8 weeks down. 8 more to go!
I signed up for the #mainova_frankfurt_marathon after several months with very little running. My starting condition was not that great, and I’m being nice here... I mean a long run for me at that point was a 7 km very easy run. I knew I was definitely in need of a good plan.
For my upcoming race I’m following the awesome Macmillan level 2 marathon plan. This #training_plan is a 16 weeks program, with 4 runs, 2 #cross_training days (with optional easy run instead) and 1 oh so needed rest day each week.
The weather was not on my side. Either I was under it for a while, or I was feeling fine but the weather was all over the place. These past weeks had some of the most hot and humid days I’ve ever experienced. Global warming is legit.
If I’m being completely honest, the first month of this #training_plan was kind of boring. For 4 weeks, 4 times each week, all the workouts were pretty much the same. Same runs, different distances. So by the 4th week the monotonic easy run was getting a little old. However in hindsight, it was actually just what I needed to kick my butt into gear.
The second month of the #training_plan was where the jigsaws started falling into place. Once a week there was some #key_workout, which not only broke the routine, but also made me noticeably faster with each week. Finally, I was getting into the zone.
Life was being life, pulling me in all directions - buying and renovating an apartment, changing jobs, too much rain, taking couple of courses at the university, way too much heat, not enough sleep, and more than enough excuses for why running took a back sit for the past six months of my life. At first I didn’t notice how much I missed running, then a thought that kept creeping into my mind, turned into a feeling I couldn’t let go of, until it was unmistakably clear to me: I knew I paved my paradise to put on a parking lot. I gave up a piece of heaven in my life, basically for chores. “Don’t it always seems to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got, til it’s gone” my mind kept singing with Joni. But it wasn’t gone, it was still in me, deep inside my body and my soul, I just needed to find it again.
As all millennials know, there’s nothing like retail therapy to get some motivation back. It’s superficial and slightly embarrassing how consuming gadgets (or #gear, or clothes or any other advertised product) effects me. But it does, and if it works, why not use it? So I bought new pair of running shoes, a Garmin watch (#affiliate), bluetooth headphones, sport bras, a yoga mat, nutritional supplements and a membership to the closest gym to my house. The gym membership was more of a weather insurance for me, which paid off amazingly by the way, but everything else was pure emotional support.
I geared up with all my new shiny purchases, and was ready for the fresh Mediterranean air to accept me with open arms on my welcome back morning run. Well, it was definitely warm outside, but it was not a warm welcome. It was a seriously hard run, I couldn’t ignore my self-pity that was out there in the heat annoyingly following me around like a shadow, making me regret all those morning I didn’t go running. It was so hard for me, even my teeth were burning! You know when you breath so heavily your teeth start to burn? This hadn’t happen to me since I first started running couple of years ago. Not a good sign or a good look for me.
Yes, it was bad. I registered for this #marathon and I only had 4 months to turn this sorry state of mine into a crossing the #mainova_frankfurt_marathon finish line with a smile on my face state. A transformation like this requires a good plan. An amazing plan actually, some sort of a magic plan. Or in other words, the McMillan training plan. It worked for me like a charm once before, on a shorter distance, so why wouldn’t it work some magic on me this time?
I found McMillan running website way back in 2017, while exploring the web in a search for some running wisdom I certainly lacked when I was facing my first long distance race abroad: a 30K trail race in Paris. Whether you’re just starting, or you’ve been running long distance even before you could walk, you can always learn something. And the McMillan running university is a great free resource to educate yourself about everything running related. They also offer a cool and informative pace calculator that is a great companion to any training plan, and you should definitely try it. I loved how knowledgeable they are, and how awesome coach Greg McMillan is, so I bought one of their custom programs of 10 weeks toward my first 30K race. Without a doubt, this program was probably the main reason I managed overcome this challenge (the fact that I actually followed this plan might also had something to do with it…)
This time I went for a regular training plan, I had enough time to prepare (so I thought, naively) myself with the “off the counter” cheaper option, so I bought their level 2 marathon plan. You actually work with the plan on a different platform, FinalSurge, which is a nice training tracking system, that connects to my Garmin (I don’t know about other brands) and has a good intuitive app as well. To set the plan up I chose the desired dates (no surprises here) and filled out the McMillan training paces calculator, which automatically updated my plan with the right paces for my different workouts on FinalSurge. In the calculator you need to select the type of runner you are, I chose to categorize myself as an “endurance monsters” as they call it, which is basically a nice way of saying that it’s for the slow runners that should run longer to compensate for their slowness.
My plan started a week after the summer officially started, but about 2 months after it actually started in my zip code. It was hot, and humid, and sunny all day long, it seemed like there is almost no night, and absolutely no clouds. A gym membership was inevitable, at least for the short easy runs and the recovery runs, because nothing can be easy (or recovery-ing), in that weather. I started with all runs, except for a weekly long run, on the #treadmill, which was an adjustment, I've never used one on a regular basis, because - respectfully - it sucks. For me being outside, alone, feeling the salty sea breeze, watching the sun wake up my city, plays a huge part in my experience of running, in my love for running. The gym offers quite the opposite running experience. An indoor, crowded, air-conditioned, fluorescent lit one. But a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, and I just had to suck it up, start the #treadmill and run.
The first 4 weeks were pretty much like groundhog day, every #workout felt exactly the same. Because they were almost identical, easy runs between 30-50 minutes (all of which I've done in the gym) or a long run. The length of my long runs was the only thing changing, it kept getting longer and longer as the weeks went by (the longest run was 90 minutes). Yes it was very repipetive. Yes I was getting bored. And yes it was just what I needed. I was getting better, noticeably, and relatively quickly. The body remembers what to do, we just need to convince it to do so. This boring phase of the #training_plan methodologically pushed my body in the right direction, and at the right pace. On the final long run of this month I looked back at my first embarrassingly pathetic run, and remembered the mantra I repeated to myself through the sweat and the misery: what seems impossible today will one day be your warmup, and smiled. It was true.
I was ready to turn things up a notch. The base work gave me nice foundations, just in time for the next phase of the program. These next 4 weeks introduced me to some cool key workouts. A #key_workout is some kind of a special run, either intervals, tempo, hills or whatever else which is not an easy run. I had one scheduled every week. Key workouts are awesome: they are a nice change to the routine, very challenging, not very long (an advantage when you have a full time job that interrupts your training) but surprisingly effective. They work your body like nothing else and also take care of your state of mind, kicking out the self doubts one by one. I could actually feel the improvement on the very next long run. I love key workouts, in hindsight, in real time they are a bitch. No other way to describe it. But bitches get things done, and so do the key workouts. I can't wait to try more...
Right when things got interesting, and the #training_plan and I were on the same page, I got sick. Nothing fetal, not even worthy of a trip to the doctor, but enough to screw up 2 weeks of training. As of now I certainly feel every run I missed, the workouts are almost too hard, even when I do the easier/shorter/less intervals suggested version of them. I know I'm not exactly where I wanted to be at this point of the training, but there are 8 more weeks to go, and I know that if I'll stick to the plan, listen to my body and under no circumstances get discouraged, I can make up a big part of this lost time. I just need to trust the plan and not to look back, only look forward towards the 8 more weeks of training I still have ahead of me.
Stretch It Out
What is a review without lists of pros and cons? so here it goes
What is great about it?
The best thing about the McMillan marathon plan is, well, the plan itself! It is built in a scientifically-based, smart, efficient and safe way. You can feel the science backing you up with this plan. And I love science, it gives me a confidence boost when things are backed by it. The plan is pushing you hard, but not too much, just enough to get you noticeably better, but without the risk of burning out.
It might be "of the shelf" plan, but it is totally individualized and it can progress with you. FinalSurge platform allows to switch workouts, remove and edit them to your needs, but this is not the best part... The best part is that at any time you can update you training paces using the integrated McMillan calculator. Thus, as your fitness improves you can easily tweak the plan so it would keep up with you while you're crushing your goals.
You are getting a lot more than just a training schedule. There is the complementary prehab program, that is in synch with your running program and is aiming to help you stay injury free. There are the tips and motivational quotes in each workout, the emails from coach Greg, the running university, the video library and much more. An endless pool of running knowledge that you can (and should) just dive into.
What would be awesome if they improve?
The implementation of the actual workouts provided in the #training_plan is not structured as an actual workout on the FinalSurge platform. It’s a descriptive text with the associated correct pace (and sometime time) of the #workout, instead of being structured in a way that can be used with sports watches. You can create the structured workout you need with their tool, which makes me wonder why it is not done by the McMillan team for me?
The Garmin - FinalSurge connectivity feels like it’s only half done. The direction of data streaming from Garmin (#affiliate) to FinalSurge works great, all the workouts I’ve completed are synched without any action on my side. However, the FinalSurge to Garmin direction needs some work. The only way to connect this side is through an app on the watch, which only syncs about 5 of the upcoming workouts, and only if you structured the workouts on FinalSurge yourself… So I got annoyed, and didn’t use it this way, I built the structured workouts on the Garmin mobile app, which was also time consuming, but at least I didn’t have to install a another app on my watch for me to be able to use those workouts (I'm saving all my available storage on the watch for music).
So Do I Recommend the McMillan training plan?
So far, I can highly recommend the McMillan #training_plan, but you'll have to wait until after the race to get a definite verdict. My drawbacks with this plan are mainly centered around the FinalSurge - Garmin connectivity , and the way the #training_plan itself is implemented in the platform. Those cons are insignificant in this case, because my main purpose with purchasing this plan is to get clear and effective training instructions that will help me finish the #mainova_frankfurt_marathon, at my goal pace, successfully. AND without any injuries! So far it has absolutely done that, and much more. I really feel I'm progressing, physically and mentally. I'm fitter, stronger, more knowledgeable and less anxious about my ability to complete this race. Getting all of that totally outweighs any technical inconvenience I might have. Nothing is perfect, and there is need to be greedy here. So what else can I ask for from a training plan? Maybe just that it will continue to go this way for me...