Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Change

I kept moving in the water, arms pumping, legs turning, without a belt.  In college, my coach Ben Thomas taught us to pool run without a belt, so it is the only way I've ever learned to pool run.  You basically stay afloat by using your core along with swinging your arms and legs to keep moving within the water to stay afloat.  Obviously, you need to do it in deep water so your feet don't touch the ground(no cheating!).  To make it harder, I do intervals where I hold my arms steady(without swinging them), and just use my legs and core to keep me afloat.  You can feel your entire body working very hard.  I also do "the robot" where I swing my arms and legs straight without bending them.  I'll do these for 1 lap intervals with "regular runs" in between as recovery, or I'll do each exercise without breaks for a longer period of time.

I began to daydream as I continued...

I flashed back to the race 11 months ago.  Such a great feeling, running like there were no limits.  5:00 pace for miles...

"Colder today," the old man said to me as he got into the pool.

I swung back to reality of where I actually was in the indoor aquatic center.  

"Yes, it takes a bit longer to warm up today."  

The last 6 weeks I have averaged not more than 15-20 miles/week, and I've been doing a lot of cross training.  I've had plenty of time not running or running very little, so I've substituted pool running as one of my favorite cross training activities.  I also feel like I need to get back in the habit of doing it once/week again like I used to.  So I've gotten to know some of the people in the pool at the Germantown Aquatic Center.  In addition to the pool running, I've been cycling a few times per week, and really have been enjoying it.

I am going by feel when I feel I am ready to run more and train again.  I've needed the break.  My body had been going strong for years, and the number of miles it has done required a period of re-building and resting.  It has been a long time since I have taken this long of a break.  I needed it.  I am starting to feel recharged and re-energized and it is a really refreshing feeling.  My foot is continuing to get much better and needed the rest.  It is not as noticeable as it used to be, and continues to dissipate through the rest, but it also needed a lot of restrengthening so I have been doing a lot of that in my strength training routine, thanks to Tom Stott at Performance Sports Insititute.  I know when it is time, I will be ready to go again.    

But I thought back to where my running has been the last few years, and what I need to do going forward.  I looked at my past years of logs and races I have run.  The last time I was injured was during college and high school where too much of the intensity got me hurt.  I overdid things a lot then.  In 2007, I began self coaching myself and studying how to learn the art of balancing mileage with intensity.  This has become my own coaching style and it worked for me when I self coached myself.  I didn't see success from my self coaching immediately.  It took time.  I had to learn and study the training of many different coaches.  Pfitzinger, Douglas, Hudson, Daniels, Lydiard.  I coached myself while running for different clubs for 7 years.  I bounced ideas off of runners I have known in the area to help me.  I was successful at it, but then I got to a point where it was just monotonous.  I felt I needed a coach who really understood the level I had gotten to, someone to help me push to the next, and to make a push for the Olympic Trials standard.  I had learned how to train in a balanced way, but I needed to have someone else guide me with racing strategy as well as an overall plan.  When you coach yourself, it is really hard to look at the overall picture and it is only yourself you have to go back to.  Even if you are a coach yourself, it is very hard and mentally exhausting(in addition to the runners you coach!) to do all of this on your own.  Danielle is a great example of this-she is a fantastic coach at Univ of MD-she is super successful and experienced(I look up to her!), but she wanted to have me as her coach for the marathon distance this fall.  She needed a plan that she could follow without mentally wearing herself out by trying to figure it all out on her own.  She also needed someone like me to look at good possible race options for her-we agreed Richmond was a great choice.  She had a fantastic debut marathon and experience, finishing in 3:15, and negative splitting 1:40/1:35.  It was a really happy moment for both of us as coaches and athletes.  We both understood the gratification of being both a coach and athlete.

Regards to my own running, while the first half of 2016 was the most successful I have had, the second half was a complete shutdown.  And that's ok-it happens, and I think it has led to what I talk about below...that I need a change.  I called Roland after the finish of this season, and I respectfully disagreed with some of the things he felt were wrong.  While he assumed I had been running too fast on easy days, I could not disagree more.  My argument was that I had been running simply too much, and that I was off balance.  The reason I felt this way is that my quality actually suffered the second half of the year.  My good friend(and great coach of the Bridgewater Eagles), Brian Flynn completely sees what has happened from his perspective-he's been watching my training for a long time and he told me he couldn't believe how low my quality was this time around and how very little of it there was.  "You get to a point where you're just running to burn calories, you're not doing the specific quality you need to do to get better.  And, you're running so many junk miles-what good does that do?" he said.  I agreed, because come to think of it, I had been running slow all the time.  Too much running, and too much slow running!  And, I couldn't run fast because I was tired from all the junk mileage.  While I wasn't running fast, I also wasn't recovering.  Mileage is important, but it's not the only thing that develops runners.  This goes back to my own coaching strategy of balancing mileage with intensity.  Eventually one of them tips over if it gets off balance.  Just like I used to get injured from too much intensity while in high school and college, the exact opposite has happened now.

I continued to talk to Roland about my theories, but eventually while he agreed to take the mileage down, there were other areas I felt like I needed to change as well.  I felt that the continuous long runs he had me do week after week actually beat me up too much to not be able to race a marathon well the last few years.  In fact, the last marathon I have finished was in 2012(when I coached myself).  Yes I can handle a lot of miles/week more than others, and the long run is important, but there is a limit to that.  "I can't be doing 20 mile long runs after 20(sometimes 26-28!) mile long runs every week, and expect to get to the marathon starting line healthy," I said.  Of course I had already done the damage.  It seemed that every time the fall season came around, my body crashed one way or the other.  I mean, I can handle a lot of miles, but again, there is a limit to that if I want to get faster.  Perhaps I needed to see it through and explore that limit.  It's done now.     

Another thing I disagreed with is tapering strategy.  I never agreed with anything really hard inside of 10 days before a hard half marathon.  Maybe a little bit of tune up stuff, but nothing crazy fast or hard if it is a peak race.  I saved myself by doing my own thing 10 days before and a bit of my own self coaching to get me to the starting line healthy in order to run a 1:06 half marathon-which I did.  Tying up those loose ends and editing things are what kept me running some fast races in the process while benefiting from all the training I did leading up to those races.  It's all about balance.   

Richmond, VA.

I went to Richmond, to cheer on a lot of clients I coach and it was a great day for running.  Everyone I coached PR'd.  It made me happy to see everyone do so well especially when my own season went down the hole.  While there, I saw George Buckheit.    

"I didn't want to tell you this at the time, but when you were doing all these 20 mile long runs over the summer, I knew you weren't going to make it to the marathon starting line," said George.  I agreed.

"Give me a call, we'll talk about it."  


I had a great conversation with George and have decided to switch coaches.  He has been at the highest level-in his prime he ran 13:43 for the 5K, 28:39 for the 10K, and 65:18 for the half marathon.  He has coached a 2012 British Olympic Marathoner, (Claire Hallisey-2:27 PB), and currently coaches Susanna Sullivan, one of DC's top female runners in pretty much anything from the mile to the marathon.  She is one of the few Olympic Trials qualifiers from DC, and finished an impressive 20th in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials.  He also coached Chris Mills, a 1:05 half marathoner who I trained with one winter before he moved to Florida.  George is the right move for me at this time, and I need the change.  I need to go back to the more balanced approach I used to have, and he understands that at the very high level I am at, the thing I am trying to do now is to perform.  I no longer need to pile on all these miles and wear myself out.

Below is an outline of the history of coaches I have had, including when I self coached myself, and teams I ran for.  The times in red mean they were PRs at the time.  It reminds me of the really long way I have come.  All you high school runners out there who are trying to break 5:00 for the mile, be patient, and do not underestimate what you can do with more years and miles under your belt.  I started somewhere.  There is a lot I am still hoping to find out about myself and I know I have a really fast marathon in me.  The Miles of Trials, Trials of Miles.

One interesting thing I found out about George is that he and I share the same birthday-June 26 (except 1957 vs 1983).

2016...Coach: Roland Rust
Club: Saucony Hurricanes
5K: 15:13
10K: 31:16
10M: 50:32 (current PR)
13.1M: 1:06:50 (current PR)

2015...Coach: Roland Rust 
Club: Saucony Hurricanes
Mile: 4:21 (current PR)
5K: 14:49 (current PR)
8K: 25:04
10K: 31:29
12K: 37:37 (current PR)
10M: 50:56

2014...Self Coached until May began with Roland Rust 
Club: DC Elite
3K: 8:48 (current PR)
5K: 15:13
8K: 25:01
10K: 30:43 (current PR)
10M: 50:57
13.1M: 1:07:29

2013...Self Coached
Club: DC Elite
Mile: 4:26
5K: 14:53
10K: 30:43
10M: 51:35
13.1M: 1:08:51

2012...Self Coached
Club: =PR= Race Team
Mile: 4:26
5K: 14:58
8K: 25:08
10K: 30:56
10M: 51:44
13.1M: 1:09:27
26.2M: 2:35:09 (current PR)

2011...Self Coached
Club: =PR= Race Team
Mile: 4:27
5K: 15:13
8K: 25:32
10K: 31:26
10M: 52:54
13.1M: 1:08:39
26.2M: 2:37:21

2010...Self Coached
Club: Georgetown Running Club
5K: 16:18
8K: 26:50
10K: 32:51
10M: 54:16
13.1M: 1:12:57

2009...Self Coached
Club: Georgetown Running Club
5K: 16:31
8K: 26:52
10K: 33:29
13.1M: 1:15:33
26.2M: 2:43:00

2008...Self Coached
10K: 34:16
13.1M: 1:17:37

2007...began Self Coaching

COLLEGE(Virginia Tech 2001-2006) 

2006...Coach: Kelly Rusk
13.1M: 1:16:27

2005...Coach: Kelly Rusk
10K: 34:20
10M: 55:30
13.1M: 1:13:13
26.2M: 2:38:48 (debut)

2004...Coach: Kelly Rusk
10M: 58:06
13.1M: 1:16:21 (debut)

2001-2003...Coaches: Ben Thomas, Mary Jane Harrelson
College: Virginia Tech
3K: 9:10
5K: 16:17
8K: 27:00 
10K: 34:50

HIGH SCHOOL(Quince Orchard 1997-2001)

2000-2001...Coach: Seann Pelkey
400m: 54 (current PR)
800m: 2:03 (current PR)
1600m: 4:34
3200m: 9:55
5K: 16:40 

1999...Coach: Seann Pelkey 
1600m: 4:49

1998...Coach: Jerry Link
1600m: 5:04
3200m: 10:54
3 Mile: 16:31 

1997...Coach: Jerry Link
3 Mile: 17:47 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The gratification of being a Coach

One of the awesome things about being a coach is that if my own racing season goes down the chute, I can turn around and watch the runners I coach succeed.  There is something special about seeing my runners happy achieving their goals through the hard work they put in.  I understand that feeling through my own achievements which makes that connection stronger.  There is no better feeling for a runner than smashing their PR or exceeding their expectations.  Below I have listed all the achievements of my runners I have coached this fall season.  I am so proud of everyone, and it is exciting to continue to coach both the same runners as well as new members who join.  If you're interested in receiving coaching, email me at  Congratulations to everyone below:

Abe: Abe probably had the toughest adversity to deal with at New York, which he finished in 4:50 despite having some asthma attacks.  Abe certainly would have PR'd, and I think next time he will absolutely demolish his current best of 4:34.  

Alice: Alice completed her first 10 miler last spring, and committed to completing her first marathon this fall.  I am proud of how Alice stuck with the training plan and disciplined herself for the distance.  Alice completed the MCM in 4:36.

Alyssa: Alyssa battled the windy Army Ten Miler and equaled her PR of 1:38 from Cherry Blossom(also windy!) earlier this spring.

Andy: Andy recently PR'd running 1:53 for the half marathon on a hilly course in NJ.  He will run his first marathon on December 3-the Rehoboth Beach Marathon.

Ansley: Ansley ran perfectly even paced at the Richmond Marsthon this past weekend, running an outstanding new PR of 3:10:10 to put her 21st female overall and 6th in her age group.  I was most impressed by Ansley's discipline to stick to her plan, and run her own race.  If you watched her, you wouldn't have noticed a difference in her running form from the beginning to the end of the race.  She is incredibly strong.  She took 5 minutes off her previous best.  She will train for Boston 2017.

Beth: Beth completed the Chicago Marathon in a new PR of 3:44, taking 6 minutes off her best time last year.  She is not too far from qualifying for Boston in her age group.

Byron: Byron finished both the Parks Half Marathon and Army Ten Miler.

Christina T.: Christina raced in the most competitive half marathon for women in the DC area, the Navy Air Force Marathon in September.  On a hot and humid day, she ran a 1:26 to finish 13th overall in the women's race.  Unfortunately Christina had a tough October, getting pneumonia and had to shut down her season.  But watch out for her to come back strong in 2017.

Christina G: Christina, amazingly after having a baby 5 months ago, ran a new PR of 1:27:20 at the Richmond Half Marathon.  She averaged an impressive 6:39/mile.

Craig: Craig ran the Army Ten Miler in 1:06, and recently was 2nd in his age group of 50-54 at the Veterans Day 10K, in 38:54.  Craig will be racing the Jingle All the Way 15K on December 4.

Danielle: One of the best debut marathons I have seen, Danielle ran the perfect race at Richmond that came to her advantage.  A former UMD track runner, Danielle has killer speed that we agreed to use to her advantage even in the long, arduous marathon distance.  She paced just under 1:40 for the first half, and finished with an impressive 1:35 second half, finishing in 3:15:07.  Her last mile was 6:29.  She placed 29th female overall and 6th in her age group.  Danielle also coaches the women's track team at MD.

Eleanor: I began working with Eleanor recently, and she is beginning to get back her speed in the shorter distances before she prepares for the 2017 Boston Marathon.  She recently ran 45:29 at the Veterans Day 10K to place 2nd in her 55-59 age group.  She will also be racing the Jingle All the Way 15K.

Exavier: Exavier was 3rd at the MCM 10K, and will look to improve his 1:20 half marathon PR of last year this coming January in Miami.

Fed: Fed completed his first Berlin Marathon in 4:05.

Kelvin: Kelvin gets the award for taking the MOST time off his previous best marathon, by running 4:50 at the Chicago Marathon, taking nearly 20 minutes off his previous best.  

Kyle: Kyle has become a leader for the Mary Washington Cross Country team, and ran a personal best of 26:25 for the 8K this season, and earned 2nd Team All Conference.

Laura: Laura earns the award for longest distance.  She completed her first 50K as well as exceeding her A goal of 7 hours, running 6:59.

Lea: Lea ran a 44:33 10k PR this past spring, and a 1:17 PR at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.

Marcia: Marcia has really become a runner these past several months, getting better at the hill repeats over the summer, and running her first half marathon this fall at Parks in 2:11.

Marcus: Marcus started training with me last year for MCM, where he ran a terrific 2:50-his current PR, so after that we decided to go for the sub 2:50 this time.  He had some minor setbacks to deal with in his training cycle, and a few odds to deal with at the NYC Marathon this year, but despite that, he ran 2:54, and completed a very successful training cycle.  Marcus will focus on his half marathon time next spring, and I am confident it will only be a matter of time before he gets into the 2:40's when he takes a crack at the marathon again.     

Marshall: High School runner Marshall ran a 17:09 PR for the 5K distance this fall.  He will continue to do some racing this winter and spring.

Marty: Marty had a tough injury earlier in the year, and he achieved a breakthrough by finishin the Parks Half Marathon and Army Ten Miler this season.

Michelle: Michelle is one of the fastest runners and triathletes in the area, and is also road racing more again after having dealing with an injury last year.  "To get things started again," she recently ran 37:54 for the 10K at Veterans Day 10K to place 6th among some of the top women in the area.

Mike: Mike re-qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon, running a stellar 3:49:27 PR which placed him 9th in his age group of 60-64 at the Richmond Marathon.  Mike will train for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

Olivia: At the young age of 21, Olivia ran her first marathon this season, finishing the MCM in 4:43.

Omar: Omar ran a 1 minute PR at the Veterans Day 10K this weekend, finishing in 47:17.  Omar also ran a PR of 1:19 at the Army Ten Miler.

Pat: Pat completed the Parks Half Marathon in 2:29.

Randy: Randy had a bit of an injury to deal with over the summer, but he is now back into his racing, running a 33:44 at the Veterans Day 10K, not far off his PR.  He is looking to break 16 minutes for the 5K soon.

Sasha: Sasha ran the Richmond Half Marathon 6 minutes faster than her previous best time on this course, finishing in 2:21.

Sheng: Sheng completed the NYC Marathon this year in 4:53.

Tommy: The weather was terrible for racing this Sept and Oct, so Tommy had everything going against him at the hot MCM.  Despite that, he toughed out a fantastic effort, finishing in 3:26.

Tracy: I remember when Tracy ran her first half marathon in 1:55 in 2011.  This past weekend at Richmond, she ran 1:41:48, a new PR by 5 minutes.  This might be the best race Tracy has ever done.  Tracy impressively finished 5th in her age group of 50-54.  Tracy averaged 7:45 per mile, impressive pace at that age.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Bigger Picture

One of the interesting things about my racing career is that while I have had so much success, I have had equally as much failure.  For me, it seems that in the marathon the last 3 years, I have consistently failed, which is interesting because I can handle so much mileage.  I have also run very fast in the half marathon, but unable to translate my success in that distance to the marathon.  This year, I ran my fastest half marathon to date(and what I think is my best race ever run in my career so far), a 1:06:50 at Jacksonville, Fla that was a project which recruited 60 elites all over the US in an attempt to qualify for the Olympic Trials Standard of 1:05:00(27 of the 60 men qualified, I placed 40th).  That race was really an incredible sign that let me know that I could, in fact qualify in the future 2020 Trials if I continue to push my limits.  In the spring, I was 9th American at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and 34th in the US Half Marathon Championship this year, my best placing in that championship race ever.  Looking back, to even think that 10 years ago I used to run 1:17 for the half marathon baffles me-nearly 11 minutes slower than now-it has been such a journey.  One of the things I am proud about with my running is how far I have pushed with the less talent I have.  If you compare me to other US elites, I don't really have a lot of talent.  I do have talent for running, but at the elite level, it is a whole different ballgame.  I've just worked my ass off to get to the tale end of truly elite running.  I use this blog to help motivate others that they can get a lot faster even if they aren't the most talented miler on their high school team.  Because I was the same way.  I wasn't very good in High School, D1 coaches didn't recruit me.  I ended up walking on(with a ton of hard work) at VTech for a few years, but didn't run well in college.  I actually used to be so frustrated at the 5K distance- at one point I remember thinking what my best 5K(ever) could be.  I thought, "Maybe I could run 15:30, but probably not faster, I just don't have the talent."  But, as I learned more about what type of runner I was, I began to figure it out after college, and I eventually became not only good, but actually pretty fast in the 5K for my ability and lack of pure speed, being able to get down to 14:49, which I think I can lower to 14:30 or faster at some point.  It's important to know yourself.  This is also why I love coaching, helping others believe and realize what they can do.

But one of the most important things I continue to learn is that with equal success comes equal failure.  It actually is essential to fail.  While I have PR'd on all other distances, each year getting faster and stronger, I have at the same time been unable to put together a good marathon since finishing Philly in 2012.  I can coach people well in the marathon too, which is also different because it is them, not me, so in a way, it is a lot easier analyzing other runners than myself.  I also coached myself for several years, before starting with my coach, Roland, in 2014.  Roland has worked with me on my progression, and has been a key part to my development the last 2.5 years he has coached me.  To his credit, he has coached me to 5 PR's(mile-4:21(2015), 5K-14:49(2015), 12K-37:37(2015), 10 mile-50:32(2016), 13.1 mile-1:06(2016)), a win at the 2014 Annapolis 10 Miler, a wire to wire 2nd place at the 2015 Rockville 8K Twilighter(when the original "legit" twilighter race still existed), 9th American at Cherry Blossom, my best placings in several championship races, and several other top finishes and wins in numerous races.  But all at the same time the marathon has not worked out the last few yearly attempts I've tried it.  I've tried 3 times(0 out of 3).  It seems that each time I've attempted the marathon, my body has trouble converting the training to the race to finish for one reason or the other.  The first one I got sick the night before and went for it but could not continue after mile 16.  The second was painfully the most closest I had gotten of these 3 - at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, with about 4 miles to go both my hamstrings just gave out and cramped up, everything was tightened and I could not continue to lift my knees.  The 3rd time though, was interesting.  This past Sunday at the Marine Corps Marathon, it was my heel(bottom-related to plantar) giving me trouble.  It actually started a month earlier, so it didn't surprise me when it began to creep up during the race as I pounded down the asphalt towards the Key Bridge.  The heel injury started in September, and the Rock and Roll Philly Half Marathon was the beginning of it getting pretty irritated with me.  It was the pounding of the pavement that got it going.  And, I believe it is because I am tired.  When I am tired, I just don't run well, or as strong, and far less with grace.  I tend to pound harder into the ground instead of having that normal spring my foot usually has when it is running fast, and my legs feel very heavy.  I was already in the red at Philly, and I already talked to my coach about possibly not doing MCM based on how I felt.  Deep, deep down, I knew.  I started to have a feeling I needed to recover.  But, I figured, hell, let's give it a shot, still see if I can rebound and run some workouts, persevere, etc.  I think it is good to take a shot, because it lets you know you didn't miss out at least.  You have to try if you think it is worth doing.  So, I stayed positive and did some good workouts actually, but I noticed I just wasn't quite right, I think I was maybe 50%.  Running on soft surface was fine, but I was avoiding running fast on hard pavement.  Actually, if the MCM was on soft surface I might have even been ok.  During the race, the heel was already starting to bother me at mile 4, but I pushed it in the back of my mind and kept pounding.  At mile 9, I started to compensate though, and at 11, I pulled the plug to save my running career another 10 years.  I am thankful I did.  I have a friend who ran through this injury and she ended up tearing her foot!  In 10 years, I have not been injured, so this is a new challenge for me all over again.  But, it is hard to define injury because it really is fatigue.  But why now?  An athlete I help coach asked me this question to her curiosity.  After 10 years of being injury free(minus a minor calf issue in 2014), why do I all of a sudden have a heel that is quite aggravated and angry with me the past several weeks?

My coach pushed me this summer to hit the highest consistent mileage ever in my lifetime.  We also started quickly.  After the US Half Champs on April 30, I took a short mileage week, but then ramped right up again to over 100 miles/week.  From May until August, I went crazy.  I ran like a madman.  I woke up every day, tired.  At times I was so tired, I couldn't think.  But I ran, and ran more.  Twice a day, nearly every day, in the heat and humidity of the summer.  And, it was one HOT summer(and fall!).  I have never pushed myself as much as I did this summer.  Conrad and I trained often together, doing hill repeats and long runs, we knew we were getting very fit.  Unfortunately Conrad got injured during the summer, which I felt guilty about because he did a lot of training with me.  But it was an injury he had been neglecting from before.  Over 6 months between the championships and attempting the MCM last weekend I pushed myself to a total of 2,548 miles.  That averages out to over 100 miles/week for 6 straight months(and 3 of those months were averaged out 120 miles/week).  There are some runners who run marathons literally every weekend every year.  It's impressive no doubt, but I'd like to see if they could handle even a portion of what I did these past 6 months.  Some of these runners just rest during the week and recover, and then run their next marathon the following weekend.  Nothing wrong with that.  Just that if the total volume ends up being 26.2 miles a week, it doesn't sound as hard when you look at it that way.  For me, I was averaging 15 miles a day, every single day, for 180 straight days.  And, when I was doing 120 mile weeks, I was averaging 17+ miles per day.  It's no wonder my body gave me recent signals and broke down.  Recovery is essential.  I basically stacked hay on top of hay that needed to be cleared out.  It was pushing to the absolute limit, but at the same time, I don't regret putting the work in, and the reason is that all that work goes somewhere.  Training and hard work always goes somewhere.  What you put in, you eventually will get out of.  And that happens through recovery and adaptation, meaning when your body absorbs it.  Arthur Lydiard used to say that the training you do one season actually shows the following season.  When I run a great race, I know it is the pay off of training I did months, not weeks earlier.

While I don't regret putting in all the high miles these past 6 months, I do think it is time for an adjustment going forward.  I know I will benefit from all the running I did and it is being absorbed as I am resting now.  But I also feel like once I recover, it would not be good for me to push the mileage next time, but rather balance both the mileage and intensity.  Don't get me wrong, I think the mileage is an integral part of training, but I don't need to push it like I did the past 6 months.  I already hit the ceiling.  The fact that I could handle 120 mile weeks makes 90 mile weeks a lot less for me now.  One of the most interesting things I have learned from the past 6 months, is that my quality actually suffered a bit.  Yes, it was hot, but also I was pushing the mileage so high that it forced my to compensate quality runs.  For example, I really didn't have much training close to marathon pace this go around, much much less than in the past.  I think I maybe did 1 run at close to my marathon pace.  And while I believe that too much fast running can burn one out, in my case, I believe the stress of the miles on top of miles took their toll.  I always go back to balancing intensity with mileage.  I also believe in developing an elite athlete fully is that sometimes you have to just train for a season, and not race or compete.  That is what happened to me this season.  The hard part is that I wanted a race to come together.  But it almost was set up to not work out that way anyway, as the weather for racing this fall was a total crapshoot.  It was 85 degrees for MCM, 85 degrees for Philly(+humid and high dew point), and if I am going to run a 2:20 marathon or faster, which I should be capable of by now, I sure am not going to waste it on a day like that!  Of course my heel is what caused me to drop out, but I find it interesting that the weather also wasn't good anyway.  It wasn't meant to be.  Another day in the future awaits, the right day...this is where I have faith in my running, faith in myself, that there is something else at work-a bigger picture that might be hard to see at times.

Elaborating on the above...for the past 3 years, 2014, 2015, 2016, my running has been a big progression of PR's each year in several distances, all the while my marathon finishes have been absent.  There is a pattern here and I believe that the training I have done has been pushing my body beyond being able to perform in the marathon.  Pushing the volume and mileage has gotten me stronger, but my body is and was not ready to race a marathon during this process-which is ok!  I think this season told me that indeed, I think I have hit that ceiling of maximizing the miles.  And this is where the minor heel injury comes in.  I saw Tom at the Sports Performance Institute this past week, and we found out my left foot(the injured one) is a lot more mobile than my right.  It tends to not hold itself up as well, and I have needed to restrengthen the small tendons surrounding the foot and arch.  It is not a serious injury, but just weakened, and I relate this to going back to what I said earlier about fatigue.  The body has a way of communicating when it has done enough, I always believe that.  Every angle was pushed, and eventually something has to communicate that yes, it was enough.  So the heel is validation to me that I have done what I needed to do, and now it needs to rest, rebuild, and once it recovers, my body will become stronger and actually, better than before.  This is the process of adaptation, which I wrote on in this blog a few years ago.  My body is right at this moment adapting to all the training it has gone through.  The rest is going to get it to that next level.  So, the heel might look like a setback, but in reality it is showing me that I succeeded in getting through the most arduous training I have done in my life, and that it is telling me it has done enough.  There is no need to push any longer.  It will rest now, and store all that hard work that was put in.

The heel is also the most obvious sign that my body now is ready for a change.  This is on the contrary, a great thing.  Once recovered, and as I build back slowly, I now believe I need to go back to some of my own coaching methods of working more on the quality again, combined with good mileage but certainly not pushing the miles too high like I did before.  I mean, there's nothing wrong with some 100 mile weeks.  But 120 mile weeks constantly is just too much at this point.  Fernando Cabada(6th at 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon, PR's of 2:11 and 1:02 half) talked to me about this I remember.  He has run a lot of mileage in his lifetime, but he told me at a certain point for an elite athlete, less is more.  I have always gone back to the principles of balancing mileage with intensity, because I just think that you eventually need to balance the 2 if you are looking to maximize your performance.  The point he was making to me was that you eventually get to a level where it doesn't make sense anymore to keep piling more.  I believe I am at that level now.  More quality and less quantity.  Go back in and edit the details.  I do know myself well, and that is an important part of being an athlete.  There are just certain things I understand that work for me now.  I did coach myself for years, and it is very hard-you need that outside perspective-especially the level that I have gotten to.  I need a coach to look at the overall picture for me.  Bernard Lagat was talking about this with his coach, that there are certain things his coach(Li) just trusts him on, and that Bernard believes are better for him to do.  As a coach myself and having coached a wide variety of athletes and runners, I always ask them how they feel.  It is important to have that relationship where the athlete is learning more and more about their body just as the coach does.  There are things I trust my athletes on how they feel, etc.  It is the process of development and mastering the art of pushing the limits of the body and mind.

In conclusion, the greater sacrifice of training all out the last 3 years has a payoff, and I believe that in the long run, it will pay off tremendously.  That the training is a way of changing and morphing the body into a more efficient form of its previous self.  Training enables you to shed your previous skin and adapt to new possibilities.  Transforming the body and mind into a new runner is the process of training.  This is what I believe to be true and pure training, which is not jumping in race after race every weekend.  True training and development is being disciplined and committed to pushing the body towards new limits, without interruptions.  It is the dedication and commitment of staying focused, waking up every day to become better than the day before.  It is the art of molding the body and mind, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, building towards something one cannot fully see, but can feel, hear, smell, and taste.  It is building towards self-discovery of one's ultimate potential.  It is discovering the soul, the spirit, the survivor within oneself, that is ready to surface at the right time.  When indeed, it is meant to happen.  I have faith in myself and my training.  I believe in myself.  Believe in yourself.

A true artist would take 1 excellent painting, over many good ones.


Friday, October 21, 2016

The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials

“The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”

After the US Half Marathon Championship last April(photos above), I took a down week, then got back into gradually building my endurance and base.  My coach and I agreed that I could handle an increase in my mileage, and that summer was the time to do it, with minimal to no racing at all during this period.  The goal was to get used to 120 mile weeks.  Time to toughen up and work hard, plain and simple.

This period, from May through August, was the toughest training I have ever done.  I was tired all the time(including too tired to type on this blog).  There were days where I woke up exhausted, barely able to get out of bed...and yet somehow I got out the door and ran another 12-20+ miles on any given day.  I doubled nearly every day, 4 days a week minimum(no fewer than 11-12 runs).  I also somehow managed to work full time at the running store, and work on my personal coaching, and occasionally give my mom a phone call.  In addition, I have taken on a role as a volunteer assistant with the Mary Washington University Cross Country and Track Team.  So, I haven't had enough time/energy to get to this blog until now(and right now I have been tapering well for an upcoming race so I actually have the time and energy).  But I like to keep the blog going, because for my own documentation as well as for others to see the periods of change my training has gone through the past several years.  It helps me get better.  And, I appreciate the followers of this blog and hope it helps those reading.  One thing I love about this blog is that I can go back to 2011 and look back at a bad race I had or what race I was happy with, how I trained, etc.  It is an online storybook of data and memories, all connected to each other.  You can see the process of adaptation by looking at the periodization of higher mileage, then higher intensity, etc.  This year, for instance, is by far the most 100+ mile weeks I have put in.  Over the past summer the shortest I would run in a day would be 6 miles in the morning and 6 miles in the evening-those were the easy days, the recovery days.  I have the training outlined below, up until this past week.  I highlighted the long runs of each week, and the hard workouts as well.  You can see why I crashed in September, and that the rest/recovery was essential.  The physiological effects of running high mileage are that your body cannot fully recover, so that if you race during high mileage training, you will most likely not run your best.  However, if you can get through it, and once you begin to add rest and recovery, therefore allowing the body to absorb the training you have put it through, the adaptation process begins.  Your body reconnects the damage you put it through, and rebuilds back stronger.  Then, you roll the dice, and you race.  You have the strongest aerobic system behind you, and all you need is a little bit of luck and careful tapering.

5/09-5/15: 110 miles (no runs over 12 miles, hill repeats, drills, strides)
5/16-5/22: 120 miles (long runs: 16, 6 x 5:00 fartleks, drills, strides)
5/23-5/29: 120 miles (long runs: 14, 17, 20, hill repeats, drills, strides)
5/30-6/05: 116 miles (long runs: 17, 18, 6 x 5:00 fartleks, drills, strides)
6/06-6/12: 120 miles (long runs: 15, 16, 20, hill repeats, drills, strides)
6/13-6/19: 120 miles (long runs: 14, 18, 20, 6 x 5:00 fartleks, drills, strides)
6/20-6/26: 120 miles (long runs: 20, hill repeats, drills, strides)
6/27-7/03: 120 miles (long runs: 14, 15, 18, 6 x 5:00 fartleks, drills, strides)
7/04-7/10: 120 miles (long runs: 15, 18, hill repeats, drills, strides)
7/11-7/17: 120 miles (long runs: 20, 6 x 5:00 fartleks, drills, strides)
7/18-7/24: 100 miles (long runs: 20, 4 mile tempo: 20:45, hill repeats, drills, strides)
7/25-7/31: 100 miles (long runs: 15, 18, Track: 6 x 1600m w/ 400m jog: 5:17, 5:09, 5:12, 5:05, 5:04, 5:02, drills, strides)
8/01-8/07: 115 miles (long runs: 16, 22, Track: 8 x 1200m w/ 200m jog: 3:51, 3:48, 3:49, 3:48, 3:47, 3:47, 3:46, 3:45, drills, strides) 
8/08-8/14: 115 miles (long runs: 16, 20, Track: 3200m: 10:13, 1600m: 5:05, 800m: 2:35, hill repeats, drills, strides)
8/15-8/21: 112 miles (long runs: 14, 15, 24 miler - 2:32:00, Track: 800m: 2:33, 1200m: 3:47, 1600m: 5:03, 1200m: 3:48)
8/22-8/28: 68 miles (no long runs, Track: 600m: 1:45, 800m: 2:25, 1200m: 3:37, 1600m: 4:50, 600m: 1:46, South Lakes 10K: 2nd place, 32:08) 
8/29-9/04: 120 miles (long runs: 15, 18, 26 miler - 2:43:00, Track: 12 x 400m @ 70 each)
9/05-9/11: 100 miles (long runs: 16, Track: 1600m: 5:01, 2400m: 7:30, 1600m: 4:56, 800m: 2:22)
9/12-9/18: 60 miles (Philly Half: 11 mile tempo run(5:20-5:30 pace), strides)
9/19-9/25: 57 miles (long runs: 28 miler - 3:05:00) 
9/26-10/02: 82 miles (long runs: 24 miler)
10/03-10/09: 92 miles (long runs: 15, 18 miles @ 5:50 pace, Track: 6 x 1200m w/ 400m jog @ 3:38 avg)
10/10-10/16: 90 miles (long runs: 16 miles w/ 15 miles @ 5:30-5:40 pace, Track: 6 x 1600m w/ 400m jog: 5:11, 4:57, 4:57, 4:55, 4:56, 4:59)

It just dawned on me that  I have averaged over 100 miles/week for the past 6 months.

and this week:

10/17-10/23: (mileage projected to be mid 50's) 
Track on 10/19: 6 x 800m w/ 400m jog: 2:28, 2:27, 2:26, 2:24, 2:23, 2:22

At the end of August, I tested my fitness a bit by jumping in the South Lakes 10K on a humid day with Thomas Curtin(13:27 5K guy), in which he won and I finished about 100 meters behind.  Then, once September rolled around, my body was beginning to show signs of how far it had been pushed.  My heel was starting to give me trouble.  The week of September 5-11 was the last 100 mile week I have done.  On Sept 18, I had to pull out of the Philly Rock n Roll Half Marathon, and I had some pain on the bottom of my left heel.  I was on edge.  I had to back off, and recover.  It wasn't that bad, but I could tell I needed to rest.  I took a few days off, and reduced my mileage quite a bit.  My goal was to get my body to recover and let it adapt to the training.  For some time I pondered whether or not I should tackle another race.  Did I need to just call it a season and start over?  I thought about the race I am entered in.  A race I could place well in next weekend.  But am I ready?  During the time I had the heel/plantar trouble, my training partner Conrad unfortunately got injured to the point where he was unable to run.  So, Conrad was broken down, and I was just barely hanging on.  I was walking on very thin ice.  On Sept 25, my good friend Aaron Anderson joined me in a long run where he ran about 23 miles and I finished 28 miles, my longest run to date.  As October came around, I was able to get on the track again and did some 1200m repeats & 1600m repeats.  I did a quick 18 miler, and then 1 week later an even quicker 15 miles.  This week, I did some 800m repeats, and felt good to get a final dose of speed in the legs.

Overall, I feel good and have decided I would be completely stupid to not run the race I entered, which is next weekend.  If you look at my running on paper, it says I am a great half marathon racer with 1:06 speed, but the marathon is a difficult event for me to translate.  However, I do feel like I have the advantage of being the faster half marathoner in this race.  If I can stay close to the leaders, I know I'll have the speed and strength to be comfortable at the slower pace.  We'll see.  I have entered in next weekend's Marine Corps Marathon. 


Monday, July 18, 2016

1,200 Miles in 10 Weeks

5/09-5/15: 110 miles (13 runs)
5/16-5/22: 120 miles (13 runs)
5/23-5/29: 120 miles (12 runs)
5/30-6/05: 116 miles (14 runs)
6/06-6/12: 120 miles (12 runs)
6/13-6/19: 120 miles (13 runs)
6/20-6/26: 120 miles (13 runs)
6/27-7/03: 120 miles (13 runs)
7/04-7/10: 120 miles (13 runs)
7/11-7/17: 120 miles (14 runs)

1,186 miles, average 118.6 miles/week

I woke up before 6 am to my buzzing alarm, and groaned.  I got up, and could barely stand up, my feet aching. In fact, my whole body ached.  My feet were tired, my legs were tired, even my arms were tired.  I got ready for another hilly 15 mile run out in Boyds, MD.  Thankfully, after my training run, I would see Terrel for an hour massage.  I immediately grabbed a Clifbar to get some food in me.  I knew if I didn't, I would fall back asleep.  My body had been doing 120 mile weeks consistently, and it was being pushed to the limit.  It was sore all the time, tired all the time, fatigued all the time.  There was no breathing room.  Nearly every day of the week was a double run.  Even running early in the morning, the humidity is still brutal in MD/DC.  I have been averaging 17-18 miles a day, with 12 being the shortest amount I'll do in any day.  Every day is hard work.  This is the endurance segment period of training.  It is brutal.  My coach says it is probably the toughest type of training distance runners do.  But not many can do it at this level of mileage-most break down or get injured.  Somehow, my body can handle it.  But it's not like I'm doing track workouts.  Most of the training is distance runs, fartlek runs, hill repeats, quick 12 milers, and progressive 20 milers.  But it's the day to day(almost tedious) exhaustion of doing it.  In terms of paces, I've done progression type 20 mile long runs where Conrad and I start around 7:00 pace and work gradually down to 5:30 pace, and most fartleks at 5:00-5:10 pace.  I've done some hilly 12 milers at 5:40 pace.  Many distance runs average 6:30 pace.  Some recovery runs are like 8:00 min pace.  I averaged nearly 120 miles/week for 10 weeks, the most I have been ever able to handle.  Somehow, I got through this training.  I owe it to my coach Roland Rust, my massage therapist Terrel Hale, Saucony for making the best training shoes to keep me healthy, and my training partner Conrad.  Conrad has also been hitting high mileage, hovering around 100 miles.  It's been great to meet with him on a regular basis.  Knowing you have to meet someone for a workout at 6:30 am gets you out the door in the morning.  I haven't raced in 3 months.  It seems like ages ago.  But not racing this summer is what I feel I needed.  To just train. and put in the work, and forget about times/places for a while.  To go back to building a stronger base.  The endurance period ended Sunday(7/17), and after last week, we are moving into a new phase of a bit lesser mileage and adding some more quality now.  I'll start to do some tempos on the track and getting a bit faster again.  On Monday, I came down with a minor cold(go figure my body was probably broken down a bit), and took a much needed rest day.  My brother also got married this past weekend too, and I somehow made a good speech during the ceremony without passing out from exhaustion.  120 miles/week + social events + working + coaching and other stuff can definitely be a lot to fit on the plate at times.  I felt better after practically doing nothing but sleeping/lying in bed all day Monday.  It was my first day off running since May 6.  My body needed the rest.  Rest is just equally as important-it is important to do it at the right time.  The rest will enable me to be ready for the next phase of training.                

Monday, May 16, 2016

November 2015 - April 2016

This post is a summary of the cycle of racing I did for the past 6 months.  Between November and my last race in April, I was in a sharpening period with "decent' mileage but more quality work.  Lots of sharpening on the track, etc.  After my last race in April, I took a little bit of recovery and am now back to base building, with the goal of working on endurance now.  Now is the time to build the miles up again, and do an endurance segment to move to the highest level of training I have ever endured.  "You will have to bust your ass this summer," said my coach, "but if you can get through it, you will be tougher and stronger than you have ever been."  I am currently in Florida, in the middle of my first 115-120 mile week, which is the target mileage for this period before hitting the target of 130/week later on.  But more on that in my next post, as well as what goal races are next.  Below are summaries of my races the past 6 months...

USATF 12km Championships
Alexandria, VA
November 15, 2015
Conditions: 45 degrees, little wind, relatively flat with a few hills
25th place, 37:37 (5:02 pace)

After my failed attempt at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, I came back and competed well in this race.  It also let me know that I was quite fit from the endurance work I had done for the marathon, so I began looking at more races to do after this one.

Bethesda Turkey Chase 10K
November 26, 2015
Conditions: cold, hilly course
2nd place, 31:30 (5:04 pace)

By this time I had decided to do the upcoming Jacksonville Half Marathon on January 3.  The Turkey Chase 10K was a fun race to do and I used it as a springboard for Jacksonville.  I knew my fitness was good after doing this hilly race in my fastest time ever on the course.  My previous course best time was before I set my previous half marathon PR, so that was encouraging too.  I knew that this 10K pace could be close to my half marathon pace with a little more work in me...

Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon
(Olympic Trials Qualifying Project)
January 3, 2016
Jacksonville, Florida
Conditions: 48-50 degrees, rainy, no wind, flat course
40th place, 1:06:50 (5:05 pace), PR
5K: 15:33
10K: 31:16
10 Mile: 50:32(also PR)

This race was special because there were nearly 60 men recruited to give one last shot at qualifying for the Olympic Trials Standard of 1:05:00.  I was proud to be a part of it, and though I failed, I PR'd in the process and left Jacksonville on a new level that gave me perspective on what I can accomplish in the years ahead.  This type of effort was special, once you get down to 1:06 it is a bit more rare territory.  I remember when I broke 1:10 how fast that felt.  But now, to begin to move into the unknown territory of where many either get injured trying or others move on, it feels special.  Thin air.  Not as many get to this level.  After the race, a friend of mine who ran 1:04:50 during this race, told me: "Breaking 1:07 is a really big barrier."  Though he is faster, he knew how hard that was to do when he did it.  Perspective.  My friend Dickson broke 1:10 for the half marathon this season.  I was so happy for him and KNEW how tough that is to do!  After this race, I began to feel new, like a new journey was beginning for me.  How fast can I run?  How fit can I get?  I thought.  I don't like to get too caught up in numbers.  I just run as hard as I can, and train as much and as smart as I can without having any injuries or setbacks.  Consistency.  More miles in the legs.  It seems I am a bit of a late bloomer.  I wasn't very fast in my early twenties, but my early thirties I have accelerated into a new era of performances of what I used to dream of.  What are my limits?  What can I DO?  It is my quest to find this out, because it is a beautiful thing-using our full potential is so very hard to do and find.  A guy like Meb Keflezighi gives me a lot of inspiration.  And what I think is pretty cool is that he has just moved up in distance as he got older, but he got better in those distances as well.  When he won the 2014 Boston Marathon(his all time best performance in my opinion), at the same time he certainly was not one of the USA's best 10K racers anymore.  With age, as he moved away from his shorter distance prime years, he had at the same time become one of the world's best marathoners.   

Virginia Tech Challenge Meet
February 20, 2016
Blacksburg, VA
Conditions: Indoor Track
3rd place, 15:13 (4:53 pace)

After the Jacksonville Half Marathon, I used the Virginia Tech Challenge Meet as a good workout to get back into things.  It wasn't fast, and felt pretty off, but it was a good workout to get things going again.  But I felt off.  I think doing the 5K made me realize I am just not a 5K racer this year.  It seems that longer distances are going more of my way in 2016...

USATF 15km Championships (Gate River Run)
Jacksonville, Florida
March 12, 2016
Conditions: Hot & Humid, tough course
27th place, 49:07 (5:16 pace)

This race kicked my ass.  It was a struggle from mile 2.  It was hot, humid, and just plain awful conditions for racing.  But the reason was I also wasn't acclimated to it, so it made things THAT much worse!  I can race in heat and humidity, but I need to adapt to it!  I was used to cold weather and BAM! just like that the world turns 180 degrees on you.  You can tell by the photo above I was toasted, but I did give it my best.  Last year in July, it was the hottest and most humid summery night in Rockville, MD for the annual twilight 8K race.  I went out with the lead Ethiopian at a suicide pace.  No one else went with us(and probably thought we were absolutely crazy) and we were alone the entire race.  But I was acclimated to the brutal heat from training in Florida a month earlier.  I held on and almost won(I should have won-it was poor tactics on my part at the end).  It was a good race though.  I made that guy work for it, he was on the ground at the end as I helped him up.  I at least won a few races in 2015.  I have yet to win a race in 2016, but I've been doing a lot of championship racing lately.  

Picture of last year's Twilight 8K race below, right before the finish!:

Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
Washington, DC
April 3, 2016
Conditions: WINDY & a bit cold
17th place(10th American), 51:27 (5:08 pace)

Cherry Blossom was the opposite extreme in terms of weather.  It was brutally windy and a little too cold, and it frustratingly made times go out the window.  It sucks when this race has been ideal in conditions every year and then all of a sudden a ridiculous 50 mph wind comes gusting to rip right through the race, at the perfect(wrong) time.  What are the chances?  It made things extremely difficult.  I kept trying to draft off the lead pack to block the wind, and was forced at times to just have to work against the wind.  It sucked.  Wind is the worst.  But I placed well, snagging top 10 American.  I also was able to hang with the lead pack for about 4 miles of the race, so that was pretty cool.  So it was a good race to place well.  But like others I am sure, it just really would have been nice if the conditions were ideal for fast times.  Still, with such rough conditions I ran within under 1 minute of my PR at least.  Hopefully next year will be fast!  

Columbus, Ohio
April 30, 2016
Conditions: cool, slightly windy, a few hills
34th place, 1:08:33 (5:13 pace)

The 2016 USA Half Marathon Championship was my 3rd half marathon championship.  Each time I run this event I move up in place.  My first one, in 2012, I crawled to 84th.  My second, in 2014, I placed 56th.  This one, I placed a solid 34th, beating about half the field.  It's tough just to get into this race, so that is always an accomplishment in itself.  My 1:06 from Jacksonville got me into this race.  The mens standard always seems to hover around 1:08:00 for this race typically.

But what's getting exciting now is that I am moving up, and beginning to look at the lead pack of a national championship not being so distant away as it used to be.  It also used to seem completely out of reach that I could handle running with some of these guys, but now it is starting to become a pattern.  I see it from race to race.  Cherry Blossom was similar where I was able to actually run with the lead pack for part of the race.  I fell off, but I've never been able to hang in there that far up before and felt like I had a chance running with those guys.  I looked at it as practice.  And the more you practice at something, it gets easier.  Pushing to be up with others who are better than me is why I love these championship races.  After the gun went off, I just went by feel and found myself running in high 4:50's(sub 1:05 pace!).  I maintained that through 4 miles, but then slowed the 5th mile considerably.  Usually I know if I can handle the pace by about mile 5 if I am still running strong.  If I am slowing by then, it kind of sucks, but it's the way it goes.  I kept trying to get back in that zone, but I wasn't ready to make that jump yet.  I like to know I am pushing my limits-I feel a little bit of that Prefontaine style-is in me.  The one thing I am realizing is that I can go out in 4:50's which feels more aerobic now.  4:50's....that's where I'm trying to be for the 1+ hour race distance.  It's just a matter of adapting the body some more with higher training and more workouts.  I ultimately could not hold onto the pace and slowed down, but I ran tough and competed as well as I could.  The time was super slow-a 1:08 to me these days is quite slow, but that's a good thing.  It certainly made me appreciate the 1:06 I ran in January.  And 34th is a solid place-and I was 1st from the little state of MD.  Conrad also ran, and finished a solid 37th to finish #2 for MD.  My Saucony teamate Graham, took MD's #3 and had a great day to finish 38th in a new PR.  After the race, Conrad and I had a hearty talk afterwards about the goals we are trying to achieve in the half and where we have gotten to from our training this spring.  The best workout we did together this spring was the 4 mile tempo in 19:43(4:56 pace).  That workout, we both knew, was a step in the right direction to running sub 1:05:00.  It told us we are adapting.  I will be back next year and will be hungry to place higher.  I am getting there.  The Trials of Miles, Miles of Trials.