Welp. Here we are again.
I don’t think I had any intention of becoming a serial Chicago Marathoner when I signed up for my first Chicago in 2013, and even as I head into my fourth year of doing this, I still struggle to find the words to accurately capture the impact the Chicago Marathon has had and continues to have on my life. Many things in my life have changed since I moved here in June 2012, and while I didn’t run the Chicago Marathon my first year living in the city, it still feels like one of very few reliable constants I’ve had in my post-college years. My friends have changed, who I am (or am not) in a romantic relationship with has changed, where I live has changed, where I work has changed, where I go to church has changed, where I run has changed, but the Chicago Marathon has been a stable axis around which my life rotates.
Marathon season is not always easy, is not always fun, and, in moments of particularly low motivation/high burnout, is not always how I want to spend my summer. But the marathon is more than just something to give my goal-oriented self to work towards for 18 weeks, and that’s why I keep coming back to it, year after a year. In this transitional time period of my twenties, where barely anything feels permanent and nearly every area of my life either is in state of flux or feels like it could at any time be put into a state of flux, having something to count on brings me a lot of comfort. I think that’s what I like about marathon season the most: the routine, the familiarity, the knowledge that no matter what else has happened in my life over the past year, there will be a 26.2-mile race that starts and ends in Grant Park on the second Sunday in October in Chicago. I crave permanence, and the Chicago Marathon is one of only a handful of things that gives me that sense.
So, now that I’ve waxed all philosophical about what the marathon means to me, let’s get into the nitty gritty of things, shall we?
I will, once again, be training (“training”) with CARA this summer. While all those things I just said about the marathon are true, I would be remiss to not mention my training group as, quite honestly, the main reason why I fell in love with this in the first place, and a huge factor in why I continue to do it. I’ve had…opinions…on CARA and the marathon training program for about a year now, and I seriously considered trying out Chicago Endurance Sports this year, or finding another group to run with entirely. But alas, my concerns on how I’d feel crossing paths with the 10:30 Awesomes on the Lakefront Trail on Saturday mornings and not being with them prevailed. Okay, fine: I am 100% a victim of FOMO here. But whatever. I’m human. It happens.
While my adherence to CARA’s marathon training plan in the past could best be described by, “LOLOLOLOLOLOL,” this year I’m deviating from the written plan almost entirely. When I wrote my whiny, self-indulgent post on my frustrations with feeling like I’m not doing enough in my fitness life, Lindsay introduced me to RunnersConnect, which is an online community of hundreds of runners all training for different things group-coached by a handful of coaches. Basically, you sign up for RunnersConnect, fill out a profile about yourself as a runner, your goals, and your target race, and within 24 hours you’ll have a training plan written out that fits your background/goals/race (for me: the Chicago Marathon). Each day you can log your workout on the site, and, if you so choose, share your workout and any comments you have on it with the RunnersConnect community at large. People can like or comment on your update, a la Facebook. Rather than having one coach assigned to you specifically, all of the RunnersConnect coaches are available to you to answer questions and provide guidance (as is the rest of the community, if you post your logs so others can see them). You get a two-week free trial, and after that you can either pay an annual fee to have access for the whole year (which works out to $37/month) or pay monthly ($49/month) and have access to it for when you need it – say, if you’re training for a specific race, and only want coaching/guidance during that preparation period.
I signed up two weeks before marathon season so I could feel it out and decide if it sounded like something I wanted to do for the whole season. While I wasn’t sold on it initially, mostly because the training plan freaked me out big time, as my two-week trial went on I really came to appreciate the service. I had a lousy run on Memorial Day, and I received encouragement from a coach, which I found approximately 293193429 times more helpful than sitting and stewing my in room over how terribly my workout went. I’ve had intermittent Achilles issues since last year, but last Thursday I had a pretty nasty flareup. Instead of furiously Googling my symptoms, trying to piece together a recovery program for myself, and freaking out over what to do with my weekend long run, I included this in my workout log on Thursday and asked the coaches what I should do. Within hours, I received level-headed, professional advice on what to do in the coming days, and encouragement from another runner who’s also had Achilles problems. This alone makes the entire service worth it to me. Even though I already paid for CARA’s training program, quite honestly I’ve never followed it anyway, and instead have tried (with fairly limited success) to piece together my own training plan from their plan. While I probably won’t follow my RunnersConnect program to a T either, at least I have some professional guidance to help me along the way this time.
The one area where I do expect to deviate from my RunnersConnect plan fairly consistently comes in my long runs. RunnersConnect doesn’t follow Hal Higdon; CARA does. I could run with my CARA group and add/reduce mileage as necessary to fit my RunnersConnect plan, but that would require either getting up even earlier than I already do for my long runs AND running by myself at even earlier hours than we already run, or adding on mileage after finishing my CARA run, which would prevent me from spending time with my group after each run, when a fair amount of bonding takes place. Like I’ve said, my training group is a HUGE reason why I continue to do this, and putting myself in a situation where I’d be isolating myself from a fair portion of the community building that comes with group training seems counterintuitive at best and downright stupid at worst. I think I’d be setting myself up for mental disaster if I didn’t spend time with my group, and I’m not particularly interested in having an emotional breakdown halfway through marathon season if I can avoid it. So that’s the plan for the moment: follow RunnersConnect during the week, and CARA for the long runs, within reason. We’ll see what happens as things go on, of course.
As for my goals this marathon season? Staying healthy and uninjured, as always. Trusting the process. Remembering that marathoners are not built on higher mileage alone, but also need to strength train, cross train, eat well, and for the love of all that is pure and holy, go to bed on freaking time instead of watching just “one” (several) more video(s) on YouTube (this is my life, people. I would bet I miss my bedtime 99% of the time not because I’m busy, but because I’m watching Late Night clips on YouTube). PRing at the marathon itself. Breaking 4:45, or, even better 4:30. Figuring out how the heck to hydrate myself to avoid future run-ins with the medical tent. Finding an appropriate balance between my life and my marathon training. And, of course, enjoying the next 18 weeks as much as possible.
Let’s do this.