Looking Back, Looking Forward

2017 is almost a memory, and that means many runners (myself included) are taking a look back at the year in running. It’s always interesting to write up one of these, and to look back at last year’s post.

I had high hopes for this year in terms of mileage. My usual goal of running the year number in kilometres was set and I was on pace to make that number again…until March.

Mild Winter

The winter was a mild one and that made training a bit easier than usual. I had a good thing going in the first couple of months of the year, including the start of hill training. With 184km and 187km in January and February respectively, the miles were stacking up nicely heading into the meat of the marathon training program in March and April.

We extended our usual March Break vacation with a few days in Florida in addition to the usual week in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (HHI). I was looking forward to getting a couple of long runs done in the warmth of the US south.

My first long run on HHI featured a bad fall at 14km while running 29km. I finished the run with things getting tighter and tighter around my ribcage. The next morning it was clear I’d done some damage and running was out of the question for the rest of the week at least.

When we got back to Toronto, I headed to the doctor and was told I probably had a couple of broken ribs.

Sore Ribs, Don’t Care

Call me stubborn…I wasn’t about to let this get in the way of my Vancouver plans. Thanks to some great work by Adriana at Athlete’s Care in Liberty Village, I was back running again just 16 days later.

It hurt like heck and it was slow going, but I was running again. The BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 7, 2017 would be a tough one, but I was determined to be standing on the start line ready to run.

I gradually, but fairly quickly ramped things back up and got in a couple of 30km runs that were confidence boosters before I made the trek out west.

Race day in Vancouver was perfect, and my training was adequate…for about a 30km. When I hit the Seawall, the legs said they were done and while I did a fair bit of walking over the last 10km, I still came in with a decent 4:04:13 time for my eleventh marathon.

Easy Summer

After that, it was time to rest a bit and take it easy over the summer. I tried to keep up some amount of regular running, but without a fall race on the schedule, it was tough to stay motivated. In 2016 I coached the marathon clinic at the Canary District Running Room and ran two marathons that year (spring and fall). I resolved to not to that anymore so I didn’t have a fall marathon on the schedule.

A Fall Half

To stay in the game, I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon in October and got to work again in September with some more regular training. Race day was hot (again) and I ran sub-1:50 which was good enough for me on that day.

It wasn’t long after that Ginny decided we should both do the trip to Vancouver in 2018 to run the spring races. Nothing gets me back into a regular routine better than having a RUNVAN countdown on my Garmin.

Mid-November was the start of pre-season training and I rolled back into running five days a week heading to the official start of the 18 week BMO Vancouver Marathon training schedule on December 31st.

Assuming I run the schedule in the next couple of days, here’s how 2017 will end up:

Stats:

  • Runs: 196
  • Mileage: 1,683km
  • Hours: 145

Races:

  • BMO Vancouver Marathon: 4:04:00 (Strava)
  • Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon: 1:49:53 (Strava)

Training Update – Less than 19 Weeks to Go

It’s less than a week now until things kick off for real and the training program for the 2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon begins.

This week was a bit of a step back week for me with the Christmas holidays taking some of the usual runs out of the equation. Still I missed only one run – the 13km Sunday run on Christmas Eve. That was a bit by design to get a little rest in after 5 weeks of solid building of mileage and strength.

The weather here took a turn and it’s now full-on winter running. First we got a couple of snowstorms that put about 25cm of snow on the ground around our end of the city. Then the temperatures snapped to the frigid end of the temperature spectrum with daytime highs around -10ºC.

I’ve been using the treadmills over at Variety Village for my weeknight runs as it’s both cold and dark after about 5:00 P.M. these days. I’ve never felt especially safe running the streets in the dark. Last week a woman was struck and killed by a drunk driver along my usual running route.

There’s a makeshift memorial of flowers and notes where she died that serves as a reminder that things can go wrong in a real hurry. I passed it on Tuesday afternoon on my run and thought of my own accident back in 2011 that could have ended up far worse than it did.

Happy New Year

I’ll get a few more runs in this week and then as 2018 arrives on Monday, so does week one of the training schedule. Things start slow as usual, but by February the Sunday runs start creeping up in length and the weekly mileage starts to grow.

Here’s hoping 2018 brings some milder weather and some good training as I embark on the 18 week journey that will culminate with my 12th marathon overall and fifth BMO Vancouver Marathon.

Training Update – 20 Weeks to Go

Another week closer to race day and things are really starting to come together nicely now.

This was the first week I ran the marathon weekday plan of 6km on Tuesday, 10km on Wednesday and 8km on Thursday. That gets me up to the “normal” weekly mileage of 30km not including the Sunday run.

Speaking of Sunday, tomorrow’s 13km run will be a cold one. The forecast is calling for temps around -13ºC at run time with a windchill making it feel a bit colder than that.

It’ll be a bundle up kind of day, but we’ll survive. Here’s hoping the sun will make an appearance to help warm things up.

From a fitness perspective, I’m in good shape as well (no pun intended). Strava says I’m at a 42 now on their scale. That compares favourably with where I was at last year heading into the new year.

That fitness number is climbing steadily and if I can keep the trend going, I think my goal of being above 70 on race day is attainable.

Training Update – 21 Weeks to Go

Pre-season training is going well and the weeks are disappearing quickly. With 21 weeks now until race day, it’s just three weeks until the real training begins for me.

I’ve run five days a week now for three weeks and the routine of getting out on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday plus the two weekend days is basically established.

Once the training really starts, it’ll be 6km, 10km, 8km on those weeknights so with that in mind, I’ve been increasing two of my runs to 8km now. In a couple of weeks I’ll move up to a 10km Wednesday run and I’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

Sunday runs are still in the low teens range. I ran 14km last week and today I added another 13km LSD. The first month of the training schedule I follow features Sunday runs in the 10-13km range, so by the time January rolls around I’ll be in good shape.

The weekly mileage is around 40km at the moment. I find that pretty reasonable – in the past, I found running the 42km of the marathon over the course of a week was a nice number to aim for to maintain fitness over an off season.

Measuring Your Fitness

It’s something every runner wants to know. Just how fit am I right now?

Measuring fitness isn’t something that the average runner has been able to do until just recently with the advent of heart rate monitors, and GPS. That combination of pace, distance and heart rate can provide a way to calculate a rough estimate of your fitness level at any given time.

Garmin vs. Strava

If you have a Garmin watch with a heart rate monitor (either on the wrist or a chest strap), you might have seen the VO2 Max number on your Garmin Connect profile.

VO2 Max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise, measured in millilitres per kilogram per minute (ml/kg/min). The average person might have a VO2 Max of about 45ml/kg/min while a high performance athlete might hit 60 or higher. While the Garmin VO2 Max is just an estimate, it does provide a general idea of your current fitness level compared to the rest of the population.

Over on Strava, there’s a Fitness and Freshness metric available to Strava Premium members. This recent addition to Strava gives runners a number that represents overall fitness level, as well as form and fatigue values. How Strava arrives at their specific numbers isn’t really super important, but once you track your Fitness score over time you can see whether you are trending upwards, downwards or staying about the same.

Which one is best?

My VO2 Max on Garmin is about 55ml/kg/min at the moment and doesn’t really move around that much, even when I feel like I’m less fit. I’ve been as high as 58ml/kg/min and as low as about 52ml/kg/min over the past two years.

On the other hand, my Fitness score on Strava does seem to be a good reflection of how I feel at the moment and seems to track training nicely. Currently I’m at 39 on Strava and trending upwards which makes sense as I’m ramping up my training efforts heading into the marathon training schedule for the 2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon in May.

Looking back over my graph of the past year (above), I can see increasing fitness right up to where I fell and broke two ribs. Then it drops quickly, before building back up as I resumed running. The 2017 BMO Vancouver Marathon is the high point at 64 and then things dropped off over the summer as I took it easy and didn’t run as much, or as hard.

That graph seems to confirm that I lost a fair bit of fitness thanks to the layoff as the ribs healed, but that it came back fairly quickly once I was able to start running again. It’s about what I would have expected and guessed that the impact was.

Using Strava Fitness to measure training effect

With Vancouver now 22 weeks away, I’ll be watching the Strava fitness score closely to see how I’m progressing. I’m interested to see the impact of hill training and also the longer Sunday runs as training ramps up.

I hope to be at around 70 or 75 on May 6, 2018 when I race.

Ramping Up Mileage While Avoiding Injury

When it comes to marathon training, how you start often has a big impact on how you finish.

I’m not talking about the race. I’m talking about how you start your training program. Like the race, if you start your training too fast, you pay for it in the latter stages.

Too much + Too fast = Injuries

Marathon training is tough on the body. It’s a lot of mileage and if you drop right into 50-60kms a week before you’re ready for it, your body will break down and you might find yourself at the start line watching everyone else run while you stand on the sidelines.

The usual recommendation is to keep your mileage increases to no more than 10% per week. That means if you are comfortable with 40km this week, then next week you can add no more than about 4km to the weekly total to avoid injury.

Ramp up your long runs too

You’ll also want to think about a reasonable mileage increase on your longer runs as well. If you have a 15km run one week, then you wouldn’t want to try 20km the following week. Instead, you should increase by 3km (about 20%) and then run that increased long run distance a couple of weeks in a row before taking another step up the long run mileage ladder.

If you don’t increase your mileage in this reasonable way, the injuries you might end up facing include:

  • Shin splints – Pain in the shin area as a result of stress on your lower legs. If you leave shin splints untreated, stress fracture is possible.
  • Plantar fasciitis – Pain and soreness on the bottom of the foot. Foot pain is something that can stop your running plans in their tracks.
  • Knee pain – if you are lucky this will just be some IT band pain on the inside or outside of the knee. If you aren’t, it’ll be around the knee cap and you’ll hear the dreaded words, “runner’s knee”.

Have a good plan

Avoiding injury means taking it easy and following a good training plan. The 18 week Running Room program is a good one for first-timers as it is designed to get you to the start line first and foremost.

Whatever plan you follow, make sure you stick to that 10% rule and if you do end up with some aches and pains early on, take a bit of rest or seek out professional advice or treatment before it gets worse.