Comrades Update: Planning a Year-Long Training Program

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This post is one in an occasional series about my plans to run the 2016 Comrades Marathon.  

A few weeks ago, I wrote an update about the logistics involved in my plan to run the 2016 Comrades Marathon in South Africa.  This 90K race through “the valley of the hills” (cough, oxymoron, cough) takes place next May 29th, and both my dad and I plan to toe the start line.

In addition to the financial and childcare logistics that must be sorted, I’ve already devoted a lot of time to planning out my training program.  While I’ve run many marathons and ultramarathons, I have never endeavored to undertake a full year-long training cycle before.  I’ve looked at all kinds of magazines and blogs and websites for ideas and to read about others’ experiences.  It’s enough to make my head spin.  For mental tidiness, I am dividing this training into two phases: July-December 2015 and January-May 2016.  I’m terribly old school and do this by printing out monthly calendars, grabbing a pencil, and working backwards from target dates.

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Because Comrades requires a sub-5 hour marathon run between August 1, 2015 and May 1, 2016, I am aiming to run my qualifying marathon in December.  While I have no doubt that I can run a sub-5 hour marathon even if I had to do it this weekend, the start of Comrades is seeded based on your qualifying marathon finish time.  And because Comrades is a gun-timed race– with a strictly-enforced 12-hour time limit to finish and other sweep times along the course– having a faster qualifying time means precious minutes aren’t wasted getting to the start line.

Also, I was very well-trained for my marathon last fall and wound up having a terrible run in New York.  I was hoping to qualify for Boston– and was in shape to do it– but things just didn’t fall my way.  If I follow the same training program again this fall, I am optimistic I can run a BQ at the Dallas Marathon on December 13th.  This is the first target date from which I worked backwards to fill in my training schedule.

(Aside: I was chatting with a woman at a local road race a few weeks ago, and she downplayed my desire to run Boston.  I mentioned to her I’d run it four times before, but that was back when I was in my 20s and qualifying didn’t require so much work.  It’s nice to work hard for something and earn a precious reward.  It’s also a good lesson for my kids that just because it didn’t work out last year doesn’t mean I should give up on it.)

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I will once again be using the Doug Kurtis training program— I reviewed it in this post  as part of my mental pump-up in the week before New York.  Like I said, I feel like it had me very well prepared to run a strong race. I know I can run sub-4 hours, which would place me in seeding batch D, the fifth of nine corrals.  This is a very achievable goal.  If I can run sub 3:40 (which is my goal that would ensure not just a BQ (sub 3:45) but actually getting to run in Boston), I’d move all the way up two corrals to C.  (Confusingly, there is a corral CC between C and D for charity runners.)  This could mean the difference of 2-3 minutes, which doesn’t seem like much in a 56 mile race, but I’d like all the time I can get!  At any rate, I plan to stick to my summer running plans and start my marathon training in earnest in August.

I will take off a full two weeks in the second half of December.  Knowing that break is out there gives me confidence I can press on for eleven months straight.

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For my January-May 2016 training, the target date from which I’ll plan is the BIG DAY– May 29th, Comrades Marathon. To shape this phase of training, I’ll turn to the expert: Coach Lindsey Parry is the official coach of Comrades, and he writes the training plans available to all runners.  There are several plans from which to choose based on projected finish time, but all of them focus on running about 600 miles between January 1st and race day.  I will likely follow either the Bronze Medal plan (finish time between 10-11 hours) or the Bill Rowan Medal plan (finish time 9-10 hours).   I will wait and make my determination after my fall training and qualifying marathon.  I also want to wait and see which seeding batch my dad is in and gauge whether or not we’ll run together on race day.

Regardless of which plan I follow, I’ve started to research ultramarathons in Texas for the winter and spring.  I am quite good at the lone wolf training method, but I think for the longer training runs I would like to have some on-course support.  I do have the kooky idea of hosting a DIY 40-miler as my final long training run, wherein I propose to do ten four-mile loops on a very hilly course right outside my front door.  In my head, I will cajole ten friends in to joining me for one lap each.  I’ll keep you posted how that works out….

Good health and great happiness to you.

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