Chicago Training Prep, Chapter 1: Expectations

First off, congrats to the 2017 Boston-ers, especially you Allison and Cheryl! Also, how about Jordan Hasay: a 2:23 in her debut marathon! Unreal!!

I am now at T-7 weeks until I start marathon training- things are starting to get real. After over 6 months of just sorta “running for fun”, I am going to be in official training mode before we know it. So, with only 7 weeks to go, I am starting to prepare. I’ve begun the process of researching and writing my training plan and once we move into the house and my schedule clears up slightly, I will begin base-building and hope against hope that 6 weeks of easy running is enough for me to feel prepared to ease into the early weeks of marathon training.

So, as the preparations commence, I’ll be coming at you with some pre-training running related content in these next few weeks. Today, I want to talk about goals and expectations, and I need to start by addressing the awesome feedback you guys gave me on my mini-freak out post last week.

I am taking the advice many of you gave and just letting myself enjoy this special time in my life as a new homeowner right now, not worrying about getting runs in and crossing that but-what-about-my-fitness bridge when I get there.

All of you who commented were very helpful, but I think Charissa really hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that my anxiety probably stems from the pressure I’m putting on myself to run a PR at this race. I think, deep down (or not so deep down?), a part of me worries that if I put in a lot of work and don’t run a fast time, I’ll be disappointed, even if I ran an otherwise strong race and had a good time.

After the Pittsburgh Marathon, where I earned my Chicago guaranteed entry qualifier, I wrote about how we passed by the city of Chicago on our long drive home and I looked up at those gleaming steel buildings and wondered what they had in store for me 17 months from that moment. I knew at that point I needed a break, but I still imagined a refreshed, confident 2017 version of me, faster than ever and charging through the streets on marathon day like I owned the place.

What I didn’t imagine was that one year from that moment, I’d still be in a running slump that I was losing all hope I’d ever come back from, and that I was facing down the likelihood of spending all summer working my butt off only to run my slowest marathon time to-date. Sure, the reasons I fell behind in running are because of good things happening in my life, but I can’t help being a little deflated. “Just to finish” seems like an underwhelming way to match the glitz and excitement of the 2nd largest marathon in the world and my first ever World Marathon Major, you know?

I suppose this is all a testament to the fact that things just don’t always turn out the way we plan, in running or in life. My days of going into a marathon training cycle with simple, single-minded focus are over, and I’m trying to navigate this strange new territory of working hard and committing to something knowing that the prize I’m so accustomed to will not be waiting for me at the finish line. I’m long out of shape and while it’s not easy, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that things are different now – I’m not going to be where I want to be on June 5th and if I want to have a good experience, I’m just going to have to find something else to motivate me.

So, with that reality starting to sink in, I have been trying to shift my focus lately to the bigger picture and some of the qualitative goals that can keep me motivated during this time of change in my life. It’s still not easy to let go of PR hopes, but after some soul-searching, there are a couple subjective goals that even competitive little me can get behind.

The first and foremost of those goals is to cross that finish line wanting to keep running. Even if it is my last marathon for a long time, I want the Chicago finish line to feel like the beginning of something, not the end. I think  that is the “breakthrough” I truly I need at this point in my life. At my last marathon, I worked so hard and gave so much and raced so well, but in the process I killed my passion for running and in some ways I am still trying to recover from that. I don’t want to have to take another long break from running and training and then struggle to regain my fitness and my motivation. I don’t want to stand in Grant Park with that signature red and blue ribboned medal around my neck feeling glad it’s over and wanting nothing more than to get the hell away from running for a nice long time. Instead, I want to feel like I felt after my first two marathons again – a proud member of the running community, eager to get back out there (after a recovery period, of course) and keep running – whether that be setting my sights on a new race goal, staying in shape, or taking advantage of the routine I formed during training to make running more of a habitual practice in my life. That can only be accomplished if I truly enjoy everything – the race, the process – and don’t overwork myself in training or get too invested in the race outcome.

My other goal is to really explore and respect the process of training to peak for a specific race on a specific day. I’m in the process of starting to draft up my training plan (with a little more guidance this time – more on that later), and this time I’m being much more mindful of training correctly. That means spacing out the hard work appropriately, focusing on the quality of my weekly work instead of obsessing over mileage totals, running by effort instead of pace, and setting and adjusting goals as I go along based on the the information and feedback I’m gathering from my training runs. Easy runs will be legit easy runs and the goal of workouts will be to run them at the appropriate pace, not the fastest one. Instead of pushing myself hard each week for the instant gratification of seeing fast splits on my watch, I’m trying to embrace the challenge of trusting in the slow, measured work of training and accepting that any given race training cycle is only going to accomplish so much.

It’s important for me to stay focused on and motivated by qualitative goals this season, because I think it’s the only way I’m going to be able to stay motivated to train during a time in my life when I just don’t have the capacity to invest so much effort in my running development.

There comes a time in every runner’s journey when we have to start picking our battles. The effortless, across-the-board improvement of our early days wears off at some point, our bodies change, our lives change, our hearts change. I want a PR, but I want even more to regain my love of running. So that is the “battle” I am picking, and that will be what I remind myself on those days when my friends are surging through training while I’m seeing workout splits that would have seemed slow to me last spring. This is the battle I’m picking. 


Up next: I am currently reading Brad Hudson’s Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon, and I’m planning to use his methodology of adaptive running and self-coaching for my training this year. I am going to use one of this sample marathon plans as my framework and make adaptions and tweaks to build my own training plan. I am trying to squeeze in reading and planning amidst all of our house work, but I hope to be able to share some details about it soon!


20 thoughts on “Chicago Training Prep, Chapter 1: Expectations

  1. Run Faster is great and I recommend it to so many runners. It really helped me gain an understand of the training process in terms of base building, peaking, etc. I think a lot of people talk about “base building” and “hitting peak week” without actually understanding what it means. I felt that book made me a smarter runner and really helped me understand my training needs.

    I don’t get my training plan until the end of May, so I am a little jealous of anyone who is already planning. I am eager to check it out since I know (especially based off the principles of Run Faster) that I will need to make some adaptations to it.

    Regaining your love of runner seems like a great battle to choose. I think the benefit of Chicago is that it is going to be a marathon experience like any we’ve had, so I highly doubt you will walk away disappointed!

    Very excited to follow your training – even more excited we’re going down a training road that leads to the same race!


    1. Yes! It will be good times!!

      Chicago is definitely a one of a kind experience. Eventually I’ll get over my anxiety and just get excited about it! I have several friends who have run Chicago and NYCM with no time goals, undertrained, “just for the experience” and they loved every minute.

      Yeah, I like to self coach, but after PGH it became clear that I need to be more educated and strategic about the process if I want to do it right. Glad to hear you thought the book was a good resource – looking forward to the rest of it!


  2. Hi Hanna. I’m looking forward to seeing how you’re going to train for Chicago. I haven’t been commenting much lately but I have been reading about your struggles with running – in fact we share Canyonlands as our personal worst race. It seems to me that you have set up expectations of what your running should be – paces, race times, mileage – and when it is harder than expected it is set up to be a disappointment. I know when my husband ran Chicago a couple of years ago it was hot and PR plans went out the window – just look at Boston today. My point is the marathon is a fickle beast and putting all your eggs in the PR basket might be a set-up for disappointment too if the weather gods are in a pissy mood, or you get a cold the week before etc. I hope you rekindle the love of running and that Chicago is a celebration of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yes, it’s very true that bad races and bad race days can happen to anyone no matter how fit they are. It’s still a bummer to go in knowing a fast time is off the table no matter what, but eventually, I’ll get over it. And who knows? I mean, no one really knows what race shape they’re truly in until the end of training anyway.

      Yes, it is hard to let go of expectations in running. Harder for some of us than others. I became thirsty for improvement early on as a runner so it doesn’t feel natural to me to let go. But, I’ll get there. I mean, 6 months ago I thought I’d be mortified and devastated to have a race go the way Canyonlands went, but then it happened, and it wasn’t so bad.


  3. I just wrote a really long comment and lost it! Here is the abreviated version:
    Boston yesterday: crash and burn. I was not prepared for the heat. My take away, I need to figure out fueling. I am ready to “retire” from the marathon!
    I am OK with the results, I feel like it is part of the marathon game. I have never worked harder just to finish a race. I think it is the challenging training cycles and races that shape our character. The end result of the race does not define us as a runner!
    Enjoy the entirety of the process of training for the marathon. Do the best with what is given to you on that day, that’s all you can do. I look forward to reading about your journey!!


    1. I am terrified of running a marathon in the heat you all faced Monday! Forget times, I don’t know how on earth I’d be able to finish! I wonder if I’ll retire from the marathon after Chicago. It’s too early to tell but I go back and forth about it. On the one hand, these training cycles are so long and so much work. On the other hand, I know I have that sub-3:35 time in me, and I don’t feel like I can give up until I finally get it. So who knows.


  4. I’m glad you’re feeling less anxious about juggling marathon training and home renovations now. I think your plan for heading into the marathon can have you ready to run the race you want. I am looking forward to hearing more about the book you’re reading and the plan you develop from it!


  5. Brad Hudson’s Run Faster transformed the way I train (as did Daniels Running Formula). The whole idea of adapting training and non-linear periodization really worked for me – I feel like the notion of linear periodization works best for fast men, because speed work close to a marathon does not help me. Hudson also really gets sharpening for a race and the workouts are fun. Most of all, I learned how to train well and PR while still having a life – travel, hiking, no running a billion miles per week – with his approach. I’m excited to see what you think of the book and the plan you develop!


    1. I have you to thank – I never would have picked up this book if not for your blog! I’m especially glad to hear you felt you were able to balance training with life and thrive that way.


  6. I think you picked a good battle, especially considering all of the other things you have going on in your life right now! At the end of the day, the Chicago Marathon really is just a race. Yes, it’s a major, but a marathon is a marathon, and running a fast 26.2 miles in Chicago isn’t any greater of an accomplishment than running a fast 26.2 miles anywhere else in the world (unless you’re an elite, I suppose, where six figures are on the line). There’s a huge amount of hype surrounding the race, especially during the expo and at the start and finish lines, and it’s easy to get caught up in that but having a good (or bad!) race there isn’t any more significant than having a good or bad race anywhere else. It only has to be as big of a deal as you allow it to be, and I think you’re in a good place, choosing to put loving running again as your primary big deal for this training cycle.


    1. Thank you! This is a great perspective-check for me. You’re totally right that a marathon is a marathon is a marathon regardless of where I run it. Chicago is set apart by the experience, but I can enjoy that no matter how fast I am!


  7. I think this is a really great goal! I also came into a bit of a running slump after Colfax. I ran Route 66 in the thick of it. I can’t wait to follow your training and hearing your thoughts as you get closer to the race. I don’t know that book, so I look forward to hearing how you like it. I am using the Sage Running program for my next race, but I definitely like having some light reading while I train.


  8. I love that your goal is to make the Chicago finish line feel like the beginning, not an end. I think that’s absolutely a worthy goal. You’re right that sometimes things don’t work out as we planned, so it’s awesome you’ve found qualitative goals to strive for and make the journey worth it. Really interested in following your training with Hudson’s method!


  9. So I’m just catching up on your posts now! I love that you are coming up with some qualitative goals for Chicago too and I think you should just be aware that sometimes there’s beauty in the unexpected as well. I don’t think you should lose sight of having a time goal at all (in fact that’s often what drives us to keep training, right?); however, the time on the clock should very rarely be the defining moment of a marathon. There are so many little ways that you can make the experience amazing and I’ll give you an example from mine last weekend. As you know, I went into it with my main goal being to BQ. I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t sure how I would feel if I didn’t hit my target because I had trained so hard for it. I wanted to put my all into it, but try to enjoy the day even if it didn’t happen (although I didn’t know how I would do that lol). As you also know, I failed pretty miserably on this first BQ attempt. I wasn’t even close. And I won’t say that I enjoyed every minute of the race either – it was absolutely HARD. But there are choices that you make for yourself during the race that later define how you feel about it. When I hit the halfway mark and watched my goal get farther and farther from me, I had to decide what came next – keep fighting as hard as I could or just give up and maybe walk the rest of the way since I was already exhausted and it wasn’t my day? (There’s also not finishing, but that’s not an option unless I’m really sick or injured of course.) And I decided I would fight…I ran when I could and I took walking breaks through every water station after that. When I look back on the race now, I am proud of that moment and how strong I was. Do I remember it for being the best marathon ever or for having a strong finish? Not at all. I remember it as one of the toughest battles that I went up against and defeated. I guess this is getting long again, but here’s what I’ll say about the marathon: if you want Chicago to be a great experience, you will find some way to make it great whether it’s your best finish time yet, your biggest battle, your most fun crowd-supported race, or finding love and inspiration in running along the way. I hope this helps!


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