“Your registration is complete. Your athlete number can be found at the bottom of this email.” Once I read that email I knew I was going to be running the 2016 Chicago Marathon. I was super pumped. And then I freaked out, just a little bit…..after all, I had just had my third child in March! The race was in October. Almost exactly seven months to the date of Lauren’s birth, I would be toeing the line at the Chicago Marathon. I had not raced a marathon, or really done any quality running, since September 2012. After all, my oldest, Claire, was born in May of 2013 (making her 3 years old) and my middle child, Nora, was born in August of 2014 (2 years old). If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. That meant I had to do a full 18 week program and find a coach.
Enter Grant Watley, Director of Private Coaching at the store. I will never forget making that call one afternoon. I asked him if he would meet with me to go over my goals and help me to create a plan for a successful run at Chicago. His response was an enthusiastic “of course! When can I come over to visit?” Immediately I knew this was the guy to help me get to where I wanted to be. For starters, he knew I could not find time to get out of the house with three kids under three!
Grant and I had an initial conversation that covered not only my short term goal of Chicago, but also my long term goals (a bit lofty, but worth a shot!) He also understood that I would be taking care of three small children, lacking sleep and structure, but that I was committed to doing the workouts he created. In our initial meeting, I knew that Grant wanted to know not only about me, but also my family, my support system. He gave me a ton of comfort in telling me this was going to be a “comeback” program. He was realistic about the entire picture. Prior to having children, I coached cross country at the high school level and after talking with Grant, I knew both his running and life philosophies matched mine; this was going to be a great fit. There is always room to develop and grow and at this point I desired someone to write my workouts and help me learn along the way. After all, if you train the same way for every race, you are going to run the same time (within reason). With this marathon, I needed something different. I physically was not in the same place I was in 2012.
As an overview, my training plan was going to be 18 weeks. I was going to have a period of base building, followed by early quality and final quality training, and culminating with championship racing. I really had no idea what that all entailed, but I was ready. My best friend had run Chicago in 2003, my husband, Rob, ran in 2008 and now it was my turn! This was going to be just a fun comeback run. The first few weeks of training were great; I was ready to get back into running…..then came my first “quality” run. I texted Grant a few days before as I was looking over my weekly plan. The conversation went something like this:
“Coach, you want me to do “x” 1000m repeats for a total of “y” miles?”
One simple response. “Yes.” (Then followed by some advice and comfort, of course!)
In my mind, I was thinking, “Ok, let’s do this;” followed by “you’ve never run 1000m repeats let alone that many!” But I was determined to do the workout and hit the prescribed times. Early Wednesday morning came and I completed the workout. Physically, it was tough, but more so it was mentally demanding. I knew what Grant was up to! His coaching involves the full package; physical and mental training. Although I did not hit all the goal times, I did the workout successfully and that was a goal reached for me in itself. I quickly learned that all my Wednesday workouts were going to of this nature; this was part of the process. I trusted the process and was going to stay the course; Grant had every workout planned with detailed notes.
Every week Grant and I touched based to review my progress. Every three weeks he evaluated my times and gave me my next three weeks of training. I never was able to get ahead of myself. This was awesome. More often than not, people look at a full marathon training cycle, but with Grant’s constant evaluation my coaching was specific. After using this approach, I would not do it any other way! Grant also helped me alter my weekly schedule. For example, I wanted to run the Red, White, and Boom Half Marathon in Minneapolis. With my long quality runs usually occurring on Sundays (this race was a Monday) he tweaked my workouts and made it work without missing a beat. I really appreciated that.
During my 18 week plan, Grant also had me run the Sioux Falls Half Marathon as a test run so he could get a more accurate picture for my remaining training leading up to Chicago. I had not run SF for several years and I was nervous! Once again, I texted Grant about a plan:
“What’s the plan for SF?” I wrote.
Two words this time…“Run. Fast.” His reply.
At this point in working with Grant, I could totally envision him writing this text with a big grin on his face. He has a great sense of humor like that. Of course he supplemented with detailed plans and he knew how I was feeling. He prepared my body and mind for that race and that allowed me to run without hesitation. Now I knew I would be ready for Chicago. I had hit (and not hit) some goal times throughout training, but I was honest in my effort and all my feedback to him. I had remained healthy and was ready to put my mind and body to the test.
Four weeks after SF it was time to run Chicago. Again, I found myself nervous. I knew I was ready, but I was still a little scared. I was ready to get on that plane and get out to the race venue. Rob and I left Sioux Falls the Friday morning before the race. That gave us all of Friday to take it in. We went to the EXPO (which was crazy busy), walked around downtown Chicago, shopped, took in the sights, and ate an awesome steak dinner! Saturday morning we got up and did an easy shake out run followed by a Starbucks coffee and watching the first international 5K that was added to the weekend festivities. As we stood on the bridge to watch, we saw Grant! That was awesome because at this point I was really getting antsy. I wanted to run well and was putting too much pressure on myself. I told him that and like any great coach he gave me great advice. “Just have fun. You put in all the work and tough workouts. This is the fun part.” He was so genuine. It all the sudden just clicked with me and I was at ease. We finished watching some the race and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the day; we enjoyed the Navy Pier, church in the evening, and of course, deep dish Chicago Pizza!
Sunday morning came bright and early and I was ready. The weather was beautiful, I was calm and I knew our plan. I was ready to run this race. Training under Grant had went so very well! In fact, I was confident not only in my physical stance but also my mental state. He had prepared me with some workouts that challenged both my body and mind. I was eager to get going. Rob and I headed to the start and I had a plan to see him a few times on the course. We parted ways and into the starting area I headed.
After going through two security checkpoints I made my way to my corral to grab a spot to sit. I did not want to be on my feet any longer than I had to be as I already had taken advantage of lots of walking around Chicago in the days prior. Prior to the start I did my warm ups and soon enough the race director was calling for the start. I was very excited!!
The plan was to hold back through 6 miles and that was not difficult as I sat behind a pace group. What was difficult was the jam-packed field. I literally was running elbow to elbow with other runners. I could not have moved ahead even if I wanted to. There was nowhere to go! Finally at the 10K I saw that I could move ahead a bit, which I did. I was feeling great taking in the sights and sounds. I had also seen Rob twice already and I was so super excited. The plan was to continue to quicken the pace, which I attempted to do. I just could not believe that there was so many runners. I knew it was a full field (41,000 finishers this year - - way more than other marathons!) so the only thing I wasn’t prepared for was just how tight the running was. I remained calm though as to not waste any unnecessary energy. Finally, at mile 20 (I am not exaggerating) the field thinned! At this point I could actually run my own stride for the final 10K, which is exactly what I did.
With 1200m to go, I surprisingly saw Rob in the crowd (which was not planned!) I gave my final kick to the finish. I was feeling great but at the same time ready to be done. As I came through the finish line I felt emotional. I immediately reflected on what I had just done. The actual race itself was awesome. I felt really good and was so happy to finish strong. I had also seen Rob several times, as well as Grant’s wife, Angela, twice. The entire experience was positive! Then I looked at my watch. A PR.
I have always believed in quality training versus quantity training. With Grant as my coach I met (and exceeded) my goal of running Chicago. I found that the demands of his training are outweighed by the amazing rewards. He has a great talent in coaching. His workouts are innovative, unique, and personalized. He has the greater picture in mind and that is just one of the many reasons I will continue working with him. If you are looking to start running or you want to set a specific goal (in any race length) I highly recommend working with Grant. He is a smart coach, encouraging, realistic, and very humble. I know I cannot PR every race, but I really trust in Grant’s whole process. I am more than confident it will make me not only a better runner, but also a smarter runner, all while being well rounded in life and with my family. I certainly am very eager to see what he has in mind for me in the future…..and I’m sure it will bring another trip back to Chicago!
Happy Running, my friends!