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.



  1. It's been great to share some of your journey.

  2. You definitely should be commended on your heart and dedication to the sport. I've been reading your blog for awhile and I find inspiration in your passion. I think it's really cool that you are going after it and giving it a go. I have a great coach who helps me protect myself from "myself" and allows me to be objective in what I'm trying to do. The marathon is like a whole different ball game from shorter distances. Here's some things I've learned:

    1. You can't just aimlessly pound mileage for months on end without getting burnt out, injured, or overtrained. There's a reason why even the pros only do 12-14 weeks of big mileage for their marathon build ups. No more. do less mileage, race shorter stuff and have fun outside those 12-14 weeks. 120 MPW for weeks on end is amazing, but counter productive.

    2. Adding to the above, have a down week every 4 weeks where you reduce mileage and then run a tune-up race at the end of that recovery week.

    3. You can't sufficiently recover for two workouts a week and a quality long run by doing any one workout too hard. Back it down. Never do more than 21 miles for a long run and don't hammer the thing. start very slow and progress so that the last 7-8 miles are a marathon pace and not much faster. That way you recover for your weekly interval workout and tempo runs. anything greater than 22-24 miles in any one run is simply counter productive. You're too tired to have much quality for over a week if you go out and run 28 miles at 6:00 minute pace and you can't keep your mileage up.

    4. Tempo runs should be capped at 6 miles. Othere groups do this 10-15 mile tempo stuff. Even if you have a good workout, that leaves you tired for nearly a whole week. What good is that? Better to do a broken up cruise intervals within a Sunday long run so you can hit a quality interval workout Tuesday and a solid tempo Friday. Leave those long tempo days for the once a month half marathons you have at the end of the recovery weeks in your build up.

    5. keep your easy days easy but do sufficient doubles. Try some pool running instead of easy mileage doubles some days. i.e. do 100 land miles and 2-3 hrs in the pool each week.

    6. No one workout is crazy tough or race effort. Getting better at the marathon is about consistency and staying healthy for years on end. Training hard is great but training smarter is better.
    Good luck. I'd say rest a bit, choose a winter or spring marathon, and give it a go.


  3. I think Deters makes some great points. Personally, I'd focus more on quality than quantity, but it sounds like you agree to a degree.

    I'd add that it might be worth joining one of the area teams so you have people to be miserable with -- getting humbled, humbling others, working outside your comfort zone, etc. I credit GRC with 100% of my running successes during the years I ran competitively. I am sure I *could* have gotten better without a team, but certainly not as it would have been miserable/not fun.

    Also, I would add that YOUR "talent" has been to stay relatively injury free for the past decade. There are only a few people I know (Reaves and Wardian come to mind), who have the ability to grind lots of miles/races without getting injured.

    With that in mind, here is to hoping you heal up quickly,

    The Red Fox