A Methodical Approach

What does it take to be a runner?

To finally allow oneself to describe her or himself in a way that defines a pursuit of a healthy lifestyle?

It took 5 marathons before I described myself as a runner, even though I ran 5 days a week and wrote a blog on the topic.

For months before my first marathon, I wondered if I could actually run 26.2 miles. My second goal heading into the 2008 Grandma’s Marathon was finishing in less than 4 hours.

Many of the memories of that race remain a blur but I recall the finish — and conversations with family and friends afterward.

Soon, though, the goals became loftier — first to run sub-3:30 and eventually qualify for the Boston Marathon.

It took 4 more marathons to finally dip below 3:30, and it was then that I allowed to partially define myself by my pursuits. And once I met the mark at the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon, new goals emerged.

Virtually everything to that point was an experiment, based on talking with other runners and reading every book I could find. But to improve performance, I needed a coach. As a friend described: you have the ingredients, you just need the recipe.

At the start of 2010, I paid one of the best coaches in the business to craft a marathon training plan. He put together a weekly plan, explained the various principles and workouts, and the rest was left up to me.

It became the most transformative year for me as a runner with multiple personal bests at distances from 5K to the half marathon during the spring and summer. That fall, I ran the Chicago Marathon and set a huge personal best — a time that stands as my second fastest time to date.

Looking back, with 24 marathons behind me, the journey has been a winding road.

And, now more than ever, it’s time to heed the advice of solid coaching and a methodical approach. It requires tailoring a plan, based on my previous experiences and how my body responds to training, to bring the desired results.

That’s one reason why Richard’s advice of stacking 3-week training blocks during a long buildup rings true.

Historically, I’ve done responded well to high mileage during a long buildup. There’s other areas where I’ve dropped the ball, including nutrition and pre-hab (exercises and training to support running while avoiding injuries).

Right now, with fitness still rebounding from a long layoff, the daily workouts aren’t always easy. But they’ll get easier.

Using those “stacks,” and implementing a routine of stretching and core/strength training, will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of running and racing. It means 40-mile weeks should be normal again by early March and serve as a solid training base in the months leading up to Chicago.