The Doldrums – Week 5 of Chicago Marathon Training

You know that scene in the movies where the protagonist has hit some sort of rock bottom, and then has a moment of epiphany or tough-love pep talk, then throws away the junk food and yanks open the curtains to let the sunlight in as Eye of the Tiger begins to play and we cut to a montage of our newly-invigorated protagonist gritting out early morning hours in the gym and running stairs in the pouring rain (or, like, studying intensely and chugging Redbull while friends party outside the window, depending on what the movie’s about)?

Well, that’s about how I would describe myself going into Week 6 of training. I’ve been slacking a little bit in the past few weeks of training, and it all culminated in a Week 5 that went so ridiculously off track that I’m basically considering it an impromptu cutback week. Hey, whatever, I probably needed a cutback now anyway. But I’ve missed 4 runs in 3 weeks. Granted, most of them were short easy runs. Granted, 2 of them were accidents – not hearing an alarm go off, a thunderstorm. And then week 5 happened and my schedule and motivation go thrown out of whack, and I’m short 11 planned miles of running for the week. I’ve gotta pull myself together so this doesn’t become a habit.

I did manage to get my key workouts in this week – speed work and the long run. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could now say something like “it’s a shame about the missed running this week, but at least I made up for it by killing it in the runs I did do!” Lol, nope. When it rains it pours apparently.

I did the same interval workout I did in Week 4 – 2×400, 1×800, 2×400, 1×800 (400m recoveries), but it was so much harder this week. It was quite a bit warmer this time, and I also put it off until later in the week, but oof. The first interval was a struggle and they never got easier after that. It was so hard to push myself to run fast. I had to take brief pause breaks during a few of my recovery jogs just to catch my breath. I’m now officially over short interval speed work, ha. I normally enjoy it but I found myself thinking I’m so glad that I’m moving on to longer and slower speed work from now on.

And then the long run. We were out of town on Saturday so this week I had a rare Sunday long run. I couldn’t resist the urge to sleep in on Sunday, so I got a much later start than usual for this week’s 14 miler and headed out at 9 AM. I knew it was going to be a warm one so I braced myself as much as possible, took a deep breath, and just dived in.

The temps were in the mid-to-late 70s, which isn’t so bad, but the beating sun just killed me. This is why I run early in the morning: I can deal with humidity and warmth but I can’t deal with sunniness. The first half of the run went by okay. Starting at 3 miles into my route the trail is mostly shaded, so I get a nice long break from the blaring sun for the middle miles. But there is a lot of hidden uphill in the second half of this route after the turnaround, and it always seems to take a lot out of my legs. I began to get tired and my pace slowed down, but I just told myself “don’t worry about it. Be as slow as you need to. It’s just one run.” By mile 11 I was starting to fade pretty hard. Starting at the mile 7 turnaround I’d been stopping for brief water breaks every 2 miles, but after mile 11, I needed one every 1 mile. In the last mile, I actually stopped to stretch and drink what was left of my water a few times. I know that sounds pathetic – you really couldn’t tough it out for the full LAST mile? – but my legs really were that dead. They just didn’t want to move. The pauses didn’t seem to help at all, but my last few miles were actually faster than my average pace for the run, which means that I was somehow moving a minute per mile faster than it felt like my dead-ass legs were moving.

I’m just exhausted now. That sun and that long run took so much out of me. And all my exhausted brain can think is, this is nuts. I can’t do this. Why did I sign on to this? Why didn’t I train for a half instead? When did 14 mile runs get this hard? I shouldn’t have done this – summer running is just too hard for me. I’m not in good enough shape for it. How can I make it through a marathon if I can’t get through a 14 miler without caving in to multiple pause breaks?

If the conditions in Chicago are like what I face today – and they could be! – I literally won’t be able to finish. There’s just no way. I know I’ll have more fitness at that point and yadda yadda, but I can’t even imagine being able to run 12 more miles this AM. I don’t even think I could have walked 12 more miles.

Did I mention I’m so exhausted?


I’m just thankful now that this week of training is over and I never have to think about it again.

I’ve trained for races enough times to know that weeks like this are going to happen. It’s almost unavoidable. I expect them now as a natural part of training. They happen. You’re disappointed. You take a deep breath, shake it off, and get your butt back in gear. So, cue Eye of the Tiger, it’s time to buckle down and have a much better Week 6.

Week 6 is going to be a little weird: it’s a pseudo-cutback week. I was supposed to hit 36 miles this week, so my planned 32 for Week 6 was going to be a cutback. Obviously, that’s not true anymore. However, the “cutback” was only coming from my long run mileage anyway, and I’m planning to keep that, so I’m basically having a cutback in long run but not overall mileage this week. Make sense? Head spinning yet?

Long story short: the increase in weekday easy mileage this week coupled with a 10 mile workout instead of a long run on Saturday will be a good transition into the fundamental (more race-specific) phase of training and my first 40 mile week in week 7.


All that said about my Week 5 mess, this is as good a time as any to work these kinks out. I now have 10 weeks of training left before taper, and this is when the critical work that will really shape my marathon fitness begins. It’s easy to think I could have/should have done more these past 5 weeks, but I can do 7 mile runs on weekday mornings and scrape together 14 mile long runs, so I think I’ve got a solid enough foundation to start tackling the real meat of training. Well, I hope so anyway. And if all else fails, well…they do say it is always better to go into a race undertrained than overtrained.

And now that I’ve got it stuck in all your heads, here you go. You’re welcome.


14 thoughts on “The Doldrums – Week 5 of Chicago Marathon Training

  1. Love this Hanna, you’re so clear and honest. Going to be coming back to your blog a lot when I’m struggling in later weeks–glad to learn through your experience ❤️.


    1. Thanks for the encouragement! I’m glad I at least wasn’t the only one with a tough 14-er this week. Serves me right for putting it off, I suppose!


  2. Your exhausted brain thoughts match mine. Why are we so alike?! And I agree, that sun is just killer. My group run has been moved back from 7 am to 6:30 am to help with the heat, and I think the fact alone that the sun has been up for 30 minutes less makes such a huge difference. 90 days to go – WE’VE GOT THIS!


    1. Agreed. It only took like 2 minutes of sun beating down for me to miss my early AM miles! I suppose it serves me right for putting it off til late – live and learn, I guess. Hopefully it was mental toughness training.


  3. I agree with you on the beating sun. I have had a crazy schedule (we are hosting out of town family), and getting in the runs in the sun is a challenge to say the least! knocking out those runs is good mental training, right? I am thinking it is time for me to sign up for something, so I can put the pressure on to have some sort of structure to my training!!


    1. Honestly – put off signing up for something as long as possible! As much as I love training, I am starting to feel over the pressure of organized races, and I’ve been envying my friends who are just running for base and fitness this summer. Maybe that’s just my heat exhaustion talking and the grass is always greener, but personally, I would wait until the weather is a little more favorable because training in summer is stressful! The structure is nice but it is hard to grind it out on these hot days. Then again, you don’t have to be crazy and train for a marathon like me!


  4. I think we all have weeks (or even stretches of weeks!) like this during marathon training. As long as it doesn’t become a habit–and it sounds like you’re very dedicated to not allowing it to become a habit!–I don’t think it’s anything you need to beat yourself up about *too* much. But it sounds like you’re in a good mental place with all of this, which is great!

    I saw some people running along the lakefront in the late morning yesterday and Saturday, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around why haha. I do not at all enjoy getting up at 4:50 on Saturday mornings in the summer to do my long runs, but at least it’s not quite so brutally hot then. I made the mistake (more than once…oops) of waiting until 8:30 or 9:00 in April and May to go out for my long runs, and man, it was MISERY. I’m sure that’s just compounded in the summer!


  5. Beating sun during a run is just awful. I don’t think I could imagine running 26.2 miles in sunny and warm weather either! Accidental cutback weeks are why I swear by adaptive plans – everyone has motivation problems within a 16-18 week window! It sounds like you have a good plan for moving forward in training – and those weeks will pay off, even if Chicago is a sunny race day.


  6. I’m so sorry you had a rough week but you’re right – they happen! And especially this early, they’re nothing to worry about. It still sucks to go through them, don’t get me wrong, but what’s important is that you keep the train moving as best as you can, and it sounds like you are doing just that.
    I hope your pseudo-cutback week goes better than last week! I had the same math going on for my cutback week a couple weeks ago so your logic makes total sense to me 😉


  7. I’m the same way about the sun. I don’t love running in really hot and humid weather, but the sun is the worst. It’s my kryptonite. So to do 14 miles in the blazing sun is a big accomplishment in my book. You didn’t quit, and when conditions are brutal, that’s saying a lot. I can see why you’d be so tired afterward! Last year I drove two hours round-trip to do my longest runs on a shaded rails-to-trail (also my race course) because I’m not sure I could have done them on an unshaded course. I will probably do the same this year. It might be worth it to scope out a shaded route near you for your longest runs? Ah, and yes, Eye of the Tiger is playing in my head now!


  8. My long run this week was kind of a bust too. I was just over 10 miles into the run when my legs decided they were done. Not very helpful considering I was 4 miles away from home. I walked for several minutes then did run/walk intervals for the remainder of the run. Definitely a tough day, but a
    nice reminder on how to keep moving forward even when I’m tired. Decided to make this week a cutback week because I clearly need it.

    Good luck in this next week of training!


  9. I have been there where I just wanted to run that last mile and just couldn’t keep my legs going, even a few minutes seemed eternal…it is a crap ass feeling, but that was late in the day so hopefully you will have an alarm win for the next long run and it’ll be a completely different experience.
    I am the same way, the sun beating down on me is usually a deal breaker in the summer. I’ve been trying to get a little later because I have a friend that likes to run late (crazy girl) and it is hard.
    I hope Chicago isn’t blazing this year for you (and I have a friend from here running it), but that time of year is tricky!


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