July 26, 2011

Marathon Training, Chicago-Style

With my big triathlon behind me, it's finally time to focus on the upcoming Chicago Marathon! I have a big goal in mind this time around - going sub-4 hours - but I think I'm up for the challenge. To date I've completed 8 marathons and 2 ultras, but I've never really focused on one and really committed to a specific goal. I always aimed to improve, and I have successfully brought my time down from my first marathon (5:27, Seattle Rock 'n' Roll '09) to my current PR (4:34, Marine Corps '10) in just a couple years' time, but based on my performance in shorter races (like my half PR of 1:58) and my current training paces, I know I'm capable of better. So this time, the plan is to get serious and really tap into my potential. In the past I've never used a structured training plan for a variety of reasons, but for Chicago I'll be following a program that will hopefully prepare me to go for the coveted sub-4.

When choosing a training program, I did have a few requirements. First, it needed to be relatively short. I only have 11 weeks til Chicago, so a 16 or 18 week plan will not work. Considering my fitness base from triathlon training, a slightly reduced 12 week program was a better fit. Second, I prefered no more than 5 days of running a week, since I've found I tend to burnout on more than that and because I'd still like to incorporate swimming and biking into my routine. Third, I didn't want to be doing crazy high mileage. I know for some people 50+ mile weeks work for them, but I don't have the time or desire to run that much, and I find that my body does better with more moderate mileage. And lastly, I needed the plan to be flexible. Since my work schedule changes from week to week, I need to be able to move workouts around and alter them when necessary. I did a little research into training programs and based on these stipulations and some recommendations from other bloggers, I landed on the Pfitz 12 week/55 max program found in Advanced Marathoning (which, in addition to it's great training plans, has a wealth of information on running and training in general).

This program fits all my requirements, and I've heard lots of success stories from people who have used one of the Pfitz plans. I will obviously be cutting it a week short, but I have enough of a base fitness level to start at week 2, so that's what I'm doing. The plan splits the 12 weeks into 4 mesocycles that focus on each of the following: endurance, lactate threshold + endurance, race prep, and taper. Each week includes a mix of long runs, tempos, speedwork, recovery, and medium-long runs. I'm especially a fan of the latter, which I discovered during training for AR 50 and could really feel the benefits from. In the first few weeks it has me running 4 days with the other three for rest/cross-training, then switches to 5 days of running further into the plan. This is perfect for me since I still have the Folsom Sprint Triathlon in mid-August, and while I don't need to train specifically for the race, I don't want to be too rusty : ) The extra cross-training days will allow me to easily fit in some rides and swim workouts. This plan maxes out at 55 miles/week in week 5, which will be the most I've ever done. During AR 50 I maxed out in the mid 40s, but I could feel the benefits of running more mileage than I had previously. I'm hoping this will be the case with this training cycle as well. As far as long runs go, they max out at 20 miles, done twice over the 12 weeks. I know there are plenty of runners who do 22 milers, but I've always preferred 20 - just one more reason I like this plan!

I also have a few races I'll be doing throughout the course of this training cycle: the aforementioned Folsom Sprint Triathlon on August 13th, the Giants Half Marathon in San Francisco on August 27th, and the killer Pier to Peak Half Marathon in Santa Barbara on September 4th. These will basically be subbing in as training runs/workouts, but I think will be a nice change of pace from my regular runs. I'm especially excited to go down to Santa Barbara - I haven't been since I graduated from UCSB last June!

So with all that said, today officially kicked off training for Chicago! I did my first switcheroo already and swapped today's rest day with tomorrow's medium-long run since I didn't have to be at work til this afternoon. The plan called for 11 miles, but I decided to just do my usual route to work which was 10 to make it easy. Since I had a little extra time this morning I slept in a bit and didn't get started til about 10am. It was sunny and already pretty warm, and the temps continued to rise during the run. This was my first run since Vineman 70.3 last weekend and I could definitely feel a little bit of fatigue in my legs. I swam a couple times during my recovery week and felt great, but I could tell within the first couple miles of this run that jumping right back into things with a double digit run may not have been the best idea : / In addition to the fatigue, I felt more out of breath than usual, my heart rate was elevated, and I felt a bit woozy. Early on I started to need rest breaks and had trouble maintaining a pace 30 sec slower than my usual pace on a run of this distance. The second half was absolutely miserable, and if I didn't have to be at work by a certain time I very well may have walked the rest of the way. Instead I took several breaks and actually sat down for a minute or two before I could continue. When I finally finished I felt extremely sick and dizzy.

In retrospect, I think I was dehydrated (I opted not to carry my handheld at the last minute and rely on water fountains), a bit overheated, and probably still not fully recovered from last weekend. I could barely shower and get ready for work and I felt like I would pass out at any minute, but luckily a coworker forced me to take a recovery drink which helped quite a bit. I couldn't stomach any food for a while, but a couple hours later I ate a protein bar and felt a bit better. I still felt a bit off the rest of the day, but am feeling mostly fine tonight. So not quite the way I was hoping to kick things off, but I guess you can't win them all : )


  1. I'll be interested to hear how you like the Pfitz plan. I want to try using one of his plans eventually, but I'm a bit intimidated by a 55 mile week. I'm going to try the Hal Higdon Intermediate 2 plan that tops out at 50 for Philly and see how that goes. Maybe then I'll be ready for 55 next time.

  2. you are amazing, girl. i love reading your blog. haven't been keeping up in a while and enjoyed reading this post. i am very, very mild in my exercise compared to you. i did a 5km yesterday and my time was about 36 minutes. i am amazed at your pr for your 1/2 marathon. you rock! thanks for sharing and i wish you all the best with your training!