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.


Race Report: 2018 Kenai River Half Marathon

(Note: I’m writing this report more than a year post-race. I reviewed my notes and logs to complement my memory of the day.)

Following up on my August half marathon debut, I had something to prove. I finished that first race with a time of 2:00:54. Albeit somewhat arbitrary, that 54 seconds beyond the two-hour mark taunted me. Fortunately, I had a chance at redemption a month-and-a-half later, at a local half marathon.

After the Skinny Raven half, I ran a reduced mileage week before basically jumping right back into a modified version of the training plan I had been using.

To beat the 2-hour mark, I knew I just needed to average below 9:09 minutes per mile. I kept track of my estimated finish time via an app installed on my Garmin watch.

There’s not much noteworthy about this course. It started at the Kenai Visitor’s Center, took a quick tour of ‘Old Town Kenai’, before dropping down Bridge Access Road. From there, you get on Beaver Loop Road and begin your long circle back to the Visitor’s Center.

I just ran my race, enjoying the music in my headphones and taking in the sporadic crowd support (basically, a few isolated groups of people waiting to cheer people that weren’t me). After exiting the far end of Beaver Loop and getting back to the path along the Kenai Spur Highway, I grabbed a cup from the aid station. I wasn’t thirsty, but I was a little hot so I figured I’d toss a cup of water on my head to help cool off. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding between me and the aid station volunteers and I ended up dumping a cup of blue Gatorade on my head. Oh well, it still served the same purpose–except for the minor burning as some of it worked its way into my eyes.

I had my location shared via Google Maps so that my family could track my progress and meet me as I passed the street our home is on. Unfortunately, there was some delay and I saw them pulling up to the intersection as I passed it. The support still registered, and looked forward to meeting them at the finish line just a few miles ahead.

Back into town proper, there was one point where we had to cross Bridge Access Road again. I had assumed there would be some sort of traffic control to give racers the right-of-way. There wasn’t. I had to wait for a break in traffic, losing precious seconds, before I could cross the road and get back to the sidewalks that would carry me to the finish line.

In the final mile, my nephew appeared out of nowhere and ran next to me for a hundred yards or so. We didn’t speak. After he broke off, I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing.

My legs were starting to fatigue, but the finish line was close and I wanted to finish strong. I picked up the pace over the last quarter mile or so.

I finished the race with a chip time of 1:58:37.5, safely under my sub-2-hour goal.

During the race, I felt comfortable and in control. I didn’t experience any pain, just a little fatigue. That evening, some soreness started to develop near the side of my right knee. I woke up in the middle of the night barely able to bend my right knee without some severe burning sensations. While this pain mostly subsided by morning, it was a harbinger of a bigger issue that I would have to spend the next couple of months struggling with.


Race Report: 2018 Anchorage Runfest – Skinny Raven Half Marathon

Race information


Finish< 2 hours
YesSo dang close


Over the past couple years, I ran up to 3 miles a couple times a month. I almost never ran in the cold Alaskan winter months (October through March). In mid-June of this year, I started running regularly and got hooked. I attribute this, at least in part, to signing up for a Smashrun account. I kind of obsess over stats and was anxious to start filling it with data and earning badges. After a week or so of regular running, I set a goal to run a half marathon by the end of the year.


I started with the Hal Higdon Novice 1 plan. About halfway through, I switched to the Novice 2 plan, essentially because it worked better with my schedule. I did jump ahead a little bit in my training, but I was careful to listen to my body to avoid injury. For example, I jumped from an 8-mile long run to a 10-mile long run, because I was just too excited to hit that milestone. I also did not crosstrain–I rode my kid’s bike a little here and there and went on walks, but nothing really structured.

The half marathon I was initially training for was schedule for September 30. Since I started my 12-week plan more than 12 weeks prior to that date, I was left with trying to decide to stretch out the training or find another race that fell in line with my training. I was fortunate to find a half marathon nearby (3 hour drive) from my home that lined up perfectly with my training.


Basically followed the same plan I did for all of my long runs. Wake up, eat some oatmeal, drink a cup of coffee, use the bathroom. I was careful to remain hydrated and get sleep during the days leading up to the race. I followed my race plan’s taper (I actually skipped the last 2 mile run and rested that day).


The race didn’t have corrals. We were basically told to just organize ourselves according to our expected pace. I had two problems: being my first race I wasn’t sure what my pace was going to be (I wanted to start with 9:30 miles and evaluate midway), I had no way of knowing the pace of the people next to me. So, I just put myself somewhere in the middle.

The gun fired and we were off. There were over 700 of us sharing a narrow bike path for the first few miles. The first half mile was downhill, but there was no speed to take advantage of because of how tight we were packed. It was extremely difficult to pass anyone. The pace of the pack was slower than my goal by 15 to 30 seconds. After about 3 miles, things opened up a bit and I was able to find a comfortable pace with some space.

At 5 miles, I ate my first GU. The first half of the race was at a slight uphill, with a few steeper sections. Many people walked on the steeper sections, but I actually powered through them and used the flat parts to get my heart rate back down.

I hit the halfway turnaround and enjoyed the downhill for most of the remainder of the race. I somehow missed the Mile 7 beep on my watch and saw the one for Mile 8. I caught my second wind and started picking up my pace. Around Mile 10 I ate another GU.

I watched the race predictor on my watch tick down. Estimated finish of 2:07:00, then 2:05:00, down to 2:01:00. I was making up my time and set to hit my 2 hour goal.

Then I hit that hill at the last half mile. Halfway up, my legs started to feel like they were shutting down. My body felt really tight and I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I figured I’d just finish out the hill by walking up it, but that was even worse. My legs did not want to lift. I began to perform some sort of zombie shuffle to get to the top. Once the course was flat again, I didn’t have a problem getting back into my stride. I finished strong in good form through the finish line. ​


I crossed the line. They put a medal around my neck. I saw my time. I was so happy to have finished the race, the extra 54 seconds beyond my 2-hour goal didn’t bother me. For me, that was close enough. My family greeted me and we took some pictures together.


I’m going to run the half marathon I was initially training for at the end of September. I’m taking this week to do some lighter recovery runs and I’ll hop back into the program again next week. I’ll be adding a mile to two of the shorter runs and perhaps some other changes based on advice from other runners. Now I have an idea of what to use as a race pace, and I’ll be able to train more efficiently.

I’m excited to shave those 54 seconds off.

After that, well, there’s another half a couple weeks after the September one… I think I’m hooked.


And Then I Ran

In 2018, I became a runner.

I had run before. A few years ago, I trained using the Couch-To-5K training method. I had recently quit smoking cigarettes and it felt good to regain some lung function. I was elated when I completed my first three-mile run without walking. But after completing the program, I endeavored just a few three-mile runs before putting my running shoes away for the season. Without a goal, I lacked motivation to run and I certainly wasn’t interested in running during the cold, dark, Alaskan winter.

I went for a couple of runs last year: a whopping 29 miles during the entirety of 2017. 2018 was looking to end up the same way; by the time June rolled around, I had run a total of less than 20 miles.

I ran a few 3-4 mile runs the first week of June but I didn’t run again until the 13th. That’s when I discovered, a website that aggregates data from your runs and serves up useful and interesting stats. I’m a stats nerd, and I wanted to see what Smashrun could do–but first I needed to feed it data. I ran again the next day, and then the next, and so on. I ran 5 days in a row before taking a break. I’d run blocks of consecutive days, rest, and then do it again. I began researching running, and became active in online running communities. Heeding the advice of experienced runners, I forced myself to take rest days (something that I ironically found to be torturous). I ran more than 50 miles in June. I was hooked.

Example of Smashrun data
Example of just some of the data Smashrun gives you. Sign up for your own free account.

My obsession only grew from there. I ran just over 79 miles in July, 89 in August, and 91 in September. Early on, I went out on my runs without a plan, aiming only to push myself a little more each week compared to the previous one. But then I decided I wanted to commit to a real challenge. I set a goal of running an organized half marathon race (13.1 miles) before the year ended. I researched some training plans and picked one that seemed both manageable and challenging.

I ran my first race at the end of June: a 10K run in Homer, Alaska that fit into my training plan. 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) would be the furthest I had ever run up to that point, but I felt ready. I completed it without an issue, perhaps even leaving a little too much gas in the tank (it helped that the entire course was slightly downhill). That race made me confident that I’d be able to run a half marathon this year. I decided that I would run it during the annual local Kenai River Marathon scheduled for September 30.

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I followed Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan, with some modification. The plan has a couple of races built into it, but there wasn’t always a race available that lined up with my schedule. I ended up running an extra mile on those weeks, which essentially jumped me ahead a week in the program each time I did this.

Running training plans are designed to allow you to peak on race day. Since I had been using race weeks to skip ahead in the schedule, I was going to peak well before the September 30th half marathon. Fortunately, I found a half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska that fit perfectly with my schedule.

I registered for the August 19th race, the Anchorage Runfest Skinny Raven Half Marathon, and continued my training. I didn’t skip a single day of training. I discovered a sense of discipline that I never knew I harbored. I got up at 5am and ran before work. Wind, rain, fatigue… it didn’t matter; if I had a run scheduled that day, I ran it. Towards the end of my training, my plan looked something like this: Rest on Saturday and Sunday, run 5 miles on Monday, 4 miles on Tuesday, 5 miles on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, long run on Friday (I generally added one mile to my long run each week, peaking at a 12 mile long run the week before my half marathon).

Excitement built as race week approached. My plan called for a taper week before the race, where you run fewer miles than you had been in order to get your body in a rested state for the race.

August 19th arrived. My training was complete. Now it was just a matter of cashing-in my training for a good experience, a shirt, and a medal.