2019 Vancouver Marathon Training Analysis
October 13, 2019
Inspired by Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2 marathon yesterday and Kenenisa Bekele’s near world record a couple weeks ago, I’m finally taking a look at my training leading up to the 2019 BMO Vancouver Marathon last May. I followed Pete Pfitzinger’s 18/55 plan, which calls for 18 weeks of training building up to a maximum of 55 miles (89 km) per week.
Training began January 1, 2019 and the race was on May 5, 2019. Data is from the Strava API (view raw data or download CSV). I only included running data, although I remember a few weekend hikes early on and some bike rides near the end when it was starting to warm up outside.
Let’s start off with distance per week and long run progression:
|Week||Plan Distance (km)||Actual Distance (km)||Long Run (km)|
|Total||1256-1274 km||1247 km|
I remember having some minor achilles pain somewhere around week 14-15, that probably explains the lower mileage. The dip at week 11 and spike at week 12 are due to a long weekend where I moved my Sunday long run to a Monday.
I’m surprised at how close I actually came to the 18/55 plan. My feeling at the time was that I was slightly behind in mileage but still hitting all the key workouts and long runs. My total training mileage not including the marathon was 1247 km, which over 93 runs is 13.4 km/run.
The long run progression is close to what Pfitzinger suggests. Each long run was about 1/3 of weekly mileage, and I was able to get in all 3 runs of 32k which I believe really helped my performance. I traded in the week 15 long run for a 10k race with extended cooldown. Ideally the race would have been on a Saturday, but it’s not always possible to find Saturday races.
|Day of Week||Runs|
Mondays were rest days. Fridays were also rest days for the first half of the plan, but once I had base fitness I rested Thursdays instead to accumulate fatigue for an extra day before my long run.
It’s worth noting that I lived in a very hilly area during this training block, and accumulated 7700 m of elevation gain. That’s not too far away from 100 m of elevation gain per run, which is more that I would have liked since it causes unnecessary strain during easy recovery runs which are supposed to be done on flat ground.
I work during the weekday, and like to run after work. I’m usually out the door shortly after 5:00 pm. The mid-morning start times are from the weekends. That’s probably a lot fewer early mornings than other marathoners.
Next up is a chart I’ve been looking forward to generating:
The 3 fast runs were 10k races. My long runs were all done faster than recommended. A few of them had long stretches at marathon pace, which I took to be 4:15/km throughout training. Most of the runs shorter than 10k were recovery runs, and were slower as expected. In retrospect a lot of my running was too fast, within 45 seconds/km of my goal pace. This is a sign that I could try upping the mileage.
A lot of the tempo runs had stretches of 6-11k at 3:45/km, but that doesn’t show up as clearly in the scatterplot since I warmed up and cooled down at a slower pace and kept my watch running the whole time. These are likely the handful of 13-17k runs at 4:00/km - 4:15/km pace.
Thoughts on Pfitz 18/55
I really like how this plan is structured. One workout per week, either a tempo run or a track session. One long run building up week after week. 3 32k long runs. Fill in the other days with easy recovery runs and leave 2 days of complete rest (I threw in strength sessions once a week).
The first month, the base building phase, felt fairly easy. The second month I started feeling more tired during the recovery runs, and this is where it felt like new territory. I was not used to doing long runs every single week, and that fatigue was starting to accumulate. The third month was intense, with the long run maxed out, tempos getting longer and track sessions getting tougher as well. By this point my legs hadn’t been fully recovered in months, since the rest days are split up and it takes more than 1 day off for me to feel 100% rested. The taper phase was very smooth, and it felt like I was bottling up energy the last 2 weeks. I was very excited to race; my legs felt fresh and ready to go.
Any individual workout is manageable in isolation and that’s what makes the plan feasible. You can look ahead a few days and see a list of runs you’ve done many times before and know how to pull off. Putting it all together and building a habit of it for 4 months is the hard part, but it felt like a natural thing to try since I was aready running 50 km/week on occasion. The main difference was giving up fast running for a lot of extra distance.
My final time was 2:57:42, which I was very happy with. That is just inside my 3 hour Boston qualifying time. I ran a sizable positive split with 1:26:13/1:31:29 indicating that I probably went out too hard, especially considering that most of the 300 m of elevation gain is in the first half of the course.
This was my first road marathon, and feeling the wall in a race was an interesting experience. I still felt in control for the final 5k, but knew I could no longer maintain goal pace. There was no risk of breaking down into a jog or walk which was reassuring. For me glycogen depletion came on around 32 km, causing exhaustion and muscle fatigue which slowed my cadence and shortened my stride until the finish when I was 30 seconds/km off pace.
I didn’t end up registering for Boston 2020, so I will have to reproduce this effort if I want to run Boston in the future.