Considering a long training project, and the complications

I had considered, as a personal project, doing a year long stepladder program, meaning:

  • Perform a full 12 week training cycle for a 5K race.
  • After a week of recovery, train 12 weeks for a 10K race.
  • After a week of recovery, train 16 weeks for a half marathon.
  • After a week of recovery, train 16 weeks for a full marathon.
  • Take two weeks off, then do whatever I want after that.

I would not have planned to run any official races, because honestly due to Coronavirus it may be late 2021 before society returns to normal and live events like races can fully happen again. Some may even argue I’m being optimistic hoping for that, even as others are being foolishly optimistic in holding out hope for upcoming fall 2020 or spring 2021 races that likely will get cancelled (especially if there’s a serious wave of Coronavirus cases this fall/winter).

All this training would have been to not just gradually, safely stretch back out to the marathon distance, but to also practice the specific endurance skills for each of those distances. I would likely follow the blueprint from Jean Francois Harvey’s Run Better, and would thus continue to strength train twice a week.

However, it wasn’t the likely 61 week timeline for all that which deterred me. We’ve all obviously got a lot of time right now with no events to work towards due to the Coronavirus situation. I have plenty of time.

The key deterrent to starting now was the fact that, had I started now, the marathon training would have fallen right in the middle of summer.

If I have learned one thing about running in Vegas summers, it’s that marathon training in these hot conditions is not only highly impractical, but even dangerous to your health. Never mind the heat itself, even early in the morning, but the UV index makes more than an hour of uninterrupted sun exposure very dangerous for your skin.

To train for marathons, you have to be out in the sun for at least a couple of hours (usually more) at least once a week or two. Treadmills and blended cross training workouts aren’t practically suitable for marathon training (people have done it, but only with the right circumstances/privilege and a load of willpower), nor obviously is bundling and covering up for a long run in extreme heat.

There’s a reason most Vegas runners don’t run anything longer than half marathons.

I would need to do a marathon training plan during the winter, when the UV index is not as high (it’s going to be sunny in Vegas no matter what) and the temperatures are closer to human. If I were going to execute a 61 week stepladder project, I would need to initiate it during this fall, with every intention of punting marathons in 2021.

Wishful thinking for both of us

While I’ve been a lot more cyncical than most about the prospect of society returning to normal anytime soon, I’ve still held out hope that the 2021 Vancouver Marathon will take place. The hosts have offered me and other runners a steep discount if we signed up for that race, a discount I probably would not get in 2021.

If life with Coronavirus got really bad during the winter, I obviously would say forget it about Vancouver 2021. But if whatever sense of normalcy we’ve been able to regain somehow trickled through the flu season, there’s a chance normalcy could return that spring and planned events like this could occur.

However, that possibility is the biggest wrench in my proposed project. The Vancouver peak training period would fall during the window in the project where I’d be 10K training. To do a project like this, I would need to decide right now that I’m not running Vancouver 2021.

Since part of the project idea is to slowly rebuild volume, it wouldn’t fit the project to do a 5K plan, then immediately ramp to high marathon volume, only to come back down to 10K volume for the summer after recovering. It’s similar to building a housing project around an old house where the owner refused to sell his property.

I’m not interested in shortening the training periods to fit everything in. I planned on the full training cycles for a lot of practical and research reasons I won’t get into now.

The other factor in training for a marathon is, to avoid overtraining and burnout, you have to give up any other forms of training or exercise. I have just gotten into a full strength training program and would like to continue that for at least a full year before having to eliminate most of it for the needs of a marathon training cycle. People do try, but your body won’t let you have it both ways.

Who knows… I may do it anyway. Even just doing a 5K training plan, then taking it easy for a month before attempting to train for a marathon that may or may not happen may be worth a shot. Worst case scenario, I’m already 12 or so weeks into the project I was hoping to do, maybe delayed a few weeks increasing volume before realizing there’s no marathon, and then pivoting back to a 10K plan to continue the process.

This is the kind of continuous research people like me do when lockdowns erase society for a while.

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