Posts Tagged ‘Big Cottonwood Marathon Training’

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.

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.

It was early on Wednesday morning – about 5:45 a.m. when I started to run my warm-up heading clockwise around the Westlake High School track.  There was nobody in the stadium, nobody on the surface with me as you could hear my soft footfalls striking the ground 180 times per minute.

Shortly after my first mile a couple of other runners showed up, dropped their water bottles and car keys on the infield and started in behind me.

2-mile warm-up, a bit of light stretching and drills and then it was time for the workout.

3-miles of “in and out” 100’s – where I would run the straightaways of the track at just under 5k pace (5:40min./mile) then float the next 100 meters around the curve before settling back in to 5:40 pace for another 100.  Repeated for 12 laps or 24 cycles.

My usual training partner David was not at the workout on this morning – his toe had been bothering him a bit on Saturday after we completed “The Monster” – a workout that deserves its’ own post sometime soon – so I was not surprised to be running alone for the workout.  On any other day I would have been down about that prospect, but on May 29th it seemed fitting.

38 years ago on this same date, Steve Prefontaine would run his final race, winning of course at Hayward Field where he was undefeated at any distance longer than a mile.Pre

As I finished my first set of 100’s my coach called me over to correct my form.  I had clocked the first mile including the floats at 6:20 with a goal of 6:18.  Wind was gusting close to 25 mph, so I felt like I pretty much nailed it.

Coach noticed that I was cutting my stride a hair short, making my plant leg land too far “under” my hip, which was putting more shock on my lower legs.  Instead she wanted me to remember to bring my knee up just a bit higher so that my bent foot after striking the ground would pass by my planted foot closer to knee level, and not below it.

I ran the curve practicing this adjustment and ran my second mile at the same effort in 6:16.

I ran the final mile of the workout in 6:14.  Faster still even though I was working hard to stay “even”.

A tough workout, especially one done alone with nobody to pace with – but I was able to focus in on the task ahead of me and tick them off – 6:20, 6:16, 6:14 and had plenty of gas left in the tank.

What should have served as a big confidence booster for me coming off of a really tough week last week just felt “blah”.  Thundering along my final 400 around 5:35 pace should have been invigorating – the buzz usually lasts almost all the way through my mile long cool down.  But not on this day as my thoughts traced all the way across the country to Coos Bay Oregon where a family will be mourning the loss of their son today and as will the small blue collar town on the coast.

In Eugene, the same thing will be happening at track workouts, pubs and around the University of Oregon campus where people remember Pre.  An American Distance Runner that made running “cool”.   A sport which to that point and to some extent even still today is a lot of things, but “cool” isn’t necessarily one of them.Stop Pre

Pre ran the way that most of us wish that we could.  I’ve come to accept that running and especially the speed at which we run is relative.  There really is no slow.  Just degrees of fast.  People often say to me – and keep in mind, I am by no means an accomplished runner, or one who is particularly talented or gifted – I just tend to work at it harder than some others.

“I’m not fast like you are” or “I’m not a real runner like you”.

To me, a runner is anyone who is working as hard as they can to approach their potential.  By that I mean, if your genetics, age, injury history, mechanics and training allow you to approach a 9:00 minute mile and you do your absolute best to improve that to 8:50 …. then you are every bit the runner I am as I try to improve my marathon time by a handful of seconds per mile to break 3 hours.  Or to take just :03 off of my 5K PR to break 18 minutes.  We are working just as hard at the same exact pursuit.

The pursuit of excellence.

When I say that Pre ran the way that all of us wish that we could, that sentiment is captured perfectly by Bill Bowerman’s Eulogy taken from Steve Prefontaine’s funeral service:

“All of my life – man and boy – I’ve operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the damn race.  Actually, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that.  I tried to teach Pre how to do that.  I tried like Hell to teach Pre to do that… and Pre taught me – taught me I was wrong.

Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort could win a race, and a magnificent effort can lose one.  Winning a race wouldn’t necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish.  He never ran any other way.  I tried to get him to.  God knows I tried.

But Pre was stubborn.  He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory.

A race is a work of art.  That’s what he said.  That’s what he believed.  And he was out to make it one every step of the way.

Of course, he wanted to win.  Those who saw him compete and those who competed against him were never in any doubt about how much he wanted to win.  But how he won mattered to him more.

Pre thought I was a hard case.  But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn’t to win a race.  It’s to test the limits of the human heart.  And that he did.  Nobody did it more often.  Nobody did it better”.

Maybe that is why as badly as I want to run well at Cottonwood and I am training harder than ever before to give myself the best possible chance of breaking through 3 hours on race day – more than anything – I just want to run a race that I can be proud of.

To test the limits of my heart in a way that a now 62-year-old Steve Roland Prefontaine might glance with respect at the slight middle-aged runner from Austin TX, the same height he was,  7 lbs. lighter with hair much shorter – running the final 385 yards pouring every ounce of energy into the pursuit of excellence.

To be better on that day than I have ever been before – 2:59 or not – to me, anyone that sees me race that day will know that I was there and that I could not have run that race even one second faster.  In my eyes, that is the definition of a runner.

At the time of his death Steve Prefontaine held every single American Record from 2,000 meters to 10,000.

Pre started 153 races in his career and won 120 of them.

In High school he broke 19 different records.

Just last summer, 40 years after he set the mark, Olympic Silver Medalist Galen Rupp finally broke Pre’s 5,000 meter Olympic Qualifying record in 13:22:67.   Prefontaine’s record time, the oldest track and field Olympic trials record on the books was 13:22.80.

Somehow I have a hard time believing that head-to-head Pre would not have found a way to dig down and summon the strength to find those 13/100’s of a second.

Go Pre.

After posting my workout on Thursday morning to my training plan spreadsheet I glanced at the “Completed” area on the bottom right portion of the document.

We have completed 15.90% of the total mileage on the plan so far and 17.95% of our scheduled runs.  As our daily mileage increases and our Sunday long runs move from 16 miles up to 22 miles, soon the mileage % will surpass the number of runs completed % and then finally during the taper they will normalize and equal each other.

It is interesting to think about a training cycle along those terms, but one that is well put together really is about consistency and periodization.  Build the strong foundation (number of runs, consistent approach day after day), then force the adaptation (higher mileage, tougher and faster workouts), then recover and get the machine ready to peak for race day (taper period).

I don’t usually look too far ahead when it comes to these things as I have found that it is better for me to simply focus on what is immediately in front of me instead of some workout 8 weeks away that right now might look pretty daunting.  Just stay the course, run the workouts that you have scheduled and leave the door every morning with a purpose.

Jack Daniels, PhD is one of the strongest believers of that tenet – every run should have a purpose.  Even if that purpose is simply active recovery from one tough workout prior to another.  But you should never run a workout without knowing specifically what you are trying to accomplish.  Akin to Coach’s comment about not boarding a plane to Baltimore if you want to get to New York …. you want to be sure you are dialed in and aware of what you are trying to get from each session so that you end up in the right place on race day.

Thursday’s workout was my first hill repeat session for Cottonwood.  Due to the downhill nature of the course, Cottonwood in many ways will be the most challenging marathon I have ever attempted.  That is not to say that a fast time is not possible on such a course.  In fact, if run correctly, the downhill elevation change can produce a fast marathon time.

But just like everything else about the marathon – that will not happen by accident.  If runners do not prepare for the grinding downhill course – late in the race, all of that “braking” that is being done by the large quadricept muscles will take their toll and it will be impossible for the runners to hold pace over the final 10 kilometers of the race.  This is something that happens in Boston to runners year after year after year.  Everyone worries about the “Newton Hills” and “Heartbreak Hill” – but the reality is that for many competitors it would not matter if those hills vanished from miles 16-21 of the course.  The downhill start from Hopkinton to Newton for 14 miles is what sapped the strength from those runners.  By Heartbreak you can just stick a fork in them because they are done.

That was us in 2010.  I had plenty of “want to” at that point – unfortunately, I just didn’t have the strength left in my legs.

Ever since, we have incorporated hill work into our training and that has never been a problem since.  But for Cottonwood, this preparation is even more important as we will be losing close to 4,000 feet of elevation from start to finish.  About 3X that of Boston.

Big Cottonwood Elevation

Big Cottonwood Elevation

Today’s workout called for:

3 miles warm-up

8X downhill at 10K pace (Half-Marathon effort) followed by a recovery jog back to the top

1 mile Marathon Goal Pace home.

Our repeats with a target of 1:40 (6:08 pace) came in at:

1:41,1:40, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:42, 1:39, 1:39, 1:39

After our final recovery jog to the top our Marathon Goal Pace Mile (Target of 6:47 as it was slightly downhill), came in at 6:41 – which looks great on the training log, but actually frustrated me as I needed better restraint and focus to not run that mile :06 fast.  That will come with time.  I will do better on the next one.

All in all just another brick in the wall so to speak, but an important one as we prepare with great focus and specificity for Cottonwood.

As it turns out we are exactly 1,000 miles away from the starting line on September 14th.  Not that I am counting or anything.

But with only 15-20% of the work done to this point – I have to say that I like where we are right now.  An enviable position with 16 weeks remaining until race day.

I remember my final 22 mile long run prior to the New York City Marathon in 2011.  When I got back home I dropped my soaking wet shoes, socks, shorts, runderwear outside to dry out and shuffled into the bathroom.  Dawn was there getting ready to go to breakfast and I said, “I am never training for another Fall Marathon again”.

Now, the first mistake that runners make is when they start a sentence with, “I am never …..”

It is just an absurd opening line.  We absolutely are going to do whatever it is that we say we are never going to do again in the future and the future might be as nearby as just a few months away.  I made the same mistake just seconds after crossing the finish line in New York on a day when I ran my best ever marathon, and I said aloud, “never again”.  Everyone in the finish area, runners and volunteers alike actually just laughed.

Perfect strangers, and even they knew that I was completely full of sh#%.

But I have to admit, I really meant it when I swore off of Fall Marathons.  Training for a marathon is difficult enough, especially if you intend on really “racing” the marathon.  Running as close as possible to your abilities and fitness level.

But to train for that distance through a Texas summer, where the coolest temperatures of the morning take place at 4:00 a.m. and they are sitting at 77 degrees with humidity in the 84-88% range through June, July, August and September.  It’s just a beat down, and there really is no relief in sight.  Quite honestly, without any traveling planned during this training cycle, the next time I feel cool temperatures on my body in the 40’s will be on Race Day in Utah.

I am hoping that is actually going to pay huge dividends on race day, as in those temperatures after a summer of battling the heat, humidity and hills here in Austin – I should be ready to eat thunder and crap lightening.

But getting to that point is going to be the real test.  We started this 20-week marathon training cycle with 118 runs and 1,201 miles to get through the finish line at Big Cottonwood.  We are going to be going to 6 run days this cycle, only taking Friday as our day to rest, recharge the batteries and get ready for our Saturday team workout with the Rogue Elite Training Group.

After that weekly beat down we will pull ourselves together on Sunday mornings and go long.  Our mileage on Sundays this cycle will be:  14, 15, 16, 14, 18, 19, 14, 20, 20, 14, 20, 21, 14, 21, 22, 14, 23, 16, 10 and then finally race day.

1,200 miles +/-, 7 long runs of 20 miles or more, 40 track workouts and plenty of endurance work mixed in at paces ranging from Marathon Goal Pace of 6:52 min./mile to our Recovery Pace of 7:52 or MGP +:60.

I am not a huge believer in running a lot of “total mileage” during a training cycle just for the sake of it.  There are plenty of 55-60 mpw (mile per week) runners who can dismantle 70-80 mpw runners on marathon morning.  But I do know for me that I was a much more fit and well prepared marathoner in New York City, running in the high 60’s and low 70’s per week than I was when I was topping out around 55 miles or so.

This cycle will have us running 53, 56, 58, 59, 62, 63, 55, 67, 67, 55, 68, 70, 55, 72, 73, 55, 76, 61 and 46 during our last week leading up to race day.  Those 55 mile weeks that are highlighted are serving as my “step-back” weeks, where we back off of the mileage just a bit before increasing mileage during the subsequent next two weeks to guard against over-training and injury.

The thought of a 55-mile week being a “step-back” week is a bit surreal as that was my peak mileage training for Pittsburgh back in 2009 where I ran my first Boston Qualifier in 3:17:43.  Now 55 miles is just a business as usual type of week.

So the formula is set, the dye is cast, we are doing things a little bit differently this time around working with Coach Carmen and training 2X per week with the Rogue Team.  But we are keeping just enough of the things that we have done in the past that made us successful to make me remain calm, confident and relaxed heading into what is going to be a tough summer of training here in Austin.

There are going to be runners much faster than us at Big Cottonwood in September, of that I am certain.  There will be others who are younger, stronger, more fit, have run more miles in their training and have big aspirations for race day just as we have.

Last year a sub 3:10 marathon was good enough for 10th place overall in the event.  A sub 3:05 would have placed us in the top 4.  Being the first year of the event last year, the crowd was small and nobody had a real sense of how the race would unfold.

This year there will be more competitors, faster runners, more at stake with Boston Qualifying times more precious than ever.  I can’t really control any of that.  All I can do is put in the work, take care of myself and put the best conditioned physically, most ready mentally marathoner we have ever been on the starting line on Sept. 14th.  When that gun fires and we cross the mat – I want to have zero doubt in my mind that there was anything more that I possibly could have done to be ready.

If we are able to run that first mile with all systems firing, physically, mentally, spiritually – those other runners will be in a world of trouble on race day.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.  I ran the last one for me Dom in New York, this one is for you brother.  We’re headed back to Boston and once we get there next year, we are going to crush it.