Chicago Marathon 2017: The Journey Starts Now

Hi! I’m back early! I know I said I was taking the whole month off but with 2017 fever already in the air I just felt the itch to write today. I also want to let you know that until marathon training officially starts in June, I’m not going to be updating this blog as often. It’s a long-winded explanation as to why, but the short version is that I’m re-evaluating some of my priorities in the new year, and I don’t think regular blogging is the best use of my time right now. Until marathon training starts I’m not going to have much running content to share anyway. I’ll still read blogs, and Ill post when I have updates and noteworthy things to share, but that could be as little as once every 2-3 weeks. Maybe it’s pointless but I wanted to give my handful of readers a heads up so you don’t worry about me or something. 🙂 I’ll still be around on Instagram, Facebook and email as much as usual.


Anyway, on to today’s post: my running and fitness plan for the first half of 2017! This will be the first time in several years I haven’t spent the winter training hard for a spring goal race, and I’m looking forward to doing things a little differently this year. The Chicago Marathon is my top (and really only) priority this year in terms of running goals and races, so everything I’m doing from here on out is focused on getting me there healthy and happy.

In many ways, the Chicago Marathon feels like a “clean slate” for me. Because it’s so far away from my last marathon (18 months), I’ve had a lot more time to realize and evaluate the mistakes I made in prior training cycles and figure out how to avoid them next time. It’s also refreshing to flip my usual yearly schedule and train through the summer instead of the winter. It will be a nice change of pace for me, so to speak.

Finally, and most importantly, committing to this race almost a year in advance gives me the opportunity to take a long-term approach to the process. Not doing this, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes I made in training for my last marathon. I could have prepared better for the Pittsburgh cycle since I signed up for it 3 months before training started, but I was still deep in “off season” mode, and I didn’t really take the initiative to build a solid base. I  jumped right into formal training after an unfocused off season with low weekly mileage. It was fun at first, and it all worked out in the end, but I can’t help wondering if that sudden change in training and lifestyle contributed to the burnout I began to feel halfway through the training cycle.

While I won’t start formally training for Chicago until mid-June, preparation will begin very shortly. I’m going through a bit of a “funk” in my life right now, and I’m letting myself ride it out for the next week or so before I get down to business, so I’m designating January 1 as my “Operation Chicago Starts NOW!” date. I will be treating this entire upcoming year, not just the 4-month formal training cycle, as build-up to the October race. My hope is that this will give me a solid fitness base going into formal training, but more so, that getting used to regular running and a fitness routine will make the transition into formal training a little bit easier.

In this post, I’m going to sketch out what my training prep (and the next 6 months of my fitness life) will look like. The race is a long way out, but this period will take up more time than actual training, and it needs to set me up for a good training cycle while still saving my best effort and energy for summer training, so it’s really important that I get this right.

  1. Running: I’m basically going to spend the next few months base-building. Nothing exciting is happening here: I’ll be doing 80-90% easy running, right now very gradually building a mileage base so that I’m in good enough shape to finish a half marathon strong in mid-March, and then just trying to maintain that mileage base through the spring. I’ll likely do 100% easy running until February, at which point I’ll start adding a little speed to some workouts: a fartlek here, some strides there, a few fast-finish longer runs; I’ll want to boost my fitness a bit and make sure I don’t get too bored. I actually haven’t thought out anything after my March half marathon, but I imagine it will be more of the same. That’s really all there is to say there. My running life will be a snooze fest in the upcoming months, but I burn out easily so I want to be very cautious about giving too much of myself before I even start training. When I’m bored or get FOMO listening to others talk about their spring goal races, I’ll remember that I’m saving my best stuff for summer so that I peak at the right time and have enough energy and enthusiasm in the tank for the most demanding workouts I’ll do all year.
  2. Cross-training: I’ll be cross-training this winter and spring…no, really, I’m serious this time! I’ve signed up for a weekly 4-in-1 fitness class (an aerobics and sculpting combo) through the Milwaukee Rec that will start in late January. The class was only $30 for 9 weeks, so I can stay fit through the winter without breaking the bank. Having some structure and a class environment will hopefully help keep me a little more accountable. I’d love to say I’m purely motivated by getting fitter, but actually the biggest reason I’m getting more into cross-training is that I’m hoping it will help me bust out of my ongoing running rut. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying running, but it’s not feeling like enough lately. When the class ends in late March, I’m going to replace it with more cycling. The weather should be more bike-friendly (read: less snow and ice, more daylight) around this time, so I’m hoping to start riding to and from work and do some longer rides on the day I used to have 4-in-1 class.
  3. Strength training: I’m taking a different approach to incorporating strength training than I have in the past. Instead of doing a few “workouts” per week, I’m simply trying to do a little bit at a time but do it more often. Even if most days that only equates to about 5-10 minutes and a couple different exercises. My goal is to do a little bit but do it every day. I’m not trying to get super strong, I’m trying to create a habit and very gradually build a better body. This is a good segue way into my next and most important point, which is:
  4. Habit building: My priority in the first half of 2017 is bigger than just building fitness or a mileage base: it’s setting myself up for a good training cycle by building good habits. Over the next couple months I will be slowly transitioning to early morning running, because that’s when I’ll need to run during the hot summer months. I’ll be trying to schedule all my runs on the days I plan to run during training, so that I’m used to it. The majority of my runs will be GPS-free, so that I can re-train myself to *truly* run by effort and undo the bad habits I developed running with a watch all the time. I’ll also be training myself to adapt some super common-sense nutrition habits that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve neglected, namely, eating breakfast every day, making sure I refuel after workouts, and getting enough greens.

As we all know, committing to any big goal inevitably involves some opportunity costs. In this case, by focusing on base-building and habit formation this year, I’m sacrificing the potential to make huge fitness gains in the spring, and I must come to terms with the fact that this means I won’t be running any fast half marathons in the next 6 months. I can accept that, though. My marathon goal is a lot more important than PRing the half, and besides, there’s always a chance I could do that during training if things go well (and the weather cooperates!), or later in the fall after I’ve recovered from Chicago.

So, that’s what I’ll be up to for the next several months! As you can tell, it’s not the most exciting or groundbreaking plan ever, which is part of the reason I won’t be blogging as much: how much can you really say about a bunch of easy runs and the same XT class every week? But I’m so excited for the Chicago Marathon, and I don’t want to slack on my fitness this winter/spring since I’ve already done enough of that this fall. I can’t wait to build more momentum in the first half of the year – bring on 2017!

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9 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon 2017: The Journey Starts Now

  1. That’s a long base period but if you stick to the strengthening and habit building, I think you will be good.

    I’ll miss frequent posts but I hope this puts you in a better place.

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  2. Sounds like you’ve got a great plan hun! Habit forming is SO important- have you read The Power of Habit? Such a good book that gives you a great insight into how habits take over, and how you can take advantage of that. Also love your attitude to strength training, the little and often approach is what I try to do!

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  3. In my coaching training with RRCA, my instructor said something about aiming for a base building period of 300-500 miles – so I think a long base building period will serve you well! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy the break from blogging for a bit!

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  4. I definitely think one of the biggest misconceptions about marathon training is that it only takes 16-20 weeks (depending on which training plan you use). That’s how long it takes to train for the race itself for most people, but like you said, you can’t just jump into it from nothing and expect things to go well. Base building is so important, and I think it’s really smart of you to give yourself so much time to get ready to actually train. You seem to know yourself and your fitness needs really well, which I’m sure will help you out a lot over the next six months!

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  5. It sounds like you have a very solid plan and are clear about where you struggled in the past. I spent pretty much a year preparing for my first marathon, mentally and physically…. then had to keep going because I had signed up for another one 6 months later. So I did 2 this year and I was so ready for a break ! I have been only running once or twice a week, but doing fitness 3 to 4 other days. I love the change – no bore out here – and my body and mind needed a break from running.

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