Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Training gems from Ed Whitlock

For those of you who don't know, Ed Whitlock was one of the most impressive runners in the past few decades. Despite finishing far back in the pack, he obliterated age-group records by running under three hours in the marathon at age 73 with a phenomenal 2:54:49, and still ran under four hours at age 85. Sadly, he passed away yesterday after fighting prostate cancer.

There are many, many memorials that are written about him, and since I never met him, I can only urge you to read what other people have said if you are interested. But in reading The Morning Shakeout by esteemed coach Mario Fraioli this morning, I came across some very interesting quotes from Ed that really appealed to me.

I like racing and setting world records, but I find training is a bit of a drudge, from this interview after his 3:56 marathon at age 85.

If somehow or other, I could race well without doing any training, that would be ideal. I find this training a bit of a drudge really. I don’t suffer from runner’s highs in training and that kind of thing. It’s all a bit of a chore, really, but I have to [put in a lot of time running] if I want to run well. He said this to Runner's World after his 1:50:47 half marathon, again at age 85.

 I don't particularly enjoy this daily drudge, it's something that has to be done if you want to run well. I suppose it's the sense of satisfaction to be able to keep going for one thing. And to run well, for another (reason). I suppose I'm results-oriented, I'm mainly running for certain times in races, setting records, that sort of thing is what gives me my satisfaction I guess. And I find for me the more running I do the better I'll race. That's the incentive. Ed admitted this several years ago.

To me, these quotes describe the very essence of distance running, or really any endeavor that requires lots of time and effort. Very few competitive runners enjoy every moment of training. Of course, most of us run because we enjoy it, but once you set a goal and start a plan, your training no longer depends on your mood. If it's cold and rainy and miserable outside, but you have a 20-mile long run scheduled, even the most motivated and dedicated racers will entertain the idea of not running. 

The difference is that the truly successful runners banish those thoughts and put in the work, despite the weather, or their mood, or an invitation to a happy hour the night before. I will be the first to admit, that many times, I do not enjoy putting in the miles, especially in the thick of marathon training where everything is layered under a haze of chronic fatigue. But I still go out there and put in the work, because I want to achieve my goals more than I want to take a day off. The end result is more important to me than the day-to-day ebbs and flows of motivation. The trick is to keep that goal in mind and remind yourself of how bad you want it. 

As you progress through your training, you too will undoubtedly encounter periods of low motivation, or fatigue, or ask yourself if it's really worth it. It's just another aspect of training that many people fail to recognize. Convincing yourself that the daily grind is worth it, and that the end result is more important, is a key component of training.

There are various tricks and methods you can employ to keep yourself motivated during these times, such as making a training goal. For instance, your performance goal could be to qualify for Boston. In order to keep yourself on track, you could then have a weekly mileage goal, or to run at least 5 days a week. Hitting these little, interim goals will give you a confidence boost and help you stay motivated. Realizing that the mental aspect of training and the persistence needed to perform at a high level will do wonders for your performances. As Ed Whitlock demonstrated, running around a cemetery for hours every day, while not exciting, resulted in his incredible performances. We can learn a lot from him.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Injury strikes again

Odd-numbered years are bad for me, apparently. Two years ago I suffered a bout of hamstring tendinopathy that sidelined me for almost the entire year. I was able to come back in 2016 and race a good marathon in December, but shortly thereafter hit another bump.

While running on the slippery sidewalks, I aggravated my hip flexor, which made running painful. Being mindful of how minor injuries can turn chronic, I prudently took a few days off, but my hip flexor was still sore when I tried running again. I took a few weeks off, but saw no improvement. Finally, I was starting to feel better, but a yoga class pissed off my tendon again.

After three more weeks of no running, I said screw it, and tried jogging two miles. While I was as sore the next day as after a marathon, my hip did feel mostly OK. I ran another 2 miles a few days later, and even though I swore I was dying, there was no pain.

So, 11 weeks after my supposed minor injury, I am just now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have lost all of my fitness from the past year, and my goal of breaking 16 minutes in the 5k is still on hold. But at least I am running again!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rehoboth Beach Marathon Analysis

This isn't so much a race report as a race analysis. If you want a really great race report, please check out Brett Long's or Martha Doody's fantastic reports.

Brett Long and I trained together a fair amount leading up to this race and both were in similar shape and going for the same approximate time goal (under 2:40). I went into the Rehoboth Beach Marathon with these specific goals:

  1. Run with Brett Long for as long as possible and have a good race
  2. Run under 2:40
  3. Run under 2:37
  4. Win

I accomplished most of the first goal, and nothing else, by sticking with Brett for 18 miles on 2:37 pace and then fading to a 2:44 for fourth place. But, I can't be too disappointed; this was my first marathon that I've raced since Colfax in 2014. and my fastest since Grandma's in 2013. Plus, I have only run three marathons faster than this. So, despite not hitting most of my goals and crashing headfirst into the wall, I can't really call it a bad race.

Training leading up to the race was pretty good. My mileage was lower than I typically like, mostly owing to the fact that I can really only train on my lunch break during the week. But I had five weeks over 70 miles, and averaged 64.7mpw in the 12 weeks before the race. I had some really stellar workouts that were as good or better than what I was running before I ran 2:39 at Grandma's, and 5:50-6:00 pace was feeling easy. My confidence was high.

For the race itself, a couple factors led to my performance. One, we drove down to Delaware, and I tried not to drink too much, as my bladder is small and weak and I didn't want to stop every half hour. Two, I did not get a lot of sleep in the preceding nights. Three, despite hitting the paces exactly as I had planned in the first 18 miles, the strong wind made the effort much harder. So while I was running 6:00s, it felt like I was running 5:50s, and that came back to bite me. I'm glad I stayed with Brett and the pack we were in, because the alternative would have been to run into the wind all by myself. It was nice having pack of guys to take turns blocking the wind and I could just roll with them, even if the pace did feel a little quick. Four, I missed a couple water/Gatorade stations and was only able to take two gels during the race when I had planned to take four. By the time we hit mile 19 and turned back into the wind, I was running on empty and could only slog the last 6 miles to the finish while I watched Brett and company pull away from me.

I have included some tables comparing my six fastest marathons because I am a nerd. As you can see, this race ranks towards the bottom is every single category. Note that most of these values come from my GPS data so do not reflect the actual splits recorded by the timing systems.

Average MPW (Previous 12 Weeks)
Marine Corps Marathon85.882:48:15
Columbus Marathon84.932:42:19
Philadelphia Marathon65.962:40:58
Rehoboth Beach Marathon64.702:44:19
Grandma's Marathon64.642:39:08
Colfax Marathon57.142:52:23
Difference Between Fastest and Slowest Mile
MarathonFastest SplitSlowest SplitSplit Delta
Grandma's Marathon5:556:110:16
Columbus Marathon5:566:290:33
Colfax Marathon6:107:111:01
Marine Corps Marathon5:587:151:27
Philadelphia Marathon5:516:360:45
Rehoboth Beach Marathon5:527:221:30
Difference Between Average and Slowest Mile
MarathonAvg Pace per MileSlowest SplitAvg-Max Delta
Grandma's Marathon6:046:110:07
Columbus Marathon6:116:290:18
Philadelphia Marathon6:086:360:28
Colfax Marathon6:347:110:37
Marine Corps Marathon6:257:150:50
Rehoboth Beach Marathon6:167:221:06
10-10-10 Splits
Marathon1st 10 Miles2nd 10 MilesLast 10K
Grandma's Marathon1:00:091:00:2838:31:00
Columbus Marathon1:01:121:01:3939:28:00
Philadelphia Marathon1:00:191:00:2640:13:00
Colfax Marathon1:05:081:04:0943:06:00
Marine Corps Marathon1:02:411:02:1043:24:00
Rehoboth Beach Marathon1:00:151:00:0744:19:00

So what has this experience taught me? I'd like to think I learned a few things from this race, despite it not being a PR or even a very successful performance.

  1. Next time we have a marathon this far away, I would rather fly than drive.
  2. High mileage isn't required (I actually averaged less miles per week before my 2:39 than I did here), but does help.
  3. In the next marathon I race, I will turn off auto-split on my GPS and take true mile measurements. This was the closest my GPS has ever been to the actual distance but I was still off by 20-30 seconds by 13 miles. So while I was recording 5:58s, I was really running 6:05s.
  4. I slowed down more in the last 10K of this race than any other marathon since my first (where I hobbled most of the last 6 miles on cramping legs that would barely function). I blame the hard early effort and the lack of fuel for this more than the training and preparation.
  5. Most importantly, this experience showed me just how rare a performance like my 2:39 at Grandma's really is. I never hit the wall in that race and felt strong all the way through the finish. I think that was one of those perfect days where everything came together. Even though I think I was in better shape for Philadelphia, and maybe even for Rehoboth, I experienced challenges in both of those races. I can't expect to just waltz my way through any marathon I run now just because I had one really good race. Those days are rare and to be cherished.