21 March 2013

fail to plan, plan to fail

never having run (for all intents and purposes) prior to the spring of 2009, i can safely say that i didn't know what i was doing when i agreed to a friend's challenge to run a half-marathon on labour day that year.

up until that point, all that i'd managed to do was to make it through a music video or two (from the 1980s of course) while on the treadmill.

since then, i've managed to complete three half-marathons, one 30k race and three full marathon distances - and generally speaking, i've been progressively getting better/stronger/faster ... (cue Six Million Dollar Man music)

i'm sure that part of this has been a result of now a couple of years of conditioning myself as a runner.  last week marked a milestone as i completed my first 60+ mile week of training, and today my mileage in 2013 has eclipsed 1000 km.

but i'm also confident that part of my steady improvement in racing is attributable to the training plans that i've followed.  i find this area of conversation very interesting, as it forces me to assimilate all sorts of things that i've heard and observed about training and coaching. for instance:

  • various elite distance athletes train without a coach (e.g. jason hartmann, and until recently ryan hall)
  • the kenyans and japanese distance runners tend to run and train in groups (whereas i tend to run and train alone - maybe it's because i'm such an introvert)
  • the great haile gebrselassie once said in an interview that racers should not be nervous standing at the start line, because at that point it's just about showing off all the work that you have already done in training
  • it was said about patrick makau (current world record-holder in the marathon - 2:03:38) that he "trains to race fast, not to train fast"
  • i had the privilege of meeting and getting to know paul hefferon, who finished 2:16:46 in his debut marathon at the 2012 olympic trials in houston running with the hansons brooks distance project
  • my friend (and planned pacer at the 2013 mississauga marathon) stan ong is a sub-3 hour marathoner who trains by feel
  • if it's been said once it's been said a million times ... when it comes to race day, you have to trust your training
to date i've tried to followed three different race preparation schedules.  for my first two half-marathons, it was a training plan for the disney half-marathon that was sent over to me by a co-worker who had raced at disney world.  then for the 30k and first full marathons, i used a version of the runner's world intermediate marathon plan.  for the last two marathons, i worked with the 'ryan hall marathon training plan' as published by nissan's innovation for endurance program.  and now, spurred on by mostly positive reviews and my friend paul's association with the hansons brooks distance project, i've been using a modified form of the advanced hansons marathon method plan.

this plan that i'm currently using has (in my mind) two distinctives about it: 
  1. the principle of cumulative fatigue - the idea that every run is pretty much executed on tired legs.  this is the first program that i've tackled that has me running six days out of the week, and the premise is that training within a maintained level of fatigue simulates the final 15k or more of the marathon, thereby acclimatizing you to pushing beyond 'the wall'.
  2. the 16 miler - most programs will include a 16 mile run, just not as the longest run in the schedule.  the hanson brothers and their teams have found that making sure that the longest run in any given week is not disproportionate to the total number of miles logged in the week (e.g. not more than about 25%) emphasizes the importance of each training run (and type).
so far, so good.  i'm pleasantly surprised at how i've managed to sustain the 6-days-per-week schedule, and while i'm not clearly seeing gains in pace, i have to admit that this is really the first go at training where i've given myself specific times in which to try and complete specific distances.

i'm always curious to hear about what other training plans have worked for other people - feel free to weigh in on my experiences or your own.  for now, i'll finish out the hansons marathon method and bring the definitive update after may 5 in mississauga.


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  1. Brilliant stuff, Patrick. The next part of your training is to get your distances wrong and end up running further than you intended because you'd have to walk the last 8+k. Works for me.

  2. i know your pain, geoffrey. i remember taking a wrong turn and making a planned 34k run into a 39k one. :)

  3. Have you read Tim Ferriss' '4 Hour Body'?
    He has some interesting thoughts on training (and becoming superhuman).

  4. Hi Patrick

    Great post as usual. I love the geb and makau quotes…so true.

    thanks for the shout out. now i really have to make sure i recover in time to run with you in may :)

    it really sounds like your training has gone exceedingly well up to this point (knock on wood) despite our lovely canadian winter this year.

    you know all about the plan i'm following and outside of a few minor tweaks and some soreness, training has been been going very well for me too.

  5. aj - haven't heard of tim ferriss, but will follow up on that ... sounds intriguing!

    stan - thanks! i'm inspired by your level of dedication and accomplishments. excited to root you on in your boston run (albeit from a distance!), and looking forward to being able to work with you in mississauga - with no expectations of you one way or the other! it'll just be a joy if you can make it.