August 15, 2013

A return to marathon training

Last week I started a new training program -- an 18-week marathon preparation.

It feels amazing, exciting -- and natural. After all, I am a marathon runner, I train for marathons.

It has been only 10 weeks since my return to running, following a year of enforced layoff to sort out mysterious heel pain that failed to respond to various types of treatments and stumped a top sports doctor.

In those last 10 weeks I went from running two 5-minute stretches, with a 5-minute walk in between, to running 85 minutes.

I went from wondering if I would run again to, well ... running, and increasingly running freely.

It is an amazing transformation that has taken a lot of hard work at the Bikram yoga studio over the past eight months, especially in the last 3-1/2 months during which I took 80 classes. It is progress that I certainly do not take for granted, and I am carefully starting to rebuild a running base.

As mentioned in previous posts, I used Pete Pfitzinger's Return to Running program; however, earlier in the year I had done another program, which began with four stretches of only 30 seconds of running in a 20-minute power-walk (after I had worked up to an hour of pain-free power-walking following a four-month complete break from running and, prior to that, three months of short and irregular runs because of the recurring heel pain), and gradually increased to four 4-minute stretches of running with 1-minute walks between each over a period of seven weeks.

Then I had started the Return to Running program (on March 26) and followed it for 3-1/2 weeks, getting up to 3 stretches of 10 minutes of running, with 2-minute walk breaks, before finding that a single 15-minute run brought back the heel symptoms. I did not run for the next 5-1/2 weeks, while doing 32 Bikram yoga classes over 32 days.

The Return to Running program, which I started for the second time on June 4, went very well and got me to running 40-45K per week, with my longest run at the end of the 7-week schedule at 55 minutes on July 22.

Five days later I ended up doing an 85-minute run, 10-15 minutes more than I had originally intended, joining Triathlete Tim for an awesome lap of the Ironman Whistler run course; my body felt OK during, and after, that session, helped by a deep tissue massage the next day 

With that, I decided I would try the lowest-volume 18-week program from Pete Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning, which begins with a 53-kilometre week and tops out at an 88-kilometre one, reducing some of the longer runs in the first few weeks by a couple of kilometres.

I began the program after, or in a way with, the Squamish 10K on August 4 as the fist session called for a lactate threshold workout.

The Sub-3 marathon is still on my mind. Of course it it. Indeed, it was a key motivation over the past year as I did the work required to restore my body -- but I expect it will take at least a year of training before I will be back to the level, both in training and in racing, I was before my injury.

And that's OK.

With this marathon program, I am aiming at getting back into regular training first and foremost, rebuilding my endurance, and in the process slowly start regaining some of the speed I have lost. I have mapped out the schedule to target a US marathon in December but since getting to the race involves booking flights and accommodation I first want to see how some longer runs and tempo runs feel before I commit any funds.  

I am in new territory, physically and mentally, and I am monitoring my body carefully to gauge how it responds to training consistently again after such a long break.

Bikram yoga is certainly part of my new marathon training regime. I believe that my body is in better shape than ever in terms of strength and flexibility and at the same time I know -- I see it in the mirror during every practice -- that there are many more gains to be made. That's encouraging.

I firmly believe that I have come out ahead, and I am truly grateful my body protested so that it forced me to listen to it better, help it perform better. I am excited about slowly rebuilding my running fitness over the coming year, with two 18-week marathon preparations -- the next one hopefully upping the weekly volume to between 88K and 113K -- followed by a six-week recovery in between each.

By this time next year, I hope to be ready for another increase in training volume, returning me to the schedule that helped me speed up my marathon time by more than five minutes last year, the schedule that also allowed me to set my current PBs at the 10K and half marathon.

But my mind is right here, right now, loving the fact that I can go for a mid-week 75-minute run and do a 90-minute Bikram practice later in the day. I love to run -- I have always loved to run, and now I love it even more. I am so grateful that I can.

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