Fall marathon season is easily one of my favorite times of the year. For a five-week stretch, bookended by Berlin in late September and New York in early November, there’s something to get excited for almost every weekend. This fall is especially action-packed, with the unusually late IAAF World Track and Field Championships, the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, and countless last-ditch pursuits of Olympic and Olympic Trials qualifiers.
For the first time, my fall season will culminate at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 20. While Toronto may not have the glitz and glamour of the World Marathon Majors, I was attracted by our northern neighbor for a number of reasons: the quick course and relatively consistent conditions, the IAAF Gold Label status and global reputation, and the hosting of this year’s Canadian Marathon Championships, the winner of which will earn a ticket to Tokyo provided she or he runs under the Olympic standard (2:29:30 for women, 2:11:30 for men). I look forward to chasing that standard alongside a strong Canadian contingent, as well as my husband, who will be pacing.
My road to Toronto started earlier this summer, as I trained and raced my way to marathon fitness after a nice post-Boston break. My schedule featured three 10Ks (Peachtree, Beach to Beacon, and Fortitude), one 7-miler (Falmouth), and one half-marathon (Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia), each separated by two to four weeks of heavy training, which peaked around 110 miles.
The one setback of the buildup was a lower leg issue that surfaced right after Philly (five weeks out from Toronto) and required two weeks of reduced mileage plus a ton of cross-training, several rounds of soft tissue therapy, and an MRI to rule out anything bone-related. Fortunately, the problem was rooted in my calf (not shin, as I feared), and was resolved just in time for me to put the finishing touches on the last several months of hard work.
Here’s what my first week back to training looked like, three weeks out from race day. It was all done in Boulder, Colorado, at roughly 5,400 feet of elevation. Though not included in the report, I do some combination of mobility, activation, rolling, and active isolated stretching every day. See this blog post for details. Five days a week, I also do 10-20 minutes of core work, whether a classic pedestal routine or a circuit using a medicine or Swiss ball, and cap it off with sets of push-ups or pull-ups.
Tuesday, October 1
AM: Easy run—10 miles
Having exclusively cross-trained for four days and then tested my legs over two six-mile runs yesterday, the next step was to see how they’d handle a little more volume and a change of pace. For this run, my husband Will and I went to a flat dirt path and ran six miles easy before gently progressing for four miles. I rarely wear a GPS watch on easy runs so I can fully tune into my body (or the conversation), and this run was no different.
Treatment: Quick but intense session with Marcus Allen-Hille, a soft tissue therapist / body guru, focusing on my right calf
PM: Cross-train—45-minute waterjog
I utilize the pool one to four days per week, year-round. Most sessions, like this afternoon’s, are meant to flush out my legs and leave them in a good state for the next run. When I have to cross-train for an extended period, as I did recently, I also incorporate hard workouts, similar to those I do on land.
Wednesday, October 2
AM: Workout—17 miles
Today’s workout, my first on land in nine days and a bit of a question mark, was three sets of four miles hard with one mile easy in between. As usual, my trusty pacer Will joined me and was clutch in helping me establish a nice rhythm and squeeze the pace down as the session progressed.
After a short warmup on dirt, we did the four-mile reps on an asphalt loop, each one with about an 80-foot gain. Our three sets averaged 5:44, 5:37, and 5:31 (starting at goal marathon pace and getting faster)—and felt much smoother than I was expecting. I went back to the dirt for my cooldown (which I always do when possible) and started refueling right away. That part of the process is always important, but especially so when returning from or staving off injury.
PM: Cross-train—45-minute waterjog
Thursday, October 3
AM: Easy run—7 miles
Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s workout lingered in my legs today. I planned on going 10 miles with Will and our friend Dan, but ended up calling it at seven since my stride felt off and legs were not warming up. I have no problem rallying through a run on legs that are heavy, even flat, but I’ve learned through experience that pushing through a compromised gait is rarely worth it.
Treatment: Hour-long session with Marcus, mainly working on my right calf as well as hip and glute on both sides
PM: Cross-train—45-minute waterjog
Friday, October 4
AM: Easy run—13 miles
This morning, I tried out the LEVER Running bodyweight support system for the first time. A portable alternative to the AlterG, this contraption, which I attached to a treadmill at my local rec center, has been super helpful as I try to work out some kinks in my stride and keep my legs feeling good going into Toronto.
I ran nine miles with the LEVER attachment, gradually reducing the tension until it was barely lifting me at all, and finished up with four miles without it. I averaged somewhere in the 6:30’s for 13 miles, and felt more normal running at an easy pace than I have in weeks.
Saturday, October 5
AM: Workout—21 miles
My workout this morning was a classic 10-10: 10 miles easy followed by 10 miles up-tempo. Will and I did the first 10 on dirt, not worrying about pace but keeping it comfortable and conversational, then put on our flats and Polar watches and hit the same asphalt loop we used on Wednesday.
Per my coach’s instructions, we ran conservatively for eight miles (just under 5:50 pace) and finished strong, closing the last mile in 5:19 and ending with an average of 5:46 for all 10. I was pleased with how much better I felt running quicker than just jogging, and encouraged that my 20th mile was a strong one. One cool down mile on dirt, and we called it a day!
PM: Easy run—3 miles
In the evening, I went back to the gym, LEVER in tow, for a short shake-out run. Although the first half mile was rough, my legs warmed up as I went and I left my body in a better state than when I arrived.
Sunday, October 6
AM: Easy run—6 miles
Because it’s sandwiched between two big loads, we kept today to one light session. Even in my biggest weeks (up to 120 miles), I usually have one or two days of just six miles, which feels long enough to warm up and shake my legs out, but not so long that it induces extra fatigue. Today’s purpose was simply to recover from yesterday and prepare for tomorrow, and I’d say that was accomplished.
Monday, October 7
AM: Long run—21 miles
To play it safe for my last long run of the buildup, I relied once again on LEVER. I ran for a total of two hours 20 minutes on the treadmill, using just a tiny bit of body weight support for two-thirds of the run before removing the attachment and running free for the last segment. Unlike some long runs, which have a prescribed pace or a hard workout within, the goal of this one was “time on legs”—to be on my legs for close to the amount of time I’ll be out on the marathon course, while also practicing taking fluids at prescribed intervals (every 5K). To keep my heart rate between 135–145, as my coach wanted, I hovered in the 6:40’s, felt super comfortable, and had plenty of time to envision the way I’d like the morning of October 20th to shake out.
Total (Tuesday to Monday): 98 Miles, plus 2:25 water jogging