bad. So, I was feeling great on Tuesday! Then I pushed too hard and crashed by Thursday. It was about here that I started to think I might be overdoing it with the cross-training.
- Mile 1 9’31”
- Mile 2 10’16”
- Mile 3 10’46”
- Mile 4 10’45”
- Mile 5 11’22”
- Mile 6 11’33”
Friday – Rest day. I did a 35 minute brisk treadmill walk at my default fast walk speed of 4.4mph.
Saturday – Long run. 10 miles. Here we go! This was a good run. It was very cold and especially windy. My left hand was numb and effectively didn’t function at all when I was done. It hurt like frostbite and I had to hold my hands in front of the heating vent of my truck for 10 minutes to get the feeling back. But hey, I ran much faster and felt much better than the 9 mile run the prior Saturday. For high level reference, I ran the 9 mile at about 10’25″/mile average this one was 50 seconds/mile faster down to 9’35”. That’s a big swing! … Weird priorities, I guess. Splits:
- Mile 1 9’15”
- Mile 2 10’02”
- Mile 3 8’51”
- Mile 4 9’10”
- Mile 5 10’09”
- Mile 6 9’39”
- Mile 7 10’36”
- Mile 8 9’44”
- Mile 9 8’53”
- Mile 10 9’16”
The worst hill is the one on the way back and you can see that when my time went up between mile 6 and 7. This is a great way to end week 2! To do a marathon in under 4 hours you need to run about 9’15” miles and running a sub 4 would be killer for a first marathon. Honestly, if I ran this pace of close to it in April, I will be very pleased.