I have made it halfway through my 18-week training plan for the Chicago Marathon. Marathon training plans always seem like they will take forever. And then you move along, do your workouts, look around one day, and wonder how you got so far along.
I decided at the beginning of my training cycle that my marathon goal is 3:35. That is my qualifying time for the Gansett Marathon in 2012 and the Boston Marathon in 2013. 3:35 flat. No 3:35:11 or 3:35:31 or 3:35:59. 3:35:00 or under. That means 26.2 miles at an average of 8:12 per mile. So I'm training with 8:00 as my marathon goal pace. If I could pull that off, that has me finish at just under 3:30.
Say what? That sounds like crazy talk.
Maybe it is. On the one hand, I am asking for a big improvement. I need to knock off over 20 minutes from my marathon PR. I have a lofty goal that I honestly do not know if I can meet. On the other hand, I am doing as much as I can to set myself up for potential success. I have 8:00 in the back of my head on all of my runs. My pace easily falls in the 8s. On every run of all distances. Usually 8:20-8:35 but sometimes lower. I can go sub-8 on pace runs and on demand on non-pace runs. My super easy pace on my last run before Rock N Roll Providence? 8:40. Well, when did that happen?
What I am doing differently for Chicago:
1. Run farther - I stepped up from Hal Higdon's Novice 1 to Intermediate 1 plan. About 100 miles more, 1 less rest day, 1 more running day, plus pace runs 2 out of every 3 weeks.
2. Run faster - I didn't have a terribly accurate sense of pace until I got my Garmin in early June. I still think I am running faster than I used to, though. That's without accounting for the heat and humidity. Once I learned how to deal with it, the heat and humidity didn't really have a huge impact on me anymore. I ran my fastest ever non-race long run during a heat wave. It takes me less time to finish my runs. The only downside is that my running buddies don't run at the same pace as me, so I can't run with them as much. Sad face.
3. Got a Garmin - I was one run into my training cycle when my early anniversary gift appeared on my doorstep. Rhody G is more accurate and so much more useful than Nike+. Customizable screens show the data I want. I learned how to use average pace to run negative splits. If my average pace starts decreasing, I am running faster.
4. Strength training - After completely neglecting strength training in my last 2 training cycles, I added about 25-30 minutes twice a week and a couple of shorter sessions of just 1 exercise (pushups, planks, etc). My aim is to hit the major body parts over the course of a week. My main focus is running, so I keep the strength training moderate. 75% of the time, all I need are a yoga mat, exercise ball, and me.
5. Yoga - My cross-training activity most weeks. My gym has a good instructor who leads a pretty athletic class. Improved strength and flexibility? Yes please.
6. Drastically cut alcohol - I went from having wine/beer most nights to only on Saturdays. Bonus points for sleeping better and being more hydrated.
7. Eating - Holy moly, am I hungry. It takes a lot of food to fuel all those miles. If I am hungry, I eat. I have less desire to eat junk because junk does not lead to good runs. Although I am not above junk. Everything in moderation.
8. No music - It helps me pay attention to my running and my body. Also gives me practice at mental skills. After running without it for several weeks, I realized that I was using music as a crutch. If I am going after a BQ/GQ, then I have to get there without crutches. Except Rhody G ... I guess it's a replacement for my iPod.
9. Planned races - I ran a 10K and a half marathon, which fit perfectly into my training plan. You don't want to do too many races during a training cycle, but you can test out your game-day strategy. The 10K taught me how to use the Garmin in a race. The half marathon was a test of my marathon goal pace. Came pretty darn close to marathon goal pace on a fairly hilly course under less than optimal weather conditions.
10. Got compression sleeves - They are like hugs from angels for your lower legs. I wear them for at least a few hours a day and usually overnight. They seem to help with recovery and at preventing the shin issues that sporadically bother me. And they just feel good. Really good. I don't run with them, but I could if I wanted to.
When you change multiple things, it is impossible to pinpoint which of the changes makes the difference. I am not doing a very well-controlled experiment. Oh well. I'll keep running my experiment of one anyway.
63 days til Chicago!!