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A New Plan

August 15, 2011

Little G and I have decided to try something new this season: we’re handing over the reins. It’s entirely new for us. Most of the time, we design our own training plans, on our own, based on what we’ve cobbled together from published training plans and what we know works for us.

Little G has always preferred to run 4 days a week. She discovered last year, when she trained for and ran Boston, that her body responds well to running a short to mid-long distance the day before the long run, so she generally plans her schedule with an easy run on Monday and Wednesday, another easy run on Friday, and her long run on Saturday. She sometimes substitutes one of the midweek runs with speed- or hillwork.

As for me, I have been a big believer in mid-level mileage to date. In the past, my best times have always come on weeks of 40 to 45 miles, so I always tended to structure my training that way, usually running 5 days a week. Again, based on what’s worked for me in the past, I usually take three of those days for easy runs, take turns between short fast intervals and tempo runs for speedwork once a week, and do long runs on Saturdays, building up to 18 miles for half marathons and 23 miles when training for marathons.

But . . . that was all  before we got hurt. As everyone knows, I lost the tail end of my last training season to severe shin splints, and Little G fractured her fifth metatarsal this spring. As we hobbled through our respective physical therapy, we both heard that our injuries had lots to do with general muscular imbalances that we had to correct, along with the undeniable passage of time that would continue to make the pounding on pavement more difficult to bear as the years progress.

Nothing makes a runner a good patient as much as hearing that her future in running depends on following a new regimen of stretching and strengthening. My PT was pretty clear: I could become a walker or I could become a different kind of runner.

I chose to change how I train.

Immediately, I made the decision to give up a year. Instead of dreaming of signing up for a redemption 26.2, I reconciled myself to the idea that it would take some time to come back from this. I know who I am as a runner: I’m not the kind of athlete who can run an event to finish it, not anymore. And I don’t want to train for a marathon until I can do it in a competitive way. This spring, my focus was on developing a schedule that opened time for more core and stability work, as well as retraining myself to stretch and keep my muscles loose.

Training for fall races always begins in the late summer, so as Gwynne and I looked forward to our calendar, we asked her physical therapist for some insights into our training. She responded with a detailed schedule that will prepare us for our target race, the 13.1 Fort Lauderdale in November.

The first thing we noticed: she’s asking us to run only three days a week. Yep, that’s a huge change for us. Instead of my target 45 miles per week, this schedule builds up to a grand total of 25 miles for the biggest-total week. The program calls for one 16-miler, far shorter than the two eighteens I prefer before race day. But the biggest change may be speed. What this schedule has lost is all dead weight and junk miles. Instead, every run has a purpose, and almost every run is at a prescribed target pace. Run A is interval work, sometimes short intervals at 5k pace, sometimes longer intervals at goal race pace. In the first half of the schedule, run B is working on our strength, calling for progressively harder hill repeats for eight weeks. After this grueling season, we’ll transition to tempo runs, where we’ll run prescribed distances at set paces according to our target race time.

When I saw the schedule I was immediately reminded of the Run Less, Run Faster program out of Furman University, which was written up several years ago in Runners’ World, and with which runners seem to have had some success. I was attracted to it because after my failure to run Space Coast it’s obvious that what I’ve done for the last few years isn’t going to work long-term: I cannot simply run my body into the ground week after week and expect it to perform at peak forever. I’m willing to try something different instead, especially if trying something different not only avoids injury but also accomplishes my secondary goal: to make me more competitive.

Here’s a dirty little secret about me: I love to run fast. Little G is the same way. We’re runners, yes, and not running, that first week, was torturous. But more than running for the sake of running, I love performing well. I love the feeling of my body as a well-oiled machine. I love passing people on the course when they’re gassed and I still feel strong. I love finding another gear at mile 11 of a half.

Having processed all that, and though it’s been incredibly difficult, I’ve (mostly) resisted the temptation to go back to my easy runs on the other two days of the week. Now that the animals have gone back to school full time (the Monkey’s a kindergartener now, eek!), it’ll be easier to fulfill the cross-training expectations of the FIRST plan by biking, rowing, or swimming on the two extra days.

Like I told Little G, I’m willing to test this schedule. I love the 13.1 course, and have set a PR there twice. After a year of running “hurt,” I’m ready to stand in a corral feeling strong and able, not wearing the invisible “injured runner” bib. I’m ready to run. While at first I told Little G the test of the schedule would be whether I crossed the finish line in under 1:49, that’s unfair. The true test is whether I cross the line feeling uninjured. Crossing in under 1:49 would be icing on the cake.

For the rest of the fall, the goals are as uncomplicated as a complicated person can make them: stick to the schedule, cross-train, run the Halloween Half as a training run, race the 13.1 hard, and then build up to run the Michelob Ultra Challenge at Gasparilla.

I’m done being an injured runner. From here on out, I’m an endurance athlete in training.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2011 7:34 am

    i’m not sure why google reader loaded a bunch of few-week-old posts today but i’ll take it:)

    i can imagine how hard it is to adapt to running less, but it has been successful for others and i’ve always heard that runs should have a purpose! good luck!

  2. the Ringmaster permalink*
    September 5, 2011 5:45 am

    Lindsay, your reading and commenting–in the midst of your own struggle with the sport–mean more than I can say. May God continue to supply answers, or, in the absence of those, the joy and the strength to trust Him with the questions. I’m following you, even though I’m silent!

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