A change of plan

So following hot on the heels of last weeks rather below-par performances I decided to sit down and have a serious look at what I was trying to achieve and how I was trying to get there, and hopefully be able to identify any changes that I was going to need to make to ensure the whole journey didn’t end in failure.

The first problem was kind of obvious really; In an effort to ensure I wasn’t out running every evening I was trying to run 4-5 days a week at lunchtime in 90+ degree heat. That was only going to work for so long until it took its toll on me. The Monday, Wednesday and Friday 3M runs weren’t too much of a problem, I could complete them in the correct times without my heart rate going through the roof. The problem was Thursdays, that session is always a speed session, either Fartlek or Tempo for up to 45 minutes. These sessions were becoming harder and harder, as the times I was trying to achieve were pushing me to the limit, and in the heat something had to give, which is what happened last week.

With the temperature still going up and with the length of lunchtime runs increasing when the actual marathon plan starts in a few weeks this situation was only going to get worse.

The heat/lunchtime runs weren’t the only problem. Apart from the 3 days I was forced to take off when I had steroid injections in my feet, Saturday was the first day off in 6 weeks. Whilst it wasn’t too severe I feel I was over training. I had little energy or desire to go out and run for the last week. This is a sure sign that something is wrong, as for the first time in nearly 18 months I have no pain anywhere in my body my back, hip and feet are all feeling great. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I am addicted to running, and love it, so for me to not want to go out shows that I needed to change something. The reason why I didn’t really notice I was getting into a problem was that each of the workouts was reasonably easy on its own, they were all 45 minutes or less, and most of them were just 3 miles. It was the accumulation over the weeks that left me in a mess.

I had obviously bitten off more than I could chew with the Advanced Spring Training plan. I think, and maybe this is more bravado than anything else, that in a cooler climate the plan would be reasonably easy. When I was out running I was achieving the times without too many problems, so in cooler conditions it would have been even more relaxed. This situation was going to happen again when the marathon training plan started as it was 6 days a week of running. If I switched to from lunchtimes, that would be every evening out the window!

Those were the problems, but how do I resolve them and still make sure I am not running every night and that I still enjoy the whole experience and be the best I can be?

The lunchtime running couldn’t continue, maybe I could manage one or at a stretch two a week, but to get better I need to do some speedwork. Last year I just did mileage as that is what I felt I was going to need with the lack of base training to get round the Goofy, and it worked brilliantly. I don’t feel though that just going back to that regime would really give me any benefit. Been there, done that I guess. The bit of speedwork I have done in the last 6 weeks has shown some real improvement, the 5KM time trial I did 2 weeks ago was the fastest I have ever run, and faster than I managed just 2 months prior over a shorter distance in the Duathlon, so I want to make sure I still do some of the Fartlek, Tempo and repeats that I have been. It also breaks up the monotony of just going out and running all the time. So I need at least some sessions that work on speed, and they can’t be at lunchtime.

The other problem I have is trying to fit all this in. I don’t want to be out running every night, as I enjoy spending time with my family, and I don’t want to be going out at 7pm every night as it just messes up the evening. The volume of running is also a concern. I have just proved that running 6-7 days a week is not going to work, especially in this climate. I can’t do it at lunchtime, and I don’t want to do it in the evening.

The ideal plan then is going to be something that is only running up to 5 times a week, includes some speedwork and more importantly is going to make me better than I ever have been. There are lots of plans that will get you fit enough for a marathon, but I want to be the best I can be and push myself. I have just gone past my limit, but I want to find the real limit and stay there. Basically I want to have my cake and eat it!

I have spent the last 3 years using Training Peaks and plans that I have purchased from their store as the base for my training, and for the last 18 months I have followed those designed by Hal Higdon. I decided it was time to look at what I had been doing with those plans and see what alternatives there were.

The first thing I decided was, I needed a more personal plan. The plans that I have had thus far have all had the distances on them, but no real guide as to pacing. I used the McMillan Running calculator this year to get some better idea of paces, but there is a problem with all of this. At the start of a plan you set out your paces, and then that’s it, you run at those paces for the whole of the plan. That doesn’t seem logical to me. It might be OK over a 10K plan or maybe even a half-marathon plan of a few weeks, but an average marathon plan is 16-18 weeks long. Surely the paces I run at week 1 won’t be the paces that I am running by the end?

One option is to run time-trials or races (more likely time-trials here due to the lack of races) regularly and recalculate the training paces based on those performances. This is something I will probably do in conjunction with everything else that I am going to change.

What I have found is a more personal plan through the Runner’s World SmartCoach system. You input a recent race time and the date of the next race and it works out a plan depending on how hard you want to work. The best thing is, it gives you paces for each and every workout, and they change as the plan goes on, so that you have an idea of the progression you are meant to make. Now I will state here and now, the pace it says I should be doing in December is quite frankly ridiculous. That is based off of the 5KM I ran 2 weeks ago.

The good thing about the plan is you can fine tune it as you go, and if you miss workouts it can recalculate what you need to do. I have set the level to be hard, you can chose between maintenance, moderate, hard or very hard, which you can adjust as the plan progresses depending on how you are finding the workouts.

It still has a base period, build period and then a taper at the end. It is just a bit longer than the plans I had been doing. As an example, if I stayed on the Spring Training Plan in 6 weeks I would finish and be still running 10 miles as the longest run, the new plan has me running 20 miles in 7 weeks! So I will have an initial build, and then a base period where I just add miles during the week as the long runs don’t change, and then a peak towards the end. But it is basically a 27 week marathon plan instead of 2 separate plans.

Another reason I chose this plan was because of the amount of workouts it requires. I only have to run 4 times a week, so 3 rest days! Initially I can do one of the workouts during the week at lunchtime, which will only leave 2 that need to be done in the evening. I can reduce this further by moving the Friday workout to Saturday to give me the back-to-back workouts that are going to help with the Goofy in January. I will play that by ear once I get a bit more familiar with the new routine. There is only one speed session each week and it varies between tempo runs and repeats, and is the one session that will always be done in the evening

Despite it maybe appearing like I will be working out less than the initial plan I had, I will actually be doing more when it comes to the peaking phase later in the year, my previous high mileage weeks last year topped out with two that just broke 50, and that was because I added extra miles at the weekend over what was on the plan, this plan gives me twice that number of 50M weeks!

By the point of the peaking phase I will have to be running at least twice in the evenings, and then my back-to-backs at the weekend. But I will still have 5 nights a week at home (including weekends), and it is only for a period of 6-8 weeks which isn’t too long.

All in all, I am quite happy with the compromise I have found. I now have a customised plan, that I will tweak over the next couple of weeks as I attempt the first few sessions. If I can’t quite hit the paces specified then I can adjust it to the level I am at. I should then have a believable number at the end for the race in December. It will be interesting to see how close I can get to that number, because, in theory at least, I should then be quicker in January at Disney in the cooler conditions!

I am more relaxed about the whole plan for the rest of the year. The thought of 3 rest days a week and still being in peak condition by the time I get to the start line in December is very appealing. I was tense and exhausted with the monotony of the plan I was on. I am sure those kinds of plans are for certain types of people, just not me. A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes, and whilst I am sure the plan I was going to use would work just as well, and I would probably be just as fast come race day, the fact I have something new to try has me more excited and energised about going out running again.

The first session of the new plan is tonight, 5M @ 8:57 pace, which is nearly 30 seconds a mile slower than I had been trying to push myself, so will hopefully be the proverbial walk in the park!