Marathon Training Week Four: Tough Love and Running in the Snow

fullsizerender-1-2306861f-187c-4152-85b4-91a68f24709a 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

I’ve been saying since the very beginning of this whole process that due to a number of factors — Thanksgiving week, a pre-scheduled half-marathon that didn’t quite fall at an ideal point in my training — it would be some time for me to be able to find much of a groove, to really feel like I’m in the swing of things and have a good idea of what it really takes to prepare for a marathon. Well, that time is officially upon us. Week four came equipped with some failures, some successes, and a couple valuable lessons. Let’s get to it…


Those of you who’ve been reading this column each week have heard all about my daughter’s Sunday morning gymnastics class and the havoc it wreaks on my ever-important long runs. The class starts at 9:20 a.m. and ends at 10:20, so by the time I get back home and get out the door, it’s well after 11 (11:48, actually, according to my Strava), which is pretty late to start a 10-mile run when you’ve also got, like, regular person responsibilities to tend to — errands, Christmas shopping, etc…

I don’t actually remember very much about this run other than the fact that I spent literally all of it worrying about how late it was, and I eventually wound up cutting it two miles short, for a total of just eight. My splits were even and uninspired, with an average pace of 9:39.

Afterward, I logged my run into the New York Roadrunner Virtual Trainer system that I’m using to communicate with my coach, John Honnerkamp, when another New York Roadrunner coach, Steve Mura, who’s been kind enough to keep tabs on me along the way, responded with some tough love.

I would suggest planning the week around your long run, since that's the most important run. Set yourself up for a successful run by planning other things around it. If that means getting up before the sun gets up, then so be it. It will suck at first, but once you are outside and getting the full distance in, you will be glad you did it. On marathon day, you can then say you did everything possible to train for the race. 

Shit. I would be lying if I said this didn't sorta take the wind out of my sails. But I'd also be lying if I said this exact sentiment hadn't occurred to me more than once. The only way around this particular challenge would be to get up early enough so that I could complete my long run and be home by 8:45 or so, in time to take my daughter to her class. Daunting but necessary. I vowed to give it a shot next time. (Which was actually yesterday — spoiler alert, it was pretty awesome.)


Off day. I toyed with the idea of doing some strength stuff, but still can't shake the feeling of aimlessness that's bogging me down in this area… more on this later.


I had a four-mile regular run on the schedule for today, and an early-morning wake-up call to get it done. I was out by 6:15, in the cold, still-dark morning, listening to a wildly underrated album by a wildly underrated band. I started out slow, with a 9:50 mile and got progressively faster as I went. My legs felt good, my breathing was controlled, and I remained engaged the whole time, weirdly aware of my form. I even tacked on an extra quarter-mile in hopes of beginning to atone for my long-run sins.


Nada. Though this was the day I made another promise to myself: This will be the last week I complete without a concrete strength-training routine in place. I know deep down that this is going to come back to bite me more than anything, even cutting a mile or two from a long run.


This was a fun one. Weather in New York took a turn for the wintry last week, and this day had me outside in Central Park for an exceedingly cold interval workout. The temperature was right around 20 degrees when I started, with 25 mph winds making it feel much colder. But somehow, I felt great. The workout called for two warm-up miles, which I ran in 9:32 and 9:21, followed by seven 400-meter repeats, with two minutes of active recovery between each. I was supposed to be running each 400-meter interval in roughly 2:05–2:10, but I wound up running most of them considerably faster:  2:04, 1:55, 1:58, 1:58, 1:59, 1:51, 1:44, with less recovery time than prescribed because it was too cold to walk. After the 400s was a mile at marathon-goal pace meant to teach your body to stay strong even when tired. I managed an 8:57 on that one — a full 12 seconds below my goal pace of 9:09. One more cool-down mile and that was that… a tough workout and an unmitigated success. 


Nothing at all, thank you very much. 


The weather forecast called for snow overnight, but it didn't sound like it'd be significant. When I got out of bed at 5:30 in the morning, I looked out the window to see a pretty good covering and snow still falling. Chances are good I'm going to be up against circumstances just like this multiple times over the next couple months, so I figured it would be a bad sign if I immediately succumbed to a little white stuff. I set out for a short out-and-back three-mile run on a path near my house, and it was the best. The path had been plowed a little while earlier, so it was mostly clear, with just an inch or so of soft, pillowy snow that slows you down a bit but is generally really pleasant to run on. The first mile and a half was directly into the wind, so the snow was blowing directly into my face, which I guess wasn't entirely pleasant, but it meant I got a nice tailwind for the second half. The best thing about running in the snow is making eye contact with the one or two other runners you see out there and briefly, without words, acknowledging that you are both awesome and/or insane. 

Week 4 at a Glance:

Total Miles on the Schedule: 20–23 (there was a "flex" day in there)

Total Miles Completed: 21

Skipped Workouts: None. Or, one-fifth if I'm being completely honest with myself, which I really should. 

High point: The 32-ounce Captain Lawrence IPA I drank on the train home from Central Park, while probably not the smartest decision I made all week, certainly felt good going down. 

Low Point: Being called out on my bullshit and reminded that you can't skimp on long runs did not feel great.

Key pieces of gear: When the winter really sets in, your gear becomes more important than usual, so… lots of good stuff to talk about this week. But first, some shoes: I was lucky enough to get a pair of the forthcoming New Balance Zante V3 (out in February, I believe), and I'm loving them so far for speed-work. Super secure fit, springy feel, and not too mushy. They feel fast, like a return to the first version, whereas the second version felt… blah. What else? Smartwool's PhD Wind Tight was a life-saver on the really cold days, thanks to a wind-proof front panel. If there's an MVP in the gear category this week, it would have to be the Heat X-Change Marathon mittens, which I'll be covering more in-depth in the future, but will for now just say that they are wonderful. Well, I will also explain that they're a pair of mittens that use external heat sources (these weird little gel pods) that you microwave and then insert into different chambers within your mittens. Sounds weird, but they work extraordinarily well. 

Next week: 26–29 miles with an 11-mile long run, a really tough speed workout, and… oh, a 12-mile run scheduled for Christmas? This should be fun.

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.

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