By Alex H.The training that goes in to a marathon is an accomplishment in itself, and we as runners want to ensure we give ourselves the best chance to succeed on race day. That means taking care of the little things leading up to race day and listening to our bodies leading up to the big day. The tiring long runs and muscle-burning intervals are necessary to make it to the line ready to go, but just as important is your strategy during the race! Sure, applying a proper layer of body glide is a great idea, and wearing the appropriate amount of clothing for the forecast is a must, but for the sake of this blog, I am referring to proper nutrition and hydration, and also proper pacing.
The energy demands on the body during a marathon make taking in calories and fluids absolutely essential. If you have trained with a specific pace you are targeting as your goal marathon pace, this pace should roughly correlate to your aerobic threshold, which is how fast the body can run while using fat as the main fuel source. Once twenty miles are covered at this pace, the body will hit the dreaded “wall” unless proper fueling is utilized. Some sort of gel, whether GU, Honey Stinger, Powerbar, or any other brand, with some slow burning calories and amino acids should do the trick. Practicing taking a gel every few miles in training will help you find a strategy that makes you feel adequately fueled and energized.
Additionally, taking in fluids is very important no matter if it is a cold or hot day. Do not make the mistake, however, of loading up on water like a camel! We cannot store that much water without having to use the restroom, so to avoid cramping and discomfort on race day, practice a strategy on your long runs that leaves you hydrated going in to the race, but ready to take in some sips of water, Nuun, or Gatorade every few miles. If you have trouble taking gels, you can try practicing with electrolyte blends that you simply mix in water which supply you with a similar level of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and calories as gels, but you can sip instead of suck down!
Now that you have found a fueling strategy that works for you and are ready to optimize your race day with proper nutrition, do not forget that proper pacing cannot be stressed enough! To circle back for a minute and revisit the topic about having 20 miles worth of energy at marathon pace stored in our bodies, that corresponds to our aerobic threshold. If we take the beginning of the race too fast, our bodies burn through that energy storage too quickly, and it is very tough to recover from! The most efficient way to run a marathon is evenly paced, which means every mile is very similar in pace. This pace will feel rather easy in the beginning stages and becoming increasingly difficult with every passing mile. Even pacing is not the only positive option, and many runners, including myself, prefer negative splits. Negative splitting races will leave you feeling better for longer, and although you may feel like you are holding back too much in the early stages, at mile 20 you will thank yourself! Every world record over the one mile distance has been set with a negative split pacing strategy, so coming back faster seems to be a good strategy based on the history of the sport!
The marathon is a tricky task, because worrying about gu gel’s, bathroom stops, not missing your mouth at Gatorade stations, and not hitting “the wall” does not prove to be so important in shorter races. Sure, taking the first two miles of your 5k way too fast is not a great idea, but having just over a mile to pay for your fast start is nothing compared to setting a 5k pr your first 5k of the marathon, and having 23 miles to go! Be smart, practice what you will do on race day, and nail your strategy beforehand so race day goes as smoothly as possible.
By Alex H.It is now the homestretch of Philly Marathon training, and the work has been done! Within the last 3 weeks of your goal race, your body is not going to make any new major adaptations that will help you on race day. You can sit back and take solace in the fact you have worked hard and are ready for the day you have been training for the last few months. But do not fall in to the trap of resting too soon and losing out on the fitness you have worked so hard for. Instead, follow this taper plan to get the most out of your hard work!
It is generally agreed upon that your longest and fastest long run will take place three weeks out from your goal race, give or take. If you have been working up to a 22 miler, for example, and your race was on the 4th Sunday of the month, you would run that 22 miler on the 1st Sunday of the month. That will lead you right into your first week of the taper. That first taper week, the mileage should cut back volume about 10% from your highest weeks. This reduction will come from a mixture of your easy days and your long run. The goal is to allow the body to begin to absorb the training, but because the marathon is almost 100 percent aerobic, you don’t want to strip too much of your mileage when you are not racing for another few weeks.
The second week of the taper, the mileage will cut another 10%, so if you had been holding 40 miles per week, your first taper week would be about 36 and your second taper week would be about 32. Additionally, this week is when you want to strip some intensity from your workouts. If your go to sessions have been marathon paced tempos and you were hanging around 8 miles at marathon pace for your workouts, try two sets of four miles at marathon pace, or maybe even two sets of 3 miles at marathon pace, and one set of two miles at marathon pace. Make sure the workouts are still focusing on marathon pace, though, as you do not want to run some fast 400 repeats at 5k pace to “feel quick.” This is a common mistake runners make. The goal is to feel quick and get some turnover work in, but ideally an athlete will focus on just marathon pace for the weeks leading up to a marathon and running at 5k pace will tap into a completely different energy system your body hasn’t used for a while. Remember when I said you are not going to be making any new adaptations these last few weeks? Running at 5k pace is a new stressor that you don’t want to try too close to the race!
That third taper week, starting the Monday of your marathon, strip mileage by another 20%. Going off our 40 miles per week scenario, this week would be 24 miles. Make sure to also “front load” your week, where you run most of your mileage the first few days of the week and are just doing some easy jogs the days before the race. Your last workout should be three or four days out from the race and should just be a workout to have the body feel good and stay in a rhythm. You might ask why you would even do a workout this week, and I understand that thought process. However, the body has been in a rhythm for months and our bodies crave that consistency. Something like 3 to 4 miles at marathon pace should feel very easy and do the trick!
The last three weeks are essentially just going through the motions and trying not to get sick or injured. We don’t want to do to little and lose fitness while also having our metabolic system thrown off from a drastic reduction of activity, but we are not trying to create more fitness. The best things you can do for yourself are to sleep well, eat well, wash your hands, think good thoughts, and enjoy the ending of a long and rewarding process.
By Alex H.Consistently working towards a goal is the best way to continue to improve. It makes sense, right? Making a conscious effort to get better at a task, day in and day out, will leave an individual a bit closer to their end goal each and every day. In running terms, every day we run, we grow stronger than we were before, and close in on our goals. But, as any runner can relate to, injuries often leave us sidelined from the activity we love. Many runners start franticly trying to self-diagnose injuries on the internet, before ending up at the doctor with a diagnosis they wish they could have prevented. Throughout the weeks and months of long miles and hard intervals, injuries are bound to show up here and there, but instead of rehab, I want to take a moment to talk about prehab.
Prehab is essentially the process of preventing injuries before they start. You can think of it as callousing your body to the rigors of running. Often, when a physical therapist instructs a patient exercises to help strengthen a damaged tendon, ligament, or muscle head, the same exercises could be used before the injury occurred to further strengthen that same area. For example, resistance band walks are great for rehabbing hip injuries, but they are also a great exercise to perform a few times a week when healthy to strengthen your hips and help prevent injuries.
In addition to resistance bands, tennis or lacrosse balls and foam rollers are great tools to use to help increase strength and flexibility. Even an old set of marbles can be put to great use to help you avoid injury! Resistance bands can be tied around a bed post or the leg of a table and used to strengthen the feet and ankles. They can also be wrapped around the hips to isolate the glutes and hamstrings. Tennis and lacrosse balls are great at targeting pressure points and tight areas. Foam rollers are great tools to help loosen and release tight fascia, or web of muscle, in larger muscle heads, like quads, calves, and hamstrings. Marbles are great for rolling out your arches, or dumping on the ground and picking up barefoot one by one. The small muscles under your feet will thank you!
If you’re wondering how can you add these exercises to your routine, the answers are much easier than you might think. Foam rolling for as little as five minutes before a run will help bring oxygen rich blood to your muscles and increase flexibility as part of an active warmup. Using a resistance band to warm up the hips and glutes works great too, or you can implement band work post-run for a challenging strength workout once your body is already fatigued. Taking your stretch rope and holding a stretch for thirty seconds helps loosen up tight muscles post run, and tying it around a bed post and doing ankle circles while watching tv is a great way to get stronger and more flexible without having to clear out extra time in your schedule. If you truly want to help your body become stronger and more flexible, the tools are there for the taking and you can find simple solutions to make yourself and healthier and more complete runner!
By Alex H.
If you ask 100 coaches how to train an athlete for the marathon, you’ll likely find 100 different answers. Some will give you some arbitrary number of mileage that any athlete needs to run to complete the distance. Others will tell you specific speed sessions that are sure to get an athlete to run a specific time. But only the special ones are humble enough to admit that there are many different ways to go about marathon training.
The cliche goes “the secret is that there is no secret.” Individuals looking for a workout or a long run distance that will make a giant difference in their training are wasting mental energy that they could be using to focus on whatever plan it is that they are following. Among the mass of information and studies that are available to anyone looking to race the marathon, the key principles of training remain constant.
It is a known fact that stress plus rest equals growth. Applying this to training, we must load the body with a new stressor and break down our aerobic and muscular systems in order for them to adapt and grow stronger. If we do not stress our bodies past their previous limits or thresholds, then they will not break down and in turn will not rebuild to be stronger than before. But even if we do work very hard, if rest and recovery are not adequate, then an individual will wind up over-trained or even worse, injured! So what should the focus of marathon training be? What does all of this even mean? Let me break it down by sharing what a timetable of marathon training looks like.
The Global Period is the time when an athlete is over 3 months out from their goal marathon. During this time, the focus is on building an aerobic base to create a foundation for later training. Training should consist of easy mileage, but also short sprints and long hills. Essentially, this time period is for building up maximum speed and overall aerobic capacity.
One to three months out from the goal race is what should be referred to as the Special Period. During this time, the long run should increase in length and begin to increase in pace. The paces to focus on during workouts around this time are those slightly faster and slightly slower than goal marathon pace. I would recommend keeping workout paces within 5-10% of goal marathon pace. For example, if your goal marathon pace is 8 minutes per mile, then key paces during this time would be 7:12 per mile and 8:48 per mile (8 minutes=480 seconds, so 10% of 480 is 48 seconds, and therefore 712-848 would be within 10%). These paces are going to help build your aerobic power and aerobic endurance without taxing you too much.
Within one month of the marathon is the Specific Period. During this time, all key workouts should focus on feeling comfortable at marathon pace. Between 97% and 103% of goal pace are the rhythms to be focused on during that last month. Many athletes make the mistake of trying to run fast 400s two weeks before the race, or 200s at mile pace to feel “sharp and quick.” The problem here is that during marathon training, your body is trying to focus on being smooth and efficient at marathon pace, and running short and fast when you haven’t been training at those paces can really throw the body off and set us back a bit.
Like I said to start this post, different coaches and training plans will prescribe many different types of workouts and long run distances and weekly mileage plans. It all depends on what an athlete’s goals are and what they have previously done and can handle. What is commonly agreed upon is that the further out an athlete is from the race, the further away from marathon pace they can train. As the race nears, our best bet is to buckle down on that goal pace or goal effort and trust what we’ve done to get to this point!
By Alex H.
Fall is the best time to run. This is obviously just an opinion, but it is an opinion I will fight tooth and nail to defend. Early spring is a close second, but nothing can compare to the time of year when leaves start falling, the air is crisp but not cold, and heat and humidity slowly fade away like a weight lifted off your shoulders (or chest, really). It is no coincidence that fall also happens to be the biggest marathon season.
Once the summer heat breaks, runners of all ages and experiences trade in their speed intervals and summer track spikes for their soft and forgiving long run shoes to log the fall miles. Whether your goal is to finish your first marathon, qualify for Boston, make the Olympic trials, or anywhere in between, there are a slew of options to choose from to relieve the marathon itch.
Taking place in October, The Chicago Marathon is a flat and fast destination race that will have you lining up with some of the fastest professionals in the world. A bit closer to home, the New York City Marathon is world famous for its beautiful course around the bustling streets of NYC, and the prestigious Philadelphia Marathon in our own backyard is an increasingly popular and exciting event in late November just before Thanksgiving. I have never ran the Philadelphia Marathon, but I’ve run the half, and having a Thanksgiving meal to eat the week after Philadelphia Marathon weekend is something great to look forward to! The list of big fall marathons continues into December, when the US Championships take place in California at the California International Marathon. Temperatures average 42 degrees with little to no wind on this point to point course from Folsom to Sacramento. Some of you reading this might think that 42 is a bit chilly to run. I personally have run 3 marathons, and the most enjoyable by a long shot was the Houston Marathon where temperatures were in the upper 30s!
The magic of the marathon is something that I could never truly grasp until I ran one for myself. Just like leaves and snowflakes, no two marathons are alike. They offer big time amenities, small town feelings, and everything in between. My best advice would be to get on a training plan at the end of the summer and enjoy the fall season to train and race! Possibly the best part of training and racing for a fall marathon is that when you finish up, the holiday season is right around the corner, and it is time to relax and recover from hard months of training with family, friends, and food. Good luck during your fall marathon build-ups and races, everyone!
By Mike T.
So what does Aretha Franklin have to do with running? Back in the 80s, there were 4 of us in the Marine Corps that were running 5Ks at around 24 minutes or so. For a bunch of 20 somethings in the military, that was hardly studly, much less competitive. So on a whim, we decided to see how fast we could get, never realizing how much our friendships and lives would be influenced by that decision.
We were all members of 8th and I’s D&B Company at Marine Barracks, Washington D.C. When we told guys from other companies about our goal, we got laughed at and in the usual Marine Corps manner were given a big ration of you know what for our idea.
One of the first times we hit the road towards our goal, one of us started singing Aretha’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T and it grew from there. We had none and had to earn it. Farmer, Toeller, Dolan, Blache, and Tatman, otherwise known as Andy, Ricky, Billy, Herbie and Mikey or as The Farmer, Tell, B.D, Fire and Ghost got down to the business at hand. The only one with really running chops was Farmer who had already placed in the top 50 at the Marine Corps marathon. He tried to offer some coaching advice but we mostly ignored it, laughed at him and gave him a big ration of you know what.
So we ran. In sandstorms in Arizona, in a hurricane in the Carolinas, in flood conditions in the Bahamas, doing hillwork in parking garages in the flatlands of Texas, on the beaches in Virginia, the Mall in DC, at 6 in the morning after closing the bars at 2, away from the police when we were caught sunbathing outside the Capital building in speedos and saw our times drop from 24s to 19s to 17s to 16s to 15s and had a great time doing it.
Along the way, “Respect” was still sung but now we had moved on to the line “What you want, baby, I got it.” We were cocky, young, invincible, competitive: everything we loved and everything guys who weren’t in the Marine Corps hated. We found that without really trying we had earned the R-E-S-P-E-C-T from not only the other Marines at 8th & I but from a lot of other people as well.
As near as I know, we all still run. We all remember placing 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 at the Cherry Blossom 2 mile race in DC and running the Stroh’s Run for Liberty after drinking Stroh’s until 2 in the morning the day of the race. Most importantly, we all still R-E-S-P-E-C-T each other. So as Aretha would say “Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me.” Get out there and run.
By Eric W.
Running is one of the healthiest ways to stay in shape or lose a few pounds. It’s also great for cardiovascular health. While it’s always great to run on a designated jogging path, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid traffic and pedestrians on a run, especially if you run into work. Here are some top ways to stay visible on your next run:
1. Wear a Vest You’ll want to wear at least one article of highly visible clothing every time you run alongside traffic. In the daylight, this usually means something florescent, like bright green or yellow clothing.
If you’re running at night, opt for something reflective so you’ll stand out against a car’s headlights. Reflective shoes or tape on your legs is often a good idea because a car’s headlights won’t reach very high on your body from afar. If you’re not in the market for new shoes, simply wearing a reflective and florescent vest will knock out two birds with one stone.
2. Run Against Traffic It’s common advice to run against traffic. Most claim this will give motorists more time to slow down if they see you, but the real reason you want to run against traffic is it gives you some extra time to duck out of the way if a reckless motorist approaches. A couple of seconds is all you need to get off the road and out of the way if there’s no good shoulder or running trail for you to stay on.
3. Bring a Flashlight Flashlights are great for a few reasons. First, it’s very easy to see from a distance, so it will help everyone else on the road see you approaching. Secondly, uneven and cracked sidewalks are the top reason for injuries among pedestrians. If you can’t see the road you’re running on, you’re in far more danger than running next to a car. If you’d rather keep your hands free while running, you can always opt for the less fashionable (but very effective) headlamp.
4. Follow Traffic Laws If you’re running on the road you should abide by all traffic laws a motorist does, including coming to a complete stop at stop signs. Why is this important? It’ll give you an extra second to see if any cars are approaching, but it will also give motorists more time to see you at an intersection. You’re significantly smaller than cars and subsequent ally harder to see. A motorist rolling through a stop sign may not see any other vehicles, but could accidentally run directly into you instead.
5. Run in a Group! Two runners are always more visible than one. When running in a group you’ll (usually) be given a lot more space than you would alone, so you’re safer than running alone, particularly at night. Running in a group also gives you the added benefits of accountability partners for sticking with your exercise routine. You may even find that you run faster and longer in a group than you would alone!
This article was provided by www.personalinjury-law.com, an organization dedicated to providing the public with information about personal injury and safety information. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice, and it is intended for informational use only. Be sure to review your local ordinances to ensure you run safe and legally.
By Alex H.
Change. The word change even SOUNDS uncomfortable. As humans, we are creatures of habit. You probably don’t have to think too hard to come up with someone you know who orders the same thing every time you go out to eat with them, listens to the same few songs on repeat, or buys the same pair of running shoes year after year. It is not a bad thing by any means to find out what works for you and stick with it, but how can we truly adapt and grow without switching up our routines? How do we know that something out there is not better than what we are so comfortable with? As you can probably tell by now, I made a big change.
I’ve been coaching myself for the past 6 months and it has been driving me crazy. Sure, I help coach college runners, and have studied the science and art of coaching distance runners for longer than I can remember. Yes, I’ve taken pride in being the friend that people ask for advice on how to lower their 5k time, or what exercises to do to help strengthen a weak muscle that is leading to a nagging injury. I enjoy helping others reach their goals, and when someone instills their trust in me, it makes the process so much easier. But when I must put that same trust in myself, I question everything I think I know about this sport. Apparently, I am not alone. I have spoken to other coaches who have taken a crack at getting themselves to run fast, and they either end up going crazy picking workouts and mileage goals or get injured from pushing themselves too hard. In my situation, I was one step away from going crazy and quite possibly a single step away from injuring myself. I got much too used to riding that fine line between healthy and broken. I had to make a change, so I could focus on doing the work, and not creating the work.
The process of finding someone to write my workouts did not take long, and for that I am grateful. Matt Gosselin, Assistant Track and Cross-Country coach at Lasalle University, was an easy choice for me. At only 27 years old, he has already coached at three universities. In addition to his Lasalle position, Matt has coached at Binghamton University and the University of Pennsylvania. He has trained athletes from the 800 to the marathon, and those athletes have flourished to NCAA All-American performances, sub 4-minute miles, and sub 2:25 marathons. Matt also works as a coach at Pinnacle Performance, an elite training program for youth athletes, which partners with our very own Jenkintown Running Company.
The sport of distance running requires so much focus, and now I can spend all my mental energy on the workouts themselves, rather than creating them AND getting prepared mentally to attack them. I am fully aware that to reach my goals in this sport, I am going to have to keep making positive changes. That first change was taking three days off from running. If you know me well, you know this was a big step. I had only taken five days off from running in three years and became accustomed to 125 miles a week. Yes, it was difficult for me to realize I needed to rest a few days, but I now see sometimes we must take a step backwards to take a giant leap forward.
The type of running I will be doing is very new to me. We are building mileage slowly (which is far from what I am used to) but doing more purposeful training. Matt has created a six-month block which targets a fall marathon, and each day, week, and month is written so I can be my strongest when it is time to race. Although Matt is now the brains behind my training and will be doing the thinking and planning for me, that does not mean the workouts will sting less, or that going for a second run after a long day will take any less willpower. I still must do the work. I will be trying new things and taking new approaches to training, but I trust Matt, and any new changes the future will bring.
By Alex H.
I am having trouble properly choosing a direction for the recap of my 2018 Boston Marathon experience, but I will dive right into the day and help anyone reading this get a better experience of the carnage they saw on their TV broadcasts.
Heading into this race, I was the most confident I had ever been in my training and racing abilities as a marathoner. The mileage was higher, the long runs were longer and much faster, and the workouts were longer and more specific. That being said, with 30 mph headwinds and driving rain pellets, mixed with a 25 degree real feel, it was anyone’s day! I planned to take full advantage of the “anything can happen in these conditions” mentality I took with me to the line. As the gun went off, I established myself well and found a pack that was running a pace I have mastered over and over again in practice. Through the first few miles, my main objective was to stay keep pace with these complete strangers that I was sharing a life changing experience with. The pack mentality always helps a runner in such a long race, and on a day as windy as Monday, having people to break up the wind with was highly advantageous. Between miles 3 and 8, I moved from around 60th to 40th and eventually into the mid 30s. I was running with rhythm and poise, and trusting the weeks, months, and years of work that went into the preparation moments like these. I saw sponsored professionals that I recognized falling back closer and closer to my grasp. This is when I will share with you all that the feeling I got from confidently moving up towards elite territory was euphoric and I do not regret trusting the fitness I know I have worked so hard for. Through 10 miles, I truly thought it was going to be my day. And then things went south. By mile 11, a switch flipped, and I went from feeling smooth to feeling lethargic in a few steps. My hands were too numb to open my fueling packets (containing necessary calories for optimum marathon performance), and around mile 12 and 13 I started losing mental clarity and the awareness of my surroundings. I usually will take in at least 100 calories every 5 miles of a marathon, but could not take any nutrition after mile 10. The feelings of disorientation and confusion only heightened as I began to fade off of my pack. By mile 16, when the famous Newton Hills began, I was staring at my shoes instead of looking up to prevent dizziness and help keep balance. The latter parts of the race are all a jumbled blur, as my body used all extra energy that I would normally need to race hard, and held onto it to stop the hypothermic conditions I was experiencing from getting worse. At mile 25, a great friend of mine who lives in Boston was holding a sign for me and shouting my name, and that was just enough to get me to look up and drive to the finish. Shortly thereafter, I found myself wheelchaired into the medical tent where I spent the better part of an hour being fed beef broth with a straw and doused with heated blankets.
Directly after the race and until very recently, I considered the day a failure. I ran 12 minutes slower than my marathon PR, and was not able to place as high as I would have liked. It is the first race since college (three years) where I did not run faster than I have every ran before. But what I was able to accomplish is something that I cannot say I have done very often: I took a bold leap in my confidence as a competitor, and got everything out of my mind and body on the day. As an athlete, and really as a human being facing any tough task, our best is all we can ask. One of my good friends sent me my own quote I shared from the last blog post, “failure is only failure if we stop trying,” and that really made me smile. I can look myself in the mirror and say that I ran the best I could on April 16th, 2018 from Hopkinton to Boston, and nobody can take that away from me. In the future, where faster times and brighter days are ahead, I can look back on this day and thank the gritty experience for teaching me my limits and how to push past them. Onward.
By Calvin W.
Marathons are really long races. Long enough that it seems like a good strategy to have a good strategy for running them. And that’s what I’ve tried to do from my very first marathon…have a strategy…even if it hasn’t always been good.
My first marathon was in 2013, Garden Spot Village Marathon, Lancaster County, PA. Back then, fueled by conviction from a JRC Growlers running buddy—Big Dave—that basically anyone can run a sub-4:00 marathon unless they’re walking, I went out at the pace I felt sure I could sustain…and steadily got slower and slower aaaand slower. I finished in 4:24:22. He’s still my running buddy. And he still runs way faster than me.
It took me 2 more races to drop below the 4-hour mark for the first time in 2014. It took me another 2 years running 1-3 races a year to run sub-4:00 consistently.
An element of my success was mastering negative splits in training.
The inspiration began when I started hearing from other runners around me that the key to really good racing was negative splitting--running the second half of a race faster than the first half. The inspiration concretized when I started paying attention to elite athletes.
At the 2014 Winter Olympics, speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno was the rage. Listening to the commentators describing his races, I heard them talk about how athletes like him deliberately keep their pace low enough to conserve energy, but fast enough to remain competitive with the front of the field. And all you had to do was watch their relaxed effort at the beginning of every event compared to their all-out effort at the end to know they consistently negative split.
Since then I’ve gotten good at it. I warm up and run easy during the 1st quarter of every run. Then I start picking up the pace with each successive quarter until I finish. When I look at my personal stats for every race I’ve done since I started training with negative splits, I can see the same tendency—well, not exactly the same, but the first and last quarters are mighty consistent, and the halves are largely unwavering. I’m usually finishing my final quarter around 45 seconds faster than my first.
My marathon PR was at Steamtown 2016 in Scranton, PA. I began the race pacing the entire first half 9.0 and finished the last mile doing 8.0. (N.b. I calculate pace in decimal minutes rather than minutes-seconds. I’m weird that way.) In fact, I can consistently finish my final mile pacing a full minute faster than my first quarter.
Quiet Man Tom (Shawmont Running Club) recently said to me, I don’t understand why you don’t have faster marathon times when you can finish so fast. He’s not the only person to think something like that. Here’s what none other than Hal Higdon has to say: “Nobody runs 1 to 2 minutes per mile faster in the last few miles unless they have run the earlier miles way too slow. You need to learn how to pace yourself better” (Higdon). Now, who am I to contradict Hal Higdon?
Well I’d like to contradict Hal Higdon. Maybe no one does…unless they train that way.
Garden Spot Village Marathon is a hilly race and prides itself at being so. It also holds a special place in my heart because it was my first marathon. I didn’t quite know how hilly, but given that it was a local, spring race, I don’t think it would have mattered much. I was going to do it no matter what. Because of its sentimental value to me, it remains the only race that I’ve ever run more than twice--once a year for every year I’ve run competitively--5 times total.
GSV is so hilly I have to be extra careful of my starting pace. In 2013, my first year, here was my pacing by quarters: 8.5, 8.9, 10.2, 12.8; 10.1 avg, 4:24:22. In 2014, I managed to slow down my start: 9.3, 9.0, 9.5, 9.3; 9.2 avg, 4:01:38. (The ups and downs are a reflection of the hilliness of the course.) Here’s 2015 (when I truly negative split the halves): 9.7, 9.2, 8.9, 9.3; 9.3 avg, 4:03:13. And 2016: 8.8, 8.8, 9.8, 12.7; 10.0 avg, 4:20:51. And, finally, 2017: 9.1, 8.7, 8.9, 9.3; 9.0 avg, 3:55:08.
If you’re paying attention amid all the numbers, you’ve probably noticed that I wasn’t really accurate when I said I’m consistently racing with negative splits. I did say that GSV Marathon is hilly. But don’t miss the point: I’ve gotten pretty good at negative splitting everywhere else. Here’s my PR marathon (2016 Steamtown)--9.0, 9.0, 8.8, 8.3 (8.8 avg, 3:49:51)--and my penultimate PR (2017 Rehoboth Beach Marathon)--9.1, 8.8, 8.8, 8.5 (8.8 avg, 3:50:27). Those trends are reflected in my training and half marathons.
Here’s where I contradict Hal Higdon. With GSV as evidence, when I go out even 0.3 minutes faster--the difference between my 2016 and 2017 paces, about 20 seconds per mile--I don’t finish as well and I’m much farther from negative splitting.
So here’s my goal for 2018 on April 14: 9.2, 8.9, 8.6, 8.3 (8.8 avg, 3:49:50). I plan to marathon-PR and I actually plan to do it by more than 1 second even though that’s about 5 minutes faster than my 2017 time.
Here are some other justifications for the strategy and my goals: My last training cycles have gotten faster and faster so I can certainly improve any race time over last year. The justification for the starting pace: GSV Marathon is just bad for going out too fast. The justification for the progression: I need not to increase my pace too much to conserve energy for the hillier 2nd half when I’m going to be more fatigued. And the justification for the finishing pace: I can finish pacing as fast as 8.0 based on other marathons and can consistently finish the last mile a minute faster than I started.
So that’s the strategy. Let’s see how the execution goes.
Higdon, Hal. “Choosing a Marathon Pacing Strategy.” TrainingPeaks, 13 Oct. 2015, https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/choosing-a-marathon-pacing-strategy/.
By Mike T.
Frank Shorter had the full attention of the 6 people sitting closely, clinging on every word about his gold medal Olympic marathon win. The other 16,400 people running the half-marathon walked by oblivious to the fact that one of the greatest marathoners ever was sitting there dispensing advice and tactics that each of them could use.
Yet, a lot of those same people will watch televised poker tournaments, but not track or a road race. Recreational soccer, tennis, basketball and baseball players usually have an encyclopedic knowledge of elite players and also tend to watch those sports even if it involves seeking them out at odd hours and with the broadcast in a foreign language. They can debate the finer points of technique, gear, the greatest players, and list specific records and important dates related to their sport.
However, ask your typical runner who won Broad Street in 2017, the current mile world record holders and their times, or the most popular shoe worn by the top marathoners at the IAFF World Championships and you’d be met with a blank stare or the question what is IAFF? In case you’re wondering the answers are Dominic Korir and Askale Merachi for Broad Street, Hicham El Guerrouj (3:43.13) and Svetlana Masterkova (4:12.56) for the mile, and the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%. I’ll let you look up IAFF.
So why should you learn about track and field or road racing? Why should you read about elite runners or watch a race? There are two major reasons. First, if you want to convince someone that your running isn’t serious and isn’t a sport, the easiest way to do that is to be unable to discuss anything about running. Because guess what? Soccer, tennis, basketball and baseball all include running as part of their sport. Not the major part either but a less important part that is a means to the end of scoring a point or goal. As a result, participants in those often believe that since running is part of their sport, it obviously isn’t a sport on its own. And since you can only run and don’t play soccer, tennis, basketball or baseball, you also are less of an athlete, if one at all. If you were a real athlete you would be playing their sport, where they not only run but do other things as well. Without some basic knowledge, you’re fending for yourself with no answers when you try to explain but the best runners, like Frank Shorter, have been there and have the answers to the questions your friends are asking.
Second, have you ever been injured, wanted to run faster, lose weight, gain weight, get stronger, or have better form? All of these questions can be answered by looking at the elite runners from running’s past and present. Just watching a single race can show you simple things like what to wear and how to drink when running or more complex racing aspects from drafting and running the tangents to pacing tactics. Want to learn more? At your next race expo, attend a clinic and ask a few questions. Not only will you learn something but the next time someone says running isn’t a sport, you can make Frank proud.
Disclaimer: The author has watched soccer matches in Portuguese, played in basketball leagues, enjoys playing cards, has a world-class golf slice and cheers for the Oakland Athletics.
By Alex H.
I grew in college. A lot. I entered just over 5 feet tall and graduated just over 6 feet tall, but I also grew as an athlete and an individual. High school is where I fell in love with running. I got just enough out of the sport that I was addicted to the feeling of improvement. For my 4 years in college, positive outcomes were few and far between. I'm talking maybe 50 races and about 5 I'm proud of. Freshman year I immediately grew 3 inches and my hips were so misaligned I couldn't run for months. Sophomore year I changed my diet with hopes of performing at a higher level and became iron deficient. Then I got healthy and pulled my right calf. Then I got healthy again and my shin kept me out. Junior year I was in the best shape of my life and missed 10 days from a water induced coma. There's a trend here. Get fit. Get hurt. Get healthy. Get sick. The list does not stop there, but you get the idea. From diet changes, to what I thought was smart hydration, to running more and running harder, every intention was positive. But the outcomes did not match. The message here is trial and error, and the willingness to keep trying and failing. It is a never ending cycle, but it is how we grow. What I took out of my college career is more than any breakout performance could have told me. I learned that I'm in the sport for the right reasons. I learned that passion will always drive me forward, and failure is only failure if we stop trying. I took something out of each and every injury and poor performance. Most importantly, I realized my mentality was never going to be my downfall. Since college, I have steadily improved, and am finally (after 9 years) beginning to see signs of the athlete I have long wanted to be. I attribute much of this to the hunger that brewed over years of unfinished business on the track, that is now starting to come to fruition on the roads. As I see myself improving, my hunger grows stronger. As far as my focus, the marathon,"Run under 235" changed to "dip under 230" and has now grown to "get under 223" and hopefully culminates to "break 219" (Olympic trials B standard for men in the United States) by the Olympic trials. But if things came easier, and I had not been knocked down so many times previously, who knows if I would still be here sharing a journey with you?
By Chelsea D.
As a New Jersey native and former member of the University of Pennsylvania cross country and track teams, I have run in my fair share of cities and parks up and down the East Coast. My collegiate running career allowed me to compete with my teammates in England and eventually run in other parts of Europe as well.
As I have been competing since middle school, the majority of my family trips and summer vacations included taking time to get in my runs every morning. While most of these trips meant running on a treadmill, I now make my runs a way of exploring the places I visit—most recently when I visited Bali, Indonesia. I have been fortunate enough to travel to and run in so many amazing places across the world, but some of my favorite runs have been more local. When I think back on the long runs and tempos from my college days, Wissahickon was my park of choice.
You would think that spending 3-5 days a week at the same park for 4 years would make you sick of it, right? That couldn’t be any further from the truth in my eyes! Although there are the familiar landmarks and mile markers along the main trail, I always spot something new every trip to Wissahickon. Whether you’re doing a tempo or easy run on the main drag, running there via the Schuylkill river path, exploring the many side trails off the main path or doing hill repeats on the paved road offshoots, there is something for every part of your training.
If you have never been to Wissahickon, what are you waiting for? You won’t know what you’re missing until you check it out!
By Alfredo S.Breaking four minutes in the mile is a feat that less than 2000 people in the world, 500 or so American citizens, and 3 Puerto Ricans have accomplished, me being in company of all. Ever since Roger Bannister ran the first sub 4 minute mile in 1954, which critics deemed impossible at the time, the mile has been one of the most popular track and field events in the world. Since I started training for the Mile, in late 2016, my goal was to be a part of that history. This year on January 13th I got a chance to add my name in the track and field history books by being able to get under that Barrier. This was a huge honor for me, seeing my hard training pay off and realizing one of my most important goals.
Training to break four was one of the toughest things I have ever done. There were days where I did not want to get out of bed and other days where I was ready for the challenge. However, I knew that if I wanted to accomplish my goal that I had to put in the work, especially when I didn’t feel like it. I had to do every little thing to motivate myself when I didn’t want to train on any particular day. I knew if I slacked off that could potentially snowball into more and more complacentness. I had to do the little things, like wake up 10 minutes early to stretch, do core, lift, etc., in order to reach my goal. These little things are what made training for that goal hard, because in a busy society the last thing you want to do is lose time on something so meager. Still, these are the things that kept me healthy and able to train.
After a solid fall of training and staying healthy I got my first chance to get after a fast Mile on the 13th of January. My teammate, Sadiki White, agreed to rabbit me through 1000 meters in about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. At about 900 meters I got antsy and passed him. I was left with just over 700 meters to run by myself, but I felt good. Lap after lap I was on pace to run under 4 minutes and the crowd was getting into it. With 200 meters to go I saw that I needed to run a 29 second last lap and from the help of the crowd, my teammates and family I was able to run 3:59.07. This meant the world to me, not only because I was able to get under the elusive barrier but because it showed that through hard work and perseverance anything is possible. It was fun to share that moment with my family, friends and teammates who all believed in me and helped me get there. The story is not done being written, as I am trying to lower my mile PR and qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The dream goes on…
By Calvin W.
When I hit my mid-life crisis, I knew it was time to do something different. Like those who might also be prone to them, I’d been living my life in a conventional, painfully routine way and I had to shake things up. I was at a resort on Hainan Island at the very bottom of China and it was the 4th of July, 2012. I walked out onto the beach…never looked back and…
Wild and crazy, huh? Actually, I’d done a little running a couple of years before for a few months, was with my tennis-playing young Turk nephew on a family trip, and only did 2½ miles, but it really was pretty radical for a guy who’d done little more than play a little Ultimate in college.
Upon my return home a few days later, I found a route in the neighborhood up the street from my house and started running a one-and-a-half mile loop a few days a week—close enough to home to bail out if an injury struck or if I just ran out of steam. When that didn’t happen and I started increasing the mileage using a few daisy-chained 3 mile loops I mapped (mapmyrun.com), I really cut loose and started fantasizing about…
Nine months later (I know! Nine months, start to marathon!), I finished the 2013 Garden Spot Village Marathon in Kinzer, PA, in 4:24:22. A personal record as the old running cliché goes. Not terribly long after I started I discovered the Wednesday 6:30 p.m. running club at Jenkintown Running Company. There I really cut loose and started…
Craft beers, to be specific, IPAs to be precise. Yep, it turns out the group was a drinking club with a running problem. With pizza when the numbers are right. Ooh, hold me back. What was great about the JRC RC was the motivation of meeting people who also wanted to move. And it turned out to be a really likeable group of peeps. The pizza and beer helped.
The group’s been around for years, but we really upped the ante by organizing with the help of Drew, a store associate. One order of business was to adopt a real name. You heard it here first, folks, we’re now the JRC Growlers. We’ve historically started at 6:30 p.m. and we pace from 10 minutes and easier up to a blistering 7 minutes per mile for the overachievers. We typically run 6.5 mile distances. Join us and help shape the future of the Growlers!
For my longer Saturday runs, I graduated from running solo to enjoying the companionship of the Shawmont Running Club (check out Facebook) most Saturdays. (Saturday distance runs are also in the cards for the Growlers, so stay tuned.)
If a mid-life crisis really is the abrupt realization of a life lived routinely and the urge for radical change, then running provided the change I needed. It provided challenge, new relationships, and new experiences, both moving my legs and working my bottle muscles. Since I started, I’ve run 10 more marathons—5 of them Garden Spot Village—dropped that first personal record to 3:49:51 (Steamtown Marathon, 2016), made a host of new, fascinating friends, picked up that taste for IPAs, and started drinking coffee (not because of the beer). I’ve also developed the discipline of negative splitting—i.e., finishing faster than I started—and managed to shake off more than one injury (happily nothing major) as my body has gotten stronger.
My wife of 31 years also figures into my mid-life crisis…
Following in my footsteps, she started running again for the first time since high school as the goalie for the field hockey team.
Calvin Wang has been an assistant professor and the sciences librarian at Arcadia University since 2005.
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