Friday, February 23, 2018

Planning a Season

With two years since the Trials and two years to get back, it’s time to make a plan and get after it. Here’s how I approach planning a season.

Step 1: Pick a goal

Last week marked two years since the 2016 Trials. Thanks to an assortment of photo apps, I was reminded on a daily basis of the lead up, race day, and the celebrations after. Not so surprisingly, it made me realize (a) how awesome that experience was, (b) how glad I am I got to share it with so many people, and (c) how much I want to do it all again.

In the past few weeks, randomly and for the most fleeting of moments, I’ve thought: Maybe it’s crazy to try and go for a qualifier this season. Maybe it’s still too soon. But then I think: why the heck not? I want back in, all in, 100%. Last season I struggled to be patient knowing I wasn’t ready to go for it yet and dreamed about “next season.” Well, that time has come, so quit hesitating: this spring’s goal is sub-2:45

Step 2: Pick a race

Deciding what I wanted to do was easy; where I wanted to do it was harder. For whatever reason, there never seem to be as many marathon options in the spring as the fall. I didn’t have a qualifying time for Boston, I had too many bad memories of training for (and not racing) Grandma’s, I didn’t want to travel too far (the London Marathon is certainly on my bucket list though not in my budget), and I wanted a race that might have some good competition around my pace. I kept considering the Pittsburgh Marathon and rejecting it because just mentioning the race prompts a comment about its hills. I qualified in 2014 thanks in part to a perfect course, can I really do it on one much harder? But the timing (May 6) is perfect, it’s drive-able from where I live, and there are usually a couple of women in the 2:40-2:50 range. In the end, Pittsburgh won because I kept coming back to it: something was drawing me there, which seems to be how I often make running decisions and goals.

Step 3: Make a plan

After the major details are ironed out, it’s time for specifics: I open Excel and plot out all my workouts, long runs, easy days, off days, and miles until race day.

Some people can be intimidated by seeing it all spelled out and feeling like they have to stick to the script exactly. For the record, I NEVER completely stick to the plan I make. Sometimes I need to take an extra day or two off here or there or I decide I’m feeling more zonked then I should and cut back a little. Or I’m feeling in need of some speedier paces, so I switch from a tempo to a track workout. (I did exactly that just this week.) I used to print my plan out, but I no longer do that because keeping it on the computer makes it more flexible: the 21st century equivalent of just penciled in and easily modified. But even though I know it might change, I still like having it all spelled out: seeing how the workouts will progress in distance and pace gives me a sense of hope that my goals are possible. Here’s what I want to do and here’s how I’m going to do it. But if knowing all the details ahead of time stresses you out, it can help to have a coach who gives the workouts in smaller chunks and helps you readjust as necessary.

I start with what I’ve learned from the past. My CIM plan forms the backbone of my current plan, since I know the progression worked for me and left me injury free. I check to make sure I’m not making the same mistakes as before Grandma’s. (Looking back, I’m pretty sure I know exactly which three-week block did me in). I also look to notes I took after Richmond (more 20 milers!) to remind myself where my weaknesses were last time.

I write in the races I want to do in the buildup; this season it’s Rock-n-Roll DC Half, Cherry Blossom, and Monument 10K. Everything major (workouts, races, off days) gets color-coded because it’s pretty because it’s easy for me to see when two hard efforts are too close together or there aren’t enough off days. I add in some workouts specific to the race I’m running: this time it’s more hill workouts and not shying away from hillier routes for pace miles.

A snapshot of three weeks of CIM training--the season I qualified for the 2016 Trials--9, 8, and 7 weeks until the race. The top line is the mileage for the day, below is a quick note on the pace or workout. Asterisks mean I adjusted something (about halfway through the season I realized I needed more days off), races are blue, track workouts are peach, tempos are red, marathon pace workouts are purple, and off days are grey. The first week is a down week after a couple of weeks around 70 miles per week.

Then I take the rest of life into account: I often have Baby duty all day Tuesday so I make sure that day is stroller friendly. (But it should be noted, here and everywhere, how much of a superstar Mr. Runnerteal is for taking Baby duties all the other days.) A big workout fell on the day of Baby’s first birthday party so that got moved, because first birthdays are, um, kind of a big deal. It's good to look ahead and see how the tough workouts are going to fit among everything else going on--work assignments, travel, weddings--and adjust so you're not completely draining yourself.

Once I have most of the workouts in place, I add in the rest of the miles in a way that I’ve learned (through much trial and error) works for me: I aim for a 16-week buildup with peak mileage in the 70s, I take one day off a week (usually the day before my longest run), I usually have a mid-week medium long run that gets up to 15 miles (easily my favorite run of the week), I sprinkle in lots of easy days, and I take down weeks (cutting back my total mileage and long run) every 3-4 weeks. Then I fiddle around until the progression makes sense, so that I’m never jumping up by too much. (A 10% increase in weekly mileage is the old standard, though Runner’s World has a more nuanced calculator based on more recent research here. I aim for around 10% but fudge that rule a bit.)  And I finish with basically the same taper I’ve done for years because it works for me and I’m too scared to change it (nor do I see the point).

Finally, I put pace goals next to each of the major workouts so they progress, optimistically but possibly--just possibly (*fingers crossed*)--realistically to the pace I need for 2:45.

Step 4: Get to work.

This season I’m aiming to put up a blog each Friday so you can follow along on the road to another OTQ attempt. If you have an idea for a post or something you’re curious about, let me know in the comments below. This post was inspired by such a comment, so thanks!

Dream big,