Back in May, for reasons that still mystify me, I registered for a fall marathon. I wasn't drunk. Not exactly, anyhow. It wasn't boredom, or a burdensome surplus of cash. It wasn't temporary insanity. Well, maybe it was. How would I know, right?
Maybe I'll never understand why I signed up. What I did understand, immediately, was that I'd need a training plan. And soon. As a veteran of 25 marathons over 20-odd years, I knew the drill - go online for a plan, or else get one from a trusted personal source. (In my case, that would be Budd Coates, Runner's World US's training director and former elite marathoner, with a 2:13 PR.)
Either way, the plan would include the usual familiar stuff - the gradual build-up, the tempo runs, long runs, easy days, taper. And either way, I could reliably depend on the plan to get me to the starting line healthy, fit and ready to run 26.2 miles. This time, I was leaning toward option number one - an online programme. No muss, no fuss.
Then I paused. What if I created my own training plan instead? From scratch?
Just to see what would happen? I'm a reasonably competent, intelligent guy. And I've followed enough marathon training plans to have learned a thing or two along the way.
Still… design a marathon training plan? Entirely by myself? It felt audacious. Brazen. Saucy! Was I up to the task? Was the student really ready to assume the role of master?
I was reminded of the scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker is brought before Darth Vader, who examines Luke's weapon.
“I see you have constructed a new lightsaber,” says Vader, impressed. “Your skills are complete.”
Of course, Luke had the advantage of being the son of a Jedi. My own father was just a Lutheran.
Ultimately, I figured, what the hell? I'll do it. At this point in my running life, what have I got to lose? Also, it could be fun.
And so that's what I did. One night, after the kids were asleep and the house was quiet, I sat down with a cold IPA, flexed my fingers like a concert pianist, and got to work.
(Incidentally: Midway through the second IPA, I noticed that you can easily mistype “pianist” as “painist.” Which actually isn't a bad way to describe a runner preparing for a marathon. But I digress.)
Here's what I came up with:
The duration of the training shall be 16 weeks. Sixteen shall be the number of weeks, and the number of weeks shall be 16. Seventeen shalt thou not count, neither count thou 15, excepting that thou then proceed to 16.
Why? Because every other marathon plan I've followed has been 16 weeks long. In a happy coincidence, my marathon at the time was 18 weeks away. So I would have two weeks to train for my training.
I will drink beer, and I will eat ice cream. But not on the same day. And not too much at once. (I alone shall determine what constitutes “too much.”)
I know myself well enough by now to know that I need this safeguard. Without it, ice cream and beer could constitute a third of my total daily calories. That is not good.
At this stage in my life, cultivating speed in marathon training doesn't make sense. Train to run short distances fast and you'll run short distances fast - say, the first few miles of a marathon. Again, not good. So, no 400-metre repeats. No ladder workouts. Quality days will be tempo and fartlek runs. Strength-training will be hills and trails.
I will not step on a damn track. See above.
I will measure my long runs by time, not distance.
I want to run my marathon in about three hours. So my longest long runs will be about three hours.
You know what? I'll do all of my runs based on time.
Crazy, am I? We'll see who's crazy! Hahahaha!
My weight will take care of itself.
I am 45 and weigh 12 stone. When I ran my 26.2 PR at age 29, I weighed just over 11 stone. Trying to get my weight down to that would be as dumb as trying to get my age down to 29.
I will do one set of push ups, to failure, after every run. Just because push ups make me feel like I'm getting stronger.
There's a lot to be said for doing things that make you feel stronger, even if the real impact is negligible.
I will end each long run with two to three miles at marathon goal pace or faster.
This just seems smart.
I will cut back miles as needed.
Rather than reducing mileage at predetermined intervals, I'll do so when my body tells me to. Implicit in this is the hope that I'm wise enough by now to distinguish between “tiredness” and true fatigue.
I will use the Force.
I will feel it flowing through me.
Will it work? I'll know soon. My race, the Portland Marathon, is on 4th October. I'll file a report shortly after.
Meantime: late in the process of building my new lightsaber - er, training plan - I recalled something. Budd Coates? The guru who helped me with so many previous plans?
He likes to call himself Yoda. I kid you not.