Posts Tagged ‘Chevron Houston Marathon’

As we were wrapping up our final long run of the training cycle, I was fortunate enough to be logging the final 16 miles of our scheduled 22-miler with my good friend Jim. He of the 2:59:00 marathon finish at last year’s Austin Marathon.

As far as I’m concerned, marathon royalty. Jim has in his back pocket the only PR that I really care about. The only race distance in fact where Jim’s personal best is faster than mine – but to a marathoner, it really is the one that matters most. You can have all the 18:02 5K’s, 37:30 10K’s, 1:23:31 half-marathon times you want, but just as 3:19:59 was once the measuring stick I used to judge whether or not I was a “good runner” trying to qualify for Boston back in 2009, 2:59:59 has become my personal Holy Grail.

21 days away from race day in Houston the two things that can conspire to trip us up on race day are injury and the weather. If we toe the line healthy on January 13th and get a neutral day of say 45-55 degrees and light winds, I am very confident that we are where we need to be to put ourselves in position for success on race day.

The plan on Sunday was to run easy until we were 2 miles from the finish, then run the last two miles “hard” as a fast-finish workout. Jim’s legs, just 14 miles in were of course ready for battle when we reached the two-mile from home mark. Our legs, now 20-miles in were feeling a bit heavy, but at the beep we dropped pace down into the 6:35-6:45 range.

I hung just off of Jim’s left shoulder and ticked them off. The miles felt every bit as challenging as they will feel in three weeks when we race to the finish in downtown Houston screaming for home. When we reached the 22-mile mark the watch clicked over to 2:59:52. The goal of the run was to stay on our feet for 3 hours. An adjustment I made a couple of years ago where running my long runs too fast were actually hurting me. I was only on my feet for 2 hours and 45 minutes or so, then asking my body to race for 20 or 30 minutes longer than that on race day.

The fatigue was palpable and the closing miles even more of a challenge than necessary.

Now with a 3 hour-long run in the books with the final two miles closed out at sub-marathon goal pace, our body and our mind have been there.

We know exactly what it is going to take on January 13th to make it happen.

As usual, these next three weeks are going to be hell from a mental perspective. Some days I will be brimming with confidence, others my legs will feel like concrete and I will wonder if I have the speed to run a single mile at 6:50 pace, let alone 26.2 of them.

Thankfully this is not our first rodeo. In fact it is our 10th. I know that no matter how stressed out I am, how little sleep I get the night before the race or how many nervous trips I take to the porta-potty on race morning once the horn sounds and we cross the timing mat we will fall into pace and our rhythm will feel natural. The opening miles will click over easy, the best we have felt in months.

But this time things are going to be different. In Austin in 2011 I thought we were ready to try to run 3 hours. I woke up to 68 degree temps. and 15-20 mph winds and knew our hopes were dashed before we ever got to the half-way point. In New York 9 months later I thought we were in 3:05 shape and we ran a comfortable 3:08.

Last spring at Boston for the first time I truly believed we were going to do it, only to have 88 degree temps. and no shot at even attempting to race the marathon on race day. We simply ran the course as a training run to stay out of the medical tents.

So what is going to be different this time? What do I know that everyone else doesn’t?

The difference this time is not only our level of fitness and how well we are running and racing, but our level of “want to” is at a point where it has never been before a marathon.

I have no illusions that things are going to be easy down in Houston. In fact, I know exactly how tough things are going to get. I got a taste of it in New York last fall. But having gone through it before has done more to harden my resolve than to create fear and worry.

Just as we did last weekend in Shiner, we can only run the race one mile at a time. Don’t look back, don’t look too far forward, just tick ’em off.

The simplest plans are usually the best ones. When the gun fires, we are going to run a 6:45. At the 10K mark, a 6:45. At the half-way point, a 6:45. When things start to get difficult around mile 17, a 6:45 and just like we did this morning, when all seems lost, our legs feel heavy and we feel like we can’t run another mile at that pace, we’re going to run another 6:45.

As Steve Prefontaine famously said before the 5000 meter final in Munich, “I’d like to work it out so that at the end, it’s a pure guts race. If it is, I’m the only one who can win it.”

Exactly right Pre. Exactly right.steve-prefontaine

This week marks essentially the half-way point in our preparations for Houston.  The final two weeks leading up to race day will be dedicated to a gradual taper of mileage and intensity allowing all of the effects from a tough training cycle to manifest themselves on race day and deliver the most prepared marathoner that we have ever been to the starting line outside of Minute Maid Park.

After our third run in 24 hours on Wednesday morning we are now 6 1/2 weeks into our training plan with 6 1/2 weeks left before the taper.

Halfway home.

But just like the marathon, the halfway point in your training isn’t so easy to discern.  On race day reaching the “half-way” point of 13.1 miles is the midpoint of the race in distance only.  The second “half” of the marathon really starts at mile 20.  Everything up to that point has been an exercise in restraint and constant monitoring of your machine.  You want to be sure to leave just enough left in the tank to cover the final 6 miles, 385 yards to the finish line.  Anything “extra” that you have at that point has been wasted.  There are no extra credit points in the marathon – only the distance and the time on the clock.  Two absolutes.  Two measures.  How far and how fast.

When it comes to marathon training there are is also a mythical “half-way” point.  You count the number of weeks to race day, divide it in half and “Wala” – there you have it.

Except the reality of the situation is that the first few weeks of a marathon training cycle are no different for me than my every day training regimen.  I run a 5-day run week, mileage somewhere around 45 miles or so and gradually ramp things up from there.

But now, 6 1/2 weeks later I am approaching my peak mileage of the training cycle.

17 miles on Tuesday.

11 miles on Wednesday.

10 miles of hill work on Thursday.

11 miles on Saturday.

21 miles on Sunday.

70 total miles of running, 23 of those miles at marathon goal pace or better.

For the first time preparing for a marathon we will be running about 1/4 of our total mileage at marathon goal pace (6:52) or faster.  In the past I have relied on the various races that I have sprinkled into my training plan to provide for the miles I would run down in the low to mid 6:00 minute per mile range.  With the adrenaline of race day, other runners pushing pace and a bib pinned to our shorts – efforts on those days have been automatic.  Some days I have raced better than others, but whether the race produced a PR or not – always, the race provided me with a workout that I would not have been able to post on my own running along a darkened trail by myself, headlamp lighting the way.

But this cycle, I see those races as icing on the cake as I am pushing myself to do the heavy lifting on my own.  Marathon goal pace mile after marathon goal pace mile on those same darkened streets and trails.  Tuesday’s two runs featured 8.5 mile workouts with 7 miles at Marathon Goal Pace or better just 11 hours apart.

Morning Workout:  Warm-up mile 8:07 then 7 goal pace miles in:  6:47, 6:45, 6:46, 6:50, 6:43, 6:36, 6:41.  Cool down 1/2 mile 7:21 pace.

Afternoon Workout:  Warm-up mile 7:18 then 7 goal pace miles in:  6:48, 6:50, 6:46, 6:45, 6:49, 6:45, 6:41.  Cool down 1/2 mile 7:19 pace.

17 miles with 14 at/below Marathon Goal Pace is definitely something that will pay dividends on race day.  The p.m. workout, bouncing back on tired legs to hold pace has been especially encouraging as I switch over to my heavy trainers and run the goal miles along the crushed granite trail instead of the harder road surface where I run my morning workout.   This allows for a little bit extra cushioning for the afternoon run, but also makes holding pace a bit more challenging.

Switching from 7.8 ounce shoes to 9.9 ounce shoes does not seem like it would make a big difference, but it in fact accounts for :02 seconds per mile.  Add in the softer surface, which does not allow for a strong toe-off and you are looking at another :02-:03 seconds a mile.  Those :05 seconds of “increased difficulty” take the second run to another level on Tuesdays, much like our hill repeat session on Thursday morning which is designed to stress our muscles to the point where adaptation is a forced by-product.

Akin to the baseball player who swings a heavy bat with a doughnut on it before he steps into the batters box with his now “lighter” bat in his hands to help catch up to the fastball – for the marathoner chasing a time goal – logging marathon goal pace miles on fatigued legs will allow that same pace on race day to feel “easy” at least for a little while until the length of the race and depleted energy levels start to force the issue in the last 1/3 of the race.

The goal in Houston is to not start “working” until mile 18 and at that point dig in for the stretch between mile 19 and 24.  Those 5 miles are going to tell the story on race day as if we can make it to the start of mile 25 on pace I like our chances.  At that point it is all a battle of will and “want to” – and I will put our want to up against basically anyone elses.

With 8 1/2 weeks until race day and 6 1/2 weeks until the taper we are in an enviable position.  We learned a valuable lesson on Sunday and will be taking nothing for granted the rest of the way.

By the time we get to the starting line in Houston we will have covered 866 miles, 207 of which will have been put down at 6:52 pace or faster.

We’ll just need 26.2 more of them on race day.  I’m starting to really like our chances.



A couple of years ago I was “talking running” with a friend of mine when the subject turned to the marathon.  Specifically what pace you should train at vs. the pace you plan to race at.  I had not yet had my breakthrough marathon at that point which would come on a day with terribly difficult conditions at the Austin Marathon in February of 2011.  A day where finish times were effected by 8:00 minutes or more due to the heat, humidity and winds busting between 18 and 20 miles an hour.

I PR’d by almost 3 minutes.

I would take another 7 minutes off of that time in New York the following November, but in a lot of respects, February 13, 2011 was the day I stopped “running” marathons and started “racing” them.

Racing a marathon and by that I mean covering the distance as close as possible to the fastest your body will allow you to do so – leaving no extra time on the clock by being conservative, essentially running the marathon like any other distance.  Pushing it out there on the course to the point that when you reach the final mile your tank is on “E”.  Then it is a matter of willing yourself to cover another 5,280 feet on nothing but determination and will.

The more my friend Steve and I talked the more clear the message was becoming in my mind.  If you want to race fast, you have to train fast.

To bring your best on race day you cannot simply log mile after mile a minute or 90 seconds slower than your marathon goal pace and then hope that on race day something magical happens.  That somehow the two-week taper period or three-weeks for some runners, will all of a sudden turn your cadence and rhythm from running 7:45’s in training to 6:52’s on race day.  It just doesn’t work that way.

It was during my ramp up to Austin that I came to embrace the fact that racing shorter distance events, up to the half-marathon is a key element of a successful marathon training cycle.

For the Austin Marathon my planning was done for me as I participated in the Austin Distance Challenge.  A 5 race series that included a 10K, 10-Miler, 2 half-marathons and the Austin Marathon.

In preparing for New York City last year I ran three 10K races and the Denver Half-Marathon prior to the marathon.

For Boston it was the Ragnar ultra-marathon relay and three half-marathons.

During each of these marathon training cycles I would set PR’s in the 10K and half-marathon distances – mid-cycle – preparing and training for a marathon.

The method to the madness is that during weeks that would otherwise be “cut-back” weeks, where I would be reducing mileage from say 65-70 miles down to 50, I will throw in a race that weekend and lay down an effort with an intensity that cannot be matched alone on the Brushy Creek Trail at 5:00 a.m. by myself.

It takes the pageantry of race day, the presence of other athletes to push you in order to dig deep and run close to the ragged edge.

Racing a half-marathon at 6:22-6:25 pace is a workout that pays huge dividends during the marathon where your goal is to stretch that performance out from 13.1 miles to 26.2 at a pace only :30 slower.

Your body remembers the half-marathon pace, or the 10K race at 6:02 pace that you ran two months earlier and knows what it means to work hard when your legs are going away from you and are screaming for you to stop.

That is exactly what you will need to draw on late in the marathon – where over the final 10 kilometers everything hurts and all you want to do is be done.  Backing off the slightest bit of effort at that point is the difference between a PR and perhaps reaching your “A” goal or fading badly and losing a minute a mile over the last 5-miles of the race.

Part of the gains coming from racing during your marathon training are fitness related to the workout(s), but just as much – and just as important – are the mental benefits from those shorter races at your threshold pace.

As my friend put it rather simply.  “If you want to race fast, you have to train fast.”
Upcoming Race Schedule on the road to the Houston Marathon:

Nov. 22:  Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot 5-Miler

Dec. 2:  MADD Jingle Bell Run 5K

Dec. 7:  Lights of Love 5K Benefitting Ronald McDonald House

Dec. 16: Shiner Beer Run Half Marathon – Shiner, TX

January 13:  Chevron Houston Marathon – Houston TX – Boom goes the dynamite.