New Training Plan, New Goal Race: Comrades Marathon

While 2017 was a year of making decisions and creating 1-, 5-, and 10-year plans, 2018 is the year when I implement them! As I mentioned in our 2018 goals post, my goal this year is to run mindfully โ€” which means, for me, running and resting in a balance that is appropriate for my body and life demands. My training for 2016 and 2017 may have looked inconsistent to an outside observer โ€” with a new job each year, moving, and the added stress that goes along with both, I was able to train hard only a portion of each year. Despite inconsistency, however, my race results from the past two years have been the best of my running career: two first place finishes, one third place, and one finish in the top five. While placement is not my most important running goal, in ultramarathons it can be a more appropriate indicator of progress than time, as a 50-mile race on one course can be very different than a 50-mile race on another.

As I am learning how to balance life with training, I hired a coach for the second half of 2017, hoping that by designating a professional to make training decisions for me, it would free me up mentally to focus on other things, like growing Salty Running, my professional career, and my personal life. Unfortunately, having a coach didn’t work out like that for me (which could, of course, be due to a mismatch between me and my coach). What I learned is that I’m not ready for someone else to make my training decisions until I understand and, more importantly, listen to what my body is saying. Am I tired? Hungry? Lacking motivation? Should I run today? These are things I need to figure out.

And I’m going to have to do it on my own.

That being said, I still need the overarching structure of a training plan, as my default is always to run all the miles, all the time, all the days until I crash. I also like to have some sense of direction about where I am going with my training and if I am doing enough. While “enough” training is personal, a training plan will help me be reasonably sure that I have met the generally accepted minimum amount of training to get to a starting line. The rest is up to me. As I started searching for the best training plan, I had a few minimum requirements:

  1. Time vs distance: While opinions are mixed, I have found that training for time is much more appropriate for me. My paces can vary wildly running in the Deep South. My “easy” pace on a humid August day can be up to 2 minutes per mile slower than my “easy” pace on a dry, December day, according to my heart rate. I also like that I can schedule a run into each day exactly, so I know how much time I need to plan in my daily calendar.
  2. Long-term (multi-training cycle) training plan: Often, “canned” training plans are for a specific race or distance. I wanted something that spanned multiple races and training cycles. Crazy, I know, and that’s often why people hire coaches. But I wanted something that could provide structure for an entire year.
  3. Built-in recovery day, weeks, and months. I can’t train hard all the time, and I need a training plan that acknowledges that and builds in recovery.
  4. Guidelines for pace and speed/hill workout suggestions. I’d like a bit more structure than just time to run or “hard”/”easy” designations. Temperature and humidity will affect these, of course, but I’d like an idea of how hard I should be running.

This is a tough list for a training plan to fulfill, and you may be thinking, “hire a coach!” However, after some searching and research, I found the Comrades Marathon Training Plans. Specifically designed to help runners qualify for and then complete the epic Comrades marathon (the famous 56-mile run in South Africa), the inclusion of both a set of qualification training plans for a marathon and training plans for the 56-mile race in June creates a comprehensive training outline that encompasses an entire year. Additionally, the training plans are structured according to fitness level and finishing goals. Frankly, I haven’t found an ultramarathon training plan that is this good yet (without coaching, of course).

I will be following the Bill Rowan Medal Programme – 2018 this year. This plan is for those who wish to finish a 50-ish mile race in under 9 hours and run a marathon in around 3:30. While I am not motivated by BQ-ing, if I want to qualify for Comrades in 2019 (which has become a new goal, as a result of these training plans), I’d like to do it in 3:30 to guarantee a nice start at Comrades. Importantly, the plan builds in two recovery days per week and schedules training marathons and ultras leading up to a June race. It is exactly what I need.

As I mentioned above, it is still important that I run mindfully, running less or taking a rest day when my body demands it, and adjusting rest days according to my weekly schedules. Before I even start (I’m writing this on day one of the training plan, which happens to be a rest day), I am giving myself permission to not run at any point, on any day, of the plan without guilt. Saying it is easier than implementing it, but if I want to include running and racing in my life (and I do! ย My life is better when I’m running), I can only do it with a healthy dose of perspective, honesty and mindfulness.

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Collegiate Trail Loop FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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