If you are like me and have signed up for the 35th Bank of America Chicago Marathon (or any other race later this year), we have a unique challenge on our hands. That is, what do we do with the excitement of having registered knowing that any official training program would not start for months? This challenge provides an opportunity. Now is the time to work on different aspects of your running, whether its endurance, speed, form, or nutrition, you have the time now to concentrate and hopefully improve on a specific aspect of your running. This will allow you to put your best foot forward when your training begins a few months from now.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the Chicago Marathon Executive Race Director, Carey Pinkowski and U.S. Olympic Marathoner Abdi Abdirahman. One of the questions I asked them was what would they recommend doing now as we wait for a training program to begin. They both came at the question from a different angle, and made great points, no matter what your talent level may be.
Carey’s recommendation had one main focus, "get to the starting line". We spent some time talking about what he meant by this. For many runners, myself included, registration day is an exciting one, so we have to temper this excitement especially if the race is a long way off. Carey’s point is that it is important to get to the starting line healthy and ready to go. With the training a couple of months away, now is the time to take care of any nagging injuries to ensure that you are 100% when the training begins. It is a particularly good time to pay extra attention to your body, take an extra day off here or there if you need it. This will have no effect on your overall conditioning and will continue to help you feel fresh and ready to train.
The discussion that I had with Abdi had a similar feel but he came at it from a different perspective, Abdi said, "now is the time to maintain your fitness, continue to run and try to get some longer runs in of 6, 7, or 8 miles. That way, when you start training you already have a strong base and you are not starting at zero." I could not agree with Abdi more, even for the middle of the pack runner, I look at it as training for your training.
All training schedules assume a base level of ability even at week one, no matter what distance you are training for. A strong base will help the early weeks of training seem easier so you are ready to tackle the harder, longer runs as the training proceeds. This can also be the time to have a little fun with it, while still building your base. Try something different, do some intervals, do some speed drills, participate in some unique events (Ragnar relay, Mudathlon, or Warrior Dash), or run some shorter races. This will also allow you to take a mental break from the riggers of training while maintaining your fitness level.
It is important to keep the excitement alive, which won’t be easy. I try to think about the race while I am running now. It is this excitement that will help push you through tough times, or inspire you to run that extra mile. Both Abdi and Carey are right, the importance of building a base will help make the start of your training easier, and as Carey put it, the ultimate goal is to get to the starting line, and then finishing the race. And to be honest, running had not been much fun for me lately, but meeting Abdi and Carey, and also signing up for the Chicago Marathon, has helped to make running fun for me again. I am looking forward to running the streets of Chicago this fall with 45,000 of my closest friends!