By Lindsay MacAdam
“A goal without a plan is only a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
That quote greeted me the other morning when I opened my web browser, and it couldn’t be more fitting. After sharing my “Boston or bust” goal publicly last week, it was time to turn it into more than just a wish. I’m trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon on Sept. 10 to run the prestigious marathon before I start a family. After sharing this, I knew I had to find out how I could make the biggest running improvements in the shortest amount of time. After all, this marathon training cycle is only 12 weeks from start to finish, and at this point, only nine weeks remain. Cue the nervous breakdown.
I drafted my initial training plan based on materials from previous marathon programs I’ve completed, information I’ve dug up online, suggestions from fellow runners and take-homes from past experience. Still, I figured it could use a professional opinion. I hesitantly handed it over to Brittany Moran, chiropractor/miracle worker at The Runner’s Academy and coach of the Nike+ Run Club (NRC) Toronto. I assumed she would tear it apart.
To my surprise, she didn’t. Since I regularly run with NRC and have sought Brittany’s chiropractic expertise on more than one occasion, she was already familiar with my injury history and running experience. Her tweaks to my plan were minor but purposeful, and I believe they’ll make all the difference.
First, she made it clear that now is not the time to completely overhaul my approach. She assured me small changes can make a big impact, but if I end up injured before race day, none of that will materialize. She emphasized that this plan should be fluid and not set in stone. If it feels like too much, she provided ways to scale back. If I’m feeling capable of more, I can increase intensity. The goal is to make as much progress as I can over the next nine weeks without getting injured. There’s also a fine line between not enough mileage and cramming in too much— and that magic number is different for everyone. Above all, listening to my body is going to be essential to my success.
After consulting with Coach Britt, this is what we determined my weeks will generally look like until I begin the pre-race taper:
Monday: strength training + easy run
Tuesday: speed run
Wednesday: easy run
Thursday: tempo run + strength training
Saturday: long run
I came into this period already having built a strong base over the spring season. Because of that, my mileage over the 12-week cycle will progress from 60K per week to 80K, with my long runs gradually increasing from 24K to 37K.
Feeling overwhelmed by the expectations I’ve placed on myself, I expressed my concerns about my ability to pull this off in such a short time period. I then asked a question I already knew the answer to: “Should I start my long runs at race pace to give me the confidence that I can actually maintain this speed on race day?”
“Absolutely not,” Coach Britt responded. “What you have to ask yourself, is: ‘Where am I going to make the most gains?'”
The answer is speed work. If I were to do my long runs at race pace, I’d be way too fatigued to manage an effective speed run three days later. If I want to build confidence, I can try occasionally switching my Thursday tempo run to an easy run and then adding what she calls “quality work” into my long run. An example of that could be running the middle 10K at marathon pace. This is as close to mimicking the race day experience as I can safely get.
Another point she made: while incorporating full-body strength training will have numerous benefits, it shouldn’t be so intense that it has a detrimental effect on my speed run performance. In other words, now’s not the time to take up CrossFit. The final critical factor in this training plan, Coach Britt insists (and one that many runners ignore) is ensuring I’m keeping my easy runs between 30 and 60 seconds per kilometre slower than my goal marathon pace.
“This allows you to recover and get more out of your workouts, which is what ends up making you faster in the end,” she told me.