Training Recap: Preparing for the Philly Marathon

This weekend, I’ll be running the Philadelphia Marathon. So I figured that this would be a good time to reflect on how my training has gone the past few months.

So here’s an overview of this training cycle – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Training Cycle Goals

Last October, I ran my first marathon in 3:35. I trained using Jack Daniels 2Q, peaking at 55mpw. Things went relatively well, and I figured if I could bump my mileage to 70mpw and string together another good training block I’d see some pretty significant improvements.

In the spring, I followed Jack Daniels 5k/10k training plan, peaking at 70mpw. I did pretty well in a local 10k, and I set a huge PR at the Coastal Delaware Running Festival.

Based on that half marathon result (1:33), I figured I had an outside chance of dropping below 3 in my fall marathon. If that ended up being out of reach, a Boston qualifying time (3:10 for me, since I’ll be 40 in 2024) should be well within reach.

After recovering from my spring half, I planned to put in a few good weeks of base training and boost my base mileage. This would prepare me to follow Jack Daniels 2Q 70mpw plan for Philly.

Things started off fine. I recovered and got back to my old mileage in the 60’s. Then, a little over a month after my race, I caught COVID. Thankfully, it was very mild. I had to cut my runs short and split a lot of runs into doubles, but I managed to stay on pace with my mileage. I was able to put in four solid weeks at 75 miles per week and then drop down to 60 miles for an easy recovery week before I officially started the training block.

I also ran a 5 mile race in there at the end of June. I was hoping to use it to gauge my fitness. But the results weren’t great. Between a) the heat, b) running a new peak mileage, c) coming off COVID, and d) the course being hillier than I expected, I ran a disappointing 35:34. I had tentatively hoped to run around 32:00.

So I was confident in my ability to hit high mileage goals – but not necessarily to hit my paces.

Hot, Humid Summer Training

I chose Philly as a goal marathon this year specifically so that the race would be late November and I would be almost guaranteed good weather. That part seems to have worked out. Despite New York being unseasonably hot at the beginning of the month, the temperature is going to be perfect in Philly. The forecast looks a little windy, though, so that may end up being an issue.

The flip side of this equation is that an 18 week training plan for late November starts in the peak of summer. Week 1 was smack in the middle of July. And I probably don’t have to tell you that this was a horribly hot and humid summer just about everywhere in the world.

Mileage wise, things were fine. Over the first eight weeks, I stayed more or less on target – 60, 62, 68, 66, 63, 60, 75, and 68. The week that was slightly off was the week I ran 63 miles. I was away for a conference, and my goal for the week was 68. With the heat, I’d have been better off doing more doubles that week – but it was hard to schedule around the conference activities.

Workout wise, things did not go well. My first Q workout (16 miles, with 2 x 6 miles at marathon pace) was a straight up fail. It was 70’s and humid. I ran the first three marathon paced miles just under 8:00/mi, and then the pace started to slip. I had some stomach issues, had to make a pit stop at the bathroom, and I couldn’t get back on pace afterwards. I ended up cutting the run short (13 miles) and adding a short double (3 miles) that night to hit my mileage goal.

The weather was bad again later that week, so I moved my quality workout inside. It went well enough on the treadmill, but it’s hard to really gauge pace and effort in there. The next week, I split up the long T workout into two smaller ones. The morning session was ok (7:07/mi pace for 15 minutes), and the afternoon on the treadmill was fine. Q2 that week was an I/T workout, and I struggled with the paces.

And that was pretty much the story for July and August. I struggled in the heat to hit anything near a respectable pace. In retrospect, I probably would have done better to ditch any kind of pace goal for these quality workouts and just run purely on feel. Noted for next year.

Towards the end of August, I did have a couple decent workouts. In a Q workout with 2x2T, a long break, and an extra 2T, I averaged 7:05/mi in the first T segment and 7:13 in the second T segment. In an I workout, I managed 6:35/mi for 6x1k at I pace. These were some of the first decent workouts I had throughout the entire training cycle.

Things Look Up in September

Following that horrible summer, things started to look up in September.

I ran a local 5k on Labor Day. It was warm and humid, but I managed to run 20:59. I was fine with that, given the conditions. Much better performance than the 5 mile race in the summer.

After Labor Day, my workouts started to improve as well.

Later that week, I ran 15 miles with 4x2T at the end. The T segments averaged 7:10. A touch slow, but importantly they were consistent across all four reps.

The following week, I ran 16 miles with 10 miles at Marathon pace. I averaged 7:32 – again a touch slow, but consistent. I also ran an easy long run of 18 miles that week, and I felt strong.

The following week, I struggled through another warm workout (16 miles with 2 M segments, and they averaged 7:42 and 7:55/mi). But my second Q workout was 15 miles with 4x2T at the end. I’d done this workout two weeks prior and averaged 7:10/mi. This time, I averaged 6:56. Progress! Finally, a workout to be proud of.

This was followed up the following week with another T workout where I averaged 6:53 across the T segments. The weather was good, and I finally felt like I was running decent workouts.

This was all leading up to the Jersey Shore Half Marathon at the beginning of October. The conditions were horrible, but I ended up running a hair under 1:33. I was really hoping for a better time here to boost my confidence for Philly. But considering that I was coming off COVID in June, my training in the peak of summer was horrible, and race day had 20-30 mph wind gusts, I was happy with this result.

September was definitely the high point of this training block.

Crashing Back Down to Reality in October

This was my first time running a half marathon as a tune up race as opposed to a goal race. I was a little apprehensive about launching back into training, but I figured my history of high mileage would make it ok.

I took the first week post-race easy. I still hit my goal of 68 miles, but I incorporated a lot of doubles and everything was nice and slow. Most of it was on the trails or on the treadmill.

I was feeling decent by the following Sunday, so I thought I was ready for my next workout. Due to scheduling issues, I pushed the quality workout to Monday – a week and a day post-race. The goal for the day was a long run of 18-20 miles, with 12 miles at marathon pace. I felt ok during the warm-up, but it was pretty slow (~10:00/mi). When I tried to pick it up for the marathon paced segment, I had trouble getting under 8:00/mi.

I decided to abort the workout after a mile and a half at pace, and I figured I would just cruise for an easy long run. I slowed down to ~9:00/mi for a couple miles, and things felt fine. I thought I could still finish 17-18 miles. But somewhere around 12 miles, things no longer felt fine. My right thigh was starting to bother me around the hip. I stopped and walked a bit, and then I started jogging. The discomfort didn’t go away, and I struggled through a run/walk to finish the 17 miles and get home.

That may have been a mistake.

Dealing with the Hip Flexor Issue

Following that failed workout, I started to have some issues with my right hip flexor.

It wasn’t too noticeable in that first week. I kept everything slow, but I towards the end of my runs I did notice a bit of discomfort. It didn’t feel bad, so I ignored it. Oops.

After three days of taking it easy, I tried another workout on Friday. Four mile warm up followed by 4x2T. The first rep was pretty good – 6:56/mi pace. The second rep started out ok, but my back started to tighten up and my hip started to bother me again. So I finished that rep a little slow, and then I aborted. I figured I’d finish the other half of the workout that evening after some rest. But less than a mile into that evening run my right hip flexor really bothered me – and this time it was more pain than discomfort.

I spent the next week running easily, and I cut my mileage. Instead of the planned 68 miles, I only hit 40. I did two really easy days (4 miles) followed by 6 miles the rest of the week. I’d incorporated walking intervals throughout the week, and on Sunday I tried for an extended easy run. Didn’t make it, and I aborted at the first sign of discomfort. I didn’t want to make it worse.

So the following week, I went easy again. I kept hoping that with enough time and easy running, it would be ok. A couple days of three miles, followed by a 6 and an 8. Things were feeling better, so I tentatively tried a modified workout. I kept the warm-up short, converted the 6x1k into 6×3 minutes, and I incorporated some walking in the 2 minute recovery. Magically, I made it through without any discomfort – and I hit 6:31/mi for the reps. Not a resounding victory – but a little confidence builder.

Tapering Down and Hoping for the Best

By this point, it was late October. There were only three weeks left before the race, and it was about to start tapering.

I modified the last few workouts in a similar way, to incorporate some walking breaks and cut the workout into manageable portions. Walking for 30 seconds every few miles seemed to keep the hip flexor happy, and at this point that was my main concern.

Despite a few confidence building workouts, I was not very confident going into the taper. In the six weeks between my half marathon and my race, I’d only done one long run. And that one ended in pain and discomfort. I’d done a few segments at threshold and marathon pace, but I hadn’t sustained a long effort without running.

Frankly, I had no idea how my hip flexor was going to hold up on race day.

But I resolved to just take it easy in the last couple of weeks. In the last three weeks, I ran 52.5, 46, and 33 – compared to a planned 60, 60, and 45. Better to taper too hard and come to the line healthy than push a few extra miles and come to the line broken.

Goal Setting and Race Concerns

So now, I need to figure out how to approach this race.

Before I started this training block, I had optimistically hoped to attack the 3:00 mark. That now seems impossible.

Based on my half marathon performance, 3:10 might still be have been achievable. But after dealing with a bum hip flexor for 6 weeks, I don’t really think that’s possible, either.

Based on the workouts I have been able to do, I think 3:15 might be possible. If all goes well, and if my hip holds out, I can do it. But without having any long runs in the last six weeks, I’m worried about fading late in the race.

As a backup, 3:20 seems like a pretty conservative goal. It’s still a solid PR (15 minutes over last year). But I’m dreading the possibility that my hip flexor starts to hurt after the first 10-15 miles – and I need to make a decision to DNF or to struggle bus it in (if that’s even possible).

So my plan is to go out a little slow, warm up for the first mile or two, and then target a 3:15 pace (7:26/mi). If that feels too hard, I can back off a little bit and/or incorporate some quick walking breaks at the water stations. As long as I keep under 7:35/mi, I’ll be good to come in under 3:20.

The other issue is the weather. The temperature isn’t going to be horrible (low to mid 30’s), but it’s supposed to be windy. It’s also supposed to be sunny. So I’m hoping that once I start moving, I’ll warm up quickly. I hate being hot when I run, so I’m going with shorts, a short sleeve shirt, and some gloves. I’ll wear a zip-up sweatshirt and some sweatpants to the start line and then leave them at the gear check.

That will hopefully keep me warm until 6:45, and then I’ll just deal with it for 15 to 20 minutes until we start. I usually don’t mind the cold, so I’m hoping things will work out.

One way or the other – it’s race time and it’s time to see what I’m capable of. Check back for the race recap after Sunday’s race.

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