Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Adventures In Goal-Setting -- Chicago Marathon 2014

Welcome to my real blog! As opposed to my Facebook page, which is like my "kinda-blog." Since I really like the ease of Facebook, I will probably only post race recaps on this blog, but the blog format allows Google to index the recaps and perhaps allow them to turn up in searches. It is my hope that my recaps (and other in-depth stuff like this entry) will someday help someone who is planning to run a marathon or other race that I have done! I know I have benefitted a ton from blogs, and it is time to pay it forward!

To start the saga of this training cycle just completed, let's take a trip in the wayback machine to April 2014 – Boston Marathon Monday. I was tapering for my first marathon (the Wisconsin Marathon on May 3rd), and I confessed on my Facebook page that when the bombings occurred at the Boston Marathon in 2013, I had only been running on my basement treadmill for a few months  and didn't know what a "BQ" was. Some other things I didn't confess: I didn't know that Boston had qualifying times, or that it was considered the "amateur runner's Olympics." I also didn't know if 4:09:43 (the time on the finish-line clock when the bombs went off) was a good or bad marathon time. You might say I was pretty clueless. 

I also made the bold proclamation that I had "no real desire to BQ." [Cue the foreshadowing music…]

I ran the Wisconsin Marathon pretty darn near my goal time, in 4:02:57. I had already registered for the Chicago Marathon through their lottery, so after recovering for a few weeks, I hopped back on a training plan for my second marathon.  The goal for Chicago: Sub-4. With a previous time of 4:02, this was the no-brainer of the century. The ladies of Another Mother Runner had expertly led me through my first marathon with their "Train Like a Mother: Marathon Own It" plan. My maximum weekly mileage during that cycle was 50 miles. I was feeling like I wanted to raise my game a bit more for the Chicago training cycle. Big marathons call for big mileage, I reasoned, and I was feeling up to an increased challenge.  I spent some time on some running message boards, polled my running  friends, and reviewed quite a few books at the library before I decided who was going to lead me to Chicago glory: Pete Pfitzinger and his book, "Advanced Marathoning."

Immediately, I felt like a poser with the title, but the book actually has both lower- and higher-mileage plans. I gravitated toward the 18/70 plan (18 weeks, a maximum of 70 miles/week), but felt that my inexperience would better call for the 18/55 plan. I decided to mix-and-match, swapping some of the higher-mileage weekday runs in the 18/70 plan for those in the 18/55 plan to end up with around an 18/62 plan.  
My training officially started on Monday, June 9th, right after Ragnar Chicago. One of the first things I did was install the McRun app on my iPhone. It is Greg McMillan's training pace calculator and race-time predictor that you can get for free on the Internet, but since I am on my phone way more than my laptop these days, I thought it was worth it.  Best $4.99 I have ever spent, especially with all the use I got out of it…but I'm getting ahead of myself!

The first goal marathon pace I put into the app was 3:55 – I figured that was the best place to start if I was targeting a sub-4, to account for problems running the tangents on the course, etc. I had also run a 49:37 at a local 10-K on June 1st, which McRun said should net me a 3:52 marathon. My half-marathon PR didn't agree that I could run a 3:52, however. I hoped that my next half would get with the program and fall in line; until then, 3:55 it was.

Training went great through June and into July.  My first goal revision occurred when I set a 10-K Garmin PR on July 7th of 48:50, during a tempo run. I decided it was time to move the chains (sorry-not-sorry for the football reference in a running blog!), and I adjusted my training paces for a 3:49 goal.

On July 19th, I ran a 1:48:38 at the Alexian Brothers Fitness for America Sunset Half Marathon. What do you know – perfectly on target for a 3:49 marathon! It felt good to get some validation that these pace goals weren't crazy. I resumed training with renewed vigor. Then, I somehow pulled out a 1:47:27 at the ZOOMA Chicago Half Marathon on August 2nd. Now we were looking at a 3:46 pace goal. Then on August 9th, I ran a 22:39 5K. The course was short, so I used my Garmin's average pace of 7:24 to set what McRun thought my marathon time could be. McRun said it was 3:44. 

Alexian Brothers Fitness For America Sunset Half Marathon: I didn't beat all the East Africans who were strangely there, but I did get third in my age group!
Zooma Half Marathon. I got first in my age group at this one...quite the attractive coffee mug, eh?
At this point, I had to stop to take stock. My Boston qualifying standard was 3:45. But did I really care if I ran Boston? I decided that no, I did not have a deep burning desire to run the marathon itself.  But I DID have a deep burning desire to get the best out of myself that I could.  My new goal: To "squeak into Boston," running just under a 3:45. I would probably not be able to run the marathon, since they haven't let in all the qualifiers in the past few years, but at least I could say that I qualified and I could have that pride in my heart. My training paces were now set for a 3:43 marathon (again, allowing for those pesky tangents).

I did not breathe a word about this new goal to anyone, not even my closest running friends. The fact that I was so quiet has nothing to do with them – they could not be kinder or more supportive people. I knew they would tell me to "go girl," but I was afraid of what they might be thinking inside – that I was punching above my weight class (are boxing references better than football ones??), and a more conservative goal might be better in order to prevent a crash-and-burn during the race, not to mention staving off injury during training. Those were the fears that I had, and I was projecting them onto the brains of my friends. Not recommended behavior at all!

It was also in mid-August that I took stock of my training plan.  I had developed a bit of a running streak and had not been taking full rest days, substituting a few recovery-paced miles instead. I realized that due to the lack of a rest day, my weekly mileage was more equivalent to the 18/85 plan in the "Advanced Marathoning" book. After comparing the 18/70 and 18/85 plans, I realized they were very similar in long run distance and weekday mileage – the only real differences were the lack of a rest day and a few miles here and there.  Why not jump to a plan that better reflected the training I was already doing? I knew I was not qualified to make up a prudent training plan, and that seemed to be exactly what I was doing. Stop the insanity, and let Pfitzinger show me the way!

As I was photocopying and annotating the new plan, I knew that I was in completely uncharted waters. And again, I felt like I couldn't share it with anyone, for fear they would tell me I was making the wrong choice.  If my decisions led to success, I would eventually share them, I decided (which is…spoiler alert!…what I'm doing now). But at the time, I was feeling very lonely!  I tentatively reached out to a local runner who I knew was a veteran of Boston-qualifying and fast race times – our children go to the same school and we have many mutual friends. Trying hard not to come off like a fangirl, I gave her my running resume and asked her whether she thought a BQ was a faint possibility for me. To my relief, she couldn't have been more supportive, and gave me lots of training, gear and fueling tips that I soaked up like a sponge!

(My new-found running friend also filled my ears with tales of the wonders of the Boston Marathon, which finally made me admit to myself that running it would be pretty darn cool...)

My training cycle did not completely go from strength to strength. I ran a disappointing 10-K in humid weather on August 31st, barely PR'ing. I also had a couple of speed workouts where my times were not what I was looking for. I was very glad I hadn't shared my marathon goals with the world at that point, as I was afraid of the backlash that would have resulted. In my heart, I sincerely hoped that these events were an anomaly due to the weather, but I couldn't be 100% sure. 

I signed up for a "redemption" 10-K two weeks after the disappointing one, at Chase the Bear in Glenview. My time of 46:32 smashed my previous PR by over three minutes. I knew that a real breakthrough had taken place, and my new McRun-predicted marathon time was 3:38. I couldn't have been happier with how things were coming together, but I also knew that 10Ks were not as iron-clad predictors of marathon fitness as half-marathons. I didn't want to race another half marathon, but I did have my last 20-miler coming up on September 20th. My fast-running local friend advised me to run this last long run before taper at race pace, and that would solidify my confidence. Or bring me back down to Earth, I said to myself!

As it turned out, my confidence was solidified. I did 22 miles at the Chicago Athlete 20-Miler in a time of 3:03, at an 8:19 average pace. Even allowing for some slowing in the later miles, it seemed like a solid, non-squeaker, 3:38 BQ was at last a real possibility. All I had to do was execute.

My head was spinning, and my lips remained completely sealed on the Internet. The reason for my silence now was that no one on Facebook seemed to be floating the possibility of a BQ-caliber marathon time to me. I was posting photos of my Garmin, so people had an idea of my paces. I received lots of positive comments, but no one suggested that those paces would translate into the marathon performance I was shooting for. I continued to simultaneously (a) feel like a poser, and (b) feel determined to show everyone that my balls-to-the-wall, shoot-for-the-fences training choices were not a recipe for injury and burnout, but in fact the ticket to my success. As the race drew nearer, people did start to mention it, which meant the world to me, but like I said before, I was projecting my own fears into the minds of my Internet followers.  Confidence has to come from within, and I clearly did not have it!

Did I execute my race plan and obtain my BQ time? The answer is no, and yes! Stay tuned for my next post!


  1. I knew you were planning a BQ as your times got faster, but since you were quiet about, I decided to zip my lips!


    1. I am not surprised at all that you figured it out, Wendy - you know me very well! I was also not quite as much of a headcase when you met me, so you must have known something was up!