So at the risk at sounding a wee bit solipsistic, I’m sure the $64,000 Question on your mind right now is, “How’s your Chicago Marathon training going, Hokeydude?”
If you recall from last April, I was a wee bit overjoyed upon learning that I got a lottery entrance into the 2015 Chicago Marathon — my first of the “Majors”! I set a serious goal to PR this race, which meant one thing and one thing only: DOUGHNUTS. Lots and lots of doughnuts. Epic amounts of doughnuts… wait did I say “doughnuts”? I meant TRAINING. Back-breaking, brow-beating, character-defining training. Epic amounts of training. Intense, never-ending, sweltering summer training.
So I’ve been doing some training.
As of this writing (mid/late August 2015), I’m less than two months out from the Big Event, and I’m feeling fairly good about my prospects of having a good, strong run. So in a moment of self-examination, epiphanous illumination, and a desperate maneuver to generate some original blog content, I thought I’d share a few Marathon Training Directives I’ve picked up along the way. Hopefully you can put them to good personal use, and if not, there’s the usual video at the end of the post, and you can funk out to your heart’s content.
If only one of my readers “funks out” after reading this post, then my job is done here. Especially if a unitard is involved:
So to get started…
“Always Be Closing”
I really need to watch Glengarry Glenn Ross again. It still has Alec Baldwin’s most memorable performance in a small but unforgettable role as a corporate pep-talker:
Classy! Anyway, “Always Be Closing” was his way of motivating (or “threatening”) the sales staff always be on top of their game, to always have a ball in play when it came to closing the big sale. You can apply that to training as well, in the sense that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HAVING AN OFF-SEASON. Ever. You can cut back your runs, you can take some time off to enjoy life, or just give it a rest for a while, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, provided that you don’t mind starting from near-scratch several weeks/months later. Just because a race has a 10-12 week training plan, doesn’t mean you should hold off training until 10-12 weeks beforehand.
I haven’t had any real “off-time” since two summers ago, when I was sidelined for 6 weeks by a severe ulcerative colitis flare-up. Once I got the all-clear to run again, it was like I never took a single step in running shoes in my entire life. I literally had to start over again, train myself from scratch, and my performances during the 2013-2014 running season suffered for it. I was consistently running half-marathons in the 2:19 – 2:34 range, a huge step down from where I was before. Running the 2014 Sarasota Half in 2:14 was seen as a HUGE victory by me, but I knew I could do better.
So when the season ended, I continued running. My goal was to successfully finish the 2014 Space Coast Marathon the following November, so by May I had created a running plan and stuck to it… which I did, all freakin’ summer and into the fall, as the season began again. Even after the Marathon, I kept the momentum going with two marathons in January, one in February, and plenty of Halfs, 5Ks, and 10Ks along the way and in between. February and March brought Triathlon training (alongside other races), and then I upped the mileage, along with hill and trail work, for the 2015 Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Alaska last June.
No stopping. No taking time off. Any kind of sustained momentum in fitness requires the same level of commitment as it applies to “dieting”: this isn’t a temporary habit switch, you are going for a full lifestyle overhaul. Diets never work because they are transitory by nature; they end. And once they end, people return to their ingrained eating habits and usually put everything back on, plus more.
The same goes for fitness. Never look at running as a “seasonal” thing. It needs to become part of your lifestyle, like eating, bathing, Charles In Charge reruns, and Joyce DeWitt fan club meetings.
It’s logical sense, really. If you want to be a strong runner, you need to run steadily, consistently, and with a solid training plan. An on-off schedule won’t do most people any good whatsoever. Unless you’re one of “those” people who are naturally gifted at such endeavors and can pick up marathon training a month or two out from the race, and as much as I love you, you can just metaphorically drop dead!
And speaking of dropping dead, let’s talk about another bit we can rather uncomfortably call:
“Push It To The Limit”
Remember that awesome 80s montage from this movie?
There’s this old adage, something about “Teaching a man to fish starts with a single step and Baba Booey to you all…” All I can say is that you will never, ever see any real improvements without pushing yourself and expanding your level of effort. If you run the same pace, at the same intervals, for the same distance over and over again, you’ll finish with roughly about the same pace, at the same intervals, at the same distance… and never anything more. And that’s fine if you’re one of those self-deluded folks who thinks “Oh I just want to finish, I don’t care about performance.” That’s because you’re a lying liar what lies a lot, and you know it!
That was harsh. True, but harsh. The reality is that, like any other physical activity, the body quickly adjusts to whatever you’re commanding of it. The first time you ran a full mile took a ton more resources than the last time you did the same activity. The body adjusted. It knew when to tap your energy stores, when to burn glycogen, when to tear down fat for fuel, and so forth. As it adjusted, it became less of a challenge, and as a result you saw less overall benefit and improvement from the activity. It’s like learning to play chess against your Uncle Veemo. It took awhile for you to get it, then a little while longer for you to beat Uncle Veemo. Now beating Uncle Veemo is easy. So where’s the overall benefit? Your chess game will never improve, and Uncle Veemo doesn’t need the company. He smells like Crisco.
All of this goes without saying. If you want to run faster over the same distances, you need to incorporate speed work into your training. Head over to the track and do some sprints, fartleks (*schnorgles*), splits, glides, turnarounds, any and all of these things. There are plenty of resources online to get you going with speed training.
But it’s not just speed. Summertime is a rough time to train, with all that hot, muggy, stale, nasty, smelly, toxic, coma-inducing scorching heat and enveloping humidity. Yes yes, the “vertical swim”, as it were. You’re absolutely free to bitch and complain about it as much as you feel necessary, but head outside and run anyhow. I loathe adages like “Winter PRs come from Summer training” because they’re smug and condescending, except that they’re entirely true. Unless you’re one of them “naturally gifted athletic types” who metaphorically need to be disemboweled by wolves. But I love you people, really!
And for us Floridians and flat-land folk: if you don’t have hills around, get to a bridge, a landfill, a parking garage, or even a dreadmill set to an incline, and get moving. This strengthens your legs, which in turn straightens your overall game. Plus you don’t wanna be like this yutz you’re listening to, who was all smug about his recent running successes until he was ABSOLUTELY DESTROYED BY HILLS at the 2013 Rock N Roll USA Half Marathon.
So change it up. Run midday instead of around sunrise or after sunset. Take a run or two and change-up (or remove entirely) your running intervals. Every fifteen minutes during a slower long run, do a two-minute sprint. Do bridge repeats whenever you can. By the time you’re participating in your local race event of choice, watch how much faster you go, or how much easier your normal pace feels.
And while you’re doing all this fun zagging as opposed to zigging, don’t forget this important tidbit that we’re eagerly calling:
“It’s A Mixed Up, Muddled Up, Shook Up World”
Lyrics from the greatest classic rock song about cross-dressing ever, because we’re gonna briefly touch upon cross-training, and here’s another Joyce DeWitt pic:
She was so much hotter than the blondes on that show, it wasn’t even funny. Anyway, I’m not going to get too wrapped up in the importance of cross-training because it’s really rather obvious. If all you do is run, you’re selling yourself short AND you’ll make it that much more difficult to up your running game. You always need to strengthen up those glutes, calves, quads, and hams. You’re gonna need them. Pay special attention to your hips, because weakness there can and will destroy any a runner.
I’ve been spending the bulk of my cross-training with swimming, as I still plan on staying in the Triathlon game. It strengthens the entire body, keeps your fitness level up high, and finally you finally have a legitimate reason to roam about the cosmos in goggles and a Speedo.
But do whatever it takes to keep you strong, whether it’s weight training, CrossFit (aka “Ebonics for White People”, according to Jim Florentine), tennis, martial arts, elliptical, anything I guess. If all you do is run, you’re selling your overall fitness level short. Plus it’s going to end up getting really, really boring. So shake up your workouts with something other than running (and be careful with too much cardio). I really recommend signing up for a sprint triathlon in your area. That will compel you to swim and bike on top of your running! Won’t that be exiting??
So in conclusion, I’ve probably said little that you don’t already know, yet somehow it all bears repeating. And yet, what of Hokeyboy? This Saturday I have a 16 mile long run, followed by 19 miler the following week, then it’s off to Disneyland for 22-miles over three days. When I come back I’ll have a single 22-mile long run, followed by tapering for the big event on October 11th. Stay tuned for more coverage, as I’m sure all of it will be patently ridiculous. Or something. Here’s the video: