A couple of weeks ago I started my 20-week training cycle for the Big Cottonwood Marathon in Salt Lake City on September 14th.  Nothing remarkable about that as we have now started 10 such training cycles, each one of them carefully put together to put us in position to run a strong marathon come race day.  The goals have changed over the years from:

“Finish without walking” – Philadelphia 2006

“Qualify for Boston” – Pittsburgh 2009

“Run for Dom” – Boston/Pittsburgh 2010

“Requalify for Boston” – Austin 2011

“Run a best-ever time” – New York 2011

And now 2:59:59 is the goal at Cottonwood.  There is no fallback position, no “B” and “C” goal for that race.  If I run well things like a new PR in the marathon and re-qualifying for Boston will take care of themselves.  The math is pretty straightforward.

26 miles, 385 yards in 179 minutes and 59 seconds.

6:52 min./mile pace.

That is one of the things about road racing that I love so much.  It is in fact very uncomplicated at its core.  Sure we tend to muck it up as humans do.  Assigning all types of if this, then that propositions to it.  But in the end whether it is hot or cold, windy or calm, the course is long or short, my legs feel fresh or flat – all of that is just noise.

26.2 miles, 6:52 pace.

Period.

So going into this cycle I knew that I needed to do something different than I have in the past.  I was able to take more than 50 minutes off of my marathon time over the past 6 years and was able to PR in New York City by just under 7 minutes – the last marathon I truly got a chance to “Race” as Boston in 2012 brought 88 degree temperatures on race day and we just trotted that one in to err on the side of caution.  Houston earlier this year – well, that has been well documented as we missed the race due to an untimely strain to our left Achilles.

Running the requisite mileage is something that I think everyone who knows anything about training for a marathon understands is an absolute necessity.  You need the strength, stamina and mental toughness that comes only from running several long runs of 20, 21, 22 miles to be ready for what is coming on race day.

But the one area that I could look at as a “missing piece” in my training was true speed work or track work.  It is something I had never done in the past, and if I was really serious about making some changes in my training and not just “talking about doing it” like many athletes do – I needed to do it and do it now.

That was the reason for meeting with Coach Carmen Troncoso – talking about her philosophy in preparing runners for road races, and how we could take my current level of fitness and race experience to the next level.  Most things you really want in life don’t come to you because of dumb luck or by accident.  It is pretty close to a miracle that I ran a Boston time in my second ever marathon as a self-coached athlete with less than 2 years of running experience.

Since then I have learned a lot, made my fair share of mistakes, analyzed them and improved.  But how can my knowledge base compare to someone who has been training, running and racing at an elite level – first as a collegiate runner – then as a Masters Runner at the national level for more than 30 years?  Perhaps just maybe, she might have a thing or two to teach me.

But as I have been posting my workouts in my training logs I am starting to get a lot of questions from my friends and peers.  Why that workout?  How hard was that to execute?  What are the benefits?  How does that speed work help on marathon race day?

All great questions – and ones that I pondered myself before I started to work with Carmen.  Fundamentally there are three key benefits to speed work (track workouts) for marathoners.  Greg McMillian posted a great piece about this in Running Times.

1) Short, fast repeats improve your running economy (the amount of oxygen consumed at a given pace), and improved running economy is very important in the marathon. Think of it as getting better gas mileage–you can go longer before running out of gas.

2) Short, fast repeats break the monotony of training. Often, marathon training starts to put runners in a pace rut. Fast repeats challenge you to turn your legs over and help avoid the “marathoner shuffle.”

3) Short, fast repeats allow you to insert some volume of running at a pace that is significantly faster than marathon race pace.

This last point is a critical one – as this Wednesday’s workout called for 10 X 400′ at :90 seconds with :19-20 seconds of rest between repeats.

A :90 second 400 meter interval equates to a 6:00 min./mile pace.  During the workout I ticked off those 10 400’s in:

88′, 90′ 88′, 87′, 87′, 88′, 89′, 89′, 88′, 87′ – basically 5:56-5:58 pace per mile.

On just under :20 seconds of rest between 400’s – the last mile of the workout requires quite a bit of focus and effort.

This Saturday – the workout will be a 3-5-8-5-3 session.  Where the numbers correspond to the number of minutes run at Tempo Interval Pace (6:10-6:20 for me) – or 10K pace + a handful of seconds – with a rest period of 1/2 those minutes at a recovery pace.

So the workout will look like – 2-3 mile warm-up:

3 minutes at 6:15

1.5 minutes recovery pace

5 minutes at 6:15

2.5 minutes recovery pace

8 minutes at 6:15

4 minutes recovery pace

5 minutes at 6:15

2.5 minutes recovery pace

3 minutes at 6:15

1.5 minutes recovery pace

1-2 mile cool down.:

Between Wednesday’s workout of 2 miles at sub 6:00 minute pace and Saturday’s workout of just a hair under 4 miles at 6:15 pace we are able to add 6 miles of basically race pace running to our training week.  Each and every week the duration or intensity of the workouts will increase with the exception of our step-back weeks where we will dial back just a bit to make sure we stay healthy.

At the end of the training cycle we will have well over 125 miles on our legs at 10k, 5K or even sub 5K pace.  The equivalent of racing more than a 10k every week between now at race day.WL Track

With the goal of increasing our running economy, keeping us mentally sharp avoiding fatigue in just grinding out the long runs day after day,  and making Marathon Goal Pace “feel” a whole lot easier on our machine come race day.

After running so much up-tempo work in the Texas heat this summer – when we get off of that bus in Cottonwood Canyon and those 40 degree temperatures hit our skin, we are going to start ticking off those 6:52’s like nobody’s business.  The first 8 miles are going to be our warm-up, the middle 8 miles will be the start of the fight.  The third 8 miles will be the time where our will and our want to starts to be tested.

The final 2.2 miles are going to be an all-out street fight.  There are no two ways about it.  I am going to have to fight, scratch and claw for every single step to hold pace until we reach the final 400 meters.  But if all it is going to take to get there is a 102 second 400 to make it, I am going to lean on those hundreds of laps around the track this summer where we ran 86′, 85′, 84′ lap after lap after lap.

If there is one thing I learned growing up it is this.  When it comes to a street fight, never bet against the guy from Philly.

 

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