Leveling Up in Chicago

This coming weekend, Eliud Kipchoge will attempt to break two hours for the marathon. He’s put together a list of five reasons he thinks he will succeed. I’m certainly not Kipchoge, but I am also running a marathon this weekend, and I’ve also got five reasons I believe I can meet my goal.

On October 13th, I will run the Chicago Marathon, marathon #9 for me. I’ve sort of kept my head down this training cycle. No training logs and just the occasional update. So what’s been going on and where do things stand heading into Chicago?

I’ve been working on what I am calling Leveling Up. For those without video game aficionados in their household, “leveling up” means you overcome the monster that dominates the stage of the game where you’ve been playing and you can advance to the next stage. It’s a great metaphor for what I am looking for at Chicago.

My last three marathons have been 26.2 with Donna in February 2018 (4:54, very hot), Erie in September 2018 (3:54, first BQ) and Boston 2019 (3:53, second BQ). I don’t have an exact goal for Chicago yet, but I am seeking a significant improvement in time. I chose Chicago partly because a group of friends are going, partly because I have a secret weapon there (more on that below), and partly because the race has a reputation for being “flat and fast” – words every marathoner loves to hear.

I set my 5K PR in Chicago. Coincidence?

I’ve had a really good training cycle (knock on wood!!) with no major interruptions due to injury, illness or life issues where I couldn’t train (spit on the floor, spin around three times, hide this information from the marathon gods, PLEASE!). I believe I can level up at Chicago. Here are five reasons why, plus my “secret weapon”:

    1. I’ve run higher mileage. In previous training cycles, I’ve had a few weeks just above 50 miles. The most I ever ran was 57 miles in a week. This time around, I’ve run six weeks of more than 60 miles a week. That’s a big change.
    2. I’ve done more tempo work and generally faster running. When training for Boston, my hardest tempo workout was 2.5 miles / 2 miles with a mile easy. This time, I did 5 consecutive tempo miles. I’ve done more steady state runs and added some fartlek runs. I’ve done plenty of easy running too, but Coach Mick has had me speed up some of these up to quicker than my fallback 9:45 chat-with-the-girlfriends pace.
    3. I’ve found an #ExtraSalt routine that works for me. #ExtraSalt is the Salty Running term for all the auxiliary work runners should do, but don’t always manage. Boooooring. But I discovered Jay Johnson’s Strength and Mobility (SAM) routines and something clicked. SAM is nothing fancy – some planks, clam shells, hip circles – but it was a series of exercises I could do post-run that made me feel better. I don’t do SAM after every single run, but I manage it 5 out of 6 times. It’s now like brushing my teeth – I feel weird when I don’t do it. I also committed to foam rolling nearly every night. These two additions have kept me out of the PT’s office (nothing to see here, marathon gods, walk right on by, please).
    4. I’ve improved my mental toughness. That sounds arrogant, but staying mentally strong during a race is a critical skill and something I believe we can work on improving. I’ve consumed countless podcasts and articles on the topic. I had a session with a sports psychologist. I’ve done exercises to work on visualization and problem solving. I’m experimenting with meditation. Coach Mick and I even offered a pilot version of a “mental toughness webinar” over the summer. As with any other topic, teaching the material brings a greater level of competency. It’s not that I am somehow the Queen of the Mental Game. But I’ve got my brain working for me more often than I used to.
    5. I’ve run a collection of key workouts that have gone well. No single workout can foretell how race day will go. But I ran a 57 second PR at Surftown and my half marathon time was not soft at all. Furthermore, that race was what my High Power Running Mentor #1 (HPRM #1) calls a “McMillan PR” – meaning, when I plug my Surftown result into the McMillan calculator, the times predicted for other distances are all PRs. Coach Mick structured my last few long runs as progression runs. I was able to work my way down to marathon pace or faster at the end of 18 and 15 miles respectively.

Finally, I have a Secret Weapon. It’s actually not terribly secret that HPRM #1 is pacing me at Chicago. He’s an experienced pacer and he knows me really well. He’ll be able to help me manage the early miles of Chicago when GPS is unreliable. He paced me to my 5K PR, so I know we can work well together. He knows how to motivate me when things get tough, which they always do in a marathon. Having a good friend running next to you can transform a race experience. HPRM#1’s presence isn’t a secret, but it is a weapon and one I am very glad to have.

Kipchoge says, no human is limited. I can’t wait to get to Chicago and prove him right.

Have you ever made a significant leap forward in training? What did you do to accomplish it?

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