Around New Years Day I made the decision to sign up for my first marathon: The American Tobacco Trail Marathon, March 17th in Cary. Now the race is just a month away, and I am getting really excited!
Was I ready? (Or, Is this a really dumb idea?) Most marathon training plans run 16-20 weeks; I signed up for a marathon less than 3 months away- or 11 weeks. Furthermore, I have never ran a half-marathon, and my last 5k was many moons ago.
On the other hand, I did complete a half-iron distance triathlon last year, albeit with the run being my hardest leg. Marathon Training Academy suggests that your pre-Marathon base of running include “running 3-5 miles per session at least 3 days per week for 6-12 months.” On the lowest end that is 234 miles of running over 6 months; on the high end that is 780 miles over a year. I totaled 570 miles of running in 2012, with over half of that total, 337 miles, coming in the last three months of 2012. Perhaps my volume in 2012 would be a good enough base for Marathon training.
Brass Tacks: What Is My Goal? A sub-four marathon. Mostly picked out of thin air. That’s about a 9:00 minute per mile pace for 26 miles and change.
Really? According to my fastest 5k PR in Strava and a few different pace predictors, namely Jeff Galloway’s Magic Mile and the McMillan Running Race Calculator, sub-four was attainable. Well, if I completed a training program. Aye, there lies the rub.
How should I prepare for the race? There are a multitude of plans floating around the Internet; to start with, RunningTimes has an interesting summary at 30 Years of Marathon Training. Johnathan Savage has a more straightforward comparison of marathon training plans or training styles.
Ultimately I settled on the FIRST/Run Less to Run Faster plan (RLRF), as summarized online (Run Less Run Faster by FIRST) and as detailed in book form. The plan is 16 weeks; although I was picking it up in week 11, my earlier running volume wasn’t too much less than the plan’s early volume.
Why Run Less Run Faster? Two big reasons why I chose the RLRF are the reduced number of running workouts and a personal recommendation from a coworker. The former is perhaps a little misleading- if you follow the plan than you are doing at least five workouts a week, but only three of them are running; the remaining two workouts are supposed to be cross-training workouts such as cycling or swimming. This aspect immediately connected to the triathlete in me. As for the recommendation, a co-worker PR’d with RLRF on his third marathon. But beyond that he mentioned that the workload was manageable with his family- a key consideration for anyone with a family that is deciding to train for a marathon.
Smooth Sailing for the Past Six Weeks? No, not by a long shot. I get the feeling that my story has been experienced by countless newbies since marathon training plans were . A few weeks into my training plan I fell victim to two separate injuries- ITB syndrome in my right knee, and pain on the top of my left foot.
On a cold Saturday morning, I got out early for an 18 mile long run. 35 degrees F was cooler than most of my runs, but I didn’t have too much concern since it was a clear day. By the second mile of my planned out-and-back run, pain in my knee started to creep up. Additionally my left foot was giving me trouble too- not the typical plantar fasciitis, but possibly related? I had no idea. I tried to keep going though, hoping that perhaps my body would warm up and the pain would subside. I slowed around the fourth mile for a gel, but gained little respite from the growing pain. By mile seven I was forced to stop and walk.
Then Did I Think a Marathon Was a Stupid Idea? The five mile walk home was a long, reflective slog. I knew I would be sidelined for a while, but had no idea how serious the injuries were. My sub-four hour goal was shot. Would I even be able to race at all? How long would I be on the bench?
How Did I Recover? As I write this about a month after that failed long run I will admit first that I am still recovering. My road to recovery included several specific actions:
1) I decided to take a week off from running. I did swim twice and use indoor bike once.
2) I consulted the Internet. Regarding ITB Syndrome, various stretches and exercises were recommended; the most comprehensive seemd to be Jason Fitzgerald’s ITB Rehab Routine at StrengthRunning.com.
Regarding my foot pain… gobarefooting.com seemed to have one of the most in-depth discussions of top-of-the-foot pain. The treatment & outcome seemed much less proactive for that injury, however.
3) I made an appointment for a Physical Therapist- the first time I had used one. Over the course of a few weeks I have had about five PT appointments. Treatment has typically consisted of several different stretches, therapeutic ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, and massage.
Overall the combination of these routines, stretches, and treatments seems to be working, particularly with my ITB Syndrome, which has abated but not fully disappeared.
So Where Am I At Now? Since my injuries and the week off, I have returned to running, and I have finished three full weeks of training- only four left to go. Yesterday I shook off the lazies and accomplished my long run on a cold, damp and snowy day.
During the past few weeks I have been really happy just to get out and run at all. Before last year I can’t really say I ever enjoyed running, and now I am despondent when I can’t get out for a jog. My pace does not seem to have suffered from the week off, and my sub-four goal still seems attainable- at least under perfect conditions. (Admittedly I am trying to temper my high expectations with the thought that ideal circumstances are never guaranteed.) I am optimistic that my story will be one of an obstacle that I overcame, rather than a barrier that blocked my success.