Nov 23, 2014

The Monkey Off My Back

Today was my 7th attempt at breaking 2:50 at the marathon distance and I am happy to report that I finally got “the monkey off my back” by finishing today’s Philadelphia Marathon in 2:49:19. I chose Philadelphia because it is supposed to be one of the flattest courses in the US, and usually has good weather. It ended up being hillier than I thought it would be, but it’s certainly one of the flattest marathons I’ve run. Also, despite a pesky head wind the last 6 miles the weather was very close to perfect – 5 degrees at the start, 9 degrees at the finish, and virtually no wind for the first 20 miles.

My plan was to go out at 6:25/mile and try to maintain that pace for the entire race. Unfortunately, likely due to all the high rise buildings in downtown Philly, the GPS readings on my Garmin 910 were off from the start. I ended up averaging 6:27/mile, even though my Garmin indicated my average was 6:24/mile. That may not sound like much of a difference, but 3 seconds per mile at the marathon distance is well over a minute (enough to ruin someone’s day if they are close to their goal time). These Garmin problems would normally stress me out, but for some reason they didn’t this time. Thankfully I had written each of my target mile splits on my arm so that I could check to see where I was in relation to my goal at each mile marker.


The day didn’t start the way I had hoped. I spent most of the final 30 minutes before the start of the race in the porta potty lineup. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to warm-up. I would have been more concerned if this was prior to a 5k or 10k, but I tried not to let it get my down. I also didn’t get to the front of my corral, which meant I had to be really aggressive in the first few miles to find my goal pace. I went through the half in 1:24:41, which I was very happy with considering the slow start I had. Once the first half was behind me, and there were fewer runners on the course (the runners in the half were finishing), I could really relax and settle into my pace. Miles 13-20 felt like they went by in a flash and my body showed surprisingly no more fatigue at mile 20 then at mile 13 –likely due to the abundance of miles I did in training at/below marathon pace. That all changed when we made the turnaround at the 20 mile mark. As mentioned, wind had picked up by mile 20, and the few hills this course has are unfortunately, in the final 5-6 miles. So, I took a deep breadth, confirmed at the 21-mile mark that I was still on target to break 2:50, dug deep, and went for it. Matt (my coach), cautioned me about dropping the pace too early if I felt really good. Consequently, I focused on maintaining my pace and kept telling myself that I would try to pick up the pace at the 24-mile mark and perhaps try for sub 2:49. I attempting exactly this, but my legs had other plans. Within a few seconds I came to the conclusion that I would do good to maintain my pace over the final two miles. These 13 minutes ended up being one of the toughest stretches of running I’ve ever experienced. My heart rate rose above 170 for the first time all day (to 180 in fact) and my quads started to sieve up. However, I was able to tough it out and get the job done. I’ve learned a lot from today’s race, but what sticks out in my mind in the hours after my race is that if I want something bad enough, I will get there (it just might take 5 years J).

Nov 9, 2014

The Hay is in the Barn

It’s just about taper time for the Philly Marathon (2 weeks), and as my good friend Daniel McNeil likes to say, ‘the Hay is in the Barn.” When a runner uses this expression it is referring to that point in training when you have basically run out of time to improve your speed and endurance.  At this point, it is time to switch over from training to tapering. I’ll be able to know a lot more clearly in a few hours whether the hay is truly “in the barn” or not. As I often do 2 weeks prior to any marathon, I got up at the same time I will on race day (3 hours before my run) and am treating today like a test run for race day. I’m doing everything the same as I will on race day, other than the fact that I’m not in Philadelphia and I’m not running the full 26.2 miles.  Today’s run is 2 hours and 15 minutes, with 2 times 45 minutes at my goal marathon pace; which will work out to about 14 miles at marathon pace, and a total of about 20 miles. I have never done any more than 12 miles at marathon pace in a training run, which is why today will be such a good test.

I’ve been running marathons for close to 10 years and have learned that there are varying philosophies regarding tapering. I have tapered effectively, and not so effectively. The difficult thing is, what works for you, may not work for your training partner. For example, if you are training for a marathon at age 25 with your training partner who is 55, chances are your training partner will require a longer taper. That said, the marathon taper is a delicate balance of maintaining fitness while promoting recovery. In the past, I have experimented with taper periods ranging from 2-3 weeks. With any effective taper, there should be a gradual reduction in volume and intensity. A friend of mine, Lauchie McKinnon, who has been running marathons for over 30 years (including a personal best of 2:39) has taught me the majority of what I know about running. He has always preached, “once you hit your taper, you cannot improve your chances of success, you can only hinder them.” There is lots you can do (more sleep, proper eating, less time on your feet, etc.), but there is nothing else that can be done to improve fitness.  The trick is to know when to hit the gas pedal and switch from training to tapering. Before meeting Lauchie, I made the mistake a few times of drastically decreasing my volume and intensity three weeks out and didn’t pay as much attention to my diet. In my mind, I wasn’t training as much or as hard so I didn’t need to eat as well. Consequently, I felt sluggish on race day and had gained 5-7 pounds. Gaining a little bit of weight (2-3 pounds) is normal, but 5-7 pounds is unnecessary, and will not help during the final 5-6 miles when are you really trying to dig deep and finish strong.

I am trying something a bit different this time around with respect to my taper. As mentioned in previous posts, I have shown minimal improvement at the marathon distance over the past few years. Consequently, I felt it was time for a change. I am following a training program developed by Matt Ison at Carmichael Training Systems. Based on the way I have progressed leading up this marathon, he feels that a 10-day taper is what will work best for me. Most of the research I have come across states that the body needs at least two weeks to gain fitness from any workout. In my case, Matt feels that a taper of 2-3 weeks will cause me to loose some of my speed. If I had been training specifically for this marathon for 4-5 months, the program would likely be a bit different. Because I’ve only been training specifically for Philly since late August, he feels as if my body is rapidly gaining fitness from each tempo run and long run, and will continue to do so up until I’m 10 days out from the marathon. Time will tell if this was the best option from me. As mentioned, I’ll know more after today’s long run, and even more once I am in the final miles of the marathon.

This is a graph I came across which is a great illustration of the taper process.