Posts Tagged ‘Houston Marathon Training’

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.


For those of you who do not know my wife and I are proud parents of a precocious 27 1/2 month old girl.  Every parent out there believes that their child is abnormally cute, bright, talented, smart and destined for greatness.Landry Swinging

So few of us however are right – I of course am one of the lucky ones where it happens to be true 🙂

With knowledge of course comes great responsibility, and as I find myself spending time with my uber-aware daughter Landry I find myself constantly “checking myself” making sure that I am setting the right example.  Trying to not only say the right things, but to also do the right things as one of the many advantages children have over the rest of us is that they have a built in bull-sh#% detector.

They like animals can see right through all that stuff, and know exactly the type of person you are.  Not just the one you want people to see.

When it comes to running I am by no means an expert.  I’m also not all that talented in the grand scheme of things.

I happen to love the sport, I work hard at it and like many of you out there I set goals with great purpose and then chase them down trying to stretch my reach to the utmost ends of my abilities.

I’m faster than some, slower than others, but I like to think that I work as hard as anyone else out there and that is what allows me to compete for age group awards at races.  The funny thing is, I really don’t care too much about that.  I really focus on running MY best race and MY best time.  If someone else is faster, so be it.  That is always going to be the case.

But the one thing I have realized ever since Run for Dom got legs and runners of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds and abilities have supported and visited this blog over the past several years is that people do look to me for advice, guidance, support, encouragement and shockingly – even inspiration at times.

The comments that are posted after I write a race report are always supportive.  Especially when things don’t necessarily go my way.  The e-mails I get at are much the same – usually just a bit more personal.  I tell you all that because I want to first say “Thank You”.

Secondly I want to share with you two observations I made during my down-time from my strained Achilles tendon that kept me from chasing my 2012/2013 “A” goal of a 2:59:00 marathon.  A goal by the way that I spent close to 3,000 running miles and over a year preparing for.

1.     Injuries are not always anyone’s fault.

In the past I have assigned blame to my injuries.  Usually they occurred because I was doing something stupid.  My IT Band issues were due to me ramping up my mileage too quickly without paying attention to strengthening the muscles in my calves, quads and core.  I was running 50-55 mile weeks on a runner’s system that was new to the sport.  I wasn’t ready for the load and I paid the price.  Inexperienced.

My Shin Splint Issue occurred because I decided to vigorously train on the hills in Valley Forge Park preparing for the Boston marathon without acclimating to the change in my workout routine gradually.  I over-trained that week, returned to Austin with a calf-strain, trained through it which put more pressure on the sheath around my right shin and I had a full-blown case of shin splints to show for it.  Foolish.

My left knee inflammation was a result of deciding that 6 days after running my “At the time” Marathon PR of 3:15:01 I would run in a 24-hour team relay event from Wickenburg, AZ to Tempe.  3 runs in less than 20 hours and I had a knee injury.  Stupidity.

My Achilles strain occurred because I mis-stepped in a half-marathon four weeks before Houston – a race where I PR’d in 1:23:30 by the way.  Bad Luck.

I did nothing “wrong” leading up to Houston.  I ramped up my mileage to 80 miles a week carefully, rested, cross-trained, took my step back weeks and during intense training managed to run PR’s in the 5-mile, 5K and half-marathon with no taper.

I was rock-solid and the most fit I have ever been in my life.  And I still got hurt.  Sad, but true.

So the lesson here is – sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you are.  Runners get hurt.  Then they get better.  Then they run again.  So the next time you suffer an injury, do not beat yourself up.  Just evaluate the situation.  See a professional.  Do not ask your “runner buddies” for a timeline as to when you can or should come back to the sport.

Injuries occur at the most inopportune times very frequently.  They also heal on their own schedule.  Not ours.

Patience is what we need most when we are trying to fight our way back to running.

2.     EVERY race is JUST a race.

Yep, you heard me.  At one time or another countless races were “The most important race I’ll ever run”.

Pittsburgh 2009, Boston 2010, Pittsburgh 2010, Austin 2011, Denver Half-Marathon 2011, New York 2011, Kerrville Half-Ironman 2012, Shamrock 2012, Boston 2012 and of course Houston 2013.

With the exception of the back to back marathons I ran for Dom 13 days apart in 2010 – all the others ended up just being “a race”.

Listen, I’m not going all zen-master on you after all this running and racing, training and focus.  I’m still that guy.  And the next time you line up next to me in Austin, Charleston, SC, Kerrville, Miami, FL, New York or Boston – you better bring your “A” game if you plan on hanging with me.

But I’m not going to get too worked up about an individual race when I am preparing for it and assign too much value.  The fact of the matter is that for a truly special performance to take place you have to have multiple variables in your favor, and you don’t really have control over too many of them.









You have to be fit, focused, well rested and have full-health or damn close to it.  The weather has to cooperate, the course has to be fair and fast.  You have to be blessed to have competition running with you that is going to bring out the best in you.  Someone to chase through the lonely portions of the race or at least somebody on your heels to push you and finally you have to “have it” that day.

Some days your body, mind and spirit all align and you lay down a performance that is truly special.  Pittsburgh in 2009, IBM in 2011, Shamrock in 2012, Kerrville, Lights of Love and Shiner last year.

Those are the days where for whatever reason it all comes together and you run the race of your life.

You can’t plan them in advance, they just happen.

So go easy on yourself, put in the work and when you show up to race day, be ready to run the best possible race that you can.  But if for some reason things don’t go exactly the way that you planned – sometimes you have to just remember that in this sport, just like life, sh#% happens.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try your best the next time.

If my daughter never learns another lesson from her Daddy – I hope she learns that one.

Run on people.



Man, it feels like we just started this training cycle for Houston and now there are just two rather big hurdles to clear before we start our taper and prepare for race day at the Chevron Houston Marathon on January 13th.

This Sunday’s half-marathon down in Shiner, TX.

Next week’s 80 mile week culminating in our 23 mile/3:00 hour final long run.  That long run will be the one that allows us to stay on our feet for 3:00 hours, simulating race day in Houston and getting our body used to moving for that period of time without stopping.  If we reach 23 miles before we reach 3 hours, we’ll shut things down.  But I’m betting that with our pacing that morning, we will be right around 22.8 – 23.0 miles on the legs when we reach 180 minutes.

But as I’ve said over and over again, when it comes to marathon training it is not wise to get too far ahead of yourself.  Just think about and focus on the hurdle immediately in front of you and cross it off the list.  There will be plenty of time to worry about the next one when it comes.  No sense thinking about something 7,8,9 or even 31 days away (not that I’m counting).  Just tick ’em off.

The race down in Shiner is in its’ first year.  So there is really nothing to gauge my expectations on.  I do not know if the course is going to measure long, short or spot-on 13.1 miles.  I think it is unlikely in the first running of the event that it will be perfectly measured, but that is nothing to really worry about.

There is one mile of the course that is not a hard paved road I have recently found out.  Country Road 347 which takes runners from the 6.25 mile mark to just past 7.3 miles is gravel.  I am hoping that the conditions are dry and the road is packed hard, but again, there really is no way of knowing until we reach that point on race day.

With Shiner, TX being about 2 hours from Austin, I will not have the luxury of heading down before the race for a course preview.  We are just going to take it as it comes.  That makes pacing a bit tricky for this race as well as setting a firm time goal.  The plan as of right now is to take Thursday and Friday off from running this week.  Run a short 2-mile shakeout on Saturday and drive down to Shiner on Sunday morning treating this as a “real race”.  Not a glorified training run, or a dress-rehearsal at Marathon Goal Pace (6:52).

We are going to race Shiner “honest” and try to run as fast as our legs will take us on that day.

Yes we are not rested in a real sense, coming off of 80 and 70 mile training weeks back-to-back with a 5K race last Friday Night thrown in for good measure.  But from an endurance standpoint we are as strong as we have ever been, and I expect to go out somewhere around 6:25-6:30 pace over the opening mile and see where the uphill start to the race takes us.Shiner

By the looks of the elevation map, we will be climbing from about 344 feet above sea level at the start up to 430 feet at the top of mile one.  A bit of a rolling next two miles and then the climb to the top of the course from mile 3 to mile 6 which should be approximately 120 feet.

When we hit Country Road 347 the footing will be soft, but the terrain will start to tilt in our favor with a nice long, slight descent until mile 10.5, where we will climb again ever so slightly to mile 12, with a slight downhill finish.

The course sets up well as it will allow runners to use different muscle groups throughout the race and not pound on any one area too long like a downhill course or even a dead flat course tends to do.  It does look like there are some hard turns on the course, I counted thirteen different 90 degree turns along the route and two rather tight turns that look like 180’s.  That does not bode well for a fast time as each of those turns can cost between 3 and 5 seconds on the race clock, depending on how much runners will have to slow down into the turn before they can navigate it.

Over the course of the race, that could add up to between :45 and a full minute on the race clock.  So again, until we get into the meat of the race, our goal time is going to be a bit up in the air.  The hope is that we run a strong race, we hold pace late, closing the race as fast as we start it and in the end that we place well within our age group.

There is no telling if a time under 1:25:00 is going to be good enough on Sunday for any post-race accolades, but I think given all of the variables surrounding the race, that is a number worth shooting for.  If the course proves to be faster than anticipated and the mile stretch on 347 is not a factor, then perhaps we can go lower – we’ll see.  After all, that is what racing is all about.

But more than anything I am looking forward to a tough workout – where 13.1 miles at 6:25-6:35 pace is not something to be taken lightly.  It will hopefully springboard our training to that final tough week where we break everything down as far as it has gone to this point for the three week taper to build everything back up and put us in position to run the race of our life on January 13th down in Houston.

We are not going to be in “peak” condition at Shiner on Sunday – but that was never part of the plan.  It is just another step of the way to hopefully deposit the greatest marathoner we have ever been to the starting line outside of Minutemaid Park on race day.

What happens from there?  Who really knows.  The only thing I know for certain is that we are going to run a smart, tactical opening 20 miles hanging onto that 3 hour pace group like grim death.  When we reach mile 21 we are going to take the race over from them and run the toughest five miles of our life.

A day like Sunday in Shiner are the days where you learn just how tough you really are.  Legs aching, lungs burning, 3 miles from the finish line and you are hanging on by a thread to that 6:25 pace.  Every part of your body except one is telling you to back off and slow down.

Your calves, quads, feet, knees, abdominal muscles, arms, hips – all aching, begging for the finish line.

But your heart won’t have any of it.  It just keeps pumping away, harder, harder and harder still.

Sunday morning will be the toughest test so far in this training cycle.  Here’s to a passing grade.

8:30 a.m., Shiner, TX – Boom goes the dynamite.

Kicking Cancer’s Ass 26.2 Miles at a Time

29 months ago I was licking my wounds from running the second of two marathons in 13 days for Dom and his battle with cancer. 

It seems almost impossible that it has been that long since we came through the chute in Pittsburgh with Dom looking on and Landry still growing in her Mommy’s belly almost 4 months away from making her grand appearance on August 29th.  A Sunday.  A long run day of course.

At that point I took a step back and tried to really evaluate where I wanted to go from there with respect to running and more specifically the marathon.

I was a 42-year-old marathoner with a 3:17:43 marathon PR that was getting dusty, now exactly 12 months old.  If I wanted to continue to ascend as a runner, especially in my early 40’s I was going to have to make some changes to my training.  More speed work, more hill work, more racing at the shorter distances to gain valuable race experience and of course more mileage.

To that point I had maxed out my weekly mileage at 55 miles per week and felt like if I pushed any further than that, injury was going to rear it’s ugly head.  I needed to keep my Mondays and Fridays as “off-days” from the pounding – which limited the amount of runs and miles I could cover in a week.  I would have to get smarter, work harder and I was going to have to find a way to keep pushing.

A few months later on August 15th we lost Dom.  It was a dark, dark day.  I can’t speak for everyone who knew Dom, his family, friends or acquaintances.  I can only speak for myself and when I am completely honest, I have to admit that I lost some faith that day.  To that point I believed that if you did the right things, never gave up, battled and persevered – you were to be rewarded.  42 years of growing up a carpenter’s son and member of the Catholic Church had taught me those lessons over and over and over.

And then, it simply didn’t work.  Dom, despite all efforts, treatments, procedures, surgeries, prayers and hopes was taken from his family, his wife, his daughter and son before he reached his 40th birthday.  Somehow “fair” just didn’t enter into it.

As I was flying back to Austin after Dom’s funeral by myself, (Dawn could not make the trip as she was 8 1/2 months pregnant) – I replayed all of the conversations I had with Dom over the last year and a half.  There were times sitting alone on the plane that I laughed out loud, others when I quietly wiped a tear from the corner of my eye, hoping nobody noticed.

But the one conversation that I could not shake was the last one we had in person.  We were hugging each other in the finishing chute under the cover of the Convention Center in Pittsburgh when he whispered to me, “I know you couldn’t run these last two marathons the way you wanted to racing for me.  Go out and run the next one for you and absolutely crush it.”

That was when I decided that I was done running marathons.

I wanted to race them.

It wasn’t going to be enough to simply survive the race, I wanted to hammer away fearlessly and push the envelope of our talent, training and abilities.  I wanted to not leave a single second on the race clock.  The same approach I take in a 5K, 10K, 10-miler or half-marathon.

Leave nothing for later.

This week the runner that could not run more than 55 miles a week as a 42-year-old will be running 80 miles this week at age 45 1/2.

18 miles on Tuesday, 12 on Wednesday, 18 on Thursday, 11 on Saturday, 21 on Sunday – 80 miles.

Training for Houston, knowing this is my last planned marathon for quite some time has been challenging.  Out of the 495 miles we have logged as of lunchtime on Thursday of this week, 123 of them or 25% have been at marathon goal pace (6:52) or faster.  Something we have never done before.

The 80 total miles this week will again be something we have never done.

Next week, another tough mileage week with a 5K race thrown in on tired legs Friday night to make things interesting.

Then our last real test of the training cycle on December 16th at the Shiner Beer Half Marathon.

A final 80 mile week, the week following Shiner and then we will taper this thing up and get ready to race our ass off down in Houston.

I’m not entirely sure how we’ve gotten here.  But make no mistake, this is where we are.

After all this hard work there really isn’t a question as to whether we are going to go for it down in Houston and try to accomplish a goal time in the marathon that less than 1% of the 1% of the population that has run a marathon has ever accomplished.  Running 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace or faster.

We most certainly are.  The question on that day will be how badly do we want to hang on to the pace group when that voice inside our head that keeps saying “I can’t” is replaced by another voice that whispers in my ear for the first time – “I can”.

I’ll recognize that voice when I hear it.

Just when I need it the most.  It will be Dom.


Many marathon training plans, long-course triathlon training plans as well feature what are commonly referred to as “step-back” weeks.  Weeks that occur every three or four weeks where you reduce your workload, allow your body to absorb the increased training during the preceding weeks and adapt.  During that “step-back” week your body goes through changes, absorbs this increased intensity and grows stronger.  This process is critical to good health as the athlete can allow any small “nicks” that they have experienced to bounce back to full-strength for another push forward over the next 2-3 week period.  Allowing for even more miles and more intense training to continue to move the needle forward once again throughout the training cycle.

I agree with this philosophy 100% and have seen it work like a charm during my previous marathon cycles – allowing me to stay healthy while training hard and create the perfect situation where I reach the taper pretty much on fumes.  I then use those final 2-weeks before race day to recharge the batteries and on race morning I am ready to rumble.  The only problem I have always had with the “step-back” week was the name.  You really aren’t taking a step back, you are reloading to take a step forward.

Instead I refer to these weeks as “cut-back” weeks.  Where I cut back my mileage by 10-12 miles or so over the course of 7-days, in this case from 67 miles last week down to about 55 or so and then rebound back up to 70 miles the following week, then 75 the next.

The alternative would be to simply post weeks of 62, 67, 70, 72, 75 – but a schedule like that for a 45-year old marathoner is one that invites the possibility of not only injury but of overtraining.  The fact of the matter is that for adaptations to your muscles to take place, you have to let them rest and recover.  Last week featured 4 very challenging “Quality” workouts spread over my 6 runs.  My two easy workouts for the week were 10 recovery miles on Wednesday after a pair of runs on Tuesday less than 7 hours apart and my 20-mile long run on Sunday.  Keep in mind, those were the “easy” days.

So this week we will be running 55 miles +/-, if we need to cut back a little more than that by reducing our Saturday run from 10 miles down to 8, that will be fine too.

The key is to make sure that while you cut back on the mileage you keep some “intensity”.  You want to make sure you continue to work some tempo miles into your week, some hill work, some marathon goal-pace miles to keep the legs moving and the pace ticking over.  But make sure that you give yourself plenty of “easy” work also and allow those training miles from the previous two weeks to do their thing and build a stronger base moving forward.

This morning’s run of 10 miles was a good example of keeping the intensity level up, but not overdoing things.

After a warm-up mile that was steady effort (7:26), I locked in at Marathon Goal Pace Effort (6:52) but not necessarily Marathon Goal Pace on the watch.  I did this by wearing heavier trainers this morning – Brooks Ghost 5’s, which are about 3 ounces heavier than my marathon race shoes.  This difference in weight is the equivalent of :03 seconds per mile.  I took this run to the softer crushed granite trail system behind our home to reduce the pounding on my legs a bit, but also slowing down my speed by another :01-:03 seconds per mile.

This turns a 6:52 goal pace effort mile into one that shows up on the watch in the 6:55-6:58 range.

Miles 2-10 this morning came in at:

6:59, 6:58, 6:52, 6:58, 6:54, 6:59, 6:53, 6:50, 6:41.

Only over the last mile did I press the issue a bit to feel like I was working hard.  The other miles I just focused on even effort and let the hills on the trail dictate my pace on the watch.  Running smooth, even opening splits in Houston is what I worked on today, stopping my legs when they got a little carried away and wanted to start pushing pace towards the end of the run.  Only in the final mile did I let them take over.

Running a smooth opening 13 miles in Houston is going to go a long way toward our goal of breaking 3 hours in the marathon.  We will not “make” our time over the first 13 miles, but we certainly can “miss” it there if we are too fast and burn up too much energy and glycogen during the first half of the race.

So, just because you are cutting back your mileage – it doesn’t mean that you are not getting quality work in.  Marathon training is like trying to create the perfect stew.  You have to put all of the ingredients together, take great care in finding the perfect mixture and temperature, and then giving it the time to all come together.

No single workout or “ingredient” is going to make or break you.  It is the way that you put all the ingredients together that makes the difference.

75 days left to race day.  Things are just starting to heat up on the stove.  Happy Halloween everyone!

Landry’s Elmo Pumpkin – (Carving by Dad)




The marathon is a serious race.  It demands a serious approach to training if you want to run well on race day.  It takes a serious effort to run to your potential.

For the 0.5% of the population who can claim to be a marathoner, describing the final 6.2 miles of the race as “serious” is a tremendous understatement.

For most of us however, we are running marathons for our own personal reasons.  Very few of the athletes who toe the line down in Houston this January are there because it is their “job”.  Sure some are there to chase prize money and awards, but for the vast majority of the field they are racing one of two people.

The marathoner they used to be – hoping to better their PR (personal record) at the distance or

The marathoner they think they have the potential to become.

For us that means racing the clock and breaking through the three hour barrier.

If I had my choice of winning an age group award in Houston and running a 3:02 marathon or finishing 25th in my age group with a time of 2:59:59 the choice is an easy one.  I am fortunate enough to have plenty of nick nacks, medals, trophys and ribbons from races in the past.  What I do not have however is a 2:59 finish to my credit.  Not for another 3 months anyway.

There are a few things that I have been trying to remind myself during this training cycle as I know it may be the last “serious” one for quite awhile.  I have been telling myself to focus my effort and my mind only on the workout in front of me.  Do not look ahead to bigger weeks, races, long runs or my highest mileage weeks.  Just look at the workout immediately in front of me and give 100% effort.

That does not mean that I am going to perfectly nail each one of the remaining 73 runs and 759.30 miles left to go.  In fact, I know for certain that I am not.  Training has a way of breaking you down to build you back up.  There are going to be quite a few times when my confidence is shaken by a “poor” workout.  But there will also be many times when I feel invincible after a workout that I really hammered away at.  The key is to take them one at a time and not get too high or too low.  The truth like most things in life is almost always in the middle.

I’ve also reminded myself to be humble and grateful for our good health.  We have been training hard now since April 2, 2011 with no injuries.  3,635 running miles without taking any serious time off due to a training injury.  The longest streak by far in our time as a runner.  Add another 2,962 in the saddle and more laps in the pool than I know how to count and I am enjoying quite a run of good luck and smart training.  I am going to treasure these next 759 miles on the way to Houston and enjoy all of them.  Hot, cold, wet, dark, windy, fast and slow.  They are all part of the story surrounding race day.  I am going to love them all equally.

But the one thing that I needed to be reminded of on Sunday night by my daughter Landry are two key lessons that every marathoner should remember.

1.     No matter how many times you get knocked down.  Keep getting back up.

2.     Remember to have fun.

If you want a visual of what I am talking about – click below to see Landry practicing her tumbling.

It is so easy to get caught up in your emotions on race day, especially when things don’t seem to be going your way.  Whether you catch a bad break with race-day weather, which has happened to us quite a bit actually when it comes to this distance, or things out on the course just don’t seem to be coming together for you.  You have to keep fighting.  The pain of missing a goal narrowly is going to stay with you much longer than any physical pain you are experiencing trying to hold on to race pace.  Don’t let the fact that you’ve gotten knocked down keep you there.  Gather yourself and keep trying, keep pushing, even when things seem impossible.

That describes just about every great success story.

More importantly however is that this is all “supposed” to be fun.  If it stops being fun, why on earth would we be teeing this race up for the 9th time in 6 years?  What else do we have to prove to anyone that we haven’t already?

I told myself after the Kerrville half-ironman that I would not get back on my bike until I felt like “I missed riding”.  I wanted my first post-race ride to be for the joy of it, not out of some kind of training obligation or duty.

On Monday afternoon on a beautiful Austin Fall day I saddled up and went out for a quick 20-mile ride over the hill route on Parmer Lane.  No real time goal or pace in mind – just a hard ride because I missed it.

Distance: 20.26 mi
Time: 55:59
Avg Pace: 2:45 min/mi
Avg Speed: 21.7 mph
Elevation Gain: 623 ft

Best training ride I’ve had in a long, long time – and the first thing I thought of when I hit the driveway at home and kicked out of my clips was, “Man, that was fun.”

I’m determined to remember that as I glance down at Dom’s initials on my Houston race flats and point to the sky as we cross the starting line at 7:00 a.m. on January 13th.  At 10:00 a.m. I am going to point skyward as well as a final thank you to Dom for helping put me in position for this moment, to go out and run the race of my life.

The only question that remains is whether or not we are pointing from the finishing chute or the race course.  The marathon is an unpredictable race.  I’m not entirely sure where we are going to be when we cast our eyes skyward, but I do know this.  It is going to be fun finding out.

Thank you Landry for the reminder on Sunday.  You are the best little girl any Daddy has ever had.

Daddy’s Girl carbing up

When I first started running marathons I spent most of my training time worrying about the physical aspects of the race.  How would I run 26.2 miles when I never ran further than 20 in training?  How could I run 50 miles in a week?  Would I be able to keep it together for up to 4 hours of racing?

Fast forward 6 years and I am still figuring things out when it comes to the marathon.  Oh what I would give to have my 39-year-old legs back knowing what I know now about training and racing.

That is the hard part about getting older.  With age comes wisdom, but we are often too old at that point to do much with it.  When I toe the starting line in Houston this January we will be 45 years, 5 months and 13 days old.  A far cry from Philadelphia in November, 2006 when as a 39-year-old we went head to head with the marathon for the first time.  The reality is for us to meet our goal in the marathon we are running against two clocks.  The one on the course and the one manned by Father Time.  I really don’t have too many more opportunities ahead of me to chase this one down.

After all this time and more than 12,000 miles run on roads and trails I have come to realize that I have acquired all of the physical ability and talent necessary to run a sub 3 hour marathon.  I have put in the work establishing my aerobic base, now instead of starting at a 50-mile training week wondering how we will ever run that much over 7 days I plot out 75 mile weeks.  Those 20 mile training runs are now nothing more than “running long” on Sundays.  I now top out at 22-23 miles at the peak of my marathon preparation.

Racing for up to 4 hours?  No problem, try a half-ironman on for size and racing for 5 hours, 6 minutes and 57 seconds.

There is of course work to do between now and January 13th.  That is the whole point when training for and especially “peaking” for an “A” race.  But when I look at our training plan below there is not a single workout or a single week that “scares” me.  We have been there before and know exactly what it is going to take to make it through to the taper.  This is perhaps the first time I have looked ahead to a marathon training schedule with nothing but respect for the amount of work we are going to have to put in, but not a bit of fear or reservation.

Houston Training Plan

There is something different this time.  I knew it as soon as I made it through the finisher’s chute in Kerrville.

The race is where I am going to be tested, not in my preparation.

The physical aspect of the race is going to be a challenge, this is something that after even one marathon you know quite well, let alone nine.  You are aware just how much it is going to hurt.  When it is going to start, how it will continue to get worse and worse as you push yourself on tired legs and depleted energy stores to hang on for just one more mile, one more hill, one more turn, one more straightaway until the pain gets to the point where even slowing down isn’t going to help.

Fast or slow, it hurts just the same at that point.  Time to dig in and push to the finish.

Oddly, for the first time ever, I am looking forward to that moment in Houston.

In previous marathons I have wanted to push that moment off as far into the future and as long into the race as possible.  This time, I am going to welcome it and as God is my witness, we are going to defeat it.

Someone told me recently that there are two kinds of people in the world – Cockroaches and Ants.  “When the lights come on, the cockroaches run.  The ants?  They just keep on working.”

I was rolling that thought around in my mind running along the Town Lake Trail last Wednesday when I passed a woman running with her Terrier.  Tiny, tiny dog who was running with a stick that was easily 4X the length of his body.  He was running, running, running with his tiny legs churning as fast as they could go with his stick hanging at least 10 inches out of each side of his mouth.  Not a care in the world, not wondering if he could make it all they way home, he just ran on fearlessly.

Ignorance is bliss I thought as I smiled and ran past him.

That’s when it occurred to me that we are finally in the perfect place when it comes to the marathon.  From this point forward it is going to be about sharpening our mental game and our approach to “racing the race” more than any of the physical tests we need to put our body through to prepare.

When the lights come on down in Houston there will indeed be a lot of runners who make like a cockroach and hide from the moment, but we are not going to be one of them.

When the lights come on we are going to stride across the mat, hopefully shoot a knowing look at our marathoner friend Dave who has generously agreed to pace us and we are going to channel our inner-ant and simply go to work.

Who has the right to tell us that the stick we want to carry to the finish is too big for us?  Screw ’em I say.  Let’s race.