Friday, October 30, 2015


"It's the hardest thing in the world to believe in something." - Steve Prefontaine

October 25, 2015
Drum drum drum drum drum...  The drummers at the 14th street bridge played along as the leader in the distance came into sight.  I watched the leader, and eventual winner of the Marine Corps Marathon run by.  While I was out on a mission to cheer on my runners and clients I coach, I was also studying the course and the top runners in the race.  I rode my bike downtown and really studied the course, the hills, the ups and downs and flats.  Marine Corps is a fair course.  "Go Brian!", I cheered on my friend Brian Flynn.  He looked good-in shape.  He went on to grab 3rd place in 2:26-high, which impressively was actually more of a training run he was using for the California International Marathon, which he will race in early December.  The winner went on to run 2:24.  Brian and I have run identical races in almost every distance-we both have run in the 14:40's for 5K, 30:xx 10Ks, and 1:07 Half Marathons.  We go back and forth cheering each other on in various races throughout the year.  We are few of the Montgomery County runners left in our high school class of 2001 still training hard at this sport-he ran for Damascus, I ran for Quince Orchard.  We were never the state champions-we were good enough to make the all county teams.  Most of the other good runners(and runners that were better than we were) from our era stopped running after college, got injured, or got busy with life in general-kids, jobs, etc.  Brian and I weren't great runners in college(I was really not good at all), but we have gotten a lot better because we have stayed with the sport of running, continuing to train over the years, running 100+ mile weeks, for whatever reason.  You can call it addiction to competition, or training to find out one's limits.  Or passion to fulfill potential.  I think it makes us better people as a whole.  I always smile when I get a text from Brian if he is in town to go for a 20 miler together.  We'll run low 6's like we always do-and complain together about tough weather or whatever.  But we'll get it done.  No excuses, and that's why we keep getting better.  I think we motivate each other that way-we know we both are still at it and keep going, even though we don't run together that often.  I then saw Dickson Mercer, a GRC runner who ended up finishing a strong 16th.  Dickson has given me a lot of advice about the marathon and he has seen a lot of my improvement since 2009.  He is a very knowledgeable runner in the sport.  So, it was great to cheer on these guys.  It was a great day for spectating.  My runners did well, and my top marathoner, Marcus Jones, ran a PR of 2:50 to grab 53rd overall.

After a tough weekend in Chicago, I took a little bit of a break for 2 weeks.  I still did some light running and cross training(road biking), and it felt good to just relax and get my legs back underneath me.  This week, I began to feel more like myself.  Roland and I had a really lengthy conversation about the next steps and where I am in my overall fitness and development.  As I said in my last post, there is a lot of fitness gained from the training cycle despite the marathon not going as planned.  We agreed that doing a race like Marine Corps would give me a really good chance to win.  "If you start thinking about going into the race with the intention to win NOW, you will have the mental edge," he said.  He went on, "Let's work on winning the local race first, then move on to one of the big international races again.  Marine Corps is the perfect set up for you."

I think during the conversation, we found the answer perhaps to what I need to really do going forward, as explained below:

While the training cycle was a success, there are areas I need to improve in.  I need to run both faster AND slower.  "We need to get you to run faster on your quick runs, but ALSO slower on your longest runs."
Roland went on, "You got a little excited during that 26 mile run, and ran it a bit too quickly.  I think that cost you the race in Chicago."  Deep down, I knew he was right, but I also knew that I am getting this piece by piece.  Perhaps the only way of figuring this out was to push the envelope.  It's always been my style.  My first goal was to master the 26 mile run in training, and I accomplished was just a bit too quick.  Roland understands that, too-sometimes it takes piece by piece.

But also....I need to run faster.  "You've gotten comfortable running 5:30's in training, we need to get you to run like, 5:15's for some of these quick 16-20 mile runs. And you'll have to really bust your ass on these runs, it won't be easy, but it will also stimulate to run the longer runs slower."  I've kind of gotten stuck in the 5:30 pace zone for the quick runs.  The other piece to this is lengthening the long runs to 28-30 miles, and that perhaps would help me to run the "shorter 16-20" runs faster as well.  Perhaps they both will help each other.

So the next step in training might be instead of running 5:50 pace for 26, would be to stick to low 6's for the distance, and whatever pace makes sense if I lengthen the longer runs up to 28-30 miles.  But then if I can run 5:15 pace for the quick 16-20 milers, the range extends from lets say 5:15 for the quick runs to 6:15 for the longest runs.....instead of what was 5:30-5:50 for this cycle.  The difference is 1:00/mile vs only 20 seconds/mile difference.  You see what's happening here though, Roland and I are starting to talk about paces and times that at one time seemed impossible or unrealistic-and now somehow this looks achievable to me.  Yes, I'll have to bust my ass.  Roland will raise my mileage 10 mi/week(which actually is only an 8% increase).  We'll shoot for 110-115 per week as opposed to 100-105 per week during the endurance segment over the winter, and 130 per week as opposed to 120 per week for the marathon peak.  The speed workout volume will increase as well.  This all seems doable.  "You're ready for it," he said.  "You are ready for the highest level in training."

The other thing that is happening, is that I am faster in all aspects of the shorter distance training and speed workouts.  I've done stuff like 3 x mile in 4:40 a piece or pace cut downs like 2:30/2:15 800 splits.  I am finding that 4:50's is becoming more tempo like effort now...which used to seem to be 5:00's.  Moving forward, Roland is giving me a sharpening 3 week period leading up to the US 12K Championships.  We talked over that it would make sense to do the race, since I have been feeling good this week.  This week, October 26-Nov 1, is the first week I felt really good in a while.  On Tuesday, I did 6 x 800m in 2:25, 2:25, 2:23, 2:24, 2:23, 2:23, with 400m jog recovery.  On Wednesday, I did a hilly 15 miler in Boyds.  It poured rain and I got soaked on my climb back up the arduous hills.  As I climbed the hills, I found myself visualizing winning Marine Corps.  On Thursday, I did a 3 mile tempo in 14:55 at the AU track.  Splits were 4:59, 4:59, 4:56.  Saturday will be 8 x 600m.

The trials of miles, miles of trials...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Adaptation & Development

April 2002, Lynchburg College
I was racing in the mens 10,000m track race at Lynchburg college, wearing my Virginia Tech uniform, struggling to maintain a 5:30/mile pace.  My goal was to crack 35:00.  My friend, who I still train with occasionally, Brian Flynn, ran the 5,000m earlier and was cheering me on.  At mile 4 though, I unfortunately dropped out.  I was unable to maintain the pace, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I angrily went over to the fence, and stupidly kicked it.  Brian and I still joke about that.  I thought to myself, Am I a runner? I can't even finish this race!  I cannot break 35:00 for the 10K, why do I keep trying?  A few years later, I rolled through the 10K split in 34:20 during a hilly half marathon in Williamsburg, VA.  I went on to finish in 1:13:13, a personal best in only my second half marathon, at a 5:35 pace.  This was 2005. That same year, I also ran my debut marathon in 2:38:48, at the same time my 5K PR was a sub-par 16:17.

Present Day

By 2014-2015, after years of hard work, I've been able to get my body to race 5K in 14:49, 10K in 30:43, 10 miles in 50:56, and the 13.1 distance(my current best race) in 1:07:29-a 5:08 per mile.  I've even gotten my 1 mile time down to 4:21, certainly not my event.  Hard work pays off.  Plain and simple.  There is a correlation in my recovery improving and the amount of mileage I've been able to handle year to year. I used to be able to not run much more than 2,000-2,500 miles/year.  In the year 2014, I ran 4,200 miles.   And this year, I am on pace for 4,500-4,700 miles, an overall average of 90 miles/week.  So, whenever someone questions my mileage, I just smile back.  There is no doubt the higher mileage correlates with my times dropping faster and my strength improving.  I am a big believer in high mileage if your body can handle it.  And it is clear my body can.  So why haven't I been able to master racing the 26.2 distance?

Several days after my failed attempt at the Chicago Marathon last Sunday, I have had some time to analyze my struggle with the marathon but also my progression as a runner(as a whole, as explained above).  My experience with the race I believe has been more of an adaptation issue to race the distance at my capacity.  I think I almost had it this time around, because I felt closer than I ever have before to be able to race those final miles, but it just wasn't quite enough.  The adaptations are happening though, I feel them.  My body feels them.  5:30's do not really feel like hard running anymore.  They have become aerobic miles for me now.  I have been able to push the aerobic threshold higher, but at the same time, the adaptations haven't completely occurred yet.  What I need to continue doing is basically keep working at it, and not get too down when I cannot follow through completely in a race.  One of my friends, Dickson, mentioned to me I might be a bit more of like a Kenny Moore/Jeff Galloway/Charlie Spedding type of runner who benefits from doing over-distance training runs of 28-32 mile runs.  I feel like I am ready for that next time around.  This cycle I mastered being able to run 26 in training and that was part of my goal this season since last year I struggled with that.  A lot was accomplished during this cycle.

During dinner with my coach, we talked about the next steps.  "You still have another level to jump to."  he said.  I knew exactly what he meant.  He went on, "I haven't given you the whole thing yet, the training has another level.  Your body can take what few can."  What we talked about was increasing the amount of intensity(and therefore, volume) as well as the amount of overall volume(mileage) in general.  They go hand in hand.  We talked about the benefit of doing 28-32 mile runs in training, which we completely agree about doing.  This method of running longer than the race itself seems to have worked for me for other races too.  My best half marathons I have done brisk 20 milers in training-this is aerobic support.  It's all about the aerobic support.  This is what I studied when I coached myself, the methods of Brad Hudson's aerobic support training-I learned this and how to apply it to my own coaching.  It's what got me good.  The combination of Lydiard style and the knowledge of Hudson seems to becoming bread and butter for me.  I am a workhorse, and as I train and train, I eventually become bulletproof.  The marathon is a very hard event for me to master, but I think my body can figure it out, because I seem to respond to the training and it only makes sense that at some point I might be able to become bulletproof enough to run straight through the wall.  The real question is, when that happens, what is my potential?  I have yet to know this.  But first, for me, the challenge of the marathon for me is that it won't let me push through-yet-even though I want to.  Like Batman fighting tirelessly at Bane in Nolan's film, the marathon seems to always break me despite using all my strength.  But, there is a way.  I must become stronger than the distance itself.

To fully achieve potential, you have to push right up to your limits.  Right up to the edge.  You can't go past it though, because you'll step into the injury zone.  I have concluded that maybe somehow if I could have forced myself to finish that race Sunday, I am convinced I possibly would have injured something, very likely tearing a muscle since my legs were wrecked.  The reason I am so good at staying uninjured is because I learned how to avoid them, which I learned through A LOT of trial and error in college.  I had to learn when crossing that line was not a good idea.  On Sunday, the adaptations weren't there, and I knew it once my stride changed immediately and I was forced to stop.  While I push my body to the absolute limit, I also stay within those limits so it is not doing more harm than good.  Once the body is ready, we stay focused on the task at hand and push our limits.

After taking 3 days completely off this week, I felt "the itch" to run again and while my legs were a bit heavy, I felt good running easy on the trails of Cabin John for 51 minutes.  Then, at the end of the week, I headed out for a nice easy 10 miler on the gravel roads of Poolesville, MD.  It was one of those runs when your own thoughts came together.  I suddenly felt like I was on the right path....somehow, I knew, that things were headed in the right direction.  I thought about my racing schedule next year.  I sure am not doing Chicago again next year, that's for sure.  I thought about how much I love the Cherry Blossom race in DC, and got excited thinking about that next spring.  The DC races are awesome, I thought.  I always do well in the DC races.  I know the courses.  My pace quickened a bit.  Suddenly, I realized something.  Why do I keep flying out to Chicago each fall when the race is right here, right in my own backyard, waiting for me this whole time?  If the odds fell my way, this is a race I could possibly even win..  The Marine Corps Marathon.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Unknown

I've run some awesome races in the 1 mile, 3k, 5k, 8k, 10k, 10 mile, 13.1 mile over the past 2 years.

If only I can run just one awesome race in the marathon.  I surely can coach others at the distance!  Why am I not performing well in the marathon too?

If there are frustrated milers, then there might as well be frustrated marathoners.  I consider myself one hell of a frustrated marathoner at this point.  It's got me quite perplexed after today, as to why I haven't been able to push past the wall in this race.  The frustrating thing today is that I feel like I've tried everything at this point....things like different nutrition during the race, drinking more water, starting out slower...yes I even tried starting out slow for once today.  Didn't work..

This sounds ironic, but perhaps not getting injured is my curse.  Every good marathoner I know has either had some major surgery etc.....because they push past the limits of their bodies.  But perhaps I don't....perhaps it's something I intend to avoid and I am able to run 120 mile weeks and not get hurt.  Wait, this doesn't make sense at all...  this also makes it appear like I could run the marathon well.  Appears so... But I hit the wall today, hard.  So hard in fact, that I couldn't even jog it in, because I was certainly on pace for a huge PR and thought "well try to run it in at least"....couldn't even do that.  It's not mental.  If someone put a gun to my head to keep running  I literally would have tried and failed miserably by falling over.

I even started off extra slow this time(though I never thought that was an issue in others that I have hit the wall in-I think at least today validated that).  I started off almost too slow.  I let hundreds of people pass me, and I gradually worked into my pace.  I felt comfortable, really comfortable.  I felt like I was just going for a run!  The thing that gets me about this race is how comfortable I felt today.  I felt great!  I passed A LOT of people during the race...and I never felt like I went over that red line.  Even when I hit the wall, my aerobic system was fine!  But suddenly it was my legs.  My legs quit on me at mile 21 and I had to walk.  As if a lightning bolt struck my legs all of a sudden just went to a shuffle and then just like that they were if the workout was over.  No more stride, nothing.  You could have put a gun to my head and told me to keep racing and I would have been dead.  I tried to run again but it was no use.  It was over.

  I've used different nutrition during marathons too...I found the powerbar gel blasts work best for me now(at least in training during that 26 mile run I did...which was an AWESOME run!!!).  I've run some great races the past 2 years and have PR'd in distances 1 mile to the half marathon since 2014. But in the marathon, I'm stumped.  I got sick last year(whatever that meant...bad luck?).  I've thought of other things-maybe I am over-training?  Too much mileage but yet my body can handle it?  Maybe I am just not ready to race the marathon yet(I'm 32 though!-wtf!)?  Maybe I shouldn't do tune-up races(like va beach which was disastrous)?  This has happened to me before I started working with my coach, so it's been there before, this is very familiar to me.  I only have my coach to thank who has helped me reach new levels in workouts and PRs this past year, and I adjust things based on how I feel as well so we're on the same page.  It's a good team effort.

Is it tapering?  The last 4 weeks were 98, 100, 75, and this week was 70-ish.  My high mileage weeks were 120, so I felt pretty well rested from this taper.  Perhaps I need to pound the pavement more in workouts instead of hitting softer surfaces?  I did a hard 15 miler on the road, but I did an 18 and a 20 both fast on the towpath.  But I also run 50% of my weekly mileage on roads....but that's not hard running...

In all honesty I'm completely puzzled at this point.  I'd be interested if there is anyone out there(who has run well in the shorter distances) who has FAILED miserably at this distance 10+ times but then knocked one out of the park and what they think worked/didn't.  I know too many people who are unsatisfied with their shorter distance times but for some reason can just kill it in the marathon.  It's crazy to me some people I know can practically double their half marathon pace.  I also know a lot of good marathoners who run the race well tend to have gone through some very tough injuries.  I do not get injured...don't ask me why or how but I have figured it out somehow...but maybe I subconsciously am avoiding pushing my body past its limits so I can stay healthy?   But that doesn't make any sense...I am certainly pushing myself in training and other races.  Diet?  I try to eat as healthy as I can.  I think diet would contribute to all my races too, not just one.  And I feel healthy.  I don't can see I'm searching for all kinds of explanations here....but maybe there is no explanation.  Or that it's just the way it goes.  If I run well in the shorter stuff, I won't run well in the marathon.  Maybe I need to wait until I start to get slow in the shorter stuff...because right now that sure ain't happening.  I have run a PR in the 1 MILE this year.  GEEZ!

I do know that I love the training for the marathon, and it does seem to help my other upcoming races afterwards.  I think even if I decided to not race marathons anymore, I would still do the training for them because it would benefit me to race well in the other events.

But as a 1:07 half marathoner and someone who can handle 120 mile weeks and 26 mile training runs, I refuse to believe that I am not cut out for the marathon.  I just haven't been able to figure this damn race out.  I want to believe I can run and not hit that wall.

I guess the only way of knowing what you can achieve is to try.  Try to reach into the unknown and see what you can pull out of it.  I am determined to still master this race, because I think I can.  But I need to look into what it will take for me to run a good one.