Marathon Training Week Two: I'm Going to Have to Get a Lot Faster

MensJournal.com Senior Editor Mike Conklin is running his first marathon, the Rock 'n' Roll DC Marathon, on March 11, 2017, and he's documenting his training here with weekly posts. Here's last week's. You can also follow him on Twitter

As I mentioned last week, my training is off to a sort of awkwardly choppy start — first Thanksgiving got in the way and sheltered me from the realities of what my midweek training will look like for the next three and a half months, and then this past week, a pre-scheduled family vacation/half-marathon did the same. Because I was scheduled to run 13.1 miles in Delaware at the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Half Marathon on Saturday, the rest of the week was a little lighter than usual so as not to wind up totally spent on race day. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves… here’s a look back at week two.

Sunday, 11/27

If you recall, week one’s long run was seven miles, and were it not for the half-marathon on Saturday, week two’s long run would have been bumped up to eight. But, again, to keep my legs fresh, it was cut back to six. I didn’t get out until around 11:30 (remember: six-year-olds don’t drive themselves to their gymnastics classes), but everything went well. I was determined not to have a repeat performance of week one, when I had to cut my long run short because the wind was making me sad, so I took it slow and steady and finished feeling good: six miles at a far from impressive 9:47 per mile. I’m having a hard time accepting these newly slow paces, but I’m also trying my best, per Coach’s advice, to trust my long runs and to trust my speed work, and be confident that over time they will create some magic middle ground where I’m both reasonably fast and able to run for many hours at a time.

Monday, 11/28

No running, but some early morning bodyweight stuff — I’m totally clueless when it comes to this stuff, and I currently just find myself standing in my living room, like, “Hmm… I guess I’ll do a bunch of squats now? And then I’ll plank for a while?” I don’t know. I need to find a routine and follow it more closely. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m listening.

Tuesday, 11/29

A few months ago, when I realized I am extremely weak and that becoming less weak might actually help me become a better runner, I dropped a few hundred dollars on a set of those Power Block nesting dumbbell things, which have since spent more time sitting under my bed than I would like to admit. I broke ‘em out on Tuesday, though, and did a bunch of the exercises here. Again, I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I think it’s important that I figure it out pretty quickly.

Wednesday, 11/30

This was an exciting day, even if I had to wake up at 5 AM — my first speed workout of the program. Nothing crazy, but still challenging: a one-mile warm-up followed by five 800-meter (1/2 mile) intervals, plus a 1.5-mile cool-down. The program called for my warm-up mile to be between 9:42 and 10:12, which seemed really slow until I ran it in 9:55. Ugh. My intervals were supposed to start at 4:30 per 800-meter chunk and progress down to 4:15. My watch was set to auto-lap at every mile, so I don’t have the exact splits for each interval, but I think I ran them all pretty evenly at around 4:05 or 4:10, with 60-second walk breaks in between. Still not super fast, but I felt good. I ran out of time and had to cut my cool-down short by about a half-mile, for a total of 4.3 on the day.

Thursday, 12/1

Total rest day. Except for having to drive family members places, go to work, come home, run a bunch of errands and pack for my trip. So, you know… really restful.

Friday, 12/2

Travel Day. The family and I piled into the car and drove down to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, for Saturday’s race. Got into town at around 5:30, went to the expo to pick up my bib, got settled in our hotel, and then went to the Dogfish Head brewpub for dinner, where I ate a giant burger and drank three pints of a brewpub exclusive beer called Post-Boil (which is insanely delicious and needs to be bottled pronto) because I’m not super smart or responsible. After dinner we went back to the hotel and I nearly pulled out all my hair trying to figure out what I was going to wear in the morning. The forecast called for high-30s and lots of wind — tricky conditions to dress for if you ask me.

Saturday, 12/3

After tossing and turning all night, I woke up at 4:50 for a 7 AM start. I got dressed (in tights, a long sleeve merino base layer, and a light jacket) and went down to the hotel lobby to drink a cup of coffee and relax for a bit. I left at around 5:45 and set up camp at a Dunkin Donuts for more coffee and a half a bagel. Made some good conversation with a few other runners, got on a pretty long bathroom line to avoid the porta-potty situation at the starting line, and eventually made my way to the start just a few minutes before the gun went off.

Now, a note on my preparation and strategy: I had not run farther than 7 miles at a time since May, so I was far from confident going in. But my relaxed 6-mile long run the previous Sunday led me to believe that if I just took it slow, I could probably put together a pretty solid long training run. I had to force myself to get over the gut-punch of knowing a PR wasn’t in the cards for me — particularly irksome since my half-marathon PR, 1:55:03, was actually at the same race the year before. My plan was to start slow and work up to a pace I felt like I could maintain without working too hard for as long as possible, and then hopefully have enough left in the tank to push a bit for the last three miles. 

I lined up a little behind the 2:00 pacer because there was a small, dumb part of me that still thought I had a chance of coming in under two hours. (Spoiler alert: I had no chance!) I ran the first crowded mile in a relaxed 9:41 and then, without really trying, sped up to 9:27 for the second mile, where I basically stayed through mile 11: 9:27, 9:25, 9:28, 9:26, 9:26, 9:31, 9:24, 9:47 (I walked through a water stop), 9:34. At mile 12, I found myself climbing up a very short but very steep hill on a light trail section of the race, and I suddenly felt a really intense cramp in my right calf, which is not something I've ever experienced before. I walked on and off for a bit and wound up running mile 12 in a disappointing 10:31. I got it together somewhat for a 9:50 mile 13, and managed to finish with a near-sprint to the finish line for a total time of 2:06:03.

So I just ran the slowest half-marathon I've ever run, yet I weirdly feel like it was one of my strongest, or at least most encouraging, runs ever — and I don't even know why! I have no real indication that I could have run 13.1 more miles, and even if I had done so while maintaining the exact same pace (which would obviously never happen), I'd have finished a full marathon in a 4:11:42, well over my goal time of 3:59:59. 

But there was something about the feeling I had during miles 2–11 that I've never really had before: I was running so relaxed and peacefully that the miles were just flying by. I was playing some games with myself where I decided to go without music for the first mile because I like to listen to the typical banter you hear starting out (special shoutout to the woman who was like, "Are we done yet???" about 100 yards from the start), and I kept challenging myself to make it another mile before turning it on. Before I knew it I was at my six, then seven, and it wasn't until mile eight that I eventually turned it on. I'm not exactly happy with the pace I settled into, but it was nice to find out I could disappear into myself the way I did, for as long as I did. 

The bad news? I've got a long way to go. The good news? Well, I've got a long way to go. 

Week 2 at a glance:

Total Miles on the Schedule: 25

Total Miles Completed: 23.5. I cut that one cool-down short, and I didn't warm up for the half as prescribed. Whoops. 

Skipped Workouts: None.

High Point: Any time you cross the finish line of a half-marathon and have your family waiting there for you, it's kind of the best. 

Low Point: I felt pretty good all week, but there were certainly moments here and there when I let my paces get to me. Trying to think big-picture and be patient, though. 

Key Piece of Gear: Gotta give some love to a pair of shoes I never thought I'd wear but have fallen pretty deeply in love with over the past few weeks: the Hoka One One Clifton 3, which is insanely cushioned and insanely lightweight at the same time. Plenty of room in the toe-box and no weird hot-spots. They look crazy, yes, but who cares? 

Next week: There's bound to be sort of a letdown after the high of the race, but if nothing else I've got five-mile fartlek run to look forward to. Follow along on Twitter to see how it's all going.

For more info about the United Airlines Rock ‘n’ Roll Washington DC Marathon, follow them on Twitter or Facebook, and to join in the conversation, use the hashtag #RNRDC. And if you want to sign up to join me on March 11, use the code RUNNINGDC to get $15 off your race fee.