1 month in to Chicago Marathon Training

Sunburned, slightly dehydrated, and out several beers and most of our s’mores supplies: the hallmarks of a successful 4th of July summer staycation. Between running, chilling on the lake (and IN it!), a bonfire, a 4th of July kickball and grillout party, and a LOT of house work, we packed quite a bit into this 4 day weekend and it was perfect. I did drop the ball on running a bit but I have no regrets. This staycation was quintessential summer and I needed it. I had fun, I got a lot done, and now it’s back to work but instead of dreading it, I actually feel ready.

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Other than a few hiccups, this was a good week of training. I finally hit the 30 mpw mark and I had some good workouts.

This week’s key workout was a speed workout with 2×400, 1×800, 2×400, 1×800 (400m recoveries for all). It was a cool, perfect morning and the workout went really well. I was sort of surprised to see the interval paces on the slow side, but, I’m just rolling with it.

I’m used to training through the winter, and in the cool temperatures I can almost always run at my best and hit good paces so it’s easier at any given point to gauge where my speed/fitness is at. But in the summer I have to run in warmer temps, humidity, and the early morning – all things which have an effect on my pace – so it’s a little harder to get a read on where my fitness is at. I’m having to learn to rely on other cues in this training cycle, notably, how strong I feel during and after workouts, how easy it feels to cover certain distances, etc. So, most days, I consider it a victory if I finish strong and feel good. I can put in the work and really hope that it pays off once the temps cool down, and that’s really about all I can control. Not being able to see results or get affirmation from every workout is certainly requiring me to put a lot more faith in the process of training, and I have to work a little harder to stay positive, but I believe that is helping me enjoy training more and not take myself so seriously, too. I will often ask myself: “if you had no idea what your pace/time for this workout was, how would you feel about it?”

My long run this week was 13 miles…well, 13.1, because if you’re going to go 13 you may as well just tack on that extra .1 for a half marathon right? No fast finish this time, just steady distance miles. It wasn’t terribly warm out this AM but it was really muggy. The middle of the run began to drag, and I was surprised to find that my legs were really tired. I had ridden a little fast on last evening’s bike ride home from work, so I wonder if I overdid it, because this is not a problem I usually have. I’ve always had pretty strong legs and it’s rare that they get fatigued during a run, unless it’s the end of a hard race or a very long run. The trail, while pretty, is really rolling and winding and after the halfway point it was starting to irritate me a bit that it wasn’t going by faster, so I started to push a little bit harder just out of annoyance, and I ended up gaining some speed in the 2nd half of the run. I was pleasantly surprised to see 20-40 seconds coming off my mile splits because it didn’t feel like my tired legs were going that much faster. But I just wanted to be out of that trail and done with my run so I could cool off in the lake and enjoy the farmer’s market!

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While overall unremarkable, this run was a turning point for me in a couple ways. You all remember this spring when I ran two half marathons and I was so out of shape I had to walk a lot in both of them. Well, almost 3 months later and I can now run the distance all the way through! For a moment, it was oddly emotional. My return to distance running has been an overall humbling journey, with literally nothing as easy or fast as it used to be. But I’ve stuck with it and now I’m finally starting to gain fitness and endurance back. This is something I couldn’t do 3 months ago.

This run was also the first time I’ve really felt like I’m marathon training. It was a long run, on tired legs, and it took more energy out of me than the previous ones have. We biked back and forth to the park a couple more times that day, and that on top of the run left me SORE for two more days! I’m sure the run had a lot to do with that but maybe I should take it easy on the biking from now on and try to rest more after my long runs. They’re only going to get more tiring!

My Week 5 schedule has already gotten thrown out of whack. I didn’t run yesterday and today I got out late and the mid morning heat hit me hard, plus I knew the parks would be crowded with 4th of July revelers and I had to get ready for a busy day, so I ended up scrapping my planned speed work in favor of 4 easy miles. I’ll do my speed work tomorrow. Everything will get done and it will all be fine, but I have to say, as much as I’ve enjoyed my mini-vacation, I am looking forward to getting back into a routine. I’m a creature of structure and it is hard for me to keep up with a workout routine when I’m on vacation or off from work. I certainly won’t complain about this upcoming 3 day week, though.

 

Overall, training is going well. I’m enjoying running, I’m motivated to put in the work, I’m feeling good and strong in my workouts.

But mentally something is different than my previous training cycles. I’m having fun and I’m glad to be doing this, but the “fire” and excitement aren’t there like they were for Grandma’s and Pittsburgh. This is my 4th time doing this and it doesn’t feel like such a huge deal anymore. Training for marathons is something I do because I want to, because I enjoy the process of training, not because I desire praise or feel like I need to prove something to myself. It just doesn’t seem worth making such a fuss over anymore.

Part of it could be the change in structure. Running in the morning does seem to change how much it mentally consumes me. I get up, I get it done, and I move on with my day. I do have to make some sacrifices in the evenings to pull off the early AM wake ups, but overall it makes me feel more like a normal person, not someone whose life revolves around training.

But I’ve also learned to find new meaning in training. I realized with some surprise recently that my motivation for getting out of bed for those 4:45 AM alarms is starting to change. What used to get me out the door was thinking about getting faster and running a PR. That still motivates me to some degree, but more often in those early hours I find myself thinking about how important it is to me to build back my fitness and feel in shape again.

I do miss being faster, but when I look back on the runner I was while training for my previous marathons, what I see is someone who took a lot for granted. It’s easy to think that finish times are the most important thing when you’ve never had any setbacks that force you to start over again or change your relationship with the sport. Trying to build your fitness back after a long layoff sucks. It’s such a drawn out process, it’s frustrating, and it humbles you pretty much every single day you lace up. I don’t want to have to go through this again. And I don’t want to have to go through the feeling of being out of shape again, either. So that’s what I think about when those early alarms go off now. You’re doing so well and finally getting fitness back – don’t give up now! I don’t want to lose it again, and I don’t want to take it for granted. My speed work paces may not be what they were a year ago, but I keep reminding myself that just a few short months ago, 7 miles wasn’t even my long run, let alone something I could do on a Monday morning before work like it was no big deal.

2017 has been quite a year for me and I think I should cut myself some slack. We had a big life change, a busy spring, and lots of time off running. I should just appreciate that I’m able to get back on the horse and train for a marathon at all, regardless of where my speed and fitness are at, and I think just showing up at the starting line fit and healthy and running a strong race is enough of an accomplishment for me. Sure, it’d be great to run a PR and I’m not even saying it’s impossible yet, but it just seems totally unnecessary to pile on so much extra pressure and expectations of myself. There will be other years, hopefully as soon as next year, when I can focus more on my running and work toward a fast finish time if I want, but I just don’t think that’s what this year’s journey is supposed to be about. And that’s okay. Maybe this time it’s just about enjoying the one-of-a-kind Chicago Marathon experience and using the race as a victory lap for a great 2017 in which I experienced personal changes and growth, both in and out of running. Years like this one don’t come along very often, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone, so I think the most important thing here is to be happy and enjoy the ride.

 

This week and next week, I am transitioning out of my introductory phase and into my long fundamental phase – the middle of the training Oreo. After Week 6 (which is actually a cutback), it will be time to get into the marathon-specific workouts, and these fartleks and short intervals will be replaced by threshold running and long intervals at half marathon pace. I’m trying to brace myself for the work to get more demanding, but I’m also glad to start working a little harder, feeling more ready for the marathon distance, and seeing more fitness gains emerge.

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19 thoughts on “1 month in to Chicago Marathon Training

  1. Well done! Heat, humidity, holidays…they all are challenging to work around. I like what you said about how running in the morning changes your focus; you get up, get it done and move on…so true. I find that the few bike rides have been on tire my legs out in a different way, I get more “general fatigue” and my hips get fatigued and my legs just feel “flat” on my next run.
    Keep up the work, you are making fitness gains, and the paces will come. Sounds like you had a fun 4th. I like the idea of a kick ball party. We had a corn hole tournament, BBQ, and went out on the boat for a bit–

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    1. Your 4th sounds awesome too! I love corn hole! (hate the name though, LOL)

      Yes, I’m finding the same thing with biking. Which is really a shame because I don’t want to give it up since I’m using it for transportation, but it does tire out my legs. I think I just need to ride a lot slower – there’s always post-Chicago to focus on bike improvement!

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  2. It is very hard to gauge progress in the heat and humidity. Each summer I seem to get slower and slower each month as the heat persists, but eventually that translates into a stronger winter…but it has varied how much pace and how long it takes me to bounce back. I have age as factor though lol I think you will see great progress.
    That is awesome you are up and out for those early morning runs! That itself is a true accomplishment 🙂 The alarm going off that early isn’t easy.

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    1. I sure hope all this work translates into a strong winter/fall! It’s hard to believe when you’re in the thick of summer and run after run after run is hot and slow. But that’s when my “new” motivation comes in handy – regardless of how fast or slow I am right now, I’m still doing the work, which means I’m getting back in shape and doing a heck of a lot better than I was a few months ago!

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  3. I just want to comment on everything because I felt like I could have written almost every single paragraph. I’d read one nodding along in 100% agreement, then you’d change gears and I’d be nodding because ah, TOTALLY, that too, and again and again for the entire post. Especially your comments on your long run this weekend. I had 13(.1, obviously!) on my schedule too and even though my time was entirely unremarkable, it felt like a huge turning point for me too (which speaks to your question that you ask yourself about how you’d feel if you didn’t know your pace/time). And I’m in the same boat of not feeling that passion and excitement this time around but you know what? I kind of like it this way. Sure, the firsts and the PR attempts are fun and it’s incredibly motivating to have that to drive my training, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that not every cycle can be one of those. I’m feeling a sort of comfortability in my training this year (which may just be my coping mechanism just in case this IM thing falls apart again this year, but I’m trying to stay optimistic), which is a new and strange but kind of awesome feeling. I used to be someone whose life revolved around training, and not only is that just not feasible for me anymore (which doesn’t mean that training isn’t a HUGE priority, it’s just not my sole or main priority as it has been in the past), I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do that. Training now is something that just…fits into my life. It’s just another part of my day and, yeah, some days it takes up more time and energy than others, but it’s still a part of my day that I enjoy and that’s something I’m finding to be cause for celebration.

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    1. I am enjoying this “new” feeling as well. I think that’s the great thing about marathon (or Ironman!) training – it’s not something you could just go out any weekend and do, you have to work hard just to be fit enough to get there, so there is always a sense of accomplishment just in finishing and when all is said and done, we go a little easier on ourselves if we don’t get a fast time. You may be disappointed but chances are you’ll still be pretty darn proud. It’s also nice because running a good-but-not-amazing race will leave me with something in the tank when the training cycle is over and motivate me to keep running and work harder next year. The highs of running a PR or a perfect race are pretty incredible, but they are also fleeting. You cross the finish line, you bask in the glory of your fast time, and then life abruptly goes on and it’s all over. That’s why I’m realizing that it’s important to find the joy and meaning in each day/week. Is a fleeting high (followed by the inevitable low) really worth emotionally torturing myself for weeks on end and mindlessly grinding through workouts until I burn out? For some, maybe. I’ve had that experience and in hindsight, it really wasn’t worth the costs. I’m trying to think about the long game now and that means, just as you said, realizing that they can’t all be PRs and some training cycles exist more as a learning experience or a stepping stone.

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  4. Yes yes yes to the part about running early making it feel less like life revolves around training. I think this is huge for me. It’s almost like the run didn’t happen – even when it’s a bad one! And I just love having my evenings open to whatever I want. Agreed that there are some evening sacrifices, but I’d rather head to bed a little early after doing whatever I feel like than have my entire evening consumed by training. 14 weeks to go!!!

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  5. Nice measure of progress with that long run! To go from having to walk HMs just a few months ago to running the whole thing with a negative split in summer weather is a nice way to see the payoff of consistency and patience. I’m sure the coming weeks will yield lots more fitness gains. I agree completely about just enjoying the ride instead of being solely focused on a PR. There’s time in life for both, and sometimes the timing is better for one over the other. I have the same training goals for this year–to just enjoy it–and love not having to be stressed over a big time goal.

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    1. I’m glad you are trying to have fun and enjoy this training cycle! It wasn’t easy at first but I’m really glad I adopted this mindset. Even if a race isn’t a PR or the fastest time we’re capable of, there’s still a lot we can take away from the training and we still gain fitness and experience from our hard work. Plus, then we’ll still have something left in the tank after the training is over and will be more motivated to put the pedal to the metal next year and work hard. That’s really important to me after what happened post-PGH last year.

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  6. Wow I really enjoyed reading this, you give a lot of great perspective. I’ve just started training for my first marathon and I have to keep remembering that my goal is just to finish and stay healthy. I know in my heart that is the way to go–it took me a longggg time to get here and I don’t want to push myself too hard and get hurt. That being said it’s hard not to read other people’s blogs and think-“man, look what all these other people do, you should at least try to run in 4 hours (or whatever unfounded time I come up with for the day)”. Reading this was helpful because it makes me realize that there are all different paths for us at different points in our lives –but we only have to take one journey at a time. Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. Aww thanks so much, that means a lot! It is hard not to get caught up in the allure of time goals, especially when you look around the blog world and social media and see so many people crushing their training and races. I know people who have gotten great times for their first marathons – sometimes it is meant to be and sometimes it is not. I think the key is to just take it day by day, week by week, listening to your body and trusting in your training plan. We never really know what shape we’re in for the marathon until the last weeks of training anyway, so I’ve learned that the best way to approach it is to just focus on what’s right in front of me and do my best, and hopefully be happy with whatever that gets me. Remember, you only get one first marathon, so just enjoy the process and soak it all in! I had a blast with my first marathon and even though I didn’t get the time I wanted, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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    1. Thanks! I still have a ways to go, but this was one of the first pieces of concrete evidence of improvement that I’ve gotten, as silly as that sounds. It’s funny to think that for the past 2 years running a half marathon would be something I could just randomly decide to do on the weekend as a workout and think nothing of it, and now, I had to work just to get through the distance.

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  7. YES! I know that must have been such a great feeling to run the entire 13.1 again. It’s such a weird feeling right now for me to know I couldn’t run a half marathon right now if I wanted to. For so long it was just something I could do because I maintained it as a base all year long. I’m looking forward to getting back to that point! Reading about you getting emotional when you covered the distance without walking made me emotional!

    The four day weekend was great – I went back to work feeling refreshed yesterday too. If only we had a four day weekend every week!

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    1. I know what you mean about taking the half marathon base for granted – I think that’s part of the reason I went out this spring and ran two halves that I really had no business running (although to be fair one was a vacation race that I signed up for months in advance with the intention to train so I wasn’t going to back out!). I first got into running 4 years back to train for a half and ever since then I pretty much just maintained that base in some form, even in the off season, so my mind just couldn’t comprehend that it had now become something I literally couldn’t do. It was definitely a humbling lesson in taking things for granted.

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  8. I’m a cool-weather fan too – but I’ve found that whatever struggles I thought I had while training through the heat and humidity, they seemed to help me more than I thought they would when it came to race time in a cool month. I still hate training in the summer but I try to think of it as a hurdle to get over and past.

    What training program are you using? I’m training for the Indianapolis Monumental — and while I tell myself that I’ll try to run that one annually, I’m also interested in trying to get in Chicago one year.

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    1. Thank you! I agree that summer training usually pays off in cooler weather, although since Chicago is so early in the season I do worry that it won’t quite be cool enough yet – midwest weather is usually still warm through mid to late October. I have another race, a half marathon, I’ve signed up for in November so hopefully if Chicago doesn’t go well my training will pay off there!

      I read Brad Hudson’s Run Faster From the 5K to the Marathon, about self-coaching and adaptive training, and I used one of the Level 1 sample plan in that book as the foundation to my training plan. I’ve kept in a lot of the workouts and build-up but made a lot of my own adjustments.

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