I’ve heard it said that grad school is an excuse to continue the undergraduate experience without the inexperience of youth. It really can be! At least, it has been for at least one person, whose name shall remain unspoken.
I quickly settled into a grad school routine, taking a few classes my first semester and spending time boning up on the material I’d need for my thesis. You know, that thing I would eventually write, 4 or 6 or 8 years down the line. (I did eventually write it. It was 8 years.)
I got up every morning to run the chosen route, a relatively flat course. Then I rode my bike to campus, up the steep 600-foot incline, hammering up the slope with blatant disregard for my ultimate sweatiness. My officemates, I’m sure, loved me. Hell, they could probably smell me on my way up.
As any good grad student does, I took breaks during the day. Long breaks. Early breaks. Breaks for coffee and lunch and coffee and snack and dinner and coffee and snack and alcohol. Breaks during my breaks to get alcohol during snack or dinner.
Yes, I spent a good amount of time on and around campus, typically putting in 6-12 hours a day on thesis and school work and another 6-10 variously taking breaks. I sought out and found the local cycling club and attended their annual meeting the first spring I was around. I took photos and gained darkroom access. I slipped away to sit under the local waterfall, which turned out to be a former Superfund site that still had some pretty high lead content in the rocks.
Eventually, I also found that running before class wasn’t always possible, so I explored campus. Cornell offers a network of trails through a variety of terrains, but because I was going by what was then available on maps, those early days were filled with roads; off-road excursions were rare except for the few hundred yards I put in around the golf course downtown on my standard run.
There’s a whole stable of races offered in the Ithaca area, though, and with my experience at Gustavus, I was eager to see how I stacked up against “real” competition. This, I thought, was some pretty big stuff: a large student body, a pretty sizable city, and a reputation for being a hippy-athletic town made it seem like these races would have competitive top ends.
I showed up to the Tortoise & Hare in June 2002, my first non-collegiate race ever. I’ll go back and find that result in a second, but keep you in suspense with a digression. Suspend yourself!
That January, I briefly met up with a young woman whom I found quite attractive. She ran each morning, so I joined her one day for a 6-mile trip. That was, obviously, longer than my usual run, but I was fine with extending my range a bit if it meant getting to know her better, as they say.
She mentioned that she planned on running a marathon later that summer. A marathon sounds interesting, I said to myself. With all my newfound free time, I was sure to be able to train for one -- or at least I could convince myself that was an acceptable use of my grad school days.
But I also loved biking, so a marathon sounded a bit low-key. I would need something even more spectacular and unique. Triathlons! Yes, triathlons! At the time, they weren't a huge deal, but they could be found here and there.
It was around mid-February, and I made a plan: pick a target race, train for it, and do the race. The target was the Half Ironman Canada triathlon in Montreal, held at the end of August. That gave me 6 months to train.
Since the internet was relatively young at that point, it was possible to get some pretty good information on training programs from people who weren’t protective of their content. I patched together a schedule that had me ramping from my current 4-mile run and 15-mile max bike ride to something significantly longer. This was also before triathlons became regular events, things done by bored dentists (gotta flog that stereotype!) and thrown together using a YMCA pool, an ill-used suburban walking path, and an out-and-back course that explore a dozen cul-de-sacs of doom. It was, in fact, different and relatively rare at the time -- just like trail running, which hadn’t yet come into its own as a sport.
It was clear that I would need an appropriate bike for the task as well. And I would have to take on some swimming to see what it was like spending 40 minutes in the water. (It turned out I needed to find out what it was like spending more than 50 minutes in the water. But we’re already in a past-within-a-past paragraph here, which puts us only just a little too close to Daleks and Cybermen for temporal confusion.)
Because I also had some time to surf the web, my new training plan emerged like a shiny green tomato from its parent flower. I envisioned a build-up that would rival the anticipation of the long ride to Minneapolis the year before.
The (Half) Ironman Training Plan
0. Start in shape enough to run at least 3-4 miles and bike 15-20 miles.
1. Target a race that’s at least 3 months away; I might even put the cap at 4 months out. You’re building here.
2. Pick a “day off”. I chose Tuesday, then never took a day off because I was 22. At 32, it would have been a different story.
3. Find a decently flat 3 or 4 mile run to use as the baseline. This should be something you can go back to repeatedly to do cool-down runs, high-intensity runs, and general assessment runs.
4. Set up your training plan so you do a minimum of the following:
5. Write the plan down, using the following guidelines:
6. Find some races to fill in various weekends. These races will replace long days but shouldn’t even come close to your “long” distance. My guideline was that they should be no more than 60% and closer to 40-50% of the distance I was comfortable doing on the distance day. If I could push out a 15-mile run on the weekend, I was good for a 10k race, maybe a 15k race if that’s all I could find. Races should be relatively evenly spaced and should include any events you plan to race in (I did runs and triathlons that year, runs and triathlons and bike races the following summer).
7. Find some local groups to latch onto and see if you can work one or two social workouts into the mix. These will break up the monotony. And there will be monotony.
I’ve put my first training plan in the Appendix. Oh wait, I don’t seem to have that because 2002 Me didn’t think to save it and send it on. Oh well. You’ll just have to trust that it was a thing of beauty and hung above my computer for the whole summer. I'll put a representative version in the actual book.
For the first time in my life, I typed up my training plan.
I taped it to my bookshelf, right above my computer. Every day I would tick off events completed, but I would never time anything. Workouts were based on “feeling”, so if I felt slow for a sprint workout, I would simply do my best to keep to the plan and let the chips fall into my gut afterwards. See what I did there, turning that expression into the implication of a post-run meal? Clever, no?
After four weeks, I was up to some pretty significant workout mileage. After another four weeks, I was in great shape and ready for my first test: The Tortoise and Hare.
(Now suspend in suspense, having arrived at the first present of the past-within-the-past -- that is, the boringly simple past.)
Next up: Tortoises, Hares, Runs, and Finger Lakes Trails!
Mash out. Spin on.
Some runner person. Also perhaps a cyclist & brewing type. But for your purposes, a runner person.