The 11 week marathon experiment

When I ran my last marathon in October of 2014, I was relatively certain I would not need to run another one! I’d run my first, the 2013 Chicago Marathon a year earlier as a personal dare. It was the thing that I kept talking myself out of running. In a surge of adrenaline and gusto, I’d convinced myself to sign up one night. And then having committed money to the endeavor, and in a panic that I would crash and burn in the middle of the race, I trained extensively for almost five months to run it. I did not break a world speed record, or place, or qualify for Boston, or anything like that. I did finish the whole thing and never walked a step, which, at the time, felt like the most amazing thing in the world.

chicago 3

The next year, the Chicago Marathon went to a lottery system, which made it unlikely I would have the chance to run the race again even if I wanted to. That should have been a good enough reason to say I was content with my fitness goals and move on. Furthermore, I had just started up a new relationship that was escalating quickly (Spoiler alert: I married that man!), so committing the kind of time necessary to train didn’t seem likely to be a priority. Still, when I got the email to enter the lottery I thought, “Why not!?” inspired by the likelihood that it was unlikley that I got in, and a little nagging thought in the back of my head that my 2013 had just been a fluke and I wasn’t really a marathon runner.

You can probably see where this story is headed. I got in via lottery…I didn’t have enough time to train…I suffered through the race anyway, and still felt pretty good about it because it turns out it’s wasn’t a fluke. If you run a marathon, you are (or I am in this case) a marathon runner.

I also walked away from that race feeling like I had nothing left to prove and would not run another marathon. The Chicago lottery email came the next year and I deleted it happily. Josh and I were engaged by then, planning to get married that summer. I was NOT going to train for a marathon on top of it!

I’ve not been drawn to the marathon since then, and didn’t think there would be much to motivate be back into that kind of training. Then came the phone call.

Image result for medcity marathon

Here’s the long and short of it. A dear friend, one who’s partially, if not mostly, responsible for helping coax me into distance running in the first place, has decided to run a once in a lifetime, bucket list marathon. This will, guaranteed, be the only one she ever does. It’s now or never. I either join the team running it with her, or miss the chance. To up the ante even more, she’s running it Rochester, and staying at my house the night before the race. At the very least, I’ll play cheerleader on the streets around town for her, but really, honestly, even as I think about the fact that the weather is still crappy and we want to start building our house soon, this is about the only thing that could inspire me to start training for a marathon right now.

There, is, however, another hitch in the plan. The race is only 11 weeks away. 11 weeks is plenty of time for a 1/2 marathon training plan. I’ve gone through those in as few as 8 weeks. Both marathons I’ve run came off of 20 week plans. Even then, while I felt okay finishing the race, I wouldn’t go straight to comfortable and great! So, in the big scheme of things, I’m behind, and in the tricky place of needing to get up to long distances quickly, while also not burning out or injuring myself.

11 Week Marathon Plan

At worst, this is a terrible idea and actually getting through the race will be impossible. At best, it’s a very interesting experiment because it challenges all the ways in which I’ve previously trained. After researching a number of plans designed to build fitness fast while decreasing the risk of injury, I’ve put together 11 weeks that I think will give me the best chance. I’m already over a week into it, and I’m both feeling confident in the fact that I mostly don’t hurt and my workouts have felt good, and terrified that I’m not doing enough. I’ve also had to force myself to do things that I’ve always fought myself on when training previously.

For example:

  • I start slow. Sometimes…really slow. Slow lets my muscles warm up and my mindset adjust. When I start slow, I don’t panic.
  • I walk. This one was REALLY hard. In order to build up my long run to a place where I can top out at marathon distance in time, I had to start at a distance I knew I couldn’t currently run straight through. I had to choices: either run it realllllllly slow for as long as I could, or run it at a slightly more comfortable pace for a certain time, and then walk/recover for a certain time. I am currently taking the latter option, and it has been difficult to make myself do it. However, I am content for the moment to just know I’m covering the distance.
  • I do yoga, and I have a real love/hate relationship with yoga. However, I know if I don’t treat my muscles well and give them proper stretch and care, I’m sunk.
  • I soak in an ice bath. My love/hate relationship with the ice bath is even stronger than the one I have with yoga. But, after rereading Martin Duggard’s To be a Runner, I am reinspired by the ice bath, and after my long runs, I’ve committed to 10 minutes in the ice bath.

The entire plan looks like this:

Marathon Plan 11

A few notes if you were going to try and take on this plan.


**My yoga and cross training sessions are both at least 30 minutes, generally closer to 45. They don’t have to be super intense. The focus is on quality reps and quality minutes. **My warmup on Tuesdays is generally 10 minutes – 5 minutes of a quick walk up a slight incline, and then 5 minutes of light jogging. In between each repeat, I do half the distance at the same speed I just ran the interval. For example, if I run my 800m in four minutes, then I jog a 400m in four minutes to recover.
**Currently, my long runs consist of 8 minutes of running at a comfortable pace, followed by two minutes of walking. This actually makes for a very cool heart rate pattern while training, which is actually a really good model for cardio training on the whole.

Also, it should probably be noted that, if you’re looking to run your first marathon, this is probably not the best plan for you. Depending on your base level of fitness, there are great 16-24 weeks plans that can build you up from 2-3 miles, all the way to 26.2. You can also find plenty of couch to marathon plans that can build you up from the ground to marathon form. However, if you’ve done a marathon, you maintain a level of fitness at which you could comfortably run 4-5 miles if asked, and you get a bug in your bonnet that you need to be running a marathon in 11 weeks…well then, this might just be the  plan you want. Feel free to join my journey. I’ll see you at the starting line.


Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She recently completed her master's degree in learning design and technology, and continues to study and advocate for arts integration in the classroom. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate is working to innovate and expand theater opportunities for the students at PIHS. An avid distance runner, concert pianist, and want-to-be wine aficionado, Kate's blog "ink." is a passion project, embodying all the best parts of life: friends, food, wine, thoughtful conversation, style, and sass!

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