Archive for June, 2013

It seems like every marathon training cycle there has been a workout or two that just become a challenge to get in. Life just seems to conspire against us amateur athletes at times and a family commitment, a work trip or some kind of conflict rears it’s head that makes things a little more challenging than normal.

But this week, I’m actually happy to be thrown off of my schedule as Dawn, Landry and I are going to be flying out to Charleston, SC for my good friend Keith’s wedding. For those of you who have been visiting the blog for awhile, three years ago Keith lost his wife and the mother of his two young boys in an accident –

That week was one of the toughest I have ever gone through, only to be followed by us losing Dom two weeks later. Talk about a month you will never forget.

Then thankfully when I was asking myself a lot of questions that have no answers our little girl Landry arrived on August 29th. Timing as they say is everything. After losing two people that you care about so tragically just a handful of days apart there was something magical about holding my daughter in the hospital that Sunday morning. She was born on a long day of course – just the way any marathoner’s child should be brought into the world.



So before our Wednesday morning flight we had a workout to get in.

16 X 400 M with 200 M recoveries.

All at 95″ goal (6:20 pace)

A 3:15 a.m. alarm clock put us on the surface of the track at 3:55 a.m. A slow two-mile wake-up, I mean warm-up – same difference – in 16:00 minutes flat deposited us at the start of our workout at 4:11 a.m. 400 after 400 followed:

:95, :93, :94, :95, :94, :95, :93, :94, :95 :93, :94, :94, :94, :93, :93, :93.

With 200 M recoveries the workout ended up being 6 miles on the track with 3 miles warm-up and cool-down. 9 miles total.

Then it was back home for a shower, a quick packing of our run gear and off to the Low Country of South Carolina for a few days of visiting with the parents and watching Landry’s Godfather get married.

All in a days work for the amateur endurance athlete. We all know sleep is an important part of training. We’ll try to take care of ourselves this week, grab a cat-nap or two here and there and be ready to hit the streets of Charleston for our Thursday and Saturday workouts.

11 1/2 weeks to go.

If your goal is to improve, before lacing up your running shoes, ask yourself:  What is the purpose of this workout?

“If you can’t answer that question, why bother doing the run?” – Jack Daniels, PhD

Jack Daniels who is one of the most respected running coaches of our generation uses that overarching philosophy of each workout having a purpose or specificity in training to put it another way, as the backbone of training plan construction for his athletes.  Prior to putting together my plan for Cottonwood I read for the second time his book “Daniel’s Running Formula” and sent off for one of his training plans to compare his recommendations to what my coach and I had outlined.

Many of the lessons I had learned over the years preparing for marathons were supported in Daniel’s research including the need for various types of workouts to improve your running efficiency (think gas mileage), your endurance (think gas tank capacity), your speed and running economy (think quickness and form) and of course your mental approach to the event.

But one rather obvious lesson I took from my second “read” of Jack Daniel’s book was the thought that each and every workout should have a purpose.  That you should know exactly what you are hoping to accomplish before you lace up your shoes that morning and then go out and execute that workout as intended.

It seems like an obvious concept – but in the past I would sometimes change my plan on the fly based on weather conditions, how I felt or if I simply wanted a “tougher” challenge than the workout on the refrigerator door indicated.  If 6 miles is good, 7 is better.  If 7:25 pace is prescribed over 10 miles, 7:15 is better.  8 hill repeats on the schedule?  I’ll do 10 instead.

Very rarely would I ever run less or slower than prescribed, but often I would do more than what was required.  The problem in that is that every individual workout is just a small piece of the overall puzzle.  Many miles of a marathon training program are meant to be run at a very specific pace.  One that will do the most good – and sometimes that means that it is much slower than you are capable of running.

A good example of this is the weekly long run.  The primary purpose is to build a base for more intense workouts by strengthening the heart and increasing the muscles’ ability to use oxygen.  It also allows your body to recover between hard workouts.  By running this workout too quickly you in fact short-change yourself and do not allow for all of the physical adaptations that the marathon requires by expanding your capillary formation and the improvement in your body’s ability to carry oxygen to the muscles.

Another example would be threshold pace workouts – At 88-92% HRmax, this intensity is aimed to raise the lactate threshold.  In this workout a runner should be able to sustain this pace for up to 60 minutes during racing.  Daniels describe this intensity as “comfortably hard”.  In elite runners, the pace matches their half-marathon goal pace, while less trained runners will run at their 10K pace.  Daniels again emphasizes the importance of keeping the given pace to reap the benefits of the training.

I have tried to focus on two primary goals during this training cycle – as you can certainly drive your self a little bit crazy overanalyzing every workout and every mile run leading up to an “A” race marathon.

1.     Understand the reason behind every workout and always leave the driveway with that purpose in mind.

2.     Do no more or no less than that workout requires.  (Pace, Distance, Effort and Concentration)

This week represents a great microcosm of our overall training plan – 6 runs, 68 miles all with a specific purpose.

Monday – Hill Route Recovery Run

Tuesday – “E” Easy Pace 10-miler.  What I refer to as an “Easy 10” workout.

Wednesday – Track Workout – 3 X 3,200 M w/ 400 M recoveries.  (Threshold Workout)

Thursday – Progression Run, 11 miles decending by :10 per mile from 8:30 min./mile to 6:50 min./mile

Friday – Rest Day – No Running

Saturday – 10 Miles, middle 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace (6:50)

Sunday – 20 Mile Long Run – “E” pace

Even Friday – a day with no running had a purpose.  After 6 straight days of running that included a race in Holland, TX last weekend and a couple of tough workouts on Wednesday and Thursday – the body needs a break to reload and adapt.  Setting the stage for another tough workout on Saturday morning and a long, endurance building 20-mile run on Sunday.

68 miles, 12 of those miles at Marathon Goal Pace or Faster (17.6%), the rest all run at paces ranging from 7:00 min./mile to just over 8 minutes per mile.

That block rests upon the block set before it, which rests on the block placed before that one.  And so on and so on.

We are now 12 weeks away from the corral and finishing chute.  747 miles between now and mile 20 of the marathon where all of this will boil down to 10 kilometers.  Every runner at Cottonwood in September is going to have a race plan.  You don’t just show up to the starting line of a 26.2 mile footrace and “wing it”.

We are going to have our plan on our forearm.  Every mile individually scripted based on the specific period in the race, the elevation of that mile and how far we are along the course.  On Wednesday we practiced this very exercise.  Run every mile at a specific pace.  Do not think about the mile before or the mile to come – just execute.

8:30, 8:20, 8:10, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40, 7:30, 7:20, 7:10, 7:00, 6:50.

No mental break.  No daydreaming.  No Wandering.  100% focus.  The run went:

8:26, 8:19, 8:10, 7:59, 7:48, 7:39, 7:28, 7:20, 7:09, 6:58, 6:47.

Dialed in to say the least.  We have a lot of work left to do, but I’m starting to get the feeling that we have something special waiting for us in Utah.  An unlikely place as any on earth for us to run the race of our life.  But I’m starting to think that this just might be our time.

Based on the past there is not a lot of empirical evidence out there that says we are going to break 3 hours in September.  We’ve teed up the marathon quite a few times before and although we have run some good races, we have not had that breakthrough effort.

But something just feels different this go round.  Perhaps I’m not as tied up to the emotions this time.  I’m a little bit more detached.  More scientific and calculating in my approach.  There is going to be plenty of time for emotion on race day.  For now, we’re going to trust our training plan, trust our coach, trust the experts and simply bring our lunch pail and hard hat to every workout.

In the end, maybe we’re just simply not good enough.  I will be able to live with that.

But what if we are?  That is the million dollar question now isn’t it.  What if we are.

After a bout with the track on Wednesday morning our training log stood at 27 miles with 6 miles between 6:25 and 6:50 pace.  Just about 25%.

Only 41 more miles to go this week.

Kind of puts it all into perspective where we are in the training cycle.

There have been times in the past when I was moving from one marathon to the next where I started the training cycle pretty close to “fit” and spent most of the 18 weeks maintaining my fitness, running my hills and simply stretching out my volume making those Sunday 20-22 mile runs the “A” workouts in preparing for race day.

There was a lot of “staying the same” in that approach instead of trying to “peak” for race day and mentally those training periods could be draining.

Training for Big Cottonwood has been very different for me this go round, with 20 weeks of preparation where we first needed to reestablish our base and consistency coming back from a winter injury.  6 weeks of base-building, then a cut-back week to recharge the batteries (last week), followed by 10 weeks of ramping things up and “next-leveling” our training before the three week taper to race day.

This week beings our “10 Weeks to 2:59” period features 68 miles of running this week including our first 20 miler of the cycle.  Volume is one thing, but mixing in enough quality work to improve our efficiency is another and that is what the focus is of our Wednesday track workouts.

This week the plan called for 3X 2-miles with 400 meter recoveries.  Goal Pace for the 2-mile intervals was:  6:50, 6:40, 6:30.

A workout that might not look too challenging on paper and in November or December, perhaps not.  But with 77 degree temperatures and 87% humidity at 6:00 a.m. degree of difficulty?  Plenty.

After a leisurely 2.4 mile warm-up my friends David and Amy broke off from the larger group to do our workout.

David called out the 400 meter splits to us, Amy kept track of our total time for the 2-mile intervals and I kept track of our laps and paced us on the inside.

6:51, 6:47, 6:40, 6:38, 6:27, 6:23 were our splits as we ticked off mile repeat after mile repeat.

As we started the last full mile of the workout I cheated a bit.  I went to a place that I usually reserve only for race day or an exceptionally challenging period of time.

I went to Dom.

With sweat squishing out of my shoes with every stride, my focus starting to shift toward aches and pains instead of my cue of making sure my kicking foot was crossing knee high with my plant foot on each pass, I was starting to hurt.  It would have been very easy to give in and ease off the pace just a bit.

In a race, that is the battle that is going on constantly.  Your head gives up well before your heart does.  The key is to not let your head win.  You have to distract it.  Confuse it.  Focus it on something other than the pain.  And if we have any chance at all at breaking 3 hours in Utah this September we are going to have to do that for at minimum the final 5 miles of the race.  Close to 35 minutes of fighting that internal battle.

I thought on Wednesday if you cannot do it for 6 and a half minutes, what chance to you have of doing it for 5X that long on race day.

So I cheated.  I imagined the conversation that I would have to have with Dom if I gave up in the last mile of the race and what kind of excuse I would come up with for why it didn’t matter.  Why it wasn’t worth holding on.  The kick in the ass I needed to stay on pace arrived immediately and at the bell lap or final 400 meters I found my stride and energy and ran smooth to the finish.  The fastest 400 of the fastest mile of the morning.

No individual workout during marathon training really amounts to anything.  That is the first lesson every marathoner really needs to learn.  You need to flush the bad ones and not celebrate the goods ones too wildly because in the end, they are all just specs of sand on a beach.

But every once in awhile a mile is more than a mile.  It presents a great opportunity to visualize a part of the upcoming race or experience just a bit the way your body is going to feel when your head starts to take charge of your heart.

That to me is what continues to draw me back to the marathon time and time again.  That test of wills.  Mind vs. heart.

Yes I may be getting older.  I might not have the experience that some runners do.  I’m certainly not the most talented nor am I the fleetest afoot.  But I do have one thing that a lot of others don’t.  And that is my buddy who I can summon to my side just about any time I need him when things are starting to look the bleakest.

Dom, thanks for being there for me.  I can always count on you when things start to go a little sideways.

I’m going to need you during that final 10 kilometers on September 14th.  Get ready to strap yourself in.  It might not be pretty, in fact, I guarantee it is going to be anything but graceful – but on that last mile if we only have 7 minutes to get there I expect you in my ear the whole way.

I miss you Dom.  Keep running things for the rest of us up there.

Saturday marked the 39th year that the small town of Holland, TX would be gathering to celebrate bringing in their cash crop on the 3rd Saturday in June.  Fourteen years ago, celebrating the 25th Cornfest, Holland added a 5 kilometer race.

I was talking with a runner who had been to just about all of the races over the years who shared with me that at first the race organizers used to bus the runners out into a cornfield 3.1 miles to the finish line, and run a point to point race back to town.  What sounded at first like a great race to me was then explained a little bit further.

“The worst part was the start when you ran through the field with corn head high on both sides of you.  No breeze, stifling heat – it was pretty steamy.”

In the days leading up to the race I saw on the website that the festival was moved to Holland City Park and would not be taking place on Main Street as it had in years past.  This meant a change to the race course which I had not expected, so even though I would be running my 5th consecutive Holland Cornfest Race – 2013 would be a different race than in years past.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be as hilly I thought as I lay in the driveway stretching waiting for my buddy Neil to pick me up.  What I did know for sure was it was much hotter than the past couple of years.

The temperature was already 77 degrees two hours before race time, and the humidity was in the high 80’s with overcast skies and even a few scattered rain drops hanging around.  I had read an article just the day before that talked about hot-weather racing and that running by perceived effort instead of by “pace” was the way to go.  Just because you can run an opening mile of a 5K in say 6:00 minutes flat in 50 degree temperatures does not mean you can run one in 80 degree heat.

Or let me put it another way.  Yes, you may be able to run ONE mile at 6:00 in 80 degree heat, but you are going to have an awfully hard time running a second and third one.  We’ve covered this before, but your body’s response to higher temperature is to bring more blood to the surface of your skin to cool you off.  More blood traveling to the surface of your skin means less blood going to the muscles that are doing the work.

Less blood to the muscles means slower times.  So you need to adjust accordingly.  What seems to be right for me is 5 seconds per mile for every 5 degrees over 65 degrees.  So on an 80 degree day, I would be looking to run 6:10 pace for the 5K instead of 5:55 pace.  To put that into race time terms – something around 18:55 for the 5K instead of 18:10.  Add in a little extra humidity and I started to think that a time around 19:00 minutes flat would put me in a pretty good position in Holland.  A race where I have been fortunate to run in the top 10 overall over the past two years finishing 8th in 2011 and 6th in 2010.

My race plan came together for me on the ride up to Holland.  I was going to run my opening mile at 5:50 pace which would put me in a position to break 19:00 minutes given the inevitable drop off in pace as I heated up.  I should also at that point have a solid place among the top 10 runners and would lock-in at that point.  Try to maintain my track position and not let anyone catch me from behind.

Pre Race:  Neils’ daughter Megan was joining us this year for the first time.  New to running, Megan who is 12 had been showing a lot of promise on her school team.  This would be her first 5K and I was interested to see how she enjoyed it.  We made the 50 minute drive up to Holland and found the city park.  As we pulled in to park I noticed a large fair ground this year with rides for the kids and food vendors.

Landry would be coming up with Momma Bear after the race wrapped up for the parade and “candy grabbing” as the people on the floats and the fire trucks throw out candy for the kids.  She had been talking about wanting to go on a Ferris Wheel for the last week or so – I think it must have come up in a book she was reading at school.  So it looked like she was going to get her chance.

I checked in, grabbed Bib #2, and went off to run a 2-mile warm-up which would let me see the first mile or so of the course.

I started out at a smooth pace in my heavier trainers, 7:30 was my opening mile and by the time I reached the course marking for 1 mile in/1 mile to go I was already dripping sweat from my brow and down my shoulders.  At that pace in the winter time, I would not feel a drop of sweat until the start of mile 3.  It was definitely a hot one.

I wrapped up my 2-miles in 14:50.  Legs felt nice and snappy, but the humidity was pretty ugly.

I changed into by Brooks T7 race flats, visited with my friends Erin, Paul and his son Jonathan for a few minutes and it was time to duck into the chute for the start.

Mile 1:  As I have been doing for some time now, I had my watch set to record 1/2 mile intervals – giving me a little bit more feedback for a short distance race than simply looking at my split at the end of the first mile.  By that time in a 5K you are almost 30% of the way through the race.  A little bit late to make adjustments from there.

At the gun we got out smoothly and tucked in behind 2 young runners.  One just out of College, the other was Paul’s son Jonathan who was now 16 and running strong.  He had set a new personal best for the mile this year in 4:42.  I felt like I was in the right place and glanced down at the end of the first 1/2 mile – 2:52.  I was right on target for that opening 5:50 as the second 1/2 mile would be slightly slower having gotten over the adrenaline rush from the start.

On cue our second 1/2 mile came in at 2:58 – a 5:50 first mile.  One thing I noticed was how easy my cadence felt compared to other 5K races.  I could definitely notice a slight change in my running economy due to the track work we had been doing.  The weather however was making me feel like this was pretty much suicide pace on a hot day and I decided to gradually slow things down.  I was thinking that something like a 6:10 second mile and 6:15 third mile would let us run through to the finish, place well and not dig too deep of a hole that it would take us several days to recover from.  As Marathon training was going to be right there staring us in the face on Sunday morning.

As we started mile 2 the last thing I thought to myself was – “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Mile 2:  A young runner came past me at the mile 1 marker and huffed on by.  I compared his breathing to mine – which can tell you a lot about your competitors during a race.  He was breathing like he was in the final 800 meters of the race.  I let him slip past me and knew that I would be returning the favor pretty quickly.  We dropped back into 4th place but I did not try to respond.

Just before getting to the cone turn-around we hit the third 1/2 mile split in 3:01.  I slowed to make the 180 degree turn, grabbed a cup of water to throw over my head and another to take a quick sip.  I would give away a handful of seconds here, but not running for a PR – it really was irrelevant.  I got a chance to take a peak at the runners behind us to see if anyone was looking strong and closing on me as the course would retrace itself back to the finish.

My friend Paul was running in 5th position, 300 meters or so behind me, followed by a handful of runners who I had close to 1/4 lap of a track on.  I wasn’t worried about being caught from behind as we were all going to be slowing a bit in the heat.  I caught up to the runner who had passed me previously and slid by him as he was faltering badly.  We were running back in 3rd place – about :20 seconds off of the leaders.

At the beep we hit the 4th 1/2 mile split in 3:08.  a 6:09 second mile – 6:05 or so pace given the cone turn and water stop.  Just about right.

Mile 3:  One mile to go and it was getting pretty rough.  Always a tough point in the 5K, but I was soaked through my shorts, socks and shoes in sweat and just battling to keep my effort even through to the finish.  We hit the 2.5 mile mark in 3:10 and the 3 mile mark in 3:09.  All that was left was the final kick.

Finish:  I hung in close enough to see the winner cross the finish line ahead of Jonathan by a handful of seconds.  Not risking anything I decided to just gradually press on the accelerator and end at about 90% effort.  Not an all out sprint, but a fast-finish to wrap things up in a strong fashion.

18:56 was our time – 3rd place finish, our highest ever in Holland and we had accomplished what we had set out to do which was take home our 5th consecutive Age Group Award from the Corn Festival.

Post Race:  I was able to see both Neil and Megan finish the race before I went out for an easy 1-mile cool down.  On the way back I ran next to Sandra who was running her first ever 5K race.  She had to stop to walk a couple of times as we chatted over her last 1/2 mile, but I was able to tell her about how I started running, all the places that it had taken me and how much she would be able to gain from the sport if she was just able to stick with it during the period of time (just starting out) when it is the hardest, and the most people quit.

I ran her all the way to the last 200 meters and then dropped her at the cones so she could speed to the finish on her own.  The announcer called out her bib number and name as she ran under the finish arch and I smiled.  Hopefully it marked the start of something great for Sandra.

At the awards ceremony I got a nice surprise as when I was called up to the stage the announcer said, “And in first place in the Male 45-49 age group category …. wow, that is a fast time …. Joe Marruchella.  Joe comes up here every year to race with us, thank you for being here.”

Landry had quite a time at the festival this year.  Not only did she get on the Ferris Wheel with Dad – and I have to be honest, I had my doubts about how great she thought the ride would be once we got to the top.  But she LOVED seeing the park and all the rides, animals at the petting zoo and people down below.  She is such a big girl these days closing in on her third birthday now just a little over 2 months away.

We had some great local barbeque, and Landry played on the playground going toe to toe with some of the big kids before it was time to get going back to Austin.  Moving the festival to the City Park was a great move by the organizers as it seemed like there were close to twice as many people there as last year.

So in our last race before we age yet ANOTHER year at the end of July, we wrapped up a pretty solid age 45 year or racing.

We were blessed enough to start and finish 13 events from the 5K to half-ironman, set new PR’s in the 5K, 5-mile, Half Marathon and Half-Ironman, age group in 11 out of 13 events and miraculously win two of them.  In a year where I focus constantly on the one event we had to miss – the Houston Marathon due to injury – I have to remind myself that we had a pretty successful last 12 months.

It is really easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the negative and poo-poo the positive when you are training and racing.  But it is just as important to look at the positives and not always dwell on the misses.

That said, just two weeks ago I registered for the Houston Marathon in January of 2014.  I know me well enough to know that I cannot see the word Houston, hear anyone mention the city or even see the Astros in the box score and not think about my missed race last year.

For me to say that I have something left to “prove” at this point is pretty silly – Prove what?  To whom?  But when it is all said and done and we are no longer running marathons, I don’t want to have to think about Houston as the race that got away from me.  Fast or slow, PR or not, I am going to cherish just being at that starting line healthy and I am going to run my ass off.

See you in January Houston Marathon.  12 months late, but better than never.


With Saturday’s 5K race up in Holland, TX counting as our weekend “quality” workout, I stuck to our training schedule on Wednesday and headed to the track to meet with the Rogue group for our mid-week track day. On deck was a simple enough sounding workout.  With running, the same with most things in life, looks can be deceiving.

2 mile warm-up, 8X 800 Meters at 10K effort with 200 meter recoveries, 1 mile cool down. An 8-mile workout with 4 miles at 10K effort or 3:10-3:15 per 800 with 80~ seconds of rest between reps.

I took the warm-up a little slower than usual for the first mile, then pushed the pace just a hair to finish right around 8 min./mile.  Just enough to shake loose, get a nice sweat going – which wasn’t very difficult on a 77 degree morning with 88% humidity and then loosened up a bit with some drills on the football field.

Never having done any track work before this training cycle – I am starting to really enjoy my mornings running on the surface.  There is something about sliding into those race flats and pounding away at the surface, no thought of incline or decline, soft trail or hard asphalt – it feels a little bit like a tuning fork going off inside of you with every stride.  What I thought was going to be “boring” has turned out to be anything but.  On another date in the fall, when temperatures are cool and there is no wind I’m kicking around the idea of having a couple of guys trade off 400’s pacing me to see if I can run a 4:59 mile.

My running partner David showed up so I would have someone to pace with – but David has been struggling with a low-grade fever and some congestion – as it turned out he was a little bit under the weather and after the first set of 800’s – he was off of the pace, hanging :05-:08 behind me for most of the workout.

We were a bit on the slow end of the first two 800’s, but then as I decided to run them on my own we settled in nicely:

3:16, 3:15, 3:11, 3:09, 3:11, 3:11, 3:10, 3:08

What does this mean?  Not really anything to be honest.

Some believe that 800 repeats are a good marathon predictor.  Bart Yasso and the “Yasso 800” workout has become a popular way for marathoners to estimate their potential on race day.

That workout specifically is 10X 800 Meters with an equal rest interval as your 800 meter time.  You take the average time in minutes of your 800’s and convert it to hours and minutes – that is your marathon potential.

So for example – if you are able to run 10X 800 meters in 3:05 and you take just 3:05 of recovery (jogging) between sets, your marathon potential is 3 hours and 5 minutes.

The workout we did this morning was not really the same thing.

8 repeats instead of 10.

1/2 rest instead of a full rest in the time of each repeat as we were only running 200 meter rests or about 80 seconds of recovery.

Instead of running the “fastest we could to finish all 10 in the same time” – we were simply choosing 10K pace as a guide.

I could have for sure run the workout faster, I could have for sure run more than 8 repeats and with almost twice as long a rest period between the repeats, who really knows how fast I “could” run this workout.  Add in some warm weather and you just have way too many moving targets mixed in there to take anything away from this workout as an indicator.

The last factor is we are still about 13 weeks (more than 3 months) away from race day.  With good health we will continue to get stronger and build our aerobic base even more leading up to Cottonwood.  So for now, I’ll just file this one away and not think about it too much.

As for Yasso’s as an indicator?  I’m not really sold.  I think that the workout is more of a reality check than a projection.

What I mean by that is to say that if you CANNOT run 10X 800’s in 3:05 then it is very unlikely that you can run a 3 hour 5 minute marathon at our current fitness level.  But just because you CAN run 10X 800’s in 3:05, I do not think that means that you WILL run a 3 hour and 5 minute marathon.

You still need all the other factors to fall into place:

Fitness – you have to do all the long work, tempo work and hill work.

Health – you have to be pretty darn close to 100% healthy on race day.

Fueling – you have to be dialed in with your nutrition and hydration.

Pace – you have to run a smart race.  Do not go to fast early and you have to execute.

Fight – you have to be willing to hurt during the final 10 kilometers of the marathon.  If you give up even a hair, you won’t make it.

For the Runner’s World Article on Yasso 800’s visit:

We’ll have plenty of tests over the next 13 weeks that we need to pass before we decide that we are going to go for it on race morning and leave Cottonwood Canyon at 6:50 pace instead of some other pace …. but for today, I’m feeling pretty good about where we are headed, but I am a long way away from making any proclamations.  For now, we’ll simply leave it as – to be continued.

For the fifth consecutive year we will be making the one hour ride up to Holland, TX for the 39th Annual Holland Corn Festival and the 14th running of the Holland Corn Fest 5K.  There are a couple of races that we do every single year – the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K and the Holland Cornfest 5K.  I basically build my training plans around these two small local races as I want to be sure that I support the two events and their charities, but I also find that it is very valuable to compare my performance twice a year on the identical courses.

Once on the 3rd Saturday in June and once on the first Friday Night in December.

It gives me a good barometer as to our fitness, any improvements that we have made and if my training is lacking in a certain area.

Comparing race times across different courses, different times of year, different weather makes it difficult to get any concrete sense as to how fit you are or how well you raced.  But on Saturday morning I know quite a few things about what we are going to face.

The course is going to measure 3.15 miles in length.  Just slightly longer than 5,000 meters.

We are going to climb 225 feet during the race, making it one of the more challenging 5K courses that I have run.

The temperature is going to be approximately 82 degrees at the start of the race.  Adding to the challenge of running a fast time.

I also know that there are going to be somewhere between 6 and 10 runners out in front of me over the first mile, if we run well, we will have a chance to claw our way back into the top 10 overall.  And if we execute our splits to the best of our ability we should run a time between 18:50 and 18:59.

In looking at the last two years in Holland we ran nearly identical races.

Last 4 Years at Holland Cornfest 5K

Last 4 Years at Holland Cornfest 5K

In 2011 we ran our course record 18:53.  In 2012 an 18:57.

The difference being our final 1/2 mile and kick as I felt myself ease up off of the gas just a hair last year knowing that we were racing the very next day at the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon.  This year we will not be racing the following day, so we will be going full-out and run through to the finish.

The one thing I am interested in seeing is if being in an ascending period of our training will make a difference or not in Holland as opposed to coming off of a Spring Marathon as we have been in the past few years.  In 2010 and 2012 we were coming off of Boston in April and were running only 35-40 miles per week.  In 2011 we had not quite yet kicked off NYC Marathon Training and were again averaging 35 miles per week or so.

This year of course we have a September date with Big Cottonwood – so we have been running mileage in the mid 50’s for several weeks now.

We have also been doing track work for the first time over the past 7 weeks which may have improved our speed just a bit going into Holland.  The downside to all of the increased work is that our legs are going to be far from fresh on Saturday morning.

Coming off of yesterday’s 19-mile long run in 75 degree temperatures we are anything but rested.  With workouts on Monday, Tuesday and 800’s on the track on Wednesday I am going to run our Thursday miles at a very slow, easy pace and then stay off of my feet as much as possible on Friday to hopefully trick our legs into feeling fresh on Saturday.

Fatigue will not likely show up early in the race, but the final mile, which features some late climbing before the final 2/10 of a mile that rewards runners with a downhill finish is going to test us.  To be honest, I am not going to put too much stock in our performance in Holland.  Sure I hope to run well and I would love to shave a few seconds off of our course PR.  But given the course, the heat and being in the midst of an aggressive Marathon Training plan – I’m not quite sure what to expect.

There have been times that I have raced during marathon training and been completely flat.  Others where I ran a tremendous race.  But flat or fresh, fast or slow the race on Saturday is going to be a great workout, running a little bit longer than 3 miles at just a tick under or tick over 6 minutes per mile on a steamy hot, hilly course.  With a 2-mile warm-up and a 2-mile cool down, we are going to have a great 7 miles to put in the bank to follow-up with a shorter long run of just 14 miles the next day to wrap up another week of 55-56 miles.

Then things will jump up a bit for the next month our weekly mileage hitting 67.3, 67.3, 54.6 (cut-back week), 68.3.

After another cut-back week of 54.6 miles we will then creep into the 70-73 mile per week range until we taper.

Comparing things to our preparation for NYC – we will be running 7 runs of 20 or more miles instead of just 5 and topping out in the low to mid 70’s this time around instead of the 65 we averaged before running our PR in Gotham.

I’m not sure that we are going to have any big indicators that will let us know for certain exactly where we are prior to race day such as a half-marathon tune-up race 4 weeks prior and even if we did, given the heat here in Texas, our time wouldn’t really mean a whole heckuva lot from a projection standpoint.

Instead we are going to have to trust our training, rely on past performance coming out of our training cycle and hope that the combination of weather that promises to be possibly 35 degrees cooler than we have felt on our skin in more than 3 months and a downhill course will combat the nasty reality that we will be racing at more than 9,000 feet elevation.  Should those two factors create a “neutral” day for us in Utah, which is my hope – I’m starting to really like our chances of breaking through that 3 hour barrier for the first time.

But for this week, we’ll continue to do what we do, just keep taking things one day, one workout and one mile at a time.

It will be our first time running Holland in the 45-49 year old age group after placing first the last 4 years among the 40-44 year old runners.  One age group is wide open this year with us moving up – another one hopefully is about to realize that there is a new guy in town to be dealt with, and he doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

Saturday morning.  Boom goes the dynamite.



Running in the heat does not have to be all bad.

There are some serious racing advantages to be gained after a tough summer of slugging it out on hot days while training for a fall race or a race in a different part of the country that is going to feature cooler temperatures.  The downside of summer training of course is that it tends to complicate things quite a bit.

Hydration, Pace, Duration, Gear, Sunblock, Body Glide, Sock and Shoe changes on long runs …. all are things that in the winter training in Austin I never pay much attention to.  I know that on a cool morning I can run 8-10 miles with nary a sip of water.  If I am able to hit a water fountain or two I’m good up to 15-16 miles without any worries.

But this time of year when the coolest part of the day from a temperature perspective occurs at 4:00 a.m. and it is already 72-75 degrees with humidity between 82 and 88% – things are a little bit more dicey out there.

There is always the treadmill alternative I suppose – but for me – that conversation is really a non-starter.

With the exception of running two hours earlier this spring during a 12-hour treadmill challenge for Back on My Feet I have not stepped on a treadmill in over two years.  Not once.

572 runs, 4,652 miles – and all of them outdoors.  In the two years before that I ran on a treadmill twice.  Once the day of my 25th High School reunion where I had just enough time on the hotel treadmill to get in my 14 miler (brutal) and another marathon training run I couldn’t skip in Iowa in the winter with frozen streets and high winds outside.  That’s it.  Two times in four years.  It’s just not for me.

Running is meant to be done outdoors.  At least in this part of the country here in the 512.

For the folks here in Austin and the rest of the South/Southwest we all should be just about through our heat acclimation period.  but with temperatures dipping back into the 40’s this week in the Midwest and East early in the mornings – I am quite jealous by the way – I thought this would be a good time to share the following 10 tips to help cope with rising temperatures.

1.  Know your Body:  Weigh yourself before and after your run.  After your run make sure you drink 16 ounces of fluids for every pound that you lose during your run.  This is not “weight loss” – this is dehydration.  Take this very seriously.

Last Tuesday’s Pre Run Weight 137 lbs.

2.  Run Early:  If you are not a morning runner, you might want to become one from June-September.  Here in Austin even on the hottest summer day reaching 105 degrees will fall below 80 again overnight.  At 5:00 a.m. the temperature is rarely higher than 77.  Better still, if you can have your run completed before the sun reaches the horizon you are even further ahead of the game.

3.  Sun Protection:  Morning running also removes the need for sunscreen if your run is shorter than an hour or so.  If you do have to run in the heat of the day, apply a sunscreen that is a “non-drip” variety.  These are designed so the sunscreen will not get into your eyes as you sweat.  SPF #15 or #20 at a minimum.

4.  Hydration:  During your run make sure you are drinking every 15-20 minutes.  I plan my routes so I can hit a water fountain or pass by the house where I leave a bottle in the driveway with electrolyte replacement every 2 miles.   For me on most runs that means I am able to drink a bit every 14-16minues.  If you carry a water bottle or belt with you, drink at the start of your even miles.  It will give you something to look forward to.

5.  Clothing:  Wear light-colored, technical clothing that is moisture wicking.  If you are running in cotton it will trap your sweat against your body and will not allow for evaporation – which helps cool your body.  You will also be prone to chafing as the material gets wet and heavy.

6.  Anti-Chaffing:  Apply Body Glide or another anti-chafing product liberally and everywhere that skin meets skin.  Moisture in the form of sweat is just like running in the rain.  If you do not prepare for it properly it will lead to chafing and blisters.

7.  Slow Down:  This is science guys, not opinion.  Less blood to your muscles = slower pace.  Don’t fight it and try to be a “hero” or “heroine” – slow down and enjoy your run.  This is especially important on your “easy” or “recovery” days.  If you need to run 8:30’s on a recovery day and the temperature is 50 degrees – it requires a certain level of “exertion”.  You do not run 8’s on that day because it will not let you get ready for your next workout right?  So to hold 8:30’s in the summer, you have to “work just as hard” as you would to run 8’s in 50 degree temperatures.  Follow me?  It is about the effort – not the watch.

For me it is :05-:10 seconds for every 5 degrees above 65.  If my pace per mile for an 8 mile run is typically 7:10 at 65 degrees or less, I will adjust my pace to run at 7:25 on a 77 degree morning.  I finish the run feeling the same in July as I would in November – and my fitness level is EXACTLY the same.

8.   Adjustment Period:  “They” claim that it takes two weeks for the average runner to adjust to running in the heat.  That to me sounds about right – one trick however is to make sure you are also out “in the heat”, not just going from your air-conditioned environment to the running trail and back.  I make sure to do yard work and spend some time “in the heat” when I am not running to help with this adjustment.

9.  Run Naked:  Now, now – we talked about this before.  By “naked” I mean no GPS and no iPod.  I do this frequently when the summer arrives to help me simply “enjoy being out there”.  This has helped me not be so conscious of every mile split and think about pace on every run.  Without my Garmin beeping at me every mile I simply run by feel.

If the heat and humidity is forcing me to dial back my pace so be it.  I run by the effort I want to expend instead of by time.  If you know how a “Hard” vs. “Moderate” vs. “Easy” run is supposed to feel – you are ready to embrace “Naked Running”.

10.  The Dreadmill:  Look, if it’s simply too damn hot out there – it is.  If you need to do a speed workout or a hard interval workout to train for a race and it is 100 degrees outside – be smart.  Last time I checked our gym it was about 70 degrees at Fitness 19.  That is definitely a better option than skipping your workout all together or even worse, putting your health at risk.

So there you have it guys.  And for those of you doubting this and still trying to nail all your workouts.  When I was training for the NYC Marathon back in 2011 – we had one of our hottest summers in recorded history in Austin.  My approach to training was a bit different then, no track work, very little speed work – just volume and hill work.

I NEVER ran a long run faster than 7:50 pace that entire training cycle.  Some of them were in the 8:00-8:10 range.

I ran 7:11 on race day.

So as much as we would like to always be able to run in perfect weather conditions – that just isn’t the reality of the sport.  Embrace the seasons, let it help with your training adaptations and lastly, don’t get too worried about a flat workout here and there – especially in the early portions of the summer.  That is just part of the deal.

But on that first cool morning when you take off the layers and are just standing at the starting line in shorts and a singlet –  a slight shiver waiting for the gun – when you cross that mat, take a moment to reflect on all the tough runs you put in the books over the summer.

You will feel like Superman/Superwoman – and you will crush it out there.

One Month Down, Three to Go

Posted: June 4, 2013 in Training

Thunderstorms were rolling over NW Austin last Saturday night and into early Sunday morning.  My eyes opened around 3:40 a.m. with flashes of lightning through the blinds and the sound of Dom rolling bowling balls around up in heaven.  Our first “real” long-run of the training cycle was on the schedule on Sunday.  18 miles, which for me is the run that serves as the demarcation between a “medium-long run” and a “long run”.

Anything in that 14,15,16 mile range is challenging, but not anything all that different from what we ask ourselves to do on a Wednesday morning during marathon training.  Maybe just an extra mile, two or three.  But once you get to 18 miles you are talking about having to worry a little bit more about what you eat the night before, making sure you have a little something in your stomach before leaving for the run.  Taking some nutrition with you in the form of gels or blocks and making sure that you have access to water and/or electrolyte replacement along the way.

I run my long-runs at Marathon Goal Place +:60 seconds – meaning for Big Cottonwood – we are shooting for 6:52 pace for 26.2 miles on race day, which translates to somewhere around 7:45-7:55 pace for our summer long runs training for a Fall Marathon.

If we were training in cooler temperatures, perhaps 7:35-7:45 would be a more accurate target.  The idea is to get used to being on your feet for an extended period of time.  Working on your nutrition plan and coping with fatigue.

It helps me to start the run with somewhat “tired” legs, having run a medium intensity workout the day before my long run.  This also helps get the body, mind and spirit in the right place for long run training.  If I was fresh, coming off of an off-day before my long run, hopping into an 18-miler in 7:15 pace would be a little bit challenging, but nothing to terribly de mandingat this point in our cycle.

But the marathon is a funny race, faster in training is not ALWAYS better.  You need a solid mix to get the potion just right.  By running an 18 mile long run :30 seconds per mile “too fast” – you are robbing yourself of 9 minutes of training and adaptation.  9 minutes of being on your feet later in the run when you are physically and mentally ready for it to be over.

9 minutes may not seem like such a big deal, but on race day at Marathon Goal Pace I will cover 1.38 miles in 9 minutes.  When you think of it along those lines, 9 minutes is quite a lot.  If you add in the degree of difficulty coming off of Friday and Saturday runs as well as a pretty hairy track workout on Wednesday – now you are getting the full benefits and adaptations from marathon training.

So as I dressed, ate a bagel and drank some EFS before heading outside I took some stock of where our legs should be and how we should be feeling on a warm 75 degree morning with 90% humidity that was increasing.   Pressure dropping, it sure seemed like we were going to get some rain while we were out there.  All the better I thought.  If you don’t train in it, you can’t race in it.

Friday’s workout was 10 miles – descending pace by :10 per mile finishing at 7:00 min./mile prescribed by coach.  The goal was to start at 8:30 pace and then decreasing by :10 to 8:20, 8:10, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40, 7:30, 7:20, 7:10 and finally 7:00 flat.

Our times were:  8:26, 8:16, 8:10, 7:59, 7:48, 7:40, 7:28, 7:20, 7:10, 6:56.

A little bit fast here and there, but for the most part, pretty solid.

Saturday’s workout was 9 more miles in a 3 X 3 X 3 format.  3 miles warm-up, 3 miles at Marathon Goal Pace (6:50), 3 miles cool down.

Our times were:  8:18, 8:03, 8:01, 6:45, 6:45, 6:39, 7:33, 7:36, 7:32.

Another quality effort, just a touch fast on the Marathon Goal Pace miles – but again, close enough to feel good about our pacing while we are still adjusting to the hot, humid and windy mornings here in Austin.

Sunday’s run gave me a lot of flexibility regarding which route I was going to take – I have a somewhat endless amount of 6 mile, 8 mile and 12 mile options.   It makes runs in that 18, 20, 22 mile range a lot more fun than they could be if I had to circle the same loops or run the same areas every single weekend.  I decided that I would hit the 8 mile hill route to warm-up, carry my running hat with me and see what the weather was going to do.  If it started to rain, I would probably stick to the roads and avoid the trail so I did not have to battle heavy shoes filled with mud and dirt.

But if it stayed dry, I would then loop by the house, change out my socks and shoes into dry gear (from sweating in the humidity) and then hit the trail for the final 10 miles and run on a softer surface.

I got my answer as I approached mile 8 as the sky opened up and I was soon drenched from head to toe.  No trail for me.

Heading back home to change out my shoes seemed a little bit silly at that point, so I made a quick decision to head over to the neighborhood golf club and run the course there that would take me up to about mile 14 or 15.  I could then pick a route home to work a few final hills and turn this into a long-run that featured a lot of uphill climbs and downhill bursts.

I had not run the golf course since training for the Houston Marathon last year – it is not something I do often as the golfers are not very happy about having a runner out there while they are playing.  I typically have only done this in rainy weather or with thunderstorms in the area as I know the course will be empty – which was the case on Sunday as I saw only a few members of the grounds crew tending to the course.

It was a nice distraction to count Holes instead of miles and despite having to run through ankle-deep water on a couple of occasions at the bottom of a few deep descents – the run was about as enjoyable as it could be in a downpour.  I was able to get ice-cold water every couple of holes to stay hydrated exiting the course with just the 3 mile loop back to the house.

Sunday Elevation Chart

Sunday Elevation Chart

My math was just a little bit off as I was returning home and ended up tacking on an extra 385 yards to the run to finish it off at 18.2 miles.  The same “extra” distance that the marathon demands.

2:22:43 – 18.2 miles – 7:51 pace.  Spot on perfect.

So with 14 weeks to go until race day which includes 8 more long runs of 19, 20, 20, 20, 21, 21, 22, 20 I am pretty excited about our prospects come race day.  I feel like with another few long runs and a taper we are pretty close to ready to go right now.  An enviable position to be in with more than 3 months left to prepare.

The physical piece is close, the mental piece is where we need to still do some sword sharpening.  Right now I know we can run the first 20 miles of that race perfectly.  The next 14 weeks are all going to be about the final 10 kilometers.  In the end, the marathon is all about the last 6.2 miles.

Everything else is just the warm-up.