Archive for January, 2010

Monday morning marks week number 6 of our training plan with the Boston Marathon now just 11 weeks away.  In 76 days or 1,845 hours (who’s counting) with ESPN Cameras rolling, news outlets from around the world on hand, one million spectators watching and the finest international marathon runners in the world on hand – Run for Dom takes to the streets of Boston.

A friend this past week was asking me how much time I spent training and whether or not I felt that the time spent was truly worth it.  Now, in my particular situation the question was answered quite easily.  Any “sacrifices” I have made to this point and will be making in the coming weeks and months are nothing compared to the fight that my close friend Dom is in.  To compare the two situations is simply ludicrous.  My friend’s question however was more to the point of distance running in general, it had nothing to do with raising money and awareness to help my friend’s cancer battle.

Thoughts of this conversation returned during my Sunday long-run this weekend.  Why is it such an easy decision for me to hop out of bed on a Sunday, bundle up and cover 9-miles in 28 degree temperatures?  What is it about the sport of distance running that has such a powerful draw for me?

Garmin Miles

Over the next 11 weeks I will spend approximately 102 hours training for the Boston and Pittsburgh Marathons 13 days apart.  43 hours will be spent covering the remaining 343 running miles, 26 hours spent cycing 424 miles with 33 1-hour strength training sessions mixed in.

Those 102 hours will represent roughly 9% of the time I am awake between now and April 19th.  Is it “worth it”?  My  answer remains – “absolutely”. 

The reason being is that just last week I learned an important lesson about myself.

I am a rocket ship.

Now, I did not learn this lesson on my own – I owe this bit of wisdom to my friend Heather’s 3-year old toddler.  Heather is the very talented author of one of my favorite blogs – “Run Faster Mommy” – (you can read Heather’s post here):

She writes about the amazing energy level that her three-year old displays and the excitement with which he takes on all adventures.  How he can run with unbridled enthusiasm while yelling out “I am a rocket ship!”

In preparing for last week’s 3M Half Marathon this post of Heather’s really hit home.  At one point we all loved to run.  In our childhoods running was FUN – 100% fun with a capital F.U.N. – so what happened?  How did something that we all enjoyed so thoroughly become something that we view as “work” and question its worth?  How did it become a sacrifice instead of a celebration?

I thanked Heather for helping remind me of this fact last week before the half-marathon and told her that I would find a time during the race when my body started to feel the rigors of the event and my legs started to feel heavy and proclaim aloud on the course that I too was a rocket ship.

At mile 11 last Sunday as I passed the water station heading down toward the University of Texas campus I proclaimed aloud that I too was a rocket ship.  I will admit – I did receive a strange look from a runner on my right and a raised eyebrow from one of the race volunteers – but it put me exactly back in the state of mind I was seeking.

I was able to smile and realize that I was doing something I absolutely loved to do.  That given the choice there was really no place I would rather be at that point and time – I had in the words of Heather “found my inner toddler”.  I honestly believe that it is there lying dormant inside all of us waiting for a rediscovery.  It is a lesson that I learned at the tender young age of 42.  Shame on me for having forgotten.

Come Heartbreak Hill in Boston, or the Forbes climb at Pittsburgh – steep hills, strong winds, falling rain or cold temperatures that lie ahead – none of those obstacles stand a chance.  You see they are simply unaware of the fact that I have a secret weapon to lean on when the 26.2 mile distance becomes unforgiving.

You see … I am a rocket ship.

I have received a lot of inquiries regarding the Zensah Shin Splint – Calf Compression sleeve I began using last week.  So many in fact that I felt a product review was in order.  To date I have used the sleeve for 4 training runs covering 21 miles and the Austin 3M Half Marathon last Sunday.  So far the performance of the Zensah compression sleeve and the added comfort it has provided has exceeded my initial expectations for the product.

To provide the necessary back-story for this review I really should start with my training injury suffered earlier this winter.  Until December I had never experienced any type of shin pain or shin splint issues since I began distance running and marathon training in 2005.  I am fortunate to have a very neutral strike, a solid running economy and do not put a lot of additional strain on my musculature as my body weight has remained very stable over the course of the last several years.

Affected Shin Splint Area

That said, shin issues much like IT Band issues are injuries that for most distance runners is not a matter of if you will experience them, it is simply a matter of when.  You hope that the timing is not terribly disruptive to your training for a big race and that you can resolve them quickly with a return to pain-free running as soon as possible.

My shin issues were directly related to a change in my training preparing for the Boston Marathon in April.  Ironically it was not a matter of increased mileage that caused the problem which is often the cause of shin splints in runners.  I monitored the weekly mileage component very closely by sticking to a proven training plan that had kept me injury free in the past.  In my case it was a direct result of a change to the terrain over which I was running not an increase in intensity or frequency.

At the time I believed that a change to my traditional training plan that would incorporate more hill work into my runs was a requirement in order to prepare for the treacherous Boston course.  The increased hill training had an adverse effect however and I suffered a strained calf muscle as a result.  My attempt to back-off slightly, but continue to train through the calf issue landed me on the shelf with full-blown cae of shin splints less than three weeks later.  Instead of building strength in the injured calf area my continued training was in fact doing the opposite.  My weakening calf muscle forced the smaller surrounding muslces in my lower leg to take on more of a load than they were designed to handle.

The transfer of energy from the largest muscle in my lower leg (the calf) placed far too much strain on the smaller muscle groups which typically serve as “shock absorbers” during your ground strike.  This added energy was then transferred directly to the sheath that surrounds the tibia – and whala” – shin splints.

After a trip to Austin Sports Medicine (Visit information here) an MRI (story here)  ice therapy, no-impact cross training (cycling) and a gradual return to running my shin injury had recovered to approximately 85-90%.  I was now able to run “close” to injury free – but I was still feeling some weakness during my runs and had some residual soreness after running or strength training.  Not having the luxury to wait much longer as Boston loomed approximately 16 weeks away – it was time to get on with training and start preparing in a serious way for the first of two marathons 13 days apart to deliver on my Run for Dom commitment

Zensah - Shin Splint Compression Sleeve

Race Conditions - Austin 3M Half Marathon

The warmth aspect is a key as properly warmed muscles are much more pliable and able to better absorb shock – which would address what I feel was the primary source of my discomfort.

The other feature of the sleeve that drew me to the Zensah product was the fact that the front of the sleeve is designed to prevent shin splints by incorporating a compression pattern (the chevron pattern or inverted ÒVÓ). This chevron ribbing along the front helps support the muscles in the shin area thereby reducing the pain associated with shin splints.  The deep groove ribbing also helps increase blood circulation which transfers oxygen to the muscles faster.

The back of the sleeve provides support of the calf and Achilles with pock and vertical lines that closely mimic the calf muscles.

The sizing information was very straightforward based on the height of the runner which made ordering online very straightforward:

S/M: Height 5 9″ and below. Calf Size 11.5″ – 14.5″

L/XL: Height 5 10″ and up. Calf Size 14.5″ and up

Performance –

Like other Zensah products I had read about online – the product is really well made.  The compression sleeve is constructed from high quality neoprene material and features a virtually “seamless” design to decrease any chance of discomfort or chafing during a long run.

From the first time I used the sleeve I noticed a significant difference in the support and “strength” I seemed to have in my lower right leg.  Instead of feeling like I had 100% strength in my left leg and 90% in my right – immediately I felt as if my legs were now equal from an overall strength perspective.

The true test for me however was how my leg would respond post-workout.  Again, I continue to ice the area after each run – but the results were very impressive.  Gone was that nagging soreness that seemed to come between 30 minutes and 1 hour after each of my training runs.

Under race conditions last weekend at the 3M half Marathon (race report here link) – I honestly had forgotten all about my shin issues until about mile 12 when I reflected on how strong I felt and the absence of any issues in my lower right leg.

I am not saying that without the proper diagnosis, rest, rehabilitation, ice therapy and physical therapy that the Zensah sleeve is a “magic product” that will resolve all of your shin issues.  But if you have followed a sound rehabilitation plan and have worked back to reasonable level of recovery – I think the Zensah sleeve may just be what you need to push you over the hump and get back to doing what we all love to do which is run and run pain-free.

If you have any questions about the product or any of the exercises my Doctor prescribed to help me move past this issue – please feel free to reach out to me and I will be happy to help.  The blessing that comes from being able to run injury free is one that I have a newfound respect for.  I am happy to help anyone suffering from this painful condition.

One final note as I have stated in previous blog postings – I by no means receive any incentives to provide positive product reviews on this site.  I simply pass along my own experiences with various products that I have found helpful.  Stop back tomorrow as I will be posting an update on Dom who has made some progress on his final round of chemotherapy treatments.  Go Dom!

The fallout …. 1:32:13

Posted: January 27, 2010 in Training

So here we are on Wednesday morning three days after the Austin 3M Half Marathon and it is time to take stock of training and recovery.  Last week I took the opportunity to blog about the benefits of racing during marathon training – you can view the post here:  For the most part race day did provide quite a few answers on Sunday but it also raised a major question in my mind as I continue my preparations for Boston.

One of the major questions I had leading up to the Half-Marathon was whether or not my right shin injury had in fact been fully resolved.  Was I now to the point where I could run a considerable distance, (13.1 miles) and run pain-free after a period of physical therapy and a slow return to training.  Over the past two weeks my nightly stretching exercises and ice routine had dramatically reduced any discomfort in my shin area (tibia).  I did however have a lingering doubt in the back of my mind that I was truly recovered from shin splints.

I recently ordered a shin splint sleeve from Zensah that was advertised to support the recovering muscles surrounding the tibia as well as promote increased blood circulation to the injured area.  As anyone who has experienced shin splints – the pain which at times is quite severe – I was ready to try just about anything and everything to resume my normal training schedule.  The results on Sunday were nothing short of tremendous.  I was able to really push the pace throughout the race and finish strong – bettering my goal of 1:37:00 +/- by almost 5 full minutes at 1:32:13.  My final full mile at 6:48 was well below my overall pace of 7:02, leaving me with the feeling that I did not leave my best “Boston effort” on the race course in Austin. I feel as if I could have actually pushed the pace a bit more this past week and perhaps threatened the 1:30:00 mark.  You can read a full race report here:

As good as my physical performance was on Sunday, there is one test however that I feel I failed rather spectacularly which was keeping my emotions in check and not falling into the “race” trap.  As the miles ticked by on Sunday and I knew I was doing a terrible job of slowing my pace and staying within my race plan (7:30 +/- pace) I simply could not shut my competitive juices down and race “my race”.  Whether it was the crowds, the downhill course, the competitors around me or the number pinned to my chest – I simply needed to do better.

Tuesday’s 3-mile recovery run as well as this morning’s 6-mile pace run were completed without incident, no pain, no soreness and no set-backs.  I am fortunate to be in this situation and I know it.  I really needed to take it easy on Sunday and not increase my chance of a re-injury to my shin area.  Instead I let my emotions get the best of me and took an unnecessary chance that thankfully I did not have to pay the price for.

I realize that come April I will need to do a much better job of managing my race at Boston so that I am able to complete the second leg of the Run for Dom at the Pittsburgh Marathon just 13 days later.  Being able to impress at Boston by achieving a new PR (personal record) is not the goal.  Never has been, never will be.

I need to really focus on being able to run a smart race, recover and perform well at Pittsburgh a little less than two weeks later – which will provide the true test.  Keeping my eye on the prize is my focus moving forward.

Physical questions were answered in a very positive way on Sunday.  My rest, rehabilitation and cycling cross-training to build quadricept strength for the downhill nature of the Boston Marathon course all were passed with flying colors.  My mental preparation however left something to be desired.

I plan on paying great attention to my weekly pace runs (endurance) as well as my tempo runs (speed) to make sure I am able to stay within myself, not get caught up in the moment and stay focused.  I have always said about the marathon that it is a far greater mental challenge than physical.  This past week has only affirmed that view in my mind. 

From this point forward I am going to dedicate myself to treat each training run with a specific goal and purpose – never losing sight of the road ahead.  It’s time to walk the walk and not only talk the talk.  I must say however, it did feel good to go fast  at the 3M Sunday’s race was a lot of fun.  I’m just fortunate that I was able to recover quickly and get right back to training.  Only 84 days left to Boston.  Lesson learned – keep your eye on the prize.


Posted: January 25, 2010 in Training

If not for a fatal car accident on the evening of Friday, May 30th 1975 Steve Prefontaine would be celebrating his 59th birthday today.  Controversial in life and in death many would argue that “Pre” defined American distance running in the early 1970’s.

Pre - University of Oregon

Most marathoners can look back on a person or event that got them interested in the sport.  Deciding to run for 3-4 hours in covering 26.2 miles is not something that you take lightly or decide to do on a whim.  For many  it is a goal with strong emotional ties that will last a lifetime – being able to achieve something that at one point in your life seemed impossible – there is real power in that, achieving something that very few ever attempt. 

The Marathon experience is something that once completed you carry around with you for all time.  I remember the first time someone referred to me as a “Marathoner” – the feeling was completely surreal.  Marathoning becomes a part of you, a part that you can always draw strength from when things in life do not go exactly according to plan.

For me a great source of inspiration when I am training for a race or pushing through a punishing hill is one Steve Roland Prefontaine.  A framed copy of his Sports Illustrated cover from June 15, 1970 sits on my desk at work under my Pittsburgh Marathon Bib and finshers medal where I posted my Boston time last May. 

Pre was born 59 years ago in the small town of Coos Bay, Oregon. His father Raymond, was a carpenter and his mother Elfriede was a seamstress from Germany.  Many accounts say that Pre was a typical high school boy wanting to play traditional sports (football, basketball) while growing up.  It turned out that Pre was too small for these sports and took up running.

He began his running career at Marshfield High School and became one the most sought after runners in the United States. He was undefeated in cross-country and track his junior and senior year.  Not simply a sprinter or distance runner Pre was very versatile and could post times from a 1:54 in the 800 meters to a 13:52 in the 5000.  During his senior year at Marshfield High School he set the American record in the two-mile run.

Legendary coach Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon took notice of Pre’s talent and recruited him heavily. Pre arrived on Oregon’s campus in the fall of 1969 and began running with the cross-country team.  By the time he finished his career at Oregon he won an impressive seven NCAA national titles: three in cross-country, 1970, 1971, and 1973 and four in track at the 3-mile distance in ‘70, ‘71 ‘72 and ‘73.  Pre was the first athlete to win four consecutive NCAA track titles in the same event. He also held eight collegiate records including the 3 mile and 6 mile races which to this day have not been broken.  In fact Pre was never beaten in a single race at the University of Oregon’s famed Hayward Field.

There are a number of amazing facts and stories about Pre – too many to list here for sure, but one of my favorites is the fact that prior to his death in 1975 at the age of 24, Pre broke his own or other American records 14 different times.  He at one time held all seven of the American distance records between 2,000 meters and 6 miles.

For me it was not Pre’s accomplishments that got me interested in distance running as let’s face it – I’m a regular guy with regular abilities who trains hard and does “O.K.” at a sport that I am more than a decade too old for.  I was drawn more to the sport by the way Pre raced rather than how well he finished.  Pre’s most famous effort is probably the 5,000 meter race at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.  At the age of 22 he took on the world’s top runners with far more international race experience leading most of the final lap before finishing in 4th place literally less than one second away from medaling.

Pre believed that it was all about giving maximum effort – there are countless quotes attributed to Pre that are adorned on race shirts at every local running event across the country, my favorite remains:

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”

I have filed that quote away to draw on for the difficult stretch that is sure to come at Boston or Pittsburgh when the mileage starts to weigh me down and the course becomes unforgiving.  That quotation really captures the spirit of what Run for Dom is all about.  When I come through the chute at Pittsburgh I hope that I have appropriately honored a close friend and made a difference in the lives of Dom and his family as they fight this terrible disease, kicking cancer’s ass 26.2 miles at a time.  Go Pre.

Pre's Rock - Eugene Oregon

Cold runners waiting for race start

Let me start this race report out by saying I learned something very important about myself today.  For someone who prides themself on being diligent in my training, eating right, stretching, icing, working on my pace etc. – once I pin a number on my chest and line up for a race – I cannot be trusted.

I fully intended on treating this morning’s 3M Half-Marathon as my Sunday training run.  You know, take it easy over the first couple of miles – get into a nice rhythm, find a comfortable pace and maybe push it a little over the final 2-3 miles.  Goal for the race – 1:37:06 +/- (7:29 pace) …. or so I thought.  Official Race Result – 1:32:13 (7:02 pace).

Finally! Here we go.

Now, in my defense – the race had a start time of 6:45 a.m which was pushed almost a full hour later to 7:37 a.m. due to high winds knocking over police barricades used to close off streets along the course.  I’m not sure if you have ever had to stand still in 12-14 mph winds in 53 degree temperatures dressed for an immediate start – but we were freezing cold.  All of us.  Just trying to stay warm became the first challenge of the day for the runners awaiting the gun as many of us (o.k. maybe just me) had foolishly discarded our sweatshirts at the playing of the star-spangled banner (6:40 a.m.).

This had always been my strategy in the past – but I learned a valuable lesson today – keep all of your clothing on until the wheel-chair participants begin.  Today the start occurred almost one full hour after I had thrown away my top layer.  Ouch.  The funniest part of the story is that I actually saw a woman runner about 7:15 a.m. wearing my discarded sweatshirt.  I did not have the heart to retrieve it – but I did ask her if she had attended the University of South Carolina – and asked her if my sweatshirt was keeping the chill off of her …. was a funny moment, but I still learned that lesson the hard way.

Mile 6.5 3M Half Marathon

I knew the Austin course was notoriously fast with several downhill sections – but I still believed I would be able to curb my enthusiasm and run a smart race.  After such a long delay once they finally opened the course and the starter’s gun went off – so did I.  At that point I just wanted to get moving and get warm – but I started off at pace more suited to a 5-K than half marathon.  At the end of the first mile after navigating traffic through the slower runners in front of me I had posted a 7:17 first mile.  Not terrible, but still almost :15 faster than my goal pace.

As I started to “feel good” and warm up fully I decided to not look closely at my Garmin and simply find a comfortable rhythmic pace and settle into the run.  Having rested on Saturday (fresh legs) and cool temperatures contributing – I ran miles two and three at 7:12 and 7:02 respectively.  At this point I knew I was in a bit of trouble as this was actually the uphill portion of the course.  Only mile 7 and mile 10 would feature an uphill elevation change – so at this point the plan for an easy “training run” had gone by the wayside.

I felt great however, my legs felt strong and I decided I would listen to my body and stay smooth and consistent.  Focus on “even effort” instead of “even time” and let the hills dictate my splits.  This strategy seemed to really work as I evened out and posted times of 6:56, 6:48 and 7:00 over miles 4,5,6.  I started thinking at this point about seeing my wife Dawn and our friends Sarah and Tedd who were kind enough to provide photography, videography and ground support.  Sure enough I caught a glimpse of Tedd at the midpoint of the race as well as Sarah and Dawn.

Behind the back empty water bottle toss - needs work.

I have always been lucky at races in seeing my friends and family – today was no different.  It is amazing how over the course of a race course seeing a familiar face, a smile and wave can make all the difference.  I was really feeling strong at this point and posted 7:05, 7:09, 7:06, 7:06 over miles 7,8,9 and 10.  I had finally found my rhythm and pace – I was cruising.

At the mile 10 mark I popped 3 Clif Bloks in my mouth – hit the water bottle and decided that if we were going to post a PR (personal record) this morning – let’s really post one.  On miles 11 and 12 I tried to focus on keeping my posture “tall” keeping my stride “long” and let the miles tick by.   Mile 11 – 7:02, Mile 12 even faster yet at 6:59 and still feeling strong.

This was really the first time during the race that I thought about my recovery from shin splint issues in December.  The Zensah sleeve that I had just started training in this week really seems to have helped and I was feeling 100% at the Mile 12 water stop.

Final Mile

With one mile to go I tried to force the pace just a little bit more – at about the 12.5 mile mark I was running next to a man from Houston who was fading a bit over the last mile – I asked if he wanted to “run in”  together.  He nodded and got on my right shoulder.  I have found that having someone who you are “racing” more or less over the last half mile helps me focus on something positive instead of mentally ticking down the final distance.  We really fed off of each other as we ran stride for stride until only .10 miles remained.

Final .10

My pace for the 12th mile had fallen to 6:48 identical to mile 5 as the fastest two miles along the race.  Feeling frisky over the last .10 I gave a little extra at the finish and finished with an unofficial time (based on my Garmin) of 1:32:18.  My official time would turn out to be :05 seconds faster at 1:32:13 finishing 249th out of approximately 3,600 half-marathoners.

1:32:18 Unofficial Time

The race volunteers did a great job moving everyone through the finishing chute and greeted you with a warm smile, a congratulations and finisher’s medal.  There is something special about having someone place that medal around your neck.  It makes me almost immediately start thinking about the next race, the next starting area where I will make new friends and the next finish when I will run the last mile with another runner, helping each other finish strong.  It makes me look forward to the next time I will see my wife and friends at the finish and get to tell stories about stolen sweatshirts (all right, not really “stolen”) and almost getting hit by a wheel chair athlete on mile 8 (true!).

Post Race - Austin 3M Half Marathon

Best of all was the feeling that on a week when Dom was able to get back to work and take another step closer toward recovery – I was able to do something that I really love with the people in my life that mean so much to me.  Thank you Dawn, Sarah and Tedd for being there.  Many thanks to all of the volunteers and spectators that dedicated an early Sunday morning to putting on a great event. 

Sarah & Tedd - Post Race

Congratulations to the more than 5,500 half-marathoners and relay participants who braved the cold, the late start and the wind to compete and complete a great event.  I will definitely be back.

Joe & "Super-Wife" Dawn - Frisco Shopp, Austin

Race Week …. Friday 5-Miler

Posted: January 22, 2010 in Training

Bib Number - Austin 3M Half Marathon

Last workout today as we gear up for this Sunday’s Austin 3M Half-Marathon. Was able to stop by the packet pick-up today and get my bib (#1198) and a bag full of goodies from 3M – was a great mixture of coupons, 3M products and a very cool long sleeve race shirt. I also was able to drive the race course to get a feel for the hills that we will be experiencing as well as where the turns come along the course.

This is my first time racing at the half-marathon distance and I have to say I am very much looking forward to the race on Sunday.  I would have logged a solo 12-mile long run this weekend as part of my Boston Marathon training – so adding the extra 1.1 miles in a race environment will make Sunday’s workout much more enjoyable.

Normally I would recommend resting today prior to a Sunday race and just running a very slow easy 2 miles tomorrow to burn off some extra energy and nervousness – but since this week is really a “training” week and not a true “race” week – I stuck to my regular schedule.  My run today was a pace day where I try to mimic my race pace over the shorter distance.  I was able to cover the 5-miles comfortably in 36:23 (7:17/mile) which was :03 seconds/mile faster than my goal – so given the cooler temperatures this morning and my increased energy level – I felt good about today’s workout.

Best of all was the news I got regarding our hero Dom.  As many of you know from reading the blog or following me on Twitter – Run for Dom is my way of honoring a close friend who is battling cancer.  The “Run” is actually two marathons, Boston and Pittsburgh this spring just 13 days apart to raise awareness and support for Dom and his family – you can read more about the effort here:

Dom who has been recovering from surgery since the holidays made it back to work this week for really the first time with just a few exceptions in the last five months.  Dom was received at the office with a standing ovation from his coworkers – which tells you more than I could ever share about our boy.  He is truly an inspiration and I feel very honored to be playing even the smallest of roles in his fight against this terrible disease.  This coming Tuesday Dom will be heading back in for the start of his next (and last!) cycle of chemotherapy.  Three more rounds await that should have Dom done with chemotherapy just a week or two before the line is toed in Boston.

So on Sunday Dom – I run for you my friend – please stop back everyone for a race report and hopefully some great pictures of the race, family and friends.  Have a great weekend everyone – and for you Austin runners – be on the lookout for #1198 on Sunday – time to kick a little assphalt.

Pace Tat Instructional Video

Posted: January 21, 2010 in Training

I have received a lot of inquiries today about the “Pace Tat” product. I have included a video that illustrates just how easy the process is. You can access the Pace Tat site at:

According to the website the cost of a Pace Tat is $2.99 with available times starting at a 2:55:00 Marathon Pace all the way up to 5:30.

If you are running a Half-Marathon – you can simply cut your “Pace Tat” at the half-way point and apply only the first 13.1 mile intervals.

I think we will be giving this product a try at Boston and Pittsburgh this year if the weather cooperates and sleeves are not needed. Should cold weather be in the forecast – I think I will still rely on the tried and true pace runs as part of my training program. That along with my Garmin haven’t let me down yet.

Just a quick comment that none of the products or training items that I reference on the blog provide any incentives for me to do so. I just try to pass along tips and information that I hope you find interesting and useful. Look for a course preview to be up on the blog at some point early this weekend and a recap of the 3M Half Marathon after breakfast on Sunday.

Race Week ….. Pace Setting Tips

Posted: January 20, 2010 in Training

Today’s workout was a mid-week 6-miler to be run at/near race pace for this weekend’s 3M Half Marathon.  Now, normally I would have taken this week easy with a race looming on Sunday.  Had this been a marathon weekend we would actually be in the final week of a 2-3 week taper.  I will be writing about the strategy of “tapering” prior to the Boston Marathon in April.

This week is a bit different however as we are not trying to “peak” for this weekend’s 3M Half-Marathon – we are really using this race as a “training run” to ascertain as best we can what pace we should begin training for to complete the Boston Marathon and Pittsburgh Marathon within 13 days this spring as we Run for Dom.  Normally I would be able to rely on my previous spring marathon, my last 5K and my training log to develop a sound pace strategy for Boston.

However, having had shin splint issues this December, taking a full three-weeks off of running recently and reducing the number of my weekly training runs from 5 days per week to 4 we are flying a bit blind here in trying to find the right pace for Boston.  There are a lot of “pace predictors” that will extrapolate a time that you post at a shorter distance to predict what your marathon potential is.  For example they state that if you take your time from a 10K (6.2 mile) run and multiply it by 4.7.  This will estimate your potential marathon time.  For example a 40 minute 10K performance would lead to a 3:08 marathon, while a 50 minute 10K would predict a 3:55 marathon.

"Pace Tat" - ingenious

Keep in mind that these tools are predicting a “potential” marathon time – meaning they are estimating your potential based on your aerobic level – without considering your endurance level.  Unless you are an experienced marathoner with adequate endurance training, you will find it difficult to run a marathon at your “potential” this is due to the specific physical and mental endurance requirements that are unique to covering 26.2 miles.

I believe that you can however use these forecast tools to arrive at your pace if you try to minimize as many variables as possible.  Step one for me is to use a longer run as the basis for your “formula”.  What I mean by that is I believe a half-marathon or 13 mile training run will be a much better predictor of your marathon potential than a 5K or 3-mile training run.  I also believe that using a run that is within a few months of race day run under similar conditions will also prove to be a much more accurate predictor.

For example – a 13 mile training run 3 months before race day run in 45 degree temperatures on a hilly course will be a better predictor for a spring marathon in the Northeast on hilly terrain than a 13 mile run 8 months before race day at 65 degrees over a flat course.

McMillian Running has what I would consider to be an excellent predictor that takes into account the length of your workout, your age, gender and how many miles you typically run per week:

The tool will even provide you with pace recommendations for your endurance workouts, tempo runs and speed workouts.  Keep in mind however – these are simply recommendations – only you can determine the right pace for you – tools are simply helpful predictors as there is no magic formula.

So a valid question at this point would be – why can’t I just wait until closer to race day and determine my pace based on how I’m feeling that morning.  Well, I do think there are race day “variables” that need to be considered such as whether or not you are under the weather, nursing a minor injury or the temperature.

However, I like to know my target race pace 90 days prior to an event.  Now last year this pressure was removed from me as the Boston Athletic Association was kind enough to set my race goal at 3:20:59 for the Pittsburgh Marathon or a 7:37/mile pace to make my qualifying time.  But even in that case I still looked at the splits from my training logs and made sure I arrived at my “potential pace” that I felt I was capable of accomplishing and I “practiced” running that pace during my shorter “pace” workouts.

That is why I feel it is critical to arrive at your target pace a full three months prior to race day.  You need time to “practice” running that pace over and over again so that your body can more or less feel what it is like to run that pace – virtually without thinking about it.  For me last year I knew that 7:30/mile was my target for Boston.  I was capable of the pace and it would allow some “wiggle room” to have a few things go wrong at Pittsburgh and still make my Boston time.

I trained myself to know what a “7:30” felt like – so that when your body starts to betray you a bit you don’t have to fixate on your GPS and chart quarter mile to quarter mile how fast you are going, how fast you need to be going, are you losing time, gaining time etc.  This is all just added pressure and mental gymnastics to perform when you should be focusing on positive imagery, encouragement coming at you from the spectators on the course, your next water break and simple things such as “running tall” or “lifting your knees”.  The last thing you want to be doing is to find yourself dividing 73:27 into 9 miles and determining if you are on pace or not  …. Mathematics should be the last thing on your mind at that point.

Marathon Pace Band

During training I like to run a mile without looking at my GPS and then waiting for the “beep” to let me know I have completed a lap (on my Garmin a lap is a mile).  I will then predict how fast I ran the last mile before I look at my watch.  “I bet that last mile was a 7:35” – when I have my pace just right I am usually within just a handful of seconds away from exactly right.  There are times in fact when I have predicted several miles in a row within: 05 +/- without looking at my watch.  That is when I know I am dialed in to my pace and can duplicate it under most race-day circumstances.

A great tool that you can also implement to help guide you on race day is a pace wristband.  There is an example at:

 where you enter your target race pace and it will break each mile into even intervals.  You can cut and laminate this band to wear on race day so that at a quick glance you can reference where you “should” be at that point on the course.  This comes in handy on race courses where there is a total time elapsed at each mile marker.  Although that time will not be synching perfectly with your own race time based on how long it took you to start the starting line – again it serves as a great guide.

So race pace for Boston will become much clearer based on our results this weekend at the 3M half-marathon.  Check back after the race for pictures and a race report!  Today – 6-miles at 43:34 (7:17 pace), be well everyone!

Continuing with our race week entries we are now just five days away from Sunday’s 3M Austin Half-Marathon.  I keep making a point to remind myself this week that although we are racing on Sunday, we are really just 13 weeks away from our real goal which is to prepare for the first of two back-to-back marathons beginning April 19th at Boston. 

This segues nicely to a question that I  received  last week from a co-worker who asked, “how much do you run everyday”?  The question threw me a bit as I try to look at ever day and every workout as an independent part of an overall marathon training plan.  There really is no such thing as “everyday” when it comes to preparing fully for a 26.2 mile race.

To me even rest days represent “training” days as these critical days contribute to being able to run your best possible race on race day, peaking at just the right moment.  In fact I cross them off of the calendar on the refrigerator door just as enthusiastically as a “run” day.  Every aspect of your training from easy days, tempo runs, pace runs, long runs, rest days and your taper period are equally important in getting you to the starting line not only in peak condition but also injury free.  The key for me is to have a plan for each day and attack that workout as it is intended – with a specific goal to accomplish whether that goal is running a specific distance, a specific pace or simply resting and eating right.

My weekly training schedule can be accessed at :

Brushy Creek Trail - Austin, TX

So this morning my schedule called for an easy 3-miles.  It is not the distance that makes today’s workout “easy” but the pace at which it is to be run.  My PR (Personal Record) for 3.1 miles is 19:47 or a 6:21 pace – so going out and trying to run this morning’s workout in under 20 minutes while possible, is not part of our training plan.  It may feel good to try to push through a run of this distance as quick as possible or look good in my training log – but that is a short-sighted approach to training. 

The goal of today’s workout is to continue recovering from Sunday’s 11-mile long run and get ready for tomorrow’s tempo workout of 6 miles.  Today is simply a day to run at a comfortable pace – work some of the kinks and any soreness out of my legs from Sunday’s run, Monday’s cycling workout and strength training session with Kerensa (personal trainer).  It is a recuperative day that will pay dividends on April 19th and again on May 2nd.  Running fast today just for the sake of it – or worse, running farther than scheduled because I “feel strong” is a mistake that can lead to overtraining or worse – injury.

Keeping your ego in check during training is an important part of training for a marathon when your character and mental toughness is tested over the 26 mile 385 yard distance.  For me who is very competitive by nature, these easy days are ones where I really need to focus on my overall goals and not get caught up in chasing a PR for the sake of it.

3-Mile Easy Workout

Today was really a perfect day for running as I was able to leave the house about 30 minutes before sunrise with a temperature of 62 degrees and a light breeze blowing.  Total time today of 21:57 (pace 7:19).  It was a good workout as it seems more and more like our ideal pace at Boston is going to fall around 7:40/mile to 7:50 – leaving enough in the tank for Pittsburgh 2 weeks later.  We will know a little bit better after this weekend’s Half-Marathon – but as each training day gets crossed off of the schedule our goals for Boston are becoming clear.

With 13 weeks left of training before the Boston Marathon on April 19th this Sunday in lieu of a traditional long-run – we race!  I’ve traditionally stayed away from racing during previous marathon training periods not because of any fear of racing or a belief that it was not beneficial – it simply never worked out from a timing perspective.  There never seemed to be a local race that fell on the “right weekend” as I would either be scheduled for a longer training run than the race distance or the race fell on a “step-back” week. 

A step-back week is a key part of marathon training as it allows for your body to adjust to increases in your weekly mileage by taking a “step-back” on your Sunday long run by running a shorter distance at an easier pace.  This helps your muscles recover and come back not only stronger but also better prepared for the added mileage and intensity that follows. 

For example if your Sunday long-runs on consecutive weeks called for 14 miles one week and 15 the next, on the third Sunday in that cycle reducing the long-run to say 11 miles is appropriate.  That step-back week then begins a new training period where you increase your Sunday long-runs to 17 and 18 miles followed by another step back week of say 13 miles.  A good rule of thumb is to reduce mileage during your step-back week by 25-28% of your previous long-run distance.  This still gives you a solid mileage workout, but takes just enough pressure off of your legs to continue to train injury free – which is the most important goal in any training program.

2010 3M Half Marathon Course Map

This year however, the stars seemed to align just right with the 3M Austin Half-Marathon falling on the same week where I had a 12-mile long-run scheduled.  12 miles, 13.1 miles – what’s the difference right?  Well for me this week the added mile will also help me push forward just a bit and get back on track coming back from my shin issues in December. 

An additional benefit is the downhill nature of the 3M course which presents a great opportunity for me to practice racing downhill which is a much less publicized feature of the Boston Marathon course.  Even the most casual runner has heard of the famed “Heartbreak Hill” at Boston.

Downhill Finish!

What many Boston finishers will tell you however is that it is not the summit of Heartbreak Hill to be worried about, it is the constant and at times severe downhill nature of the first 15 miles at Boston that leaves undertrained quadriceps muscles fatigued to the point that the Newton Hills beginning at mile 16 through Heartbreak at mile 21 are the runners undoing.  In other words it is not the ups that get you at Boston, it is the downs.

There are a few other benefits to racing during your marathon training program:

  1. Shoes – For me this has long been resolved as the current version of Asics Gel Nimbus (now 11) work for my running style and footstrike.
  2. Socks – Thin, thick, moisture wicking (yes), thorlos, nike?  All great questions that practicing in a race environment will help determine.
  3. Body Glide – For me again a firm yes, but I learned during the Philadelphia Marathon that applying Body Glide between my toes was necessary to avoid blisters on the sides of my toes, not just the bottoms of my feet.  A lesson only learned by racing.
  4. Running Apparel – 45 degrees and clear, 52 degrees and rainy, 38 degrees and windy?  Do you know what clothing you will need to feel comfortable at the latter portions of the race?  Again, practice makes perfect.
  5. Pre-Race Evening Meal – this is another great opportunity to determine what kinds of foods give you the most energy as there are a lot of different ways to get Carbohydrates.  I try to keep my pre-race meal very plain to avoid any possible gastrointestinal issues on race day.
  6. Bed Time – Wake up call – How much time will you need on race morning to get ready, how long does it take you to fall asleep before a race?  For me I am not able to sleep much at all the night before a race, so I make sure to sleep a lot two nights before so I am rested.
  7. Race Morning Snack – For a marathon I like to have a banana and bagel 2 1/2 hours before the starting gun with my last drink of water 2 hours before the race.  This allows me to hit the port-a-potty 30 minutes before the start of the race and any fluids I consume on the course will pass as sweat with no additional potty-breaks.
  8. Hydration During the Race – I like to run with my own hydra belt during a race.  This allows me to drink when I want and how much I want without venturing through the water stops, struggling with foot traffic and of course spilling most of the water down the front of me.  I typically drink on the even miles and when I take gels.  2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20,22,24 and home!
  9. Gel supplements – this is another great opportunity to test out the various gels and supplements such as Clif Bloks or Gu.  The type and frequency is something that should be tested throughout training.  For me, I ingest 3 Clif Bloks (Black Cherry are my favorite) at five-mile intervals during a marathon chased with a few gulps of water.  5,10,15,20 – this keeps me from “bonking” during the run and also serves as a strong mental benefit giving me intervals to “look forward to” during the race – after all a Marathon is just four 5-mile intervals and a 10K right?
  10. Race Pace.

So the last one – race pace.  I really need to dedicate a post to this very important and somewhat difficult topic with as many theories and predictors out there as there are runners.  I plan on doing this when I myself determine what kind of race I really think I am capable of running at Boston mindful that 13 days later I will be again running 26.2 miles over the challenging Pittsburgh Marathon course for Dom.

Finisher's Medal

This weekend’s half-marathon will allow me in race conditions to try to keep my emotions in check and run a smart race.  A 7:20/mile pace would allow me to complete the 13.1 mile course in 1:36:04.  Very much in line with my previous training runs and a solid goal if I was actually “racing” this weekend to post the fastest time possible.  However, this week is simply a “training run” – meaning I am not trying to leave everything on the course as next week we are back to training for Boston – not putting our feet up and admiring our half-marathon finishers medal.

A pace of 7:35/mile would allow for a finish of 1:39:21 – this would simply be an extension of this past Sunday’s 11-mile long-run.  Now, I know myself well enough by now to understand that there is virtually no chance of that happening this weekend.  The simple matter of pinning a number on my chest and hearing the gun go off will make it extremely difficult to slow myself down and pace properly for a 7:35/mile pace.  I’m hoping however that I can race well, stay within myself and finish somewhere around 1:38:15 (7:20/mile).  So let’s go with that – this will serve as a great indicator as to what we will be looking for at Boston in April and help shape our tempo runs and subsequent long-runs over the next 12 Sundays.

Be sure to check back for a race report and photos from the 3M next week – thanks for reading everyone!