Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Planning for 26.2

Today’s workout: Run/Walk, 4 miles
Time: 45 minutes
Days to marathon: 110

It occurred to me that while my day-to-day running life is endlessly fascinating, some of the information I’m throwing up here won’t make a whole lot of sense if you don’t have experience with marathon training. Since one of my goals for this blog is convincing you that training for and running a marathon does not require a superhuman effort, I’m going to start adding my daily workouts to the top of each post. This way, each time you check in, you can decide for yourself how crazy I sound. =)

So what kind of effort does marathon training require? Well, that depends on your goals. If your goal is to beat Deena Kastor’s American record, that probably will require a superhuman effort. (You’ll also need to marry your massage therapist to be on truly equal ground with Deena.) However, if your goal is, like most of us, simply to finish, all you really need is a plan and the motivation to drag yourself out of bed on a Saturday morning. For the latter, it helps to have a significant other who gets tired of your snooze alarm. For the former, it helps to have an internet connection.

When you Google “marathon training program”, you’ll get about 4.5 million results. Don’t be overwhelmed, all these plans build on the same basic idea: gradually increasing both weekly mileage and the distance of your “long run”. Weekly mileage builds a base of overall endurance. The long run gets you used to running for extended periods of time in one go. In theory, this slow but steady build-up will give you the strength and endurance to make it to the finish line.

For my first marathon back in 2004, I used Hal Higdon’s popular and successful Novice 1 Marathon Training program. Over 4.5 months, this program ramps you up from about 15 miles per week to right around 40. You run a long run on the weekend, a medium-long run mid-week, and a couple other short (3-5 mile) runs in between. Here’s a snapshot of this plan, courtesy of halhigdon.com:


Higdon’s plan is–for a beginner–heavy on mileage, but it’s easy to follow. Each morning I could just wake up, check how far I was supposed to go that day, and head out the door. It got me to the finish line of the Motorola (now Austin) Marathon in 4 hours and 54 minutes. Success. Sweet, slow success.

It only seemed logical to return to the program for my second marathon in 2008. Only I never made it to the starting line of that second marathon. Fairly early in the program, just after my 10 mile long run, my genes caught up with me.

I’ll go into the gory details of my year and a half on the injured list in a future post, but the short story is this: My knee broke down, and it took me 3 physical therapists, a chiropractor, and a pair of pricey custom orthotics to get back on track.

Once I finally was back on track, I found I could run distances up to about 10K (6.2 miles) before my knee started to pull its old tricks. Initially, I was extremely grateful to be able to run at all. 10K is nothing to sniff at.

Slowly, though, my excitement about simply being able to run wore off. 10K just didn’t share the “glamour” of the marathon. Your average runner can finish a 10K without too much extra training. It doesn’t require a significant amount of dedication. It doesn’t show that you’re willing to work for something most people don’t. “Marathoner” is a word. “10K-er” is not.

Right around the time I decided I was too good for the 10K, the New York Times ran a fascinating article titled “Better Running Through Walking“. The article talked about the training programs of another famous runner, Jeff Galloway. Galloway, a veteran marathoner and member of the 1972 Olympic Team (ironically, he ran the 10K), endorses a program that involves periodic walk breaks. The theory is that these breaks help prevent injury by giving the “running muscles” time to rest mid-run.

I was skeptical. After all, no “real” runner takes walk breaks mid-run. Please. Then again, the people interviewed for this article were initially skeptical, too. Yet there stories sounded like mine – they had overuse injuries, their times were slowing, they couldn’t handle heavy mileage. Then they switched to Galloway’s program, and not only did they stay injury-free, their times started improving! The time lost walking, they claimed, was more than made up for by the fact that they were able to sustain a faster pace when NOT walking.

A couple weeks after reading the article, I gave the method a shot on a short, 3-mile run. I finished in right around half an hour, which meant I had sustained a 10:00/mile pace. This is not exactly Olympic quality, but my pace for my last 10K had been over 11:00/mile! Fascinating…

So, despite my reservations, I converted to the run/walk school of training. The Times made this even easier on me by providing a RunWell training tool that allows me to log my runs online. (Actually, the tool is pretty awful, but it gave me the plan that I have since transfered to my wall calendar using the high-tech gadget known as a “Sharpie”.)

I can’t say I’m 100% sold on the plan. The mileage still seems WAY too low. Last week, I ran about 10 miles total, and that was right on track with the plan (which you can see for yourself on jeffgalloway.com). But, I do have that successful 9-miler under my belt. And, knock on wood, so far I am injury free. If this really, truly can get me to and through the marathon, then I will sing the praises of Jeff Galloway until the day I die.

This weekend the long run bumps up to 11 miles. I’ll let you know how it goes…

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This entry was posted on July 28, 2009 by in Uncategorized.
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