Posts Tagged ‘marathon training’

I remember way back in high school when I would get up in the mornings before a big test – I’d be a little nervous, wondering if I had studied what I had needed to, wondering if I’d remember anything…

…that’s how I felt two Sundays ago when I woke up before the Quincy Half Marathon.  Several weeks ago I made the transition from the Pfitz Marathon Training Program to the FIRST Marathon Training Program.  I’ve been fairly determined to make sure that I followed the new program as closely as I could.  The very concept of running less to run faster struck me as counter-intuitive, but I needed to do something to get me out of what had turned into an 8 month funk.

3 days a week – that is all I was allowed to run; complimented by 2 days of cross-training – it seemed insufficient, but I was determined to give the program a chance.  Really, what choice did I have?  What I had been doing before was no longer working.

On Super Bowl Sunday I ran the Super Sunday 5-Miler in Boston and finished with a 34:56.  My goal had been to comfortably cruise to a sub-35 minute finish, but in fact, I struggled to make it, pretty much leaving everything I had on the course.  That 34:56 translated into a 3:25:30 marathon according to McMillan’s Running Calculator.  A couple of weeks later I started the FIRST program.  Quincy was going to be my first real test of how much progress I was truly making.


Upon arriving, I looked for my buddy JB.  You may recall JB as one of the foursome I ran with at Vermont or the buddy who ran the Super Sunday 5 with me.  Our plan was to run about 7:15 miles throughout, with the hopes of scoring about a 1:35:00 for the race.  It would be a 2 minute PR for him, and would be an incremental improvement on my cardio-health from Super Sunday.  Although a 1:35 half-marathon only translates to a 3:20 marathon (5 minutes long of my goal), I figured that it would be a step in the right direction, especially for only 3 weeks on the program.

JB & I pre-race.

We made our way to the starting area and stood silently for the National Anthem – and then it was time to go, literally!  Not more than a second after the anthem was done, the starting horn blared.

We were off.

Fortunately for JB and I, we hadn’t moved too far to the front.  We were forced to start a little slowly.  After a quarter mile of jockeying for position, we turned up the pace and hit the first mile marker right on target at 7:15.


Without really realizing it, we slowly began to pick up the pace.  It was still a bit crowded, but the two of us maneuvered our way through.  Mile 2 arrived in a quick 7:07…maybe I was a little too enthusiastic?

We slowed it down just a touch for the next three miles, averaging about a 7:10 pace.  Somewhere around mile 5 we saw the leader coming the other way…he must have had a good 30 seconds on the guy behind him.  At this point, JB and I hit our first hill.  My philosophy on hills has been to attack them, lean into them and don’t let them slow you down too much.  For this first hill, that plan worked perfectly. I leaned in, JB followed and we passed over a dozen runners before cresting and allowing gravity to feed our recovery.

Once we flattened out, we hit the 6-mile marker (7:06) and we were able to see the rest of the field heading for the hill.  At this point, my legs started to feel a little heavy.  JB asked me how I was doing.  I feel like I’m fading, I said, but only 6 miles in, I knew that it had to be more mental than physical.  We continued to press the pace a little.  I knew we had some time in the bank to hit 1:35, but I also kept reminding myself that this race was a test of how I was progressing.  If I let up too early or left too much out on the course, there would really be no way for me to know just where I was with respect to where I want to be for Sugarloaf.  I needed to know if the FIRST program was increasing my cardio-fitness or if I was stagnating.

We covered the next three mile at 7:06 pace.  With just over 4 miles left to go, I started doing math in my head.  I realized that I could slow down significantly and still hit my goal – but what would that tell me?  I knew I had to keep pressing.

Unfortunately, that pressing came just as we hit a final group of hills – despite continuing to pass runners on a regular basis, we slowed into the 7:20’s.

starting to fade a little at mile 11

With 2.1 miles to go, JB started to pull away.  He looked back at me as if to say, come on dude! but the hills had taken their toll on me.  I shouted at him to just go.  He was well within range of not just beating his PR, but shattering it.  I pressed as hard as I could – I was determined to come in under 1:35 no matter what.  Mile 12 went by in a surprising 7:15.

1.1 miles to go.  It was leave it all on the course time.  I knew I was less than 7:30 away from the finish.  I also knew that I could suffer for that long too.  My legs felt heavy and my breathing was labored, but with each tick of the clock, I knew I was that much closer to being done.

As I made my way back into downtown Quincy, I could see JB in the distance.  With about 800 meters to go, he was looking great and I had run out of real estate to catch him.  I focused on finishing strong.  Coming out of the final turn, I realized it was literally downhill to the finish and let it all hang out.  Gravity pulled me along at a pace I hadn’t run all race.

With less than 100 yards to go, Racemenu Chief Alain stepped out of the crowd with words of encouragement and a high five.  I could see JB waiting at the finish.

Sprinting to the finish

I barreled through the finish, and without slowing down grabbed a bottle water being held out…I couldn’t brake…staring at a table that was closing in fast, I panicked slightly.  Fortunately a random runner stepped in to grab me and slow me down.  It was enough for me to get my footing and stop.

I looked at the clock.



I wasn’t convinced that I had run that fast.  I hugged JB, asking him his time.

1:31:59 – a nearly 7 minute PR for him.  When the official times went up, mine was a 1:32:31.  I had missed a PR by a mere 8 seconds.  In most situations, I would have been mildly disappointed in missing a PR, but considering that just 4 weeks beforehand I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility of PR-ing, and that I had come into the day with an expectation of finishing in the 1:35 range, I was thrilled.

The FIRST program was working.  My legs and lungs were getting stronger.

The very next day, I officially signed up for Sugarloaf.  To be honest, I had been putting off registering because I was full of doubt as to whether I could even potentially run a sub-3:15 in May.  Quincy convinced me that I was on the right track.  My 1:32:31 translates into a 3:15:07 marathon.  Just a touch on the wrong side of the clock, but a vast improvement from where I was on SuperBowl Sunday.

This Sunday I will face my next test of fitness when I was a local 5K.  The goal is to hit 19:54 – which translates into a 3:14 marathon.  If I hit 20:00, that still translates into a 3:15.


I still may ultimately fail at Sugarloaf come May, but I finally truly believe that I have a 3:15 or better in these legs – and that is a wonderful feeling.

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On Saturday afternoon, after getting the refrigerator working again and half fixing a half-broken washing machine, I finally got out for a run. The temperatures were in the low 40’s but the 20 to 40 mph winds were making it feel much, much colder. Over the course of 8 miles I felt like I was running into the wind almost the whole time, which was quite a feat considering I was running an out & back route.

My plan was that I really didn’t have one. A few weeks ago I decided that I was simply going to run miles when I could before beginning a 12-week program for Sugarloaf.  This past Monday was the beginning of that program.

As I started my run, I thought of Sugarloaf and what it would take to re-qualify for Boston.

A sub-3:15 marathon – sub-7:25 per mile pace…for 26.2 miles. I haven’t run that pace consistently in so long…how the hell am I going to do this…

As I ran past 1 mile, I looked down at my watch – hmmm…7:34 – that’s not so bad – I kept moving at a pace that felt comfortable, focusing on my form, not really paying attention to pace.  I looked at my watch as I passed mile 2 – 7:30.

I decided to have some fun and push the pace a little, just to see what I had in my legs.

Miles 3 and 4 went by in a snappy 7:18 and 7:29.  Somewhere before reaching the turn around I started to tire.  As good as it felt to be running sub-7:30’s, I didn’t feel particularly strong.  I thought about the fact that at Sugarloaf, I would have to run faster than this for over 6 times the distance.

I began to reevaluate the very idea of attempting a BQ and a 5-minute PR in May.  Was I crazy?  Was I fooling myself?  At this point I just wanted to jog it back home at a slow pace and mope.

For no apparent reason I decided to push the pace for 2 more miles.  I wasn’t sure what I had in me, but I figured let’s just run this one out.

I looked at my watch at mile 5 – 7:16.  My fastest mile of the day.  Mile 6 came even faster at 7:06.  At this point however, I felt spent.  I was happy I was able to close strong, but a bit disheartened that I felt so tired.

2 miles from home, it was time to jog it in.  I covered the next 1/2 mile at 8:30 pace – a comfortable pace for me.  I started to relax and felt my breath coming back to me.

My mind drifted.  I let my body just roll along.  My watch beeped at the next 1/2 mile interval – 3:37.

3:37?  That’s 7:14 pace!

I went with it – trying not to exert too much, just letting gravity and momentum do their job – next 1/2 mile? 3:32 (7:04 pace).

As I made the final turns for home I felt a burst of energy run through me and decided I needed to finish this run strong (despite the fact that the last 1/2 mile is uphill).

I covered the last 1/2 mile at 6:58 pace and felt great – spent, but great.

Suddenly Sugarloaf didn’t feel so daunting anymore.  Suddenly I remembered that I just might have it in me to hit my BQ, despite the fact that I will need a nearly 5-minute PR.  Suddenly, the spark was back.

Now all I needed was a plan…

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If you don’t follow politics at all, you may not know who Tim Pawlenty is.  He is a former governor of the state of Minnesota who decided to run for President.  He was part of the large field of Republican candidates who were vying for their party’s nomination.  Last summer, after finishing a distant 3rd in the meaningless Iowa Straw Poll, Pawlenty unexpectedly dropped out.  Who did come in behind?  Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.  He finished ahead of everybody else, yet, because he didn’t finish as strongly as he would have liked in a straw poll, he quit.


New Word Definition:

Pawlenty – verb, pawlentied

1.  to prematurely  stop, cease, or discontinue: She pawlentied what she was doing at the first sign of trouble.
2. to give up or resign; let go; relinquish: He pawlentied his claim to the throne. She pawlentied her job.

Earlier this week I started marathon training for the upcoming Sugarloaf Marathon.  18 weeks from this past Sunday I hope to cross the finish line in Kingfield, ME in under 3:15:00.  I need to run a sub-3:15 in order to qualify for Boston once again.  That’s over 4 minutes faster than I have ever run a marathon.   For my very first run, my program (the Pfitz 18/55 plan) called for a Lactate Threshold Run – 8 miles, with 4 of those miles coming in at or around half-marathon pace.

Half-Marathon pace for me should (read: used to) be around 7:05 per mile.  Try as I might, on that first run I couldn’t maintain a pace faster than 7:30 per mile for the required 4 miles.  Mentally is was a blow.  7:30 per mile is 4 seconds slower per mile than the pace I would need to run 26.2 miles in order to achieve my goal.

And I could barely maintain that pace for 4 miles?

My first thought was I need to re-evaluate; maybe I’ve passed my peak in running; maybe it’s time simply to log the miles, run the races, but ignore the times; maybe I should quit my quest to return to Boston.

But then I thought of Tim Pawlenty.  He has GOT to be kicking himself right now.  After the carousel of conservative Republicans who have taken turns being the “Anybody But Romney” candidate, Pawlenty has to be wondering “what if?”.

Pulling out prematurely is never a good thing…


And so, despite the disappointing finish in that first training run, I am pressing on, because, dammit, I am no Tim Pawlenty!

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October 2009 – Manchester, NH. I am running my first marathon. I have aspirations of qualifying for Boston in my first marathon. How cool would that be? Of course, I’ve only been running for a little over 11 months now. My training has been haphazard, AND I’ve had to lay off the miles in the 6 weeks before the marathon due to a possible stress fracture/probably tendinitis in my right foot. But come on! I’m excited! I’m pumped! I’ve found the 3:30 pacer and I am going to follow him for 15 – 20 miles and then drop the hammer and bring home a sub-3:20:59 and a BQ. Did I mention this is my first marathon?

I flew through the first mile in under 6:30; flew through the first half in just under 1:35 (on pace for 3:10 – Woohoo!); and then I crashed and burned, hitting a wall at 16 and halting to a dead stop at mile 20 with frozen quads. I hobbled the final 10K to still finish in 3:54, but it was not the way anyone would want their first marathon to go.


I’ve learned a thing or two in the almost two years since – I even managed to finally qualify for Boston a year later at Smuttynose (my 4th marathon) with a 3:19.

One of the biggest lessons that has stuck with me however, is that if one is running their first marathon and one is not a World Class Athlete like Ryan Hall or Kara Goucher, then one’s goal in a first marathon should be to Just Finish. Sure, it’s good to have time goals. Sure, if you were an All-American in the 10,000 meters in college, maybe a BQ the first time out is not out of the question.

But if you are like me, just a regular guy who happened to fall in love with running because it made you feel good, then embrace that feeling in your first marathon and go out and have fun.

Just finish.

Enjoy the spectacle of the marathon and just finish.


Yesterday morning I signed up for the Vermont 50. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but honestly, it’s become something that I just want to be able to say I did – I want to be able to say that not only am I a marathoner, but I am an ultra-marathoner as well.

Can I do it? Can I cover 50 miles before they shut down the course?

That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

I don’t have aspirations for anything longer (Western States 100? No Frakking Thank You!). Seriously, anything that takes over 12 hours to cover is just insane in my book.

Have I trained for this? Nope.

Have I run trails before? Once – last weekend, and that was only a few miles.

Am I going to get to train for the terrain like I always preach? Hardly. With the end of the summer rapidly approaching, the start of school and some family obligations thrown in for good measure, I will not have an opportunity to head up to the mountains for some training.

What the Hell am I thinking?

At this point, I am thinking this:

Just Finish.

Run, jog, walk, waddle, crawl – whatever it takes.

And here’s the thing – I will not be going out fast. In fact, I guarantee that the first several miles will be uncomfortably slow.

But that’s okay, because the idea for me is to Just Finish and not worry about the racing part of it.

If I finish and I feel “too” good? Who knows, maybe next year I’ll come back and try to “race” it, but in the meantime, I will not make the same mistake in my first ultra-marathon that I made in my first marathon.

When I signed up for the Vermont 50, two words crossed my mind: “Uh Oh!”

I have four new words that I will be focusing on over the next 30 days:

Just Finish. Have Fun.

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Yesterday morning I went out for what the training schedule called a “dress rehearsal” run – 7 miles with 2 miles at Marathon Pace.  As crappy and as sporadic as this training cycle has been, I’m not sure why I’ve continued to stick to some of the training program, but there it us.

The temperature was already into the upper 70’s and the humidity was pushing 80% – not a good combination, but I figured it was “only” 7 miles – just get it done, I told myself.

The whole time I felt like I was running through molasses. Even when I ran my 2 marathon paced miles (15 seconds per mile too fast at 7:10 per mile), I felt sluggish.  What’s scaring me just a little is the fact that 24 hours later, the sluggish feeling hasn’t left me.  My legs aren’t sore, and they aren’t tight, but I just feel like I’m dragging, like no matter what I’m doing, I’m walking, pushing my way through molasses.  My legs just feel heavy.  What’s up with that?

Is this a new version of the phantom pains I’ve felt before every marathon?  That’s what I’m hoping anyway, because come Friday, I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to carry these two lead weights around a lake 8 times for 26.2 miles.

Any of you experience something similar?

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This past weekend the family and I drove to Western Massachusetts; the week before we drove to Maine for a weekend of hanging with the Bushes in Kennebunkport (okay, so maybe we didn’t actually hang with the Bushes); two weeks before that Jess & I drove to White Plains, NY and back in one day – now quick, if a vehicle is traveling at 65 miles per hour and is 20 miles from their exit, how long will it take for them to arrive at said exit?  OR  if they are traveling at 71 miles per hour and are 31 miles from their destination, approximately how long until they arrive?

What do traveling on the highway and a flashback to primary school math word problems have to do with running?


I have written extensively about the benefits of running – weight loss, lower blood pressure, healthier heart, increased energy, an awesome community, runner’s high, just to name a few.  Well, it’s time to add one more entry.  Quite honestly, I only realized this a couple of weeks ago, but I know I have been experiencing it for quite some time now.  Over the last couple of years I discovered that long road trips had become easier. It wasn’t because the kids were getting older.  It wasn’t because Jess would stay awake to keep me company (she doesn’t – she’s like a baby – you start driving and within short order she is sound asleep).  It wasn’t because I finally found a good travel coffee mug (though I do find it indispensible!).

No, it wasn’t for any of the reasons above.  You wanna know why long road trips, specifically the driving, became easier?

Because I run.

That’s right, running and marathon training have helped my endurance in that family duty that can make any man question his sanity – the family road trip.

How you may ask?

Well, you may recall that in almost every marathon I have run there has come a point when I started doing math in my head.  It’s not random math mind you, but math with a purpose.  During the last third of just about any race I will constantly be calculating and re-calculating how fast I need to go to achieve the overall time I am trying to hit – the end of my Boston Qualifying run at Smuttynose was spent rolling the numbers over and over again, making sure I crossed that finish line in 3:20 or better.  Boston 2011 was spent watching my attempt at 3:10 and then 3:15 slip away like sand through an hour glass.  Maybe I do it to distract me from the pain at the time, maybe I do it simply to stay engaged, but whatever the reason, my endurance is tied to doing mathematical mental gymnastics throughout a race.

So how does this tie into driving? Quite nicely actually.

By simply adding a factor of 10, I get almost a straight correlation between my running and my driving.  If I am on a twisting back road where I know I will average about 30 – 40 miles per hour, I know that I will cover 10 miles in 15 – 20 minutes (a brisk walk).  Likewise, if I’m on the highway, I know that 60 miles per hours yields a 10 minute/10 mile pace (a slow jog); 65 mph? 9:13; 70 mph? 8:34 (both fall into the long, slow distance category); 75 mph? 8:00; and if I’m lucky enough to be in a flow of traffic that is moving at 80 mph? That 10 mile pace drops all the way to 7:30 (marathon pace, baby!).  All of the studying of the pace charts I did before every marathon has paid off in making the long drives of the family road just a little easier to deal with.

Anything shorter than 260 miles now seems easy.  And once I get within 60 miles of our destination? Forget about it! It’s like running a 10K – done before you know it!

So the next time you go on a lengthy road trip, bring your water bottle, stash a couple of GU’s in your pocket and make sure you’re wearing the proper attire – oh, and don’t forget to stretch!

Oh, and the answers to the above word problems were 18:27 and 26:06.

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My brother-in-law, RB, emailed me a few days ago.  He had decided that this was the year he was going to scratch “Run a Marathon” off of the bucket list.  He came to me looking for a little advice on the how and what to do over the next several months.

I essentially wrote back with the following list plus a link to Hal Higdon’s Novice Marathon Training Plan:

  • Your goal in this marathon will be to “just finish”.  Currently your base of 18 – 20 miles per week means that you need to concentrate on the distance of the marathon as opposed to speed.
  • Your most important workout every week will be your long run.  You can skip the shorter runs here and there, but you shouldn’t miss more than 2 long runs for the whole training cycle.  And you CANNOT miss your two longest runs (18 and 20).  Those two runs are key to giving you the mental confidence of finishing a marathon.  There will be a point in the marathon when you want to quit, but if you have these two long runs under your belt, you will be able to draw on the experience of running them and finish.
  • Your long runs should also be run a little slower than what you are used to running (10% – 20% slower than what you anticipate your marathon pace to be).  If you don’t know what your pace will be, just make sure you are running at a pace where you could carry on a conversation (at least for the first 14 – 16 miles).
  • If you have the desire, join a running social network like dailymile.com.  It’s an easy way to keep track of your training and I could hook you up with a lot of my running friends who would give you support throughout your training.
  • Running shoes.  Whatever shoes you believe you will be running the marathon in, use them for your long runs.  And then get a fresh pair of the same shoes maybe 4 weeks before marathon time and do maybe 4 or 5 runs in them to break them in.  Your feet will thank you.

When I first started running regularly, I leaned a lot on my friend MK.  He was and is a huge wealth of knowledge.  Unfortunately, when I first decided to give the marathon distance a try, neither one of us had run a marathon yet.  I wish I had had the resources I have now at my disposal.

So with that said, I would like to ask you, my readers, specifically those who have run marathons, to help me out.  Whether you are a serial marathoner (as it seems I am turning into) or a one-time marathoner who is just happy to get the race off of the bucket list, I would like to elicit what advice you would have given yourself when you first set off to conquer this magical distance, knowing what you know now.

My hope is to make RB’s first experience of 26.2 miles an positive one.

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