Planning for Fall means planning NOT to fail

As I am writing this, the sun is going down on the official first day of summer…the temperature here in Houston peaked at 92 degrees, which  “feels like” almost 100 along the Gulf Coast; the 4th of July is peeking over the horizon; and for most people, planning has a lot more to do with vacations than races. But runners are a special breed, and while there are marathons all year long (Grandma’s Marathon ran today in Duluth, MN today, in fact) it’s the fall season that many of us focus on…which means that training begins in earnest in July, August, or September, depending on the date of your particular goal race, your current level of fitness, and how obsessive/compulsive you might be (oops, that just got a little personal there 🙂 ) I posted last week about my various goals for the rest of the year, and tried to take a small step back to see the unique challenge and distinct focus required for each of them; this week I am taking a bigger step back to see how these different strategies must work together to avoid conflicting and cancelling each other out.

My race schedule can be broken into three segments: two races of roughly the same distance (half-marathon and Spartan Beast), one week apart; then a six-week break before a trail ultramarathon; then another lapse of 5 weeks leading into a road marathon…that’s like running 4 marathons in less than 90 days! (Too bad I manage to miss the criteria for both Half-Fanatic and Marathon Maniac, but that’s just how it goes.) This is not unheard of, but for someone like me, who is still a relative newbie runner, it is a tall order indeed. That’s why I need to take that step back and look at the big picture: I can’t afford to lose sight of how training for one thing will help or hinder my efforts for another. For example, if I work exclusively on the half-marathon, I will have nowhere near the stamina I need to run a 50-miler less than 2 months later; or if I train just for the 50-mile, I probably won’t have the speed necessary to beat my PR for 13.1 miles. I also have to balance out the need for recovery after each race, without sacrificing fitness or intensity that I will need for the next one. Finally, let’s not forget that life will still happen, and there will be ups and downs, good periods as well as bad ones…so any plan I come up with has to have a little “wiggle room” in it to keep from collapsing at the first hiccup. So let’s see what I can do with all this!

The big picture view takes into account my past experiences, as any good plan should always do. I ran the Houston Half Marathon last year (along with a handful of other races on the same basic route) so I know that hills are not something I need to worry about – this city is FLAT! The few under- and over-passes along the course are shorter and less steep than the local overpass I do repeats on regularly; the bike trails I run on weekends at Memorial Park have taught me how to do hill work – I usually pass people going up and downhill in races (and I love hearing them gasp when I go by 🙂 ) The same goes for the Brazos Bend 50 Mile – I ran 50K on the same course, and it is as flat a trail race as you will ever find anywhere…which is one of the attractive factors for me 🙂 My two Spartan Races taught me that running is by far the least of my worries there, it is the obstacles that I have to prepare for, and that means strength training – particularly upper body, in my case. As for distance and endurance, I have several months to build up for a 50-miler, and the fact that the marathon comes after means I can actually train down during the interval and still maintain the volume and pacing I need to meet my goal – how often does that happen?

The big picture also has to account for life off the running path, because it does. My work schedule right now revolves around two major projects, both of which are coming to a head at the end of July; that means I have about six weeks during which training will on occasion have to take a back seat to other demands. I intend to use that period for maintenance and base building: nothing particularly directed, mostly easy or fartlek runs 2-3 days a week, and one longer trail run per weekend, averaging 15 miles per week in the beginning and working up to around 25 miles or so. I have joined a gym and I’m working with a trainer two nights a week, to help me key in on critical areas – he has done Spartan Races before, and one of his partners is a veteran marathon runner, so they know exactly what I need to be doing…score, and score again! I will be sticking with them through the Beast and beyond…muscles are a runner’s best friend, after all 🙂 🙂

This leaves me a twelve-week window for serious training. Based on my history (2 tries at the half, plus my pacing at the half-way point on the full last year) I know I can run 13.1 miles in about 2 hours pretty much any time I want to…that’s a basic 9 minute mile. I also know that I can run 8 minute miles (or less) for 5K, and a few months ago I proved I can do the same for 10K; so the focus here needs to be stretching myself out to twice that distance at a comparable pace. I am taking my cues for this period from last 12 weeks of the Hansons’ Marathon Method Beginner Plan, which puts great emphasis on running at goal pace; I had success with this plan in the span of time between last year’s marathon and my spring races, and I believe in sticking with what works! ( The same authors have written a half-marathon specific book also, but I already have this one 🙂 ) The basic change I will be making is to add a second long run on the weekends, at a much slower pace but much longer in duration, following the pattern for most 50-mile training plans I have seen. This run will be measured in hours, not miles; the goal is time on my feet and in my head. I am very blessed in this case to be part of a fabulous group of trail runners, many of whom will be running with me at Brazos Bend…brothers and sisters on the trail are valuable beyond all description!

Next week I will try to have something like a weekly plan laid out to share with you, along with some insights of how I will be transitioning once this initial goal has been met. Keep coming back it only gets better!




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