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No Chicago Marathon. Change of plans.

I have decided to withdraw from the Chicago Marathon, and do not plan on running a marathon this fall. This is despite having paid a pricey entry fee that I obviously will forfeit. Rather than go into a long screed on what became an increasingly simple, straight-forward decision, I’ll write in brief bullet points. I can always add detail later if requested. Reasons:

Too many signs pointed to this Chicago trip being a bad idea.

– Early Canadian wildfires have already covered the city in consistent smoke, and they should continue throughout the rest of summer into fall. There’s a good chance it will persist into October for the marathon. That’s not good air to run in.

– The crime situation in Chicago has gotten worse. While it’s better than the Covid riots, it’s still by accounts of people I know there markedly more dangerous than it was while I lived there. CPD’s understaffed and not really addressing problems. And it goes hand in hand with the next problem, but there’s a lot more vagrants on the trains and at the stations than there used to be.

– The transit situation is unreliable now. CTA while I lived in Chicago was for the most part reliable. But after Covid CTA also lost workers and the train/bus service got more sporadic and unreliable. It still hasn’t improved much, and I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I need to rely on an unreliable system to get around at all.

I wasn’t really excited about running this marathon anyway.

– Frank Shorter famously said you should not plan your next marathon until you’ve forgotten about your last one. Though I’ve long since recovered from Vancouver, I’m admittedly not quite invested in the idea of building towards another marathon.

– It is notoriously difficult to train for marathons in Las Vegas during summer due to the heat. Even indoors, gyms minimize the use of their A/C, and indoor temperatures (which I regularly measure during workouts) are closer to 80°F, uncomfortably warm for endurance workouts, especially long ones. And it doesn’t cool off until mid-October… after this marathon would have completed. It’s not a given I’d successfully get ready for a fall marathon in those conditions.

– Marathon training is very demanding, and there’s so much else I wanted to work on this summer instead:

– I want to dedicate a block of time to serious strength training. When marathon training, I only have enough bandwidth to do some lighter whole body strength training a couple times a week, if that. If not for marathon training, I could strength train more often and work on building strength if not muscle.

– Marathon training doesn’t realistically allow for speedwork and 5k/10K/Half-specific training. Sure, you can do speedwork, threshold tempo work and such while marathon training, but its benefit on your marathon fitness is ancillary at best and you should carefully avoid overdoing it, especially when you’ve got to build around longer easy workouts. If not for marathon training, I could build to some of the 10K workouts that worked very well for me in 2018-2019. I haven’t had much chance to work on them since moving back to Vegas.

– I want to work more on running in this extreme heat, without having to worry about running suitable marathon volume. When marathon training I pretty much have to do all my work indoors, as the 100°F+ temperatures take a lot out of you at short distances, let alone the longer duration workouts you need for marathon training. Many in town go ahead and do it, and most of them burn out on training after a few years. I would like to avoid that and take the pressure off outdoor sessions by not needing to run long for more than a couple hours if that.

That’s all I’ll say on that for now. I’m working this month on a project involving some different training, and will go into more detail on this once the month is completed.

Vancouver Round 5 confirmed for 2024

I had considered not doing Vancouver next year. But, after weighing it over the last three weeks, including during my final few days in Vancouver this year, I decided Round 5 will happen once again on schedule next May.

I had other spring marathons I had been thinking about doing, especially overseas. I also had considered staying close to home next year and doing closer, local marathons in Utah and similar. Depending on how my fitness develops this next 6-12 months, I may still consider doing them as long training runs, or perhaps their half marathons if I really want to.

I’m also mindful that we lucked out with some mild, cloudy weather in Vancouver the last couple years, and that the other shoe could drop next year with sunnier, more difficult conditions a la 2018 (which I DNF’d for different reasons, but most finishers struggled badly with the warmer weather). Of course, you can never really tell until the race approaches what kind of weather you’re going to get, but the course is hard enough without it being hotter and sunnier. In fact, just the brief instance of sun we got this year really knocked a lot of runners over in mid-race. It’s been better than usual the last couple years: Is it nice and cool again in 2024, or do we get the heat lamp?

However, the expense to go overseas is rather great. I’m on schedule to pay off remaining debt by next year, and then I’ll have a lot more disposable income to work with. As it stands, I’m able to work with finances to make Vancouver happen and perhaps another trip or two, but that’s about as far as I feel comfortable going with them. Even just the airfare and hotel for Vancouver is around $3K USD, just for a non-stop flight at a decent hour and a decent hotel near the places I frequent.

As for staying home and running local, the Utah marathons have the added challenge of being higher altitude than where I train. Most are about 4000-5000′, and that would create an aerobic challenge on top of running the actual marathon. While I could be swayed to do one or more anyway as a training tune-up, I’d like for that to not be Plan A.

Plus, I really enjoy the fresh nutritious food in Vancouver, and am quite familiar with it. Going somewhere new, I’ll have to figure out my entire diet for the trip from scratch, and running a marathon in a new land and different time zone is hard enough. Never mind how long and uncomfortable a transoceanic flight is. Maybe some other time.

I certainly have no problem with going back to Vancouver. I’ll probably go a day earlier than I did this time, as the Friday afternoon arrival made the logistics a bit tight before race day. I’ll probably still stay several days afterward, and fly back Friday instead of Saturday so I can have the full weekend at home before resuming work.

Checking in (finally), one week from Vancouver 2023

Hello from the coal chamber!

I decided not to post in March and April while training for this year’s Vancouver Marathon. I was experimenting substantially with my training approach, and wanted to stay focused on that training without writing quickly-dated posts about what I was doing. I wanted the freedom to shift gears without having to possibly explain away something I was doing just a day or a week or a month ago.

I feel pretty good. I have trained more this past couple months than I’ve been able to in any month since I began seriously endurance training so many years ago. I’ve avoided soreness, even though I’ve certainly have carried substantial fatigue for days or weeks at a time.

Until this weekend, for which I planned two total days off, I had aerobically trained on 56 consecutive days. I had no problem getting to the gym or the park and working on any of these days. Worst case scenario, I was somewhat tired, and just took it easy with the session.

A couple weekends ago I logged my longest uninterrupted workout ever by time, at 4 hours 26 minutes. On several of these long workouts I was comfortably able to (at least briefly) run at threshold pace and effort over 3 hours into the workout. In prior long workouts I’d have slowed badly by this point with fatigue and sometimes pain, and doing such a thing wouldn’t have been possible.

Still, I am going to wait and see how it feels to run Vancouver this next weekend before doing a full writeup on what exactly I’ve done in training. For all I know, this still ends up being a brutal fall-flat performance and there will remain a lot more work to do. So I don’t want to parade this as an ultimate solution for anyone in advance, when the experiment has yet to conclude.

I don’t intend to run the marathon hard or all out. Much like 2019 after coming off a prior DNF, the goal for this one will be to finish strong, as well as see how well I hold up through the longest run.

I have done far less specific running, but far more low-zone aerobic cross training, yet have spent much more time on my feet than I did while training last year. The average volume has been a lot higher. The average intensity has been a lot lower. All the running I’ve done in the last month has felt much better than the average of how it’s ever felt before. Usually, before, high volume of running would gradually wear me down. I haven’t had a bad run in over a month.

The basics of what I’ve been consistently doing:

  • Every work day morning, I get to the gym by 6:30am and train until just before 8am, when I head to work. This is mostly easy aerobic cross training, some running where applicable.
  • There are some days where I’ll head to the park instead, weather permitting (though for the most part this winter and spring in Vegas, it has not), for a run. Usually though I go to the gym.
  • Most afternoons, following work, I go back to the gym and lightly train for 20-30 minutes before heading home. Occasionally I go to the park and run, but again weather and circumstances haven’t allowed much of this.
  • After all of these training sessions, I briefly stretch before leaving.
  • On Saturday, I train long, 3+ hours, cross training and some running.
  • On Sunday, I run a couple easy miles outside, whatever intensity I feel like but usually pretty easy effort.
  • I strength train in the morning once or twice a week, before cross training or running.
  • I have intermittent fasted almost every day, not eating a meal until noon or so. At work I will have coffee with coconut oil and marine collagen, but other than this no nutrition until noon.
  • I have a large meal around 6-7pm and get to bed by 8-9pm. I pretty much eat the same dozen or so clean, whole foods now and stopped getting any kind of takeout (the only exception being use of Xact nutrition in long workouts for training, as the Marathon will be supplying it on course).
  • I nap a lot on the weekends.

I used to go out for coffee on work day mornings and stopped doing that, having coffee when I get to work instead. The local coffee industry took a hit, as I even stopped going out for coffee on the weekends! I got back to french pressing coffee on weekends (plain, though; no oil or peptides). When I go for coffee in Vancouver it’ll be the first time I’ve gone out for coffee in weeks.

The impetus for changing all this actually wasn’t for my running or to save money. It just felt better! I noticed a clear difference in my energy levels during the day, workweek or weekends, and decided it was important to me to adopt these routines. So sticking with them was much easier than before.

I just wanted to check in and let everyone know I haven’t disappeared, that I have been training a lot and just decided this time to keep quiet about it. I’ll have more to say on the nuts and bolts when I debrief Vancouver and know how it all did (or didn’t) benefit me.

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Trying new things on a February Vancouver trip

Last weekend I traveled to Vancouver to run the First Half(-marathon) 21K. I had a good time, though everything was a bit rushed and compressed on a 3 day trip instead of the usual week or so I take for the marathon in May (which I’m still doing this year).

Still, as messy as last May’s trip was with corona restrictions and testing, plus my sleep problems and DNF mishap at mile 19… this trip flipped the script. It went as smoothly as I could have hoped.

I knew I wasn’t in racing shape for the half, so I just ran it out as a long supported workout. I felt good about the run, though I haven’t been that sore after a race since the Chicago Marathon. I was waddling for the rest of the day, and fortunately felt better enough to haul my bags to the airport just fine the next morning.

I tried a few things during my recent trip. This might have had a bit to do with why I was so sore afterward for reasons I’ll get into. But I took this trip in large part as a test run for May’s marathon trip, right down to staying at the same hotel and flying in on the same day/time of the week.

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The Hadfield Advanced Marathon Training Plan: Who’s It Good For?

I’ve previously brought up Jenny Hadfield’s Advanced Marathon Training Plan. Hadfield is a coach and a writer for Runner’s World. I found the structure of Hadfield’s plans to be very accessible and up to speed with the base training centered approach I currently want to follow.

If you provide an email address, Hadfield’s website allows you to download this and other training plans. Each plan includes a detailed Page 2 explanation of any terminology on the Page 1 schedule.

Obviously, Hadfield is available for personal coaching, and this would lead to a more personalized training plan. The described plan is a template, but can be followed to the letter as-is.

The various plans Hadfield offers vary which midweek workout goes where by day. So to simplify, and because it’s probably the best fit for many experienced runners, I’ll cite the Advanced Plan’s schedule. The easier plans do have more cross training days and do switch some workouts around, though the schedule layout is mostly similar.

The Basics of the Hadfield Advanced Marathon Plan, in a nutshell:

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How much faster running do you need in base training?

A primary concern with Osler/Hadd style base training is that the lack of hard/fast running will cause you to slow down.

With Hadd training, this is a partially valid concern. One effect of the training is that, while you can improve and maintain threshold-level speed, your ability to kick or surge is limited. Your cruising speed in the short run will improve, but it’s hard to speed up from there.

Osler style base training avoids this by having you do a time trial or race once a week every week. This one hard short-medium run serves as your speedwork. Eventually, once you switch to sharpening training, you work on repeats and other speed frequently ahead of a goal race. But the weekly time trial helps work on and maintain your fast running during the lengthy base training cycle. (It also allows you to quickly take up speedwork, as you’ve been practicing it some each week)

One of the drawbacks of common marathon training plans that include speedwork is that the speedwork not only limits your base aerobic development, but your body can actually burn out on the repeated hard stimulus after about 3 months, very counterproductive if you’re planning to run a marathon in 3-5 months. (And no, a solid taper alone is not enough of a break to refresh those reserves)

Both Osler and Hadd agree that an ideal base training focused phase should last around a year or more before you begin any serious speedwork, and that most runners simply don’t do this because of their own lack of patience, not to mention short term ambitions of goal races. Most simply cannot fathom thinking, planning or executing that far ahead.

I realize one of the reasons my performance improved so dramatically in 2017-2018 was that I made a point to run easy almost all of the time. Most times it was out of necessity, running home from work and needing to guarantee completion of the run and arrival. I ran as easy as I needed to. Often, admittedly, fatigue from the workweek and rest of my life compelled me not to push it on most runs. I covered mileage and got home. It not only allowed me to pile a lot of weekly mileage, but the sub-aerobic-threshold running gradually pushed my aerobic threshold upward, as Hadd’s explained at length.

Most runners don’t do this. Most coaches wouldn’t recommend this. But my obsessive unrelenting focus on easy aerobic base running led to my lactate/aerobic thresholds consistently improving, which showed in my race results. I occasionally did some fast running, but I didn’t need to do much at all to see improvement during this period, even when the Racing Team was out of season and I was only running easy on my own.

A few training plans do lean exclusively on easy running, at least for the first couple months. IronFit doesn’t program any fast running until 7-8 weeks in. Hal Higdon’s easy plans are all easy running, and even his intermediate plans only include a slightly-harder-than-easy marathon pace run once a week. (I’ve mentioned before that while Hansons programs only easy runs for the first 3 weeks or so, I don’t really count that in such examples as that pre-speed base period is relatively short.)

But most plans ask for speed or tempo work right off the bat, holding that pattern through the entire 16-20 weeks. Perhaps that’s too much? Not because a runner can’t handle it: Obviously, most can. But it may be too much because, as Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns or Tom Osler have pointed out, such running is best employed in brief 1-2 month periods right before key races, when its benefits are needed. (In that respect, IronFit somewhat gets it right, only programming speed/tempo in the last 9 weeks of training… though even that’s a little long.)

One of the reasons I’ve found Osler training a good fit is because I think he found the right combination back in 1967 when he wrote The Conditioning of Distance Runners. Run easy, except for one hard run/race a week. Build that easy mileage for 3 months. Then pile on speed workouts in the 7 weeks before your big race or racing block.

In my experience, more speed/tempo each week than that can be too much after a few weeks. This may be why so many serious runners get injured or flat-line their performances so much.

In my experience, less speed/tempo each week than that can indeed stagnate your faster running and make it hard to kick. My long stretches of easy training did improve my cruising speed. But the best racing results only came when I was also doing speed and tempo work in training.

I realize Hadd avoids speed training entirely. However, Hadd’s Phase One base training places top priority on troubleshooting and building your aerobic base fitness only months, only gradually adding harder running once you’ve reached a suitable run volume and shown aerobic threshold base improvement. His training aims to troubleshoot your aerobic shortcomings first and foremost. You only worry about running faster once that’s been suitably addressed.

And it goes back to what both have pointed out about most coaches’ and runners’ general lack of patience, of wanting to see results now. We go to the speedwork right away because we want to see ourselves running fast. And we often default to the (somewhat faulty) common sense that you can only get faster if you practice running faster.

Chicago Marathon Once Again, and The Summer Challenge

I entered the drawing for the 2023 Chicago Marathon not expecting much, having heard (that allegedly) spots would be (more) limited to out of towners and that the drawing might be a bit tighter across the board.

Well, they drew me once again!

So I’ll be heading out there next October, just a few months after Vancouver 2023.

Obviously, I’m running Vancouver in May, so this means not only a 2nd 2023 marathon but a relatively quick turnaround, as marathons go. After a couple weeks off from Vancouver, I’ll have only 20 weeks before Chicago.

So, sorry Frank Shorter, but I won’t be in any position to forget about my last marathon by the time I need to resume base training for the next one.

Of course, in the weeks leading up to this, I had still been planning long-term just in case, presuming I was going to run Chicago. I drew up different schedules, measuring their build, the estimated marathon shape in October, to see what would work. I had also formed plans for what to work this summer on if I didn’t draw in and the summer was free, but that’s a moot point now.

Much like the injury-failed Indy Marathon campaign last year, my big challenge is to endurance train effectively during the Vegas summer. The difference now is I learned and now know a lot about training in these circumstances that I didn’t know last year. (And also, knock on wood, that I have a 100% hamstring and hip flexor complex that’s better built to handle training)

I’m now training at 3000′ altitude along significant hills on weekdays, with similar hills at lower altitude (2300-2500′) on weekends. I’ve focused a lot in the cooler weather on nose breathing on the run as much as I can reasonably handle, only mouth-exhaling or even mouth breathing if the going (usually an extended hill climb) gets tough enough to justify it. My Osler-style base training and the resulting gradual mileage build has been reasonably comfortable. I’ve also scaled back my cross training and walking, sticking mostly to brief walks and some backward walking.

Already, Runalyze has showed my measured VO2max has jumped a great deal, and I’m not even into the real (midweek 8 milers and 3+ hour long runs) meat of training yet. I’ve barely done any fast running, other than a Turkey Trot 10K that went well on no race-specific training and despite not having run farther than 6 miles on any run.

Osler training and the progression has gone quite well, and I’m probably going to stick with it going ahead. Ultimately, after months of easy base training with one tempo or time trial a week, I’ll follow his advice and add in sharpening work towards the final couple months. I may not add as much as he recommends, as March and April tend to add their own stimulus: Increasing temperatures. People tend to forget that’s an added training stimulus in spring! So, if my base runs in hotter weather are suitably tough, I may just keep them the same.

Going back to Chicago could be weird, as a tourist this time. I’ve found (and paid a pretty penny for) a good centralized hotel with a kitchen. The city’s a lot harder to deal with when you don’t have a home base away from the main drag you can retreat to. Unlike Vancouver, I probably won’t stay terribly long following the marathon, though I’ll at least stay the following day.

Meanwhile, it’s rather premature to put a ton of thought into Chicago 2023. I still have to train for and run Vancouver! More to come as it becomes relevant.