I've followed Jeff Galloway’s run-walk-run training plan for many years now. I've used it to run all 5 of my marathons, 5 half marathons, uncountable 10 and 5k’s. It's the only way I would have ever become a runner and stayed one without injury. But in the last few years I've started to feel like I could do more. I want to see if I can get faster, and Jeff’s plan is not built for speed. I want to try and see how much better I can get, but not at the risk of injury, and not using a plan made for runners 30 years younger than I am!
I've gotten a newsletter from a coach in Canada for a couple years who works specifically with older women runners. I like his philosophy and I've been intrigued by his claims of faster times without injury using a plan tailored to runners like me. He gives his clients lots of individual attention, but he's very expensive, so I've stayed away until now. I finally decided that mom would have rolled her eyes at me for using a little of her money to pay for a 6 month coaching session with Bennett Cohen, but she wouldn't be too upset, so I gave myself permission and went for it!
I've been working with Bennett now for almost three months and I have to say, I'm pretty astonished at the progress I've made. One of the first things he did was have me run a 1 mile test, similar to what Jeff would do. Using my results Bennett given me a 6 week base building training plan and a 6 week strength building training plan, including running specific strengthening exercises, and specific amounts of non-running aerobic exercise to do on my non-running days. Before I run Grandma’s Marathon in June I will receive one more 6 week plan, which will include speed training and my final taper before the marathon.
The biggest differences so far? Well I'm still only running 3 or 4 days a week, and I don't expect that will change. And I'm still using run-walk-run, although I've increased the running portion of my intervals slightly. But each day's run is challenging in a different way. During the base building Tuesday's runs were tempo runs, where I ran increasingly longer distances at close to a 10k pace. During the current strength building portion of the plan, Tuesday’s runs are hill repeats, but they are longer, faster and include more repeats than any hill training I have ever done before. Thursday's runs are "threshold" runs, run at a steady pace that is close to a half marathon pace. Friday's are short Fartlek runs, alternating a fast 10k pace for a minute with a two minute slower recovery. Sunday's runs are my long slow runs, but even they vary between regular LSD runs, progression runs, where every couple of miles I run a little bit faster, and marathon pace runs, where I practice running at marathon pace.
It's fun having so much variety to my runs. The runs are all challenging, in different ways. I'm running faster for longer periods of time, than I ever have before. And because of the strengthening exercises I seem to be handling the increased load without too much trouble. There is still plenty of recovery time built in to the plan.
Not only do we track my training, but we also track my weight, my sleep, and my resting heart rate, all factors that can affect my times, and indicate overtraining.
The only downsides I’ve noticed, if they can be called that is that I’m frequently pretty tired. I’ve even taken a nap or two in the afternoon, and I’m sleeping 8+ hours a night, unheard-of for me. I’m also gaining a little weight, but my clothes don’t seem be be getting tighter, so it might just be muscle. I can hope anyway! My resting heart rate has been getting lower, and lower, and lower. Its down to 61 bpm, from a high of 75 when I started the plan, a sure sign that my overall fitness is increasing.
I don't how this will all end. When I ran the San Francisco RocknRoll Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago, I handled the very hilly course really well. I ran a good race considering the course. I felt strong throughout the race, but it wasn’t a PR and I felt a little disappointed about that. We've set a pretty ambitious time goal for Grandma's Marathon. I don't quite believe I can do it, not yet anyway. But each time I complete one of my training runs, and realize that yes I did just run x amount of miles at a relatively fast pace, and I feel FINE, I get a little more confident that I'm improving. I’m never going to be a really fast runner, but with any luck by June I'm going to be faster. Just how much faster? We'll just have to wait and see!