Friday, October 27, 2017

Silvia's win in Baltimore

Silvia winning the 2017 Baltimore Marathon in 2:58:36. 

I started coaching several years ago when I began to work with pure beginners or first time marathoners(and I still do).  In addition to first time marathoners, over time I have worked with more advanced runners, and sub-elite runners as well.  This year, I was fortunate that an awesome client of mine, Exavier Watson, introduced me to an incredible woman named Silvia Baage.  Silvia has always been a good runner, and she has come a long way.  She ran her first marathon in Baltimore 10 years ago, in 3:41.  Her previous PR was a 3:04, and she had run a bunch of 3:05s, so she was a bit stuck there.  She had placed 2nd and 3rd in the Baltimore Marathon in past years, and she really wanted to win it.  The winner of 2016 ran 2:59, so I think we both knew that she probably needed to be in sub 3:00 shape to win the race.  She needed to get comfortable running 6:40 pace.  But it's not always about the times.  I needed to see that she wanted to do this race-because that part is crucial.  One of the things I am really focused on implementing better in my coaching is to make sure my athletes actually want to do the races they signed up for- and that they aren't doing races just to try to run fast times.  What kind of race is it?  What can you get out of the race(or bring to it)?  There is a big difference.  Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to sign up for a fast race with fantastic weather and competition and do it because you will be pushed and have a chance at running a PR-what runner does not want to PR or qualify for Boston or the Trials or whatever...and PR's and times push the science aspect of running.   But at the very same time, from an artistic standpoint, there is so much more to running than just times.  I view running as an experience and, quoting Prefontaine, a work of art.  If you let it be that way, I think you'll find that your races will come to you, instead of you forcing things that may not fit.

Silvia wanted to break 3 hours in the marathon, but I also think she wanted to do it on the Baltimore course.  Silvia was made for this race.  She wanted to win it and give the city of Baltimore something special.  But I called her up the night before the race, and said to her to not put pressure on the time....that she may run like a 3:00+ time, BUT win the race, and she needed to be OK with that.  I wanted her to let the time come to her if it was meant to happen.

The race Silvia ran on Saturday, October 21, was a brilliantly executed race.  She never panicked.  She let the first woman go ahead of her in the beginning.  The race starts uphill, so it was really important she did not go out too hard in this race(it's important anyway in a marathon as it is!).  I told her around 7:00 pace for the first 3 miles or so give or take is "safe."  Around mile 9 I saw her during the race for the first time, and she was just catching the lead woman.  While she looked great, I told her she still had plenty of time, and to not get impatient out there.  She very very gradually started distancing herself from second place, and by mile 13, she had a very significant lead.  I gave her a check to make sure things were good and ran alongside as the crowds in the inner harbor cheered.  It was then a game of catching the men, and this could help her chase the time.  I told her to just look ahead and use the men to help her race.  I think she went through halfway right around 1:29:00.  Women cheered so loud it was deafening.  I then stopped, just took a look around in the crowds, and said to myself, "Wow.  These women are inspired."  This was the power of running.  

When I started with Silvia, she knew how to run 7:00 pace for the marathon.  Naturally, she isn't a track runner, so working on some intervals and shorter segments really was what I felt she needed, alongside some good long runs of course.  She had a great foundation of endurance.  Over the summer, she did a few 5Ks as speed workouts really.  Just to get familiar with 19 min 5Ks.  I think once we began doing 6:20 pace stuff, that really helped her feel like 6:40 pace wasn't so bad.  We then used Riley's Rumble half as a training run and I helped pace her a bit(and actually during that race I helped pace the early miles with my other awesome client, 3:10 marathoner Ansley who was just a few min behind) and she placed 3rd, in 1:28 on the extremely difficult course.  From there, a month after we decided to do the Annapolis 10 Miler, where she ran 64 min for 3rd place-again these races were used to boost her fitness.  Her strength is that she can adapt well to running just a bit slower than a 10K pace she will race, but maintain that pace for a much longer duration.  She is a really strong half marathon and marathon racer-I think those 2 distances are perfect for her.

Later, in September, I felt she could run a fast half in her, even during this training cycle, because her paces were getting quicker and she was adapting.  In September, at the Parks Half Marathon, she blazed a new PR of 1:24:06(averaging a 6:24 pace) and a 1 minute win over previous year's winner Megan DiGregorio.  The weather was nice too so that helped.  I think she took 4 minutes off her previous best half.  That definitely told me she was probably in 2:55 shape(if run on a flat course, good weather).  We looked at the race as not a peak race at all-it was merely to get her fitter and the goal was to use it as such.  But what was cool was even though it wasn't the focus of the race, she won anyway!

The parks race awarded her $500 for the win.  
She donated the money to hurricane relief.

We did some hill repeats, but also those hard courses helped prepare her for the hills of Baltimore.  We also worked on starting a bit more conservatively on her long runs, so she could run faster as her run progressed instead of running the same pace the whole way.  We didn't do any on/off stuff during long runs(for example we didn't do anything like 4 miles at mp, 1 mile moderate, 3 miles at mp, 1 mile moderate, etc...)....not saying those aren't good workouts though!  I just didn't think it was necessary for her at this time.  But during the week we did fartleks in an earlier phase of her training (5:00 on/off stuff) and I think that was enough of the on/off work and no more was needed after that phase(besides interval work on the track or mile repeats later).  I think more consistency was better for her long runs so there was no break in the pace once she got down to it.  The trick was to get started right.  We worked on mostly starting a bit more conservatively so she could build into it(not jogging, but just easy), and progressing the pace later faster and finding the pace that felt right.  While she averaged like 6:59-7:00 pace for some of her faster long runs, during those long runs she was able to progress her runs so she was running anywhere from 6:30-6:40 pace during a certain portion of those runs.  She reminds me a bit of my friend Lucy, who I did some training with back in 2011 to help her prepare for the 2012 Olympic Trials and owned a 2:43 PR.  Lucy would very very gradually slowly pick up her pace for her entire long run and could get down to low 6's.  She was a machine.

I got to mile 23 and waited.  Ah, that anticipation only coaches and spectators know.  I hadn't seen her between miles 15-23, so I really was not sure where she was.  I somehow knew she was killing it though-she just looked so strong halfway and I could tell by her cadence and form that she had plenty in the tank.  The tracking on my phone wasn't working(of course).  I had a feeling she was doing awesome, but in the marathon, even if the training goes perfectly, you're not guaranteed to have things go your way.  I saw my friend Dave Berdan who I was pulling for the win.  He was just a bit behind the leader.  Then came Michael Wardian-I am sure he was tired after doing some crazy ultra race recently.  Some more men passed-not that many though.  Then, I saw a woman-she was not Silvia.  But then I quickly realized she was part of the relay they have during the race as well.  Shit, I hope she told Silvia that.  

Then I saw the lead motorcycle....and the shadow of the runner next to the bike.  It was her.  I recognized her strong form immediately.  She looked the same-which was great-nothing in her form had broken down.  I got ready to run the last 3 miles alongside of her.  Like a lunatic, I kept grabbing water cups from the aid stations for her.  It was probably hilarious watching me out there-I zigzagged across the road and if I provided any entertainment to help get her through those last few miles then I certainly succeeded.  As we passed through mile 25, I could not help but look at my watch and it said 2:51 since the gun went off.  I knew then she was not only going to win- she was going to break 3 hours.   

As we got into the final weeks of training, Silvia jumped in a low key 20 miler on the towpath, which actually Exavier ended up winning in a pretty good time on a hot day.  For the women though, Sarah Bishop(who won MCM in 2:45:06 in a near Olympic Trials qualifying time by 6 seconds) went on to take the win over Silvia.  Silvia was upset about not being able to run faster, but I was actually happy she didn't go too hard on that 20 miler.  It was important she didn't blast out a mega fast 20 miler and I actually had her do 22 miles total that day to get in more volume instead of racing the 20.  It was for the purpose of getting in something strong, but not over the line.  

Then later on a few weeks before the marathon her speed really came through.  She did a workout of 8 x 800m all in the 2:50's-your famous Yasso 800s so to speak-which I take with a grain of salt.  There is a lot more to marathon prediction than those darn 800s people use.  I also think it is not good to do them all the time.  Variation is something I constantly do.  She also did 5 x 1200m at sub 6:00 pace the week after that.  Then she was ready.  She didn't do any workouts the week of the marathon, just short runs.  She had a nice short long run a week out(11 miles), and that was enough to me.  During the cycle, I think her highest mileage weeks were 75-80.

2 minutes after passing through Mile 25, I told Silvia all she had was 5 minutes left of running.  I wanted to break that down for her-not sure if it made any impact but psychologically I felt it was good to break things down by time-almost like one last track interval.  As she made a left turn to go straight towards the finish line, I jumped off the road onto the side, and watched her sprint down the home straightaway alongside the roars of crowds and all the women cheering for her.  After placing 3rd and 2nd a few times, she finally won the race.  She deserved every bit of it.  It was awesome to see.  It was one of my best moments as a coach.  

Silvia was interviewed after the race (video below).  I think she was in a bit of shock after she finished.  She had won the race, and also ran an outstanding 2:58:36 personal best, 6 minutes faster than her previous best time on a really hard course!  She averaged 6:48 per mile.  Like I said earlier, this course is rough-it makes Boston look easy.  She explains as well in the interview.

In the spring of 2018, she will run the Boston Marathon.


  1. I still think that picture of Sylvia looking at the tape in her hand is one of the best race photos I've ever seen! The only thing that would make it better is if her sunglasses are off so we could see the tears of joy after she accomplished something she worked so hard for. Congratulations Sylvia - you are Amazing!!

  2. First - congrats to Sylvia! Second - not sure if you listen to the Pace the Nation podcast, but Chris Farley (who owns the Pacers Running stores and runs the podcast) gave a shout out to Sylvia and her win at Baltimore during the latest episode.