Thwarted By Pandemic

So, I’ve put my marathon training plans on hold. As of today, my marathon isn’t officially cancelled or postponed yet but I cannot imagine it’s going to go as planned on June 20. Assuming it is going to be, at the very least, postponed to later in the year, I was left with a few options.

I first considered just continuing with my training as planned and then deciding what to do once I reached the end of my training, probably opting to run a solo 26.2 time trial in my local area. After all, I’d still get to keep all of the fitness I earned along the way.

But, I started to hesitate with this idea as I read more and more about COVID-19, particularly how much harder it seems to hit people who have compromised immune systems. Yes, I’m young(ish), healthy, and fairly fit–my friends and family joke that I probably wouldn’t even notice if I was infected (doubtful). Yes, there’s a large body of evidence that supports the idea that people that regularly exercise have stronger immune systems. But there’s some additional research that seems to suggest there’s a point where taxing your body too much actually has the opposite effect.

Graphing this relationship between training intensity and immune system function has been interpreted as a J-Curve.

J-Curve graph showing relationship between exercise and infection risk.
Image credit:

It’s hard to tell where my personal marathon training puts me on that curve. Maybe the level of training I was partaking in would have me right at the bottom of that curve. But maybe not. Maybe it puts me at an above-average risk for infection.

Is now the best time to ramp my training up, week after week, for a race that’s not even going to occur? As more cases of COVID-19 are confirmed across the country, and beginning to infiltrate my remote state and rural community, is it wise to push myself too far physically?

I agonized over the decision but ultimately decided I was going to play it safe(er) and scale back my running to focus more on maintenance with some basebuilding. I wanted to keep myself in a position to where I could jump back into a marathon plan, even an abbreviated one, if things turned around quickly.

What I quickly learned is that I still need a plan. After 5 weeks of having every run scheduled for me, I wasn’t accustomed to doing the thinking for myself. Fortunately, someone already did the thinking for me. Running coach Steve Palladino put together some power and duration plans specifically for the situation that the world has found itself in. He offers a number of different 10-week plans for maintaining (with a slight increase over the course of the training cycle) and building fitness when you can’t race. I gladly paid the less than $10 price to have someone tell me what to do again.

His plans are integrated with the Final Surge training platform, which plays real nice with my Stryd powermeter and my Garmin 645m watch.

So for now, this is what I’m doing. I’m taking it easier, yet still building my fitness. I’m respecting social distancing measures, I’m staying hydrated, I’m getting sleep, and I’m even doing more of the strength and mobility work I had been slacking on. This troubling time we’re in will most certainly ease up. The future might look different than what we’re used to. Running races might look totally different for awhile. But I’m staying optimistic. I’m grateful that my physical activity of choice is one that I can practice while maintaining social distance, and doesn’t rely on facilities that people no longer have access to.

My wish is for everyone to be well, remain hopeful, and try to find gratitude for the things we’re still fortunate to have.

Stay safe and healthy.


Marathon Training: Week 5

I’ve completed the fifth week of marathon training, but chances are quite high that my race will be canceled. It’s amazing how rapidly things are changing across the planet. I’m impressed with how quickly people are adapting to ever-changing situations. New business models are being developed on the fly. Friends and families are completely changing how they interact with one another. Yet for every single thing we make an adjustment for, there are a handful of others that we still have yet to figure out. The future has never been more difficult to predict.

So while it’s safe, I’ll continue to run. It’s the only real sense of normalcy anymore. I’ll probably run more inside on the treadmill, even though the weather is becoming nicer and nicer. I’m fortunate to live in a rural enough place that I can run for many miles without coming near another person. So long as the consensus is that it’s safe, I’ll continue to run.

But this pandemic has me paying attention to research I might not have been interested in before, particularly when it comes to the effects that high volume training has on the immune system. We all know that exercise is good for the immune system, but at what point is it too much? There’s some research that suggests that people have a weakened immune system after racing a marathon. If this is true, when does this come into play? Just after the race, or is this weakened immune response realized during training? Is it the peak training weeks you need to be most concerned with, or is it most of the entire cycle? Normally, I wouldn’t care; I’d be okay with trading the potential increased risk of a minor cold or flu. But is it wise to have a weakened immune system while this pandemic sweeps across the globe? Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. I’ll keep an eye on the research.

(Note: I’m starting weeks with Monday now, instead of Sunday first as the case with previous entires.)

We’re also at the time of year where two days can look entirely different, or one half of a long run can look completely different than the other.

Snowy road
Slushy road

Monday: 9 miles, with 5 miles at lactate threshold pace. It was a great day outside and I felt good on this run. The footing wasn’t great, with some puddles and ice, but I’ve run through worse.

Tuesday: 5.5 miles recovery.

Wednesday: Ran 11.2 miles for my medium long run, at a little faster than GA pace.

Thursday: Rest day.

Friday: 5.5 miles recovery on the treadmill.


Saturday: This was supposed to be my long run day, but I had a terrible headache and was completely exhausted. I spent most of the day sleeping. Probably a flu bug.

Sunday: Felt better enough today that I decided I’d give the long run a chance. I gave myself permission to cut it early if I needed to, but I felt good so I completed the 16 miles with 10 at marathon pace as planned. It was really hard to maintain pace during this run, however, owing to the road conditions. A large portion of the run was alternating icy patches or puddles of slush that were 2 or more inches deep.

Totals for the week: 47.26 miles / 6 hours 56 minutes

Totals for the training cycle: 209+ miles / 31 hours 18 minutes


Marathon Training: Week 4

Amidst shutdowns of many public and private facilities around the globe owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel fortunate that my hobby of choice involves being outside and away from other people. The sun is out later and it’s getting a little warmer. I had a really solid week of training.

Sunday: Rest/travel.

Monday: I ran 8 miles at general aerobic pace, with 10 160-meter strides on the treadmill. I had to do this in the evening, after a 4 hour drive and with little sleep, but I got it done.

Tuesday: Just over 6 miles outside. Supposed to be recovery but I ran a bit faster.

Wednesday: I ran 11 miles on the treadmill after dinner. Nothing reminds you you’re training for a marathon like these longer runs in the middle of the week.

Thursday: Rest day.

Friday: I enjoyed a nice 4.5 mile recovery run outside. Again, ran a little faster than what my recovery pace probably should be, but I’m trying to be careful and mindful of fatigue.

Saturday: I set a new distance PR with this week’s long run, cranking out just over 17 miles. It was a beautiful day for a long run. I fueled with a salted caramel GU an hour or so in, and then ate a chocolate-dipped stroopwaffel another 45 minutes or so later. I learned that I can’t really swallow and breathe at the same time. I was really starting to feel some fatigue during the last mile, but that’s always the case when I push beyond known territory. It’s cool to be within single digits of marathon distance.

Totals for the week: 46.8 miles / 7 hours

Totals for the training cycle: 162+ miles / 24 hours 21 minutes


Marathon Training: Week 3

Week 3 of Pfitz 18/55 is a wrap. I’m pretty happy with how this week turned out, given that I had multiple travel days to schedule around.

Sunday: 11 miles of general aerobic running on the treadmill. I wore the Nike React Infinity Runs because I wanted to see how they’d do for a longer run. I felt some tightness in my shin for the first mile or so, but that went away and everything felt good for that rest of the run. Really happy that these shoes seem to be pretty versatile.

Monday: Rest day. Was planning on moving a recovery run from later in the week to today, but took the rest instead so I could prepare for my New York trip the next day.

Tuesday: Ran my 8-mile workout on the treadmill. It consisted of 2 miles easy, followed by 4 miles at lactate threshold, ending with another two easy. This was a repeat of the workout from week 1. I averaged about 7 seconds per mile faster on the threshold segment this run compared to the first one. After this, I finished packing, drove three hours, and then spent the next day flying across the country.

Wednesday: My daughter and I arrived in NYC this afternoon. I’d call this a rest day, but we did so much walking over the course of this trip it’s hard to call any of this week rest.

Thursday: I ran in Central Park and it was amazing. I knew Central Park had a reputation as a haven for runners, but I didn’t understand how perfect it was. I had planned to do an abbreviated loop of the park, but missed the cut-off and ended up running the full 6-mile loop. It has been a long time since I ran anything with elevation worth mentioning and Central Park has a respectable amount of hills. I gained more elevation on this run than I had in the past few months combined!

Friday: This was going to be a displaced recovery run but I skipped it. I’m on vacation and I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of walking, so I wasn’t worried about dropping it.

Strava map of my Central Park long run

Saturday: I’m so happy that I got to run this week’s long run in Central Park. I did three laps, but took abbreviated routes for laps 2 and 3. Lap one was the full loop, including my now beloved Harlem Hill. Lap 2 took the 102nd Street Transverse. And on lap 3 I hopped up on the dirt running track around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. During my second lap as I approached the transverse, I could hear feet pounding behind me. I looked over as a man in an FDNY singlet passed me by. Then another. Then someone wearing an NYPD singlet. As I got to the transverse, people were lined up cheering (including many uniformed emergency response personnel). Apparently, I was smack in the middle of a 5-mile race between the rival FDNY and NYPD running clubs. On the final lap, I snapped a quick photo from the running track around the reservoir. I ended with just under 16 miles.

I took in the amazing experience as best as I could. I never once thought about putting my headphones in, nor was I ever distracted by my thoughts. I was just fully immersed and enchanted with my surroundings. Runners in Manhattan have quite the place to run and I’m very jealous.

Totals for the week: 40.92 miles / 6 hours and 4 minutes.

Totals for the training cycle: 115+ miles / 17 hours 21 minutes.


Marathon Training: Week 2

The second week of marathon training is over and everything is going just great. Shifting runs ahead again this week has continued to work well. I haven’t decided when I’ll shift the plan back again so that my long run day is back on Saturdays. It’s convenient to be able to do my long runs on Fridays and the next run on Sunday. At some point though, I’ll want my long run day to coincide with the day I’ll be running my marathon.

Sunday: Set out just before noon for a little more than 9 miles, including 10 strides. Pfitz prescribes strides as 100 meters, but for the sake of simplicity I did them at .10 miles (160 meters). At mile 5, I alternated between .10-mile strides and .10-mile easy. I repeated this until I hit mile 7 and then went back to my general aerobic (GA) pace for the rest of the run. I ended up running the GA miles a bit faster than I should have (this happens when I wear the Nike Turbo 2s–it’s hard to run slow in them), but I didn’t feel like I was really pushing it. It was a brisk sunny day out on a road with gorgeous snowy mountain views.

Monday: Rest day.

Tuesday: It was really cold and the wind was howling, so I kept this run indoors. I ran 10.5 miles on the treadmill after work. I stayed properly within the GA range for this run, staying right at the top of my Stryd zone one power range.

Wednesday: Rest.

Thursday: Easy 5.5 mile treadmill recovery run. I watched Jeopardy. I don’t normally watch Jeopardy, but one of my online running friends was a contestant that evening and I wasn’t going to miss that. She even got to answer a clue with “What is the Boston Marathon?” I also ran in a pair of new shoes for the first time. I bought a pair of Nike React Infinity Run Flyknits (Nike has long names for their shoes). These shoes were developed to reduce injuries, but they also look like they’ll be a great durable trainer for easy and recovery runs. I’m anxious to put some miles on them.

Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit
Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit

Friday: Another long run on the treadmill. This was the first long run with marathon pace work in it for this training cycle. I’ve done these types of runs in the past, so I knew what I was in for. I ran 5 miles at my long run pace, increasing my speed over the duration. Then I ran the next 8 miles at my current marathon pace. I followed that up with another mile or so back at long run pace for a total of just over 14 miles. I felt pretty good over the entirety of the run. These types of workouts are already within my current level of fitness, so it was just a matter of putting in the time. I listened to podcasts and an audiobook. For fueling, I had Gatorade, a GU, and some caffeinated Jelly Belly Sports Beans. I did feel some GI issues towards the end of the run, which could have been anything. The only thing new was the jelly beans, so I’ll probably do something different for my next run.

Saturday: So many rest days (for now). While I didn’t run today, I was definitely in the correct mindset. I watched the US Olympic marathon trials and cheered for three of my friends running it.

Next week will be tricky with some traveling that I’m doing, but I think I’ve plotted out a schedule that will be manageable. Even if everything goes wrong and I have to skip some runs, I’ll still be comfortable with where I’m at.

Totals for the week: 39.4 miles / 5 hours and 58 minutes.


Marathon Training: Week 1

The first week of marathon training is in the books. I did shift some things around to better accommodate my schedule and an upcoming short trip. I ran all of the prescribed runs, but removed a rest day so I could start week 2 a day early. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be doing my long runs on Friday. After my trip, I’ll shift the schedule again and put them back on Saturdays where I plan to keep them for the rest of the training block.

I feel great. I had a little bit of soreness in my calves from Wednesday’s 10-mile run. I was wearing the Nike Terra Kiger 5 which has a lower heel drop and has a harder feel than the shoes I had been running in. Add to that running on some unevenly-plowed snow and you get a bit more of a workout. It’s strange taking more rest days than I normally do, but they might turn out to be better appreciated as the plan ramps up.

Sunday: The official start day of the plan is a rest day. Everyone can complete day 1!

Monday: Uncle Pete apparently likes to start his plans off with a shot across the bow. He demanded an 8 mile run, with 4 miles at lactate threshold pace (for my current fitness, that’s about a 7:45 min./mile pace) in the middle. I have done similar workouts in the past, but never as early as I was attempting this one. And I also haven’t done a lactate threshold (LT) segment that long on the treadmill (where the perceived effort always feels so much greater to me). But, everything went perfect. I was on the treadmill at 5:05am, became fully awake during the first 1.5 miles, cranked out the 4 LT miles, and then finished off the last 2.5 with just enough time to get ready for work. Knowing I can crank out a workout like this before work will help me remove some excuses for myself down the road.

Tuesday: Rest day.

Wednesday: I ducked out of work early to get this MLR (medium long run) done during daylight. It might have been a bit breezy, but boy was it beautiful. We had just received a bunch of snow the night before, so everything was so fresh and bright. It’s tough to beat the beauty of a sunny winter day. I ran 10 miles on a plowed snowy road, with gorgeous views of mountains and frozen marsh.

Winter view of mountains and frozen tundra.

Thursday: The plan called for a rest day, but I used this day to shift everything up a day. So I ran 4 recovery-pace miles on the treadmill before work. This was a run that I wanted to add a little extra mileage to, but had to cut it at 4 due to time constraints.

Friday: I ran 13.1 miles on the treadmill for this long run. Pfitz wanted 12, I planned on 14, but we compromised on the half marathon distance because I had guests showing up soon. I also ran into an issue with the tension on the treadmill belt towards the beginning of the run, so I lost some time having to get out some tools and making the necessary adjustments.

Saturday: Technically a rest day, but I’m going to call this cross-training, since I did spend some time shoveling a bunch of snow off my porch.

I’m really happy with how this first week went, as far as getting in the miles I wanted on the days I had planned. Going forward, I want to take better advantage of my time in the evenings and on rest days to do some of the supportive exercises I should be doing to keep injuries away and to strengthen my running.

Totals for the week: 35.1 miles / 5 hours and 21 minutes.


Ryan Runs A Marathon: The Plan

I spent a fair deal of time deciding on what flavor of training plan I wanted to use for my first marathon. I considered everything from using custom plans that friends had success with, to plans from popular marathon training books, to writing my own. I needed a plan that was going to give me the results I was looking for, but also allowed some flexibility to account for life circumstances. I also wanted a plan that would give me strong confidence of a successful race day. I know there are a hundred things outside of my control that can go wrong on race day, but I wanted to make sure that if everything went mostly right, I was properly prepared for the day.

I ultimately decided on Pete Pfitzinger’s 18/55 plan, with some slight adjustments. The 18/55 plan comes from Pete Pfitzinger’s book, Advanced Marathoning. As designed, it’s an 18-week plan with peak running volume of 55 miles per week. Like many popular training plans, the mileage and intensity goes through periods of ramping up and cutting back throughout the cycle–allowing you to build endurance and speed, but also giving just enough time to recover to let those adaptations set in. Week one starts with just 33 miles, but ramps up quickly from there.

Each week of the plan is broken up into the following types of runs: recovery, general aerobic, medium long runs, long runs, marathon pace runs, tune-up races, and workouts (lactate threshold sessions and intervals). It might sound complicated if you’re not familiar with all of these types of runs, but once you plot it out on a calendar it’s pretty intuitive. Advanced Marathoning goes over each of these types of runs, explaining how you should approach them as well as their purpose.

I had already been running between 40 and 50 miles per week before I’d start the plan. I knew that some of the higher volume weeks would be a challenge, but some of the earlier weeks were a little too light compared to what I was already doing. I knew I could handle some additional volume, but could also admit to myself that I wasn’t ready to jump up to the 18/70 (18 weeks, peak weeks of 70 miles) plan. The 18/55 plan starts with a long run of only 12 miles, but I had already been consistently running a 13-16 mile long run every week. I decided, with some consultation from my online running club friends, that it would be better to add miles to the 18/55 plan rather than have to cut miles from the 18/70 plan.

I decided on adding about 10% additional mileage to some of the runs, while leaving other runs as-written. I’d add this extra mileage to the general aerobic, medium long run (MLR), long runs (LR) and recovery runs. I’d leave the speed workouts alone. For the long runs with marathon pace segments at the end, I’d pad the easy miles portion of the run while leaving the marathon-paced segments as-written. So if the plan called for 16 miles with 12 at marathon pace (4 easy and ending with 12 at goal marathon pace), I’d run about 5.5 miles before starting the marathon pace work. The thought is that this would add a small amount of additional volume, while staying mostly true to the plan.

Another reason I wanted to go a little above what the plan called for was for my own confidence. As written, the longest run in the plan is 20 miles. That leaves 6.2 miles of unknown territory come race day. Increasing my long runs to the 22-23 mile range should give me a little more confidence and familiarity with those longer distances.

So now I have a plan. It’s written down, it’s on the calendar, and I’ve figured out how to add it to my daily life. Honestly, I’m looking forward to structured training. Up until now, I’ve kind of plotted my runs with a rough outline each week. I’m excited about not having to think too much about what I’m going to do each day.

I just need to get up and do the thing.


Training For A Marathon: Building Up

I just wrapped up the last long run of my mostly unorganized winter basebuilding and maintenance plan, and my 18-week marathon training plan is about to kick off.

Over the past few months, I’ve been training regularly. I run almost every day with a typical week consisting of: one harder workout, a medium-length (8-9 miles) long run in the middle of the week, and a weekly long run (between 13 and 16 miles). Some of the long runs I’d do with large blocks of faster-paced segments, while others were just steady-state. During the rest of the days of the week, I’d just fill in with some easy miles. I’ve sat comfortable within the 40-45 miles per week range for most of the past few months, with at least a couple of weeks breaking 50 miles.

It is the middle of the Alaskan winter, and I’ve relied on the relative comfort of the treadmill for most of my runs. When the weather does cooperate and I get my miles in outside, it feels amazing. I’ve managed to steadily build fitness over these past winter months and have even surpassed most of my PRs within regular training runs.

There’s still a lot of winter left, but my diligence has proven to me that I’m capable of solid training work during this time of year. My marathon plan will definitely put this to the test. There will be some difficult runs that are just going to kind of suck, whether I’m outside or on the treadmill. But this is only going to make the peak weeks of my training cycle feel that much better, as they’ll arrive when it’s solidly Spring.

I ran 175 miles in October, 177 in November, 185 in December, and 162 in January. I should hit about 170 this month, and then it only goes up from there.


Ryan Runs A Marathon

   I’m officially two weeks out from the beginning of my first marathon training plan. As the starting line nears, I encounter myriad emotions: excitement, anticipation, apprehension, pride, doubt. Fear.

    The positive emotions clearly outweigh the negatives, otherwise why would I be doing this? Running a marathon isn’t a requirement, it’s a challenge that I’ve chosen to take on. It’s an opportunity to take my love of running and challenge myself to accomplishing a new milestone.

    I keep fairly detailed running logs across a plethora of platforms, yet I haven’t previously consolidated and combined them into a narrative. So that’s what I’ll be doing here for the near future. These posts are written for me, as a way to detangle my thoughts and package them up. But they’re also public, for anyone that may find value in them. Future posts will outline my training plan, and experience along the way.


Injury and Rehabilitation

The evening after my second half marathon in the fall of 2018, I developed some soreness in the outside of my right knee. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, barely able to bend my knee without burning pain radiating up my leg. I wasn’t too concerned at the time. I figured I just needed some rest after the hard effort.

The next morning, it felt a lot better. Unless I walked up stairs or did about anything else that involved putting weight on my leg with my knee bent. (Come to find out, that’s a lot of things.) I took a few days off from running, thinking that would clear things up.

After that rest, I went for a short run. Aside from a little tightness around the knee, there were no issues. Oddly enough, as soon as I stopped running, the pain flared up a bit and it hurt to go up the few steps into my house.

A couple days later, I set out for an hour-long run. Again, no issues until I stopped running. The pain came back, worse than before. For the next few days, I struggled to step onto anything higher than a sidewalk. I remember pulling myself up the stairs via the handrails at the sports arena when we went to a hockey game. I remember struggling to make it down to the field and back up again when I went to watch my daughter’s cross-country race. I avoided going downstairs in my own house.

Anxious to get back to running, I’d test myself every few days. It never really got better. In fact, it got to the point that I could run about one mile before the pain flared and I’d have to almost limp home.

After a couple frustrating weeks of this, I finally called my doctor and set up an appointment. By this time, I had researched my symptoms fairly thoroughly and was certain I had what is simply called: IT Band Syndrome, commonly abbreviated as ITBS–keep in mind, if you tell someone you have ITBS, they might think you’re telling them you have irritable bowel syndrome, so maybe think twice before abbreviating. (Note: This often gets referred to as runners’ knee, but that phrase is more accurately used as a shorthand for another running-related injury called patellofemoral syndrome. If you’re experiencing knee pain from running, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis, so you can receive the correct treatment.) I went to my appointment, told my doctor what I thought my issue was, and asked for a referral to a physical therapist. She confirmed my diagnosis and gave me a list of local physical therapists to choose from. I selected one that I already knew was reputable and effective, based on her work with multiple members of my family.

The appointments went well. I had them first thing in the morning, prior to work. Some weeks had two sessions per week, while others had one. My physical therapist analyzed my flexibility and mobility, and identified several weaknesses. Owing to decades of spending most of my waking hours sitting, I had weak hips and glutes and overly-dominant quads. Basically, I was using the wrong muscles for everything. She had me take two full weeks without running. In the meantime, she applied manual therapy protocols (read: she took her really hard and pointy elbow and ground my muscles into a pulp) and assigned exercises to do to both rewire the way I perform certain motions and to strengthen weak areas. One key thing she identified was that my hips were rotating inward whenever I bent my knees. I was encouraged to be mindful of this, and to keep that slack out of the chain as I went about my daily life.

I did my assigned exercises and she gave me permission to start running again, carefully and sparingly. After close to three weeks without running, I was ready to lace my running shoes back up and get back out there. I was allowed to run so long as the pain stayed away. I drove to my local track to do laps, that way I could stop and end my run at the first sign of pain. That first run back felt great… until it didn’t. I was only a handful of laps in before the pain flared-up and I called it a night. It was frustrating, and made me wonder if my treatment was even helping.

But I remained hopeful and patient. I was told I could run every other day, occasionally running two days in a row. The runs became longer and longer. The first run that I was able to complete on my own accord, without pain telling me when to stop, was a great feeling.

I graduated from physical therapy and have kept issues at bay ever since. My goal is to perform my pre-hab exercises regularly, but I have to admit that I tend to put them off until I feel like an injury is about to manifest… and then I’m doing clamshells as if my life depended on it.

In hindsight, my injury shouldn’t have been a surprise. As a mid-30s person who has been sedentary most of his life, going from the couch to two half marathons in the span of only about two months was probably asking for trouble. I’m lucky I got to learn my lesson early on. Hopefully it will provide me with just enough caution to keep myself in check going forward.

I credit the work of my physical therapist along with a certain program of exercises designed by Coach Jay Johnson for helping me through that frustrating period of time and setting me up for a positive running experience in the future.