Training Plans for GCM18

After running my quickest marathon at GCAM17 (race report), it’s pretty much decided that my next key marathon will be the 40th running of the Gold Coast Marathon (GCM18) in July. As with this year’s goal, I’m setting an equally aggressive target for myself. With a goal, there’s a need for a plan. On a high level, I’ll be looking at a 6-month preparatory period, broken down into 8 weeks of base before embarking on a 16-week marathon specific training.

Due to work and family commitments, I’ll be sticking to online programs. So began my research into the wide gamut offered by FinalSurge.  The website aggregates many options from well-known coaches such as Matt Fitzgerald, Hansons, Greg McMillan, and the Northern Arizona Elite, just to name a few. Missing are those from Pfitzinger, Higdon, and Daniels, all of whom sell theirs off their own websites. A great thing about the plans offered through FinalSurge (FS) is that they integrate with Garmin, so workouts sync across each platforms. On top of that, FS has their own app (iOS and Android) from which you can check your progress. Workouts are also sent into your mailbox each day, if you’re the type who needs to be reminded. Lastly, each plan comes with a preview of key weeks, so that you can figure out if they’re something you can realistically strive for. Needless to say, you’re required to enter some numbers to determine your goals and abilities before the system spits the plan out for you.

After deliberating between the many options, I’ve decided on the Level 4 McMillan 8-week Base Training Plan which costs ($34.99/RM158). You can check the contents of the plan out via the link. It appears to be the most holistic one which includes pre-hab routines. The plan is littered with time-based easy running in the first few weeks to build consistency before embarking on a more varied diet of running paces. Time-based sessions take away the pressure of chasing mileage this early, something which I really want to avoid since my ideal training is usually just 3 months. Base will start January 1st 2018 and end February 25th. I’ll then have a 9-day break before the start of the 16-week plan.

I’ve roughly 2 months to get myself into the marathon mode before January. While I don’t have any key races between now till December 31, I’ve been managing a barely-there weekly mileage, so there’s no complete absence of running.

Although it’s still early, I’m leaning towards McMillan’s 16-week Level 3 Combo Runner plan for the training as I feel that the mileage is something I can handle. McMillan’s appear to have a balanced I’d love to use Ben Rosario’s 12-week Northern Arizona Intermediate Plan but I know I won’t be able to manage the high mileage it requires from the get-go. According to the plan’s notes, the program kicks off with an 80K week!

If you’re scouting for any training programs for GCM18, it may be worth checking out the Final Surge. There are plans catering to 7/9/10-day cycles and their pricing is accessible. I’d have liked a local coaching approach but given my work and family commitments, attending weekday training sessions would be impossible. Having a training plan will keep me honest.

It’ll be great if we somehow end up with similar ones and are able to train and motivate each other for GCM18. Whichever approach you go with, commit early and you would’ve won the first of many battles!

Week 2/18

Tempo Tue (20 mins between 4:50 – 4:58)
Distance Covered: 8.23K
How it went: Week 2 kicks off with a 40 Tempo. To better track my splits post workout, I no longer program my warm up and cool down segments into the watch. This allows me to adjust the duration of both the warm up and cool down phases, meaning if I’ve more time to spare, I’ll warm up longer. And that works very well if the body needed a longer time getting into gear. There are a number of mornings just like that! This morning, I took slightly over 15 mins for the warm up and managed to cover 2.62K working the pace down to 5:33+. Tempo was 20 mins. Following the kick off last week where I retained GCAM17’s 5:00 pace, it was time to run this training cycle’s pace which is between 4:50-4:58. Again, I didn’t monitor the individual splits and just ran by feel. In the end the average logged was 4:55. Pretty chuffed with that. Hopefully as the training progresses, I’ll be able to move that average closer to 4:50. Cool down was slightly over 10mins covering 1.54K. Great workout!

Easy Wed
Distance Covered: 6.29K
How it went: Just ambling along to scores from Memphis Belle, Moana and Dunkirk. Felt the outer right knee twinged a few times at regular intervals – slightly painful sensation. Maybe it was the positioning of the knee when I did my crunches, maybe it was the ITB which I haven’t had since the early ’90s. Don’t know what it is.

Distance Covered: 5.07K
How it went: AM: Did some pretty intense core strengthening workouts focusing on the midsection.
PM: Failed tempo. Very warm. Waited till late evening but the body was just sluggish (6:15 > 5:42 > 5:27 > 5:21 > 5:04) with a harder than usual breathing. Thought about the December marathon, and the pursuit of my moonshot – whether it’s wise to squeeze another good race before year end or to rebuild again for the assault in 2018. You know, if I should downgrade to the Half instead of forcing things. Since the race is yet to open, there’s still some time to see how things go.

Easy Sat
Distance Covered: 16.55K
How it went: Just like the week before, Friday turned out to be a rest day. I was plainly tired, both mentally and physically. Torrential rains lashed down on the drive to work, resulting in a 2-hour journey. It’s plain sickening to be stuck in a seated position for that period of time adding to the gloom. Luckily, there was a chance to get in a double digit distance on Saturday with a pre-AugustMan Clinic 9K with Nick around the Lake and a short 3.4K after that. Clocked another 4K in the evening, 2 with C2 prepping for his 3K race and 2 solo. It was close to 7 min pace but it felt good and put me in a relaxed state of mind.

Hilly Sun
Distance Covered: 18.2K
How it went: Fab Fast Finish run. A languid 6:46 kick-off and then it got progressively quicker. Even the hills were done in sub-6 min pace and only the dangerous sections where we needed to walk were slower. Last few Km splits were 5:50 > 5:31 > 5:40 > 5:55 > 5:37 > 5:17 > 4:45. The Tracer is one heckuva shoe. It feels different when taken slow and just excellent in 5-min and below pace!

Week Total: 54.3K
Training Notes: I keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t look too much into things at this stage, going through tough months at the office while stimulating the body’s strengthening process through a greater variety of exercises. The crucial component, of course, would be getting in adequate rest and sleep, failing which adaptation will not take place. I’m satisfied with what I’ve got at this point.

Looking back: Week 1

Week 1/18

Mon 6K/Rest
How it went: It’s the start of another new marathon training cycle. This time, the goals are a lot different. The moonshot plan (insert link) is longer (18 weeks instead of 12) to allow adaptation to changes in pace. All happening during an unbelievably stressful period at work. I’ve cut down (insert link) a number of major commitments so that I won’t be distracted but I think the real challenge is more about rekindling the level of motivation after a sustained period of highs (3 months for me!). The mistake would be to go chasing for it and I think it’s a great idea to kick off the first few weeks at the old training paces. Despite Monday being a Rest Day, I laid out the gear the night before with the intention to perhaps log a short 6K but changed my mind and stuck to 20 mins of core and strength work instead, targeting the shoulders, chest, obliques, adductors and glutes.

Tempo Tue (30 mins @ 5:00)
Distance Covered: 6.3K
How it went: As usual, 30 Tempo means 10 mins of tempo running sandwiched between 10 mins of warm up and cool down. It’s short, intense enough and passes quickly. Just enough primer to carry through the next day. The plan was to stick to GCAM17 tempo pace, after the customary warm up, and not push it from the get go. All in all, a good run. Felt positive, effort was controlled, with stride length over 1.2m during the tempo phase, cadence nudging 178. Since there was still a bit of time, I extended the cool down by another 1K+.

Easy Wed (Easy pace 5:21 – 5:59)
Distance Covered: 6.26K
How it went: I wanted my easy sessions to be enjoyable and not bound by the pressures of timing. The air had a slight burning smell, signs that the Sumatran haze has blown into the country. After a languid 6:38 opener, the pace went down quite naturally 6:07 > 5:57 > 5:56 > 5:50 > 5:53. You know you’re in the zone with that kind of pace!

Thu Yasso (5xYasso in 3:27 (4:18 pace) – 3:36 (4:30 pace))
Distance Covered: 7K
How it went: AM run scuppered. Woke up, got ready to head out (despite flashes of lightning) but just as I got the water bottle out from the fridge, the thunderstorm hit. PM run was on the treadmill. Seeing how hard it is to set intervals on a machine, I ran progressions instead. 6:01 > 5:54 > 5:24 > 5:23 > 5:19 > 5:09 and 1K Cool Down. Then it was some strength work like 20x one-legged squats with twists, 10x lunge dumbbell rows and 10x rows. It’s been awhile since the legs felt like they’ve just hiked some elevation.

How it went: The body felt thrashed from yesterday’s weights session but quickly recovered as the day progressed. Decided to stay conservative and not push a run in, even though I penned down an easy 6. With consistency in the weights room over the weeks, the body should adapt to the stress and I won’t have to miss the easy day after.

Sauc Sat
Distance Covered: 15.72K
How it went: Got in a pre-run of  8K from Hartamas to Solaris before another 7.72K as part of the Saucony Clinic. From the looks of it, it may be my final group run with the Saucony team. Nothing remarkable from both sessions, except I felt light on the climbs – probably seeing the benefits of the strength work I’ve been putting in. Endurance is still pretty much work in progress at this stage.

10 Mile Steady Sun
Distance Covered: 16.43K
How it went: Drizzly morning but luckily it didn’t get heavier. Nice cool morning to run. First segment was covered at a brisk pace, averaging 5:31. Splits were 6:35 > 5:34 > 5:31 > 5:32 > 5:13 > 5:17 > 5:17 > 5:20 > 5:39 > 5:12 > 5:31., but some stretches it certainly felt much quicker than that. There were brief moments when we hit 4:54 and even 4:19! Calvin led for most of the way. The second segment of 5.5K was done at a slower pace but still averaged sub 6.  Good session out at this point of the training.

Week Total: 51.76K
Training Notes: It’s normal to experience FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) during the kick off period of a training program. “Post-honeymoon”, new pace ranges to hit, and new goals. It’s a little daunting, almost like the body and mind getting a rude wake-up call. But I’ve learnt not to deny those emotions – just like the thoughts and distractions that floats around in your consciousness during a meditation session, one has to acknowledge the emotions and move on. I did that by reminding myself that I shouldn’t worry about the uncertainties but remain focused just at the task at hand. A runner should expend all the negative mental energies during the planning phase but once the program kicks off, he should discard these thoughts that pull one down and begin to trust the plan. The results will fall into place provided the execution doesn’t deviate too much. Therefore it’s best to focus all the energies into the daily execution. With clean eating, weights, core, dropped 1kg to 59, and close to 52K logged – I’d say it’s a great start!


“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
Earl Nightingale

With the excitement of GCAM17 waning, what now? Plan the next training program, of course! This part always gets me excited. Even though I’m only now at the stage of reviewing and formulating the new plan, it’s as if I’m already in the midst of the training for the next race.

Here’s what I know:

  1. Work is certainly going to be doubly tough, this second half of 2017. As such, I’ve taken some drastic steps to reducing my commitments. More of this in a separate post.
  2. The 14-week program will kick off Aug 14th and will be 2 weeks longer than what I went through for GCAM17. This is to accommodate a longer Phase 2 of the 3-phase program.
  3. Only 1 race has been earmarked ie a Half on Week 5, as I’m undecided if I should run a 12K race on Week 8 foregoing a more important 25K. Hang on, I’ve just answered my own question!
  4. Hill running, be they standalone repeats or incorporated within long runs, will feature more this time to prep the body and mind for the upcoming marathon’s 2 bridges.
  5. While the program is still in draft mode, I’ve penned down 3 25Ks, 2 30Ks, and 1 32K. Weekly mileage will incorporate cutbacks every 3 weeks to allow for recovery and prevent staleness.
  6. Training paces will need some adjusting for a more aggressive goal time. I’ve checked out McMillan Running and from the training paces look to be the closest to what I think I should be working at. The tempo pace, for example, was what my friend recommended that I try (but that which I thought was a little too ambitious then) for GCAM17.
  7. Choice of footwear will be very important for sure. I’ll need some protection from all those pounding. Thankfully, footwear technology have come a long way and there are fantastic choices out there nowadays – you can have protection, responsiveness and lightness all in a pair of shoes. Training is about reaping the maximum gain, with the least amount of work and the least amount of suffering/pain. Crossing that threshold may just result in injuries. While they’re indeed sexy, racing flats and shoes that are too firm will only smash my legs.

In order to achieve my moonshot, I’ll have to hit the halfway mark of the marathon at close to my Half Marathon PR time! It is certainly a daunting thought but every aggressive goal starts out that way, doesn’t it? It was the same when I kicked off my GCAM17 program. I’ll try not to think of that too much and just focus on the day’s menu when things kick off. I’ve begun prepping the body to handle the load in the form of static and dynamic core and strength exercises twice a week. As I’m typing this, my arms and shoulders are a little sore right now, in a good way :D. And after several weeks of mild indulgence, I’ve restarted my clean eating habits. That’s what I can do for now and as usual I’ll update this blog as things develop.