Saturday, July 11, 2015

PDX Marathon Take 2: The Plan for This Time

Yesterday, I talked about what went wrong in my first marathon to take over an hour longer than I expected (and a very miserable last hour, at that). Here's what I'm doing to make sure that doesn't happen again this year. 

Time goal

My time goal is actually basically the same, 5:15. That requires a pace about 30 seconds slower than my half marathon pace, so maybe on the faster spectrum of what's possible, but not outside the normal range. Based on the x 2 + 10-ish minutes, it's right there. Other online calculators predict 5:16 - 5:19, so it's close. I'm training for and expect (pending how the training goes) to start the race on pace for 5:15, but will absolutely be fine with up to 5:30. Though 5:15 might be just a tad ambitious, we're talking a couple minutes, not an hour, so it's close enough to reasonable that it shouldn't screw me up so much to bonk at mile 16, it might just create a slight positive split if it ends up to be a tad fast. 

Training plan

I'm going with the Hansons method - the "renegade" training method. This differs from conventional training plans (at least those for the typical beginner/hobby runner) in a few ways:
1. Relatively short long runs, peaking at 16 miles.
2. Relatively high weekly mileage, peaking at 57 miles for the beginner version.
3. Relying on cumulative fatigue by building up mileage and workouts throughout the week so that that 16 mile long run feels like the last 16 miles of the marathon (versus a 20 miler after resting the day before that would feel more like the first 20 miles of the marathon).

The rationale for maxing out at 16 miles runs is largely because of how long it is for the average non-elite to run that far. Not only is 20 miles a huge % of your weekly total if you're only doing 40 or 50 for the week, but even a faster non-elite is likely to take 3 hours or more. (For some of us, upwards of 4 hours). For most people, that's going to a point of diminishing returns. Apparently research has shown that the benefits from long runs only last through 2.5 hours of running. After that, you're not getting any further benefits, and you're risking a lot through additional wear and tear on you body (especially since your form will likely degrade after so long). 

Instead of running long all at once, the plan has back to back runs. The day before a long run, rather than rest, is a moderate run of 6 to 8 miles, and this is coming after some easy miles and no rest day since the tempo run a couple days prior. So your legs are not at all rested for the long run, just like they won't be as you're pushing through the end of the marathon.

There's also a high reliance on very long tempo runs, reaching 10 miles of tempo (plus warm-up and cool-down). I think my last plan only went up to 6. You really have to get used to running that goal pace for a fairly extended period of time. 

Though what initially appealed to me was the shorter long runs (20 miles takes a really long time to run at my pace!), it's far from low intensity. The workout runs and the total mileage is designed to be challenging, even for a beginner. But if you do the work to meet that challenge, the marathon should be extremely doable.

Commitment to training plan

Not only am I motivated to get prepared to redeem my previous time, but the plan I've picked requires you to stick to it for it to even work. The 16 mile long run won't do any (well, much) good on its own; you have to have done the preceding runs for the cumulative fatigue to have set it and for the 16 miler to do what it's supposed to do.

I am going to slightly modify the plan to reduce the mileage - cutting not from the number of runs, but from the total easy miles included. And I think that's consistent with the heart of the intent; for example an easy 4 or 5 mile run on Monday, I think is intended to be a short easy 30 - 40 minute recovery run. If it takes me almost an hour at truly easy pace to run that 4 miles, the sheer duration will inhibit it truly being that easy recovery activity. So cutting it to 3 miles keeps it with the original intent. 

What's most important, I think is the "substance" workouts, especially the tempo and long run miles, but beyond that, I think minor cuts are ok. There's also a lot of cross training I want to fit in (some to improve running, some for its own sake), so in terms of aerobic ability I do have that supplementing. I think I might try to peak closer to 50 miles than 57; like with my easy recovery run example above, I think that much total mileage and time on my feet isn't uncomparable to the intent, given my slower pace than a more typical hobby runner at, say, a 4:00 marathon.

The other aspect of actually committing to the plan is committing to the proper paces. Easy runs should really truly be easy. From the charts in the book (or rather, extrapolated from the charts that only go up to a 5:00 marathon goal), my easy runs should be approaching a 14:00 pace! There's almost a 5 minute spread from speedwork (5k) pace to recovery pace (even slower than easy!). The faster paces on the chart might not have as much of a spread in total minutes - but it is in percentage. An 8:00 recovery pace on a 5:20 5k pace is fewer minutes difference, but still a spread of almost 50%. Thinking of it being universally applicable in that sense might make it a little easier to handle seeing 14s on my garmin.

Of course, all this talk of commitment, and this week I already skipped an easy run altogether, dropped 2 of 12 quarter mile repeats, and reduced the tempo by a mile! It's so ridiculously easy, given the sheer volume of work that marathon training takes, to let life get in the way. That's... going to be a challenge to overcome. 


  1. I'm glad you'll be training on a plan so similar to mine - it'll be really interesting to see how it all works out this fall for us! I really do think this method is the right one for anyone who runs slower than 10 mins per mile (from what I've read anyway).

    The five minute spread is really interesting... until this week I had a bit of trouble with it. However, this was my first big build week where I peaked over 30 miles and had 2 speedwork days (800s and a pace run)... and let's just say my 6-mi easy run today was VERY easy (almost 14:45 min/mi). That's so much slower than I would normally feel comfortable with, but I can feel the fatigue on my legs, and knowing I still have to knock out 10 miles tomorrow made the decision to go easy feel right!

    1. Agree, I hope this works well come race day but it really does make the most sense at these paces.

      It's funny about paces - I definitely used to fall victim to always running comfortably hard - so I think I used to run around a 14:00 pace when I was doing C25k, then brought that down, now I'm gradually increasing my easy pace *back* to that, as I realize how important that spread and easy paces are!


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