Saturday, December 10, 2011

Training Training Training

A couple of people asked about my training plan and what may have contributed to being a stronger runner. There are a lot of components, but there are two key simple things I'll write about here:
1. Pacing.  I learned about and incorporated warmup, speed, tempo, long/slow, and recovery/easy paces


2. I didn't run that much at all.

In case you are skeptical about the second point, here's a breakdown of run mileage per week in the 28 weeks leading up to the marathon.  These mileage totals include race mileage.

10 - 14 miles:  2 weeks
15 - 19 miles:  13 weeks
20 - 25 miles:  6 weeks
26 - 30 miles:  5 weeks
30 - 42 miles:  2 weeks

I ran three times a week, and sometimes four times a week when I was traveling for work and couldn't do anything else. I always ran a long, slow run on Saturday, starting from around 3 miles in May and building up to the one long run of 20 miles in November. I tried to do speed work every week (thanks Dave!) and a tempo run, but sometimes the runs were just 30 or 45 minutes easy because that was all I had time or energy for.

There is a great book called Run Less, Run Faster that I highly recommend.  I bought it last fall and read it in less than a day.  It also espouses a "three times a week" approach for running.  But the runs and workouts each have a purpose, and that's part of what I was missing before. I would run, but I didn't really have a plan or an intent for my runs.  So they were not focused and I wasn't really getting the most out of the time that I was putting in. 

Now for that pacing thing.  First, I had to see where I was at, so I did the Magic Mile as described by Jeff Galloway.  There are a lot of different ways to measure, but because I was a member of the Galloway program, I went with this format and prediction. 

Long slow runs were 90-120 seconds slower than desired marathon pace (at least, in the beginning. More on that in a later post). The Galloway method is about run/walk intervals on the long/slow runs. Our intervals were 3:00 run / 1:00 walk, and we stuck to that on our Galloway runs.
Warmup on midweek runs was around 10:00 - 10:30 pace for 10-20 minutes, as was the cool down. 
Easy runs were always between 9:30 and 10:00 after the warmup. 
Tempo runs were about 30-45 seconds faster than desired marathon pace.

I joined One Step Beyond (OSB), led by Marty and Bri Gaal, in June. Get on to find OSB workouts (come join us for a $5 drop in) and you'll find all sorts of groups around the RDU area.  From Bri, I gained a better appreciation for a recovery workout, or just having an easy run, or finally understanding that when my flight is delayed and I get home at midnight, it's okay to not get up at 4:45a for practice and just sleep in. I'm willing to work hard and long to get better, but I'm new at this and not exactly a spring chicken. My body takes longer to recover.

A typical week of running when I didn't travel:
Monday - OSB run at Bond Metro Park in Cary with strength stations
    I didn't know about Metro Park before this year, and now I hate to miss this workout. We run through the trails to the various strength stations and do whatever is listed or incorporate typical strength moves - pull-ups, lateral jumps, planks, jumping jacks, sprint drills and all sorts of things. The run itself is about 2.5 miles long and we don't go fast on the run. When there are 6-8 of us running, the strength stations give everyone a chance to rest a bit before we start running again.  And stretch when we're done!
    If I was traveling instead, this would be a 5-6 mile run at a tempo pace.

Wednesday - speed work at Duke Track
    A friend, Dave Campbell, led me through my first speed workout.  He told me to go run around the track for ten minutes easy. I protested, because I didn't want to get tired. And that's when I learned about proper warmups.  I run a lot faster when I've warmed up for a 10-20 minute period.  Hee.
    Here's a sample workout. You can find these online at resources like
               10 min warmup = 1 mile
               6 x 800 with 200 walk in between
               8 min cooldown

Saturday - long, slow run with 3:00 / 1:00 run / walk intervals with the Galloway Incredibles (10:00 mile)
    Build the mileage throughout the season, although we would do "build/build/short" in a three week cycle and repeat.  So we might do 8, 10, 6 and then 10, 12, 6 and then 12, 14, 6.  We always came back to 6 miles.  The temptation is to keep building, but it's okay to let your body recover and enjoy the surprise of "only" running 6 miles.  These were usually at a 11:30 - 12:00 pace.

On weeks I traveled, I would run one more time, usually a 30 or 45 minute run and most likely on a hotel treadmill if I couldn't get outside (I don't like to run in unfamiliar places and definitely not in the dark by myself).  I ran this "extra" run workout because I typically couldn't swim or ride during the travel periods. That also meant that the speed work was on a treadmill, which is harder.  Treadmills are notoriously unreliable for speed, and they are harder on my body. 

But until the last 4-6 weeks of the buildup, this was it for running.  A session of speed work, a session of tempo or the Metro Park run, and a long, slow run on Saturday.  The occasional fourth workout during the week on the road. 

In the last 4-6 weeks, I joined Galloway for 6-10 miles on Saturday, then ran again on Sunday by myself, which meant my legs were tired for Sunday, but not too tired. These runs would be 25% warmup, 50% marathon pace, 25% cooldown, and with 5:00 run / 0:35 walk intervals.  That comprised the fourth workout in that last month or so, and these were the most intense of the training. 
I'm not kidding when I say I really didn't run that much.

That doesn't mean I didn't train.  I just didn't run that much for my training. 

A friend convinced me last year to try a triathlon with her in June 2011.  That meant riding a bike and swimming. I met my swim coach, Marty, in late January and started attending his Cary Masters swim workouts.  Have you checked yet?  Because this is the second time I've mentioned it :-)  I attended the OSB beginning swim clinic (which is for people who do know how to do a freestyle stroke but need to learn drills and technique).  And lo and behold, Marty and Bri stated that you cannot get better at swimming unless you swim at least three times a week, and you should try for at least four to really see some results.  The focus of the three swim practices - distance, sprints and speed, and a hybrid of the two.  Sound familiar?

Now I had to learn how to ride my shiny new bike, and since I had heard this "distance, speed, tempo" idea in two of the three disciplines of triathlons, I decided to follow the same principles for riding. I found some local groups with whom I could learn to ride.  Whether it was a spin class at a gym, a trainer ride at Cycling Spoken Here, or Inside Out's no drop C group ride on Tuesdays, I was finding the tempo and the speed work.  The long, slow ride was with the aforementioned triathlon enabler friend or with Thorns and Roses or Girls in Gear or the local bike shops on the weekends.  Riding was and is still my hardest event and will be the focus of a lot of hours this winter. 

Dude.  This is your last reminder.  Go to  You will find running buddies, riding groups and swim practices galore.  We in the greater Triangle area are sitting on a gold mine of training riches.  Take advantage of it.

Here was the key to how I got faster - I got fitter.  I cross-trained, just like they said to do in Run Less, Run Faster.  You don't have to join a gym or buy a bike or be a triathlete or invest a lot of money to cross-train.  I was in a hurry for all this to happen, so I invested the money and time, a LOT of time.  But pick something other than running and do that 2-3 times a week as well.  I'm convinced that the weekly spin class and three swim sessions completely changed my body and my athletic capability.  The swimming did wonders for my respiratory system and really changed my body.  The early Saturday Galloway runs of 4-8 miles were followed by a one hour spin class. I'm a lot leaner now than I was in January, my arms, back and core are stronger, and I have more stamina.  I did some hot yoga classes in the late winter and early spring that I'm looking forward to bringing back into my routine this winter. The spin class just made me work hard and sweat a lot.  But the best part was that all of this kept running as something that was always fresh.  I never burned out on any of it, because just when one part started to get a little stale, I would have a different workout the next day. I had days where I was very tired, mostly due to combining a lot of training with a lot of flights and a lot of work. Soon, however, I started seeing some results.

In late March, I had run a mile and timed it at 9:20.  I didn't really warm up well, if at all, and was just starting the ramp up of fitness.  In June I ran a mile and it was 7:45.  That was a result of getting more fit, learning how to prepare and warmup and having a really good day that day.  In late July, that mile was 7:16.  That was shocking. And fun!  Based on my two Magic Miles and my only running race of the season in late August, I hoped for an 8:35 marathon pace and trained at an 8:20 pace on my later runs on Sundays.

As I tried different groups or events, I eventually connected with riders or runners or swimmers who were more experienced or a little faster or both.  I asked questions, listened a lot, did a lot of reading online, and learned a lot.  I also practiced on my own, and I recorded everything. I had started with but switched to, in part because it would upload a lot of data and my coaches use it.  I write a lot of things down, how I felt, what I thought, things I learned (poor Bri, who reads and comments diligently). And that record is one of my favorite things now. I can look back and see my improvement, and on the days that I wasn't feeling strong, I can remember how that felt like to push harder the next time. It's definitely not been a linear path, as I have had runs that were fantastic and runs that made me wonder if I hadn't taken a huge leap backward. 

Here's an idea of a lighter training week when travel was involved:
Monday:  Cary Masters - distance swim workout
Tuesday:  run on treadmill easy run - 30-45 minutes
Wednesday: run on treadmill with speed workout  45 minutes OR exercise bike if available
Thursday: day off
Friday:  Cary Masters speed swim workout
Saturday:  long run
Sunday:  long ride

The heavier training weeks when I was in town:
Monday a.m.:  Cary Masters - distance swim workout
Monday p.m.:  OSB strength run in Metro Park
Tuesday a.m.:  Cary Masters - beginning swim workout
Tuesday p.m.:  Inside Out C group ride
Wednesday a.m.: spin class
Wednesday p.m.: speed work at Duke Track
Thursday p.m.: longer ride (20-30 miles)
Friday:  Cary Masters speed swim workout
Saturday:  long run
Sunday:  long ride

Yup, that's a lot of training time. Not much rest on the long weeks, but rarely did I have those types of weeks consecutively. I learned to love naps, and not the kind where an alarm would go off in 30 minutes, but the kind of naps where you sleep until you wake up. Chocolate milk after every evening and weekend workout. Sunscreen, lots of sunscreen, and Body Glide everywhere.

My travel involved three trips to Nebraska, six trips to Washington, D.C., three trips to New York, a trip each to Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Baltimore and California.  Kinda crazy when I list it like that.  But it was really a prelude to 2012.

Next year I'm only running two marathons. One of them is the Marine Corps Marathon, which I am super excited about and hope to improve on my PR even more.  The second marathon is also exciting, but it won't be a PR.  It will be the third leg of Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  June 24.  Training starts in three weeks :-)

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