What is VDOT? Understanding A Runner’s Most Important Number

When sharing your PR over a certain distance, have you ever had to offer up another PR from a different distance to explain that you are a better runner than that one PR indicates? Or, have you ever wondered how fast you should be running in training? In situations like these, knowing your VDOT value comes in handy.

Often times you will hear runners discuss physiological values such as the VO2Max, and use it as a measure of how capable a runner one is. The problem with this is that a runner’s ability to consume oxygen is not only a complex operation to measure, but it is also only half the equation. The runner’s economy, or how efficiently the runner is able to use the oxygen he or she consumes, is just as important as VO2Max to determine how fast that person can run a race. So, if we are looking for a number that explains how capable a runner is, what is that number?

You guessed it! The term VDOT was coined by renowned running coach and physiologist Jack Daniels and his associate Jimmy Gilbert. At its core, VDOT is an attempt to objectively quantify the shape of a runner across all the various distances one might race. And once you dive into it, it is a surprisingly simple, but very useful concept.

Person standing on a treadmill with oxygen mask on his face.
VDOT is typically measured on a treadmill in a lab. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Nathan Thome, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

To find your VDOT value, all you have to do is go out and run and make a note of the distance and the time. You can run any distance, but I suggest one of the traditional track and road racing distances between 1500 meters and a marathon. Did you run and time yourself? Great, now hop on over to the VDOT calculator and plug in your numbers to get your VDOT value.

If you ran a 10k in 40 minutes, the VDOT calculator will show that your VDOT value is 51.9. Excellent, but what does this tell you? As I mentioned earlier, VDOT is a very simple concept, because it is really just a collection of tables of equating values. But this simplicity is what makes it so useful, too. Because just by knowing your 10k time, and thus your VDOT value, you can find out what you should be capable of running in the 5k, a 10 miler and even a half or full marathon.

But even more important, your VDOT value will give you suggested pace ranges for your training intensities. This is a very useful tool for making sure that you are running at the right pace for the type of workout you are trying to do, instead of overextending or sandbagging. As an example, that 40-minute 10k runner should be running his 1k intervals at just below 3 minutes and 50 seconds, whereas his easy pace should be somewhere between 5:00 – 5:15 min/km or 8:00 – 8:30 min/mile.

A word to the wise is that you should treat your VDOT values as guidelines, and not absolute limits. Some days you will be feeling great, and your VDOT suggested pace for the workout that day will be a breeze. On a hot and humid day, that might change, and it can be sensible to run slower than what your VDOT value suggests. As for racing predictions, there will always be some variety between runners and how their best times at the various distances relate to each other. A runner focused on shorter distances will probably not be able to run a marathon in the time suggested by her VDOT value. Whereas, on the other hand, an endurance focused marathoner may struggle to post the mile time his marathon PR VDOT value may indicate.

Training Log for Week 30 of 2018

At the beginning of the week, I was feeling a bit tired after last week’s increase in both mileage and intensity. With that in mind, I decided to keep mileage steady instead of further increasing further this week, and rather add on some cross training. Weekly totals are 86 km (53 miles) run with 868 meters (2 848 ft) of climbing over seven hours. In addition to this, I also biked for an hour and thirty-four minutes and did twenty minutes doing core-strengthening exercises.

I began the week biking to work on Monday morning, before doing a very slow 8k recovery run in the evening. Tuesday I reversed the routine by running to work (15k) and biking home afterwards. My legs were still heavy during the morning run, and I hoped that the biking would help me loosen up.

Wednesday I once more started the day with a run into work, this time opting for the 11k route, and with a couple of kilometres to go, I finally felt that my legs started to loosen a bit. That set me up nicely for adding a bit of pace to my 15k Thursday run, where I felt decent. I felt comfortable, and my heart rate confirmed it, but I am still struggling with turnover at higher speeds. This means that I need to continue to do some up-tempo work on the hills in the coming week, as I try to get ready for my 5k race in two weeks time.

A walkway in Ski, Akershus, Norway
Great weather once more on my Sunday long run, if a bit hot!

Friday I only cross-trained with half an hour on the bike, and Saturday I did an easy 10k run in the morning. My last run for the week was, as it should be, a long run. After ten hours of sleep, I only got out the door at around 10 AM, and the heat was pretty rough. But I got the miles in, and that’s all that matters at this point.

As mentioned, I will try to add some more up-tempo work on the hills this coming week. In conjunction with this, I also want to continue to increase the mileage back to my pre-marathon levels at 100-110 kilometres per week, to keep improving my base endurance.

Training Log for Week 29 of 2018

Five weeks have now passed since I ran my debut marathon, and as my recovery continues, this week saw me adding some work at higher intensities back into my training. The weekly total was seven hours of running, resulting in 86 km (53 miles) run with 1124 meters (3688 ft) of climbing. The only cross training I got in this week was about 20 minutes of core strengthening exercises.

The summer in the southern parts of Norway continues to defy all rhyme and reason, and this was yet another week with midday temperatures in the low thirties for Celsius, which is close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This gave me a rough start to the week as I ran home after work on Monday, but I took the short route and got through the 11k without collapsing!

Trail running in Hebekkskogen, Nøstvedtmarka, Ski
Easy days on the trails are really easy on days like these!

Tuesday I just went out for a short and easy 8k trail run in the afternoon, while I added some speed and intensity on Wednesday morning. I took the scenic route (trails) on my commute to work, which is about 15k all told, and pushed pretty hard on the hills. On Thursday morning I had planned to run the short route to work, but I ended up having to double back after a couple of kilometres because I forgot both my wallet and my keycard, which made the run 14k long.

I kicked off the weekend on Friday morning by doing some more work on the hills, starting out with 6 times 15-second repetitions, before ending the session with a hard two-minute climb. Saturday was a full rest day, and Sunday saw me doing a short long run at 21k, with about 300 meters of climbing, most of it being in the final five kilometres.

All told it felt good to be working hard again, but I definitely notice that I have a ways to go before I am back to pre-marathon shape again. Because of that, I will prioritise this coming week’s more intensive stuff in the hills again. This is because I am far less likely to be caught up (and demotivated) with paces when working hills, and I also find it is easier to really get working in the hills, even if you don’t have too much pop in your legs.

How I Went From No Running To a Sub 3 Marathon in Two Years

This post is the first in a new category, titled Training Theory. The idea behind this category is to write about the various terms, theories and principles of training that runners often adhere to when constructing their training plans. Hopefully, reading the future posts in this category will give you the knowledge that will make you more confident about your approach to training because you understand not just the hows but also the whys.

Instead of diving straight into the theoretical principles and the science and physiology that explains them, I want to start this section off by giving a detailed look into how I accomplished what is a big goal for many runners as they get started with running: Complete a marathon in less than three hours.

Before proceeding to the details of how my training progressed, I should note that everyone is different. What worked for me may not work for you, and vice versa. That said, I don’t think I am particularly talented or genetically gifted when it comes to running. To the contrary, I seem to require relatively high mileage to run similar times many other runners do with moderate mileage. You may need more time or less time than I did to build up to a sub-three-hour marathon or a similar age and/or gender graded time. I do believe everyone is capable of getting to that point, but it will take patience and consistent training over time. The idea here is to give you a good look at what exactly it took for one particular runner.

My Training Background

Apart from giving the local track and field club a go for a couple of weeks, and then quickly deciding that it was not for me, back when I was a tween, I have no background in the sport of running. I did, however, grow up playing football (that’s soccer for you Americans reading) and remained active at a reasonable level through my teens. Through the first half of my twenties, I continued to play at a regional level, for the social aspect and to remain physically active.

Having left football behind for good in 2010, I dabbled a bit in various activities over the next few years. I had my first go at running in 2012, running a 46:15 10k off of very little training. But I found that it was not something I enjoyed, so I stopped. Instead, I went on to try road cycling, a project that literally ended in a crash after a few months. In all honesty, I didn’t do much to stay in shape through these five or six years, and my dislike for being so utterly unfit was the most important force driving the decision to make a change in 2016. That, and the fact that I had moved to a small suburb where I knew absolutely nobody, and I couldn’t really think of a better way to get to know people than joining a local running club.

2016: Small Beginnings

The very first run logged on my Strava account happened on January 30th, 2016. I ran 12k at an average pace of 5:58 min/km (9:36 min/mile). It clearly took a lot out of me, because I needed more than a month of rest before I put my running shoes on again. In the following months, I only ran sporadically until I finally managed to establish a habit. Had someone told me at that point that I would run a 2:58 marathon exactly two years later, I would have laughed them off. Running a marathon, or any race for that matter was the furthest thing from my mind at that point. The only reason I ran at this point, was because I was appalled by the shape I was in.

Having finally made running a habit, I managed to stay with it from this point. Well, more or less, anyways. A big motivational factor for me at this point was being part of a local running club, and joining up with them on a weekly basis. It’s difficult to envision me sticking to regular running at this point if I hadn’t been part of that social setting, and I can’t overstate just how much I recommend joining up with other people when you start out with running.

Through the second half of 2016, I ran the following monthly mileage:

June ’16: 50 km / 31 miles
July ’16: 46 km / 29 miles
August ’16: 79 km / 49 miles
September ’16: 112 km / 70 miles
October ’16: 68 km / 42 miles
November ’16: 77 km / 48 miles
December ’16: 57 km / 35 miles

Not exactly a linear progression, but I believe this period with moderate mileage was important to get my body used to running again and reactivate the aerobic base I had built playing football throughout my youth. For the most part of this period, I averaged one or two runs per week, with a third run interspersed every now and then. I didn’t vary my training much, and most of the runs were moderately hard compared to the shape I was in.

2017: A Guy Who Runs Becomes a Runner

I remember the exact time I got the idea to sign up for another race: My local running club puts on a race every fall, and in February of 2017 our ordinary session was replaced with a “Winter Edition” of the race. There were no chips or official times, just a bunch of runners lining up to run through a 10k course together. My time in the wintery conditions, as per my GPS watch, was 45:16. It had taken more than half a year of regular running to get back into similar shape I had been almost five years back. Still, it was a real confidence booster for me, and I decided to try my hand on another race.

Together with a friend, I decided to sign up for a half marathon that following fall. The goal was to complete the half in less than 1:45, and I knew I had to keep running to have a shot at doing that. So I kept running, despite the fact that I didn’t particularly like running. It was the social aspect, and that I enjoyed running outside in nature, that made me stick to it. In my mind, I also started toying with the idea of running a marathon. Being on a roll, it seemed silly not to capitalise and get that bucket list item out of the way. But that idea I had had of running one in less than three hours seemed like a pipe dream.

My monthly mileage for the first half of 2017 was:

January ’17: 100 km / 62 miles
February ’17: 82 km / 51 miles
March ’17: 170 km / 106 miles
April ’17: 162 km / 100 miles
May ’17: 186 km / 116 miles
June ’17: 200 km / 124 miles

Throughout this period my training got a little bit more structured. I ran an interval session at least every other week, and through spring I participated in a local weekly trail race series where I got to spend five to eight kilometres every week at around threshold effort. Most weeks I ran three times, twice on weekday evenings, and once every weekend. I started to make the weekend run longer, bit by bit, and towards the end of the period, I added a fourth weekly run.

Runner at Nordby, Ski, Akershus
A Sunday long run in the spring of 2017.

Then, on June 11th of 2017, everything changed. Our daughter, our first child, was born and lived only for a week before we lost her again. What happened afterwards was the very thing that inspired this blog, and the topic of my first post. For reasons explained in that post, running a marathon became extremely important for me in the aftermath of losing her. I had to do it for her. And, more than that, I found that running actually helped me cope with the loss. It gave me a moment of respite; a quiet time where the heavy feelings didn’t weigh as much as they normally did.

So in the months that followed, I kept on running. And that half marathon I was planning to run in September? I adjusted the goal for it. Might as well find out what sub-three-hour marathon pace feels like, so I aimed to finish it in less than an hour and thirty minutes. You can read the full report from that race here. In the lead-up to that half, I probably scaled up my training more than what would be advisable. While running two hard sessions per week, an interval session and a threshold session, I kept adding on mileage. But my body held up, and I got through it without injuries.

After racing the half, I decided to take a full week break from running. To my surprise, that was a hard thing to do. Not only did I feel antsy, as you often do when dropping regular physical activity, but I couldn’t stop thinking about running. I thought about running, and I read about running, and I dreamed about running. While I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, that was the moment I realised that I now liked to run. It was no longer something I did just to maintain fitness, and to realise some random bucket list goal. Now I ran because I liked to run and because it had become a part of who I was. I had become a runner, and that’s something I consider a gift from the daughter we lost. It would never have happened had it not been for her. How could I not go all in on it after that?

At this point, I knew that I would be running my first marathon the next year and that it would be the one I ended up running in June. After mainly trying to maintain fitness through a 10k in October, I went all in on base-building. My weekly peak mileage at this point was 80 km (50 miles), and to have a shot at finishing a marathon in less than three hours, I knew I had to get that up. So I stopped doing workouts and spent the remainder of the year building mileage with easy and moderate running.

My monthly mileage for the second half of 2017 was:

Juli ’17: 307 km / 191 miles
August ’17: 338 km / 210 miles
September ’17: 204 km / 126 miles
October ’17: 252 km / 157 miles
November ’17: 357 km / 222 miles
December ’17: 324 km / 202 miles

My weekly schedule throughout this period consisted mostly of five to six runs per week, and as already mentioned, the last few months I only did easy and moderate runs. This was to increase mileage without the added stress from workouts, and considering I got through it unscathed I would say that it was a winning strategy.

Man at top of the mountain Breitind at Senja
I got off the roads, too, during marathon training, and here I am at the top of the mountain Breitind at the island of Senja, Northern Norway

If there is one thing I would change from this training period, it is that I would prioritise cross training in the shape of core strengthening exercises. I think that would have made me a stronger and more efficient runner going into the marathon training period, and perhaps I would have been able to keep it up through marathon specific training as well. And, even if I did avoid injuries, I still believe these types of strengthening exercises are important for injury prevention.

2018: The Year of the Marathon

2018 started much the same way 2017 ended; easy running to build my base capacity in preparation of the upcoming 18-week marathon specific training block starting in the middle of February. In addition to running, I also spent most of the weekends at the start of the year cross country skiing. I believe this to be near perfect cross training for running, and as per Advanced Marathoning, Pete Pfitzinger agrees! It was also important for my motivation to get out in the woods and enjoy the winter, rather than being stuck inside doing long runs on a treadmill.

Of course, you can read a weekly summary of all my training for the year in the training logs section. But, for posterity, I will give a short recap of my training here. The monthly mileage totals for the first half of 2018:

January ’18: 379 km / 235 miles
February ’18: 294 km / 182 miles
March ’18: 449 km / 279 miles
April ’18: 413 km / 256 miles
May ’18: 480 km / 298 miles
June ’18: 226 km / 140 miles

My choice of marathon training plan was the 18 weeks, 55-70 miles per week plan for Pete Pfitzinger’s book Advanced Marathoning. With my goal marathon taking place in the middle of June, marathon training began in the third week of February. At this point I felt fit and ready to go, and, having had several weeks with overall training time well above the peak of the training plan, I was convinced of my ability to handle the load.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is probably fair to say that I underestimated the added load of workouts and faster long runs. As early as four or five weeks in, I was struggling to keep up. But if marathon training feels easy, you’re probably not doing it right. Throughout the 18 weeks, I was able to hit the prescribed paces (based on my marathon goal time) or faster for more or less every single up-tempo session. The only times I had to slow down compared to the plan was when I altered the schedule and added races that weren’t initially part of the plan.

All in all, I feel like I made the right choices, both in terms of which plan I decided to base my training on, and how I prepared for it. I felt right at the edge of what I was able to handle throughout the marathon training period, without suffering any injuries or significant mental setbacks. That is probably the best you can ask for when preparing for a marathon. As for how the marathon went, well I gave that away with the title. But if you haven’t read it already, you’ll find all the details about how the race unfolded in the race report.

Can You Train Like I Did?

Like I mentioned at the beginning, we are all different, and ultimately you have to figure out what works for you and your body. That said, I think there are some key takeaways from my experiences that are transferable to most runners only starting out, whether you are aiming to run a sub-three-hour marathon, or just want to get into shape:

  • Start Out Slow: If I had tried to jump straight into marathon training, I don’t know whether my body or my motivation would have broken down first. Probably both, and at once. Even if you have lofty goals, you have to take the long view when getting started running. Get your body and mind used to running before you start thinking about entering races and time goals.
  • Establish a Routine: Motivation is fickle, and those moments of inspiration will only take you so far. When those vanish like dew before the sun, it’s the habit that will get you out of the door on a rainy afternoon. If you know that you run on Tuesdays, you run on Tuesdays. Make your schedule non-negotiable, so that you don’t give yourself a chance to back out of a run.
  • Join The Running Community: Joining the local running club was one of the most important things I did to make a habit out of running. I enjoyed meeting up with other people for a run, and it also made me feel accountable. When you’re part of a group, you show up for a group run. You can also turn to the internet and join a virtual running community to share your endeavours with others. I have been, and still am, an active participant over at both r/running and r/artc. Both are great communities where I’ve learned so much of what I now know about running.
  • Consistency is The Foundation For Improvement: How you feel will vary from day to day, and in the short term, you won’t notice the improvements you are making. You simply have to trust the process and remember that consistent training over time is what yields results. One of the most appealing things to me about running is that there are no shortcuts. To get into shape, you have to put in the work, over days, weeks, months and years.
  • Improvement is Motivating: Once running has become a habit and a part of your life, you want to start thinking about how you’re improving. Test yourself in a race, or repeat certain workouts from time to time. As you’re improving you will probably feel more motivated, and it is time to start thinking about how you can adapt and add to your training to realise your long-term goals.
  • Let Your Body Tell You What it Can Handle: Over the past year, I scaled up my training in a pretty drastic fashion. While I had no guarantees that my body would be able to handle such an increase in load, I believe that it was awareness and listening to the signals my body gave me that let me steer clear of injuries. If I noticed a particular niggle or irritation that lasted beyond a couple of days, I would always seek information on how to treat and alleviate the strain. And if the pain persisted, I would never hesitate to take a couple of days off. Listen to your body when increasing your training load, and adapt to the signals you receive.

Those are the main takeaways from my own experiences in going from no running to a sub-three-hour marathon. If you have been a runner for a while, or even if you’re still working on establishing that habit, what have you found that works for you? Share your tips with the rest of us by leaving a comment below.

Training Log for Week 28 of 2018

This was the fourth week after my marathon back on June 16th, and it’s good to finally be able to say that my body is beginning to feel normal again. Six and a half hours of running this week resulted in 79 km (49 miles) of running with 884 meters (2867 ft) of climbing. In terms of cross-training, I only managed to get in about half an hour on the bike.

The week started off in a good fashion, as the weather was perfect for running home after work, with clouds and a bit of rain to keep me nice and cool in around 20 degrees Celsius. The next couple of days the heat returned, and I tried to get all of my running done in the morning, going into work.

A dewy field early in the morning
Early morning runs can make for some scenic views, such as this dewy morning field.

As the week progressed, I felt that I recovered well and felt noticeably better after each run compared to what the past few weeks have been like. This spurred me on, and I got a real mental boost from feeling decent again, and I even signed up for a race. Come August 11, I will be running for a new 5k PR, which will hopefully be in the 17:30 range if I can get going again now.

That will in fact not be my first race after my goal marathon, as I did indeed participate in a marathon race this past Saturday. A couple of local guys had put on a race in the town where I live to celebrate finishing their 100th and 50th marathon respectively. Wow, well done! As I believe it is important to support local initiatives such as this, I decided to sign up for the marathon even if I knew I wouldn’t finish it. I jogged through 18k at a reasonably comfortable trot before calling it a day, but the hot conditions with a scorching sun and close to 30 Celsius in the shade made it a harder effort than I had hoped for.

Runner at Kråkstad Athletics Track
The 4k laps of Saturday’s race included a lap around one of the local tracks. This is me during the third of the five laps I ran.

Thankfully I pulled up alright on Sunday, and got through 8k at a decent recovery pace without feeling much of what I did the day before in my legs and body otherwise. I take this as a clear sign that I should be ready to add in some higher intensity work this coming week. The plan is to start with adding some short and hard hill repeats to a couple of my runs, and if I don’t notice any adverse effects from those I can start planning some proper sessions in the following weeks to try to get ready for a go at sub 17:30 in the 5k.

Training Log for Week 27 of 2018

This past week was the third week after my marathon, and the goal for the week was to keep increasing mileage after just getting back to running again with a couple of slow runs the week before. I didn’t quite get in the mileage I wanted, and I ended up with 42.2 km (26.2 miles, totally a coincident!) and 469 meters (1538 feet) of climbing across 3 hours and 38 minutes of running.

Road going through trees
From a morning run into work this week

With an hour and a half on the bike for cross training (and commuting) it was an OK week in terms of scaling my overall activity level back up towards pre-marathon levels. There’s very little to report from the four runs and three bike rides, as all of it was done at a low intensity and won’t catch anyone’s eye while the scroll past it in their Strava feeds.

Towards the end of the week, I started feeling noticeably better, and I think that is a good indicator that the cautious approach to recovery is working, and hopefully, I’ll reap the rewards by getting back to full training within a couple of more weeks. The plan for the upcoming week is simply to keep adding mileage at a slow and comfortable trot. If my overall condition keeps improving, I am looking to add in some more up-tempo work the week after.

Training Log for Week 26 of 2018

The second week after my marathon was all about trying to recover. With a full week of rest behind me, I tried to get moving a bit this week. I did not get too much done in the way of running, with a total of 2 hours and 25 minutes that amounted to 28 km (17 miles) and 312 meters (1023 ft) of climbing.

All my running was easy running, although it felt anything but easy. All of the three runs were done at recovery pace, but all of them were challenging and had me pulling up in a rough condition afterwards. Recovering from a marathon is no joke! In addition to the running, I also spent two hours biking, which I hope will aid my recovery.

This coming week will be all about increasing mileage, gradually, as dictated by my body. The aim is to get in around five runs and 50-60 km, but I will let my body and how it feels guide me in terms of how much running I ultimately get in.

Training Log for Week 25 of 2018

Unless eating counts, this week was a total week off from all types of training for me. While you can probably benefit from cross training such as biking during the first week after a goal marathon, I have a personal “policy” of dropping any and all training obligations for at least a full week after a goal race. This gives me at least two weeks every year where I don’t think about training at all, and I have found it to be very important for my motivation and mental strength.

I will start easing back into training the coming week, with a combination of running and biking. Returning to training after a marathon is quite risky in terms of injuries, so I will let caution guide me as I get back into the swing of things.

Midnight Sun Marathon 2018: Cometh Three Hours, Cometh The Man?

Travel far enough north, and you’ll eventually reach Norway. Keep going up, and you will reach the polar circle. Go further north still, and you will find yourself firmly in the land of the midnight sun, or the night that never ends, depending on the season. But wait! You have to keep going a while yet. If you do, at long last you will reach Tromsø, a small town that hosts the world’s northernmost AIMS certified marathon.

The name of the race is Midnight Sun Marathon, but there are no guarantees issued when you sign up that the shining, yellow orb will help you through the 42 195 meters come the night of the race. I grew up around here and only emigrated south in the middle of my twenties. That is to say, I should know better than to be surprised when the forecast is showing force 5-6 winds and rain for the race. I didn’t know better, and my hopes of realising my goal of finishing my first marathon in less than three hours vanished as the wind picked up on the morning of the race.

Background and Training

In a sense, it was only fitting that the conditions for my first marathon should be less than ideal. Nothing about my journey from back when I decided to run a full marathon after my wife and I lost our baby daughter a year ago, up until this day, has felt particularly easy. Running has become my most important way of coping with seemingly bottomless grief, and every day it helps me live with a loss I still don’t understand how one is supposed to survive. As race day approached, I also decided to try and honour my daughter’s short life by sharing my story through a fundraiser. Because I am her dad, and now it is my job to try and share a little bit of the good the world was deprived of when she passed all too soon.

My background in running is limited. I started running a couple of times per week for general fitness at the end of 2016. After we lost our daughter, I started running more and averaged around 50 kilometres (30 miles) per week with a peak of 80 weekly kilometres (50 miles) leading up to a half marathon in September 2017, where I ran 1:28. I maintained that level of training leading up to a 38:31 10k a month later. After that, and a full week off, I started preparing myself to run a marathon.

Icy winter roads
I spent much of winter base training on icy roads.

From the end of October until the middle of February I had a single focus: To increase my weekly mileage. The idea was to start an 18-week plan from Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning book. I knew that for sub-3 to be achievable this summer, I probably had to be able to handle the plan with 115 km (70 miles) during peak week. So I increased mileage gradually throughout the fifteen week period, doing very little else than easy running. Throughout this period, I also prioritised cross-country skiing. This change of pace and scenery, so to speak, was very important for my motivation. Even if that meant leaving some running specific fitness on the table by substituting a good few long runs for long XC skiing sessions, I think I benefitted overall.

Come the middle of February, I started the Pfitzinger plan with 115 km peak week, with an all-time weekly high mileage of 116 km going into the marathon build-up. Additionally, I had several 100+ km weeks with 30-50 km of XC skiing, so I felt prepared to handle the additional load of the workouts in the plan. You can read a week-by-week detailed account of my training here, but I’ll do a short recap before proceeding.

Overall, I was able to hit the prescribed paces for the workouts and long runs in the training plan without too much trouble. It was the lactate threshold sessions between 7k – 11k at around 15k race pace that I found the most challenging, but I got through them somehow. Otherwise, I started feeling generally pretty tired as soon as week 5 or 6, when the mileage got into the 100+ km/week range. But after week 6, I had two down weeks with slightly reduced mileage on account of a cold and a subsequent sinus infection. In hindsight, my body probably needed a bit of rest at that point.

Following that, I was able to go into the peak period of the training feeling decent, and I got through all of it without any particular issues. All told, I averaged around 100 km (62 miles) over the 18 weeks leading up to race day, with 112 km (70 miles) per week for the six weeks prior to starting the taper.

The consistency in my training had me feeling quite confident about my chances of a sub-3 in my marathon, as did the tune-up races I did in the lead-up. Everything lined up for me when I ran a half-marathon in 1:20:30 back in April, but upon closer examination, it turned out that the “certified” course was actually 210 meters short. Still, that should equate to a bit faster than 1:21:30, and I got further proof of my fitness when I did 36:57 for the 10k on a quite challenging course a couple of weeks later. However, I took nothing for granted. The marathon is another beast entirely, especially with the fairly undulating course of the Midnight Sun Marathon and the unpredictable conditions Northern Norway can offer up in June.

Midnight Sun Marathon Course Profile
The course profile for the Midnight Sun Marathon is challenging without being overwhelming.

Pre-race

I flew up to Tromsø early Friday morning and stayed at a friend’s house. He’s a bit of an athlete himself, even if he doesn’t run too much with just a couple of hundred kilometres so far this year. Still, he had decided to run the full marathon too, as a gesture of support for my wife and I, and the little one we lost. We spent Friday chilling and planning out our meals for race day before we joined up with a few other friends that night for pizzas. Loads of pizzas.

The full marathon starts at 8:30 PM, which, even if I’ve known for a long time, was a bit of a curve ball for me. I prefer to do my weekend long runs straight out of bed, fasted, so I had tried to fine-tune my race day routine by seeing what worked and what didn’t on my midweek medium long runs. From those, I concluded that to minimise my chances of gastrointestinal troubles, I had to eat light and often on race day, so I stuck to white bread from when I woke up in the morning. That was, as I would learn, not enough to avoid stomach issues.

The meteorologists branded the heavy winds that hit us on Saturday morning “a typical autumn storm” and “very unusual for the season” which felt like a personal affront at that point. I did my best to place my focus elsewhere but found it difficult as it seemed everybody else had little interest in talking about anything else. Which, in fairness, is what my wife has been saying about us Northerners since she first came up to visit with me. Either way, I spent an hour before we got ready to head out to just lay in bed and focus, and felt I was able to recalibrate my expectations from focusing on a specific time to just running the best possible race given the circumstances.

In addition to the marathon, the race also has a half and a 10k, plus a couple of kids races. Both of my parents participated in the 10k, which started an hour and a half before the gun went off for the marathon. We went out to cheer them on, and it was both relaxing and motivating to see them and other people run. I was getting ready to go and met up with a buddy who would be following along on the bike and update my wife who couldn’t fly up. I ate my planned pre-race gel, and also gave my buddy a couple of extra gels, just in case.

Race

Just about a thousand people lined up to run the full –sufferfest– marathon, which was an all-time high for the race. Based on previous results, I figured I would probably finish comfortably within the top thirty, so I lined up near the front. I was ready to go, the gun went off, so I took off.

Start of Midnight Sun Marathon 2018
From the start of the race. Photo by Truls Tiller.

0 – 10k

The course for the full marathon is basically a double out and back from the area where we start and finish. Most of the climbing, about 230 meters (755 ft) in total, is done during the first out and back, which crosses the bridge over to the mainland. Because of this, my plan was a cautious opening, which would hopefully allow me to increase the pace in the second, and flatter half of the race. Easier said than done.

From the first step after the gun went off, I found myself feeling amazingly light on my feet. Initially, I settled behind the female lead and stayed with the group she was in as we climbed the bridge and got our first taste of the wind. It came at us sideways on the bridge, but as we came down we turned south for a 7k stretch directly into the headwind. “OK, here we go!” I thought, and I decided right then and there that I needed to stick with this group no matter how they ran until we reached the turnaround.

We quickly lost the female lead and another runner, and our group was down to three people. I felt a bit bad for letting the other two guys in the group do all the work, but they were keeping around three hour pace and I decided to be selfish and just sit behind. I felt amazing through this entire stretch, in no small part because of my selfish drafting, I’m sure. I smiled and waved at the spectators who had defied the weather to come out and cheer us on, and I was just waiting for the turnaround to get the wind in my back and turn it on.

0 – 10k split: 42:19 (Strava)

11 – 20k

Immediately after turning around, I increased the pace, and I have never felt more comfortable with what was around 2:45 marathon pace. I kept checking my watch to make sure I wasn’t overextending, but with my heart rate sitting firmly below 170 I could only conclude that my perceived effort was probably accurate. At the start of this part of the race, I also took my first gel, planning to eat the first three in 45-minute intervals, before eating a fourth as I approached the tail end of the race.

One of the guys I had drafted behind stuck with me as I increased the pace, and we chatted a bit. This was his first marathon as well, and he too was aiming to go below three hours. I was up ahead setting the pace for the majority of this stretch, and we passed a couple of other runners who made no attempts at staying with us. At this point, I had a vague idea that we were probably in the top 20 overall, which was a bit of a stretch goal for me, based on previous years’ results.

At around 19k the rain started, and my head dropped a little. The wind hadn’t stopped me yet, but the rain made it all worse, and it was starting to cost a bit more. We were approaching the bridge again, and I knew there was a bit of climbing before the bridge as well. Here I thought I would have to let my new buddy go because I was very wary of overextending in this relatively demanding part of the course. Better to leave some time on the table, than bonking because I went to hard here.

But as my new friend set a decent pace through this part, I was able to hang on to him without overexerting, which gave me confidence leading into the second half of the race. It also just felt nice to have someone to run and chat a bit with.

11 – 20k split: 39:26 (Strava)
First half marathon split: 1:26:40 (Official)

21 – 30k

One thing I came away with after running this marathon, is that everyone should run a race in their hometown. Seeing and hearing people cheering me on throughout was an amazing feeling, and it kept me motivated when the going got tough. After my fundraiser received a bit of attention in the local press, I also got a lot of support from people I didn’t really know, and that was inspiring, too.

Two runners from Midnight Sun Marathon 2018
Me at the heels of my new racing buddy just beyond the halfway mark. Photo by Truls Tiller.

After passing the halfway mark, we ran through the centre of town, and I ate another gel as we headed back into the wind once more. This time it only lasted about 3k before we turned back north at the southern tip of Tromsøya, the island which holds the centre of Tromsø Town. My marathon buddy was probably feeling it a bit at this point, and he dropped in behind me when we hit the wind. I still felt alright and managed to keep us at a decent pace.

With the wind firmly in our backs again, I wanted to up the pace like I did about 15k back. But I immediately noticed that it was starting to cost a bit more to hold the pace at around 2:52 marathon pace, so I opted instead to conserve some energy. The wind that was working with us right now would soon be hitting us straight in the face yet again, and I didn’t want to spend 7k into the headwind on dead legs.

Fast approaching the 30k mark, and the time to eat my next gel, I noticed my stomach starting to act up. This has happened more than a few times, and while I thought I had it control as I went through all winter without any problems, the troubles started to reappear over the last month. Immediately, I knew that this was not something I could outrun and that I would have to stop at the next portapotty. Unfortunately, we just passed one and running another 5k didn’t really feel like an option.

21 – 30k split: 40:28 (Strava)

31 – 42k

I hoped that, against odds, the people in charge had the foresight to put up an extra portapotty at the turnaround point. My friend on the bike was still with us, and I informed him about the situation and asked if he could scout ahead and find the next one. The situation was fast becoming precarious, and I found my answer to the question “how bad do you want it?” and it was not bad enough to do a number two in my shorts.

Coming up to the turnaround, there was no portapotty, but my friend had gotten a hold of a roll of toilet paper from a car parked there. He handed it to me as I turned around, and told me to run into the bushes next to the road and get it done. Quickly! Too confused to be shy, I obliged, and around a minute later I was back to running.

Well, running might be stretching it a bit, because with the wind that hit me the moment I tried to get going again it felt like I was simply standing still. But I still had a lot to give at this point and, annoyed by my gastrointestinal troubles, I found a fresh resolve to give absolutely everything to avoid having my stomach ruin the race for me. My chief worry at this point was that a bad bonk might be imminent because, with less than 10k to go, I had still only eaten two gels. But would my stomach handle another gel? I half made a decision by eating half a gel, and I went on. After not too long, I came back to my new buddy, with whom I’d spent more than 30k of the race with. It was clear that he was struggling at this point, as I told him to stay with me when I passed him, but he had nothing more to give.

Unfortunately for me, he would soon overtake me once more, because I only got a couple of moments of respite before my stomach started to object once more. This time, I knew that there was a portapotty just a kilometre or two up ahead, as I had spotted it when I did a shakeout run a day earlier. So I clenched up and tried to keep a decent pace. Naturally, by the time I reached the portapotty, a rush of half marathoners was running in the opposite direction, and some of them also had to use that particular portapotty. And that’s how I found myself in waiting in a line 37k into a marathon.

A couple of minutes later, I was off once more, only to find that my legs had tightened up completely. My stride was all sorts of off, and I was running stiffly, in silhouette no doubt looking 30 years older than my actual age. But this was it, and I attempted some simple calculations to figure out if finishing in less than three hours was still on the table. Relieved, I concluded that it was before I, a mere instant later, lost all faith in my ability to perform even the simplest arithmetic. Panicked that I wouldn’t make it, I tried to up the pace a bit again, and I do believe it lasted all of a hundred meters before I slowed again.

Runner at finish line at Midnight Sun Marathon 2018
About to cross the finish line.

Worse still, I could feel my stomach starting to cramp up, which just a couple of weeks ago, during my final hard long run, forced me to a walking pace as I struggled to breathe. But I passed the 2k to go marker, and I was adamant that nothing was going to stop me now. I kept repeating the name of our daughter like a chant, calling on her to help me keep going. And somewhere behind me, I heard my friend on the bike, too, shouting to me that I just had to keep going, we had this. Somewhere around here, I also passed my race buddy once more, but I have only a vague recollection of it. Suffice to say, he was really struggling at this point.

After what seemed like the longest thousand meters I ever ran, I eventually reached the marker that said 1k to go, and I looked at my watch and knew that finishing under three hours was in the bag. One final push, through the crowded main street of Tromsø, and my parents came into view at the finish line. It wasn’t pretty, but I had done it. On the eve of the first anniversary of our little girl’s passing, I had run a sub-3 marathon. For me, and for her.

31 – 40k split: 44:54 (Strava)
Second half marathon split: 1:31:49 (Official)
Official finish time: 2:58:29

Post-race

My parents both embraced me at the finish line, and it was a very emotional moment. I couldn’t really stand upright for the first couple of minutes, I was just so exhausted. Not just from running, but from a full year of trying to find a way to give meaning to a life without my baby girl.

A couple of reporters were waiting for me to get up, and wanted to talk about the race, our story and the fundraiser. Words didn’t come easy at this point, and I think I only spoke in a malaise of sobs and half sentences. I did, however, manage to utter how overwhelmed I was with the outcome of the fundraiser. While starting it, I had hoped to race around $1 000. By the time it ended, people had donated more than $10 000.

I was also very happy to see just that my new racing buddy crossed the finish line just a small minute after me, which meant that he was also able to reach his goal of going sub-3. With all the commotion I never got to properly thank him for working together, but he gave me a light tap on the shoulder before he disappeared, hopefully off to celebrate.

What’s next?

This week is all about rest and recovery. Physically I am shot, especially my quads and my right calf, but mentally I am just absolutely drained. So no running for a week, before I plan on starting up again with nothing more than easy running for a couple of weeks.

Another marathon is not really tempting at this moment, but I want to keep going and eventually give it another go to see if I can come closer to realising my potential in terms of finishing time. In the coming weeks, I will be seeking medical advice to find out if there’s anything I can do to alleviate the stomach problems which have plagued me for a while now. I imagine I will be spending the rest of the year trying to figure that out, and if I do, perhaps a spring marathon is realistic. Either way, Berlin 2019 in the fall is the big one that has been in the back of my mind for some time now already.

In terms of the second half of this year, I am hoping to further improve my PRs in the 5k, 10k and in the half marathon. I think sub-17:30, sub-36 and sub-1:20 could be realistic, and I’m ready to try for all three. But, we’re also welcoming a little brother into our family towards the end of August, so we’ll so how much that will affect my training. I can already barely wait until he’s old enough to bring along in a jogging stroller. For some reason, I feel like that will not only bring him closer to me but to a sister he never got to meet as well.

For all the detailed data from the race, check the Strava activity.

Training Log for Week 24 of 2018

The final week of training leading up to my goal marathon, which happened on the evening of Saturday this week, contained very little actual training. The goal at this stage is, as I’ve mentioned in several of the past weekly logs, to get to the starting line healthy and feeling fresh. Total running time for the week excluding the marathon was 2 hours 50 minutes, with just 35 kilometres (22 miles) of running and 328 meters (1 076 ft) of climbing.

As has become more or less routine through this training cycle, I started the week with a full rest day on Monday. Tuesday I did 11k at recovery pace, as per my schedule, even if it felt strange to do a recovery session without really having anything to recover from.

Wednesday it was time for the “Dress Rehearsal.” The point of this season is to get a final feel for race pace, with about 3k at marathon pace, and do a final check of the gear you’re planning to wear on race day. As I’d planned my full race attire months in advance, I opted not to wear it during my dress rehearsal. I instantly regretted this when packing to leave the following day, as I couldn’t find the long sleeve I was planning to wear under my singlet. Lesson learned!

Two days out, Tuesday, I ran 8k easy with six strides at the end, and the day before the race I only did 5k at an extra relaxed recovery pace. The race report from my debut marathon will be published sometime later this week, but I felt fit and ready to go after my final run before the race.