Posts Tagged ‘Sub 3 Hour Marathon Training’

When I start a marathon training cycle the first few weeks as the mileage starts to increase and quality workouts start to come with a little bit greater frequency and intensity level, I find myself thinking mostly about the actual training.

How many weeks until my long run reaches 18 miles?  The distance where I start to consider my weekly “long run” as actually “long”.  Until that point, I can usually muster up 14-15-16 miles without too much trouble.  But when I get to 18 it starts to feel real, as I know 20, 21 and 22 are not too far down the road.
After a few runs crack 20 miles my mind starts to wander a bit further forward and the first thoughts of race day start to form.  With 8 weeks to go, which is where we find ourselves right now, I look back on the first few weeks of training and remember how much optimism I had for the upcoming 20 weeks.

I start to think more about “racing” and less about “training”.  It is a subtle switch, but one that seems to happen naturally.  Knowing that the final 2 weeks of marathon training is dedicated to tapering for the race, and even the last long run three weeks out will be dialed back to cover only 16 miles – serving as a dress rehearsal for race day, more than a training run.  There really isn’t a lot of time left to put the finishing touches on the training cycle.

21 miles this past weekend, a step back week, Then we reach our peak training volume capping things at 75 miles per week with a couple more 21-22 milers.  Maybe 23 if I feel frisky, after which we’ll start to rein it all back in.

By this time I have my race shoes in the closet, just waiting to break them in on that final 16 miler, wearing the clothes I hope to race in that day if the weather goes as planned.  I will have reviewed the race course over, over and over.  I can visualize the hills, the water stops, the turns even down to the smallest detail being what side of the start area I want to line up on depending on if the first turn on the course is a left or a right.

The one thing I try not to think about however is how much it is going to hurt.  Because in every marathon I have ever run, fast or slow, PR or not, Boston time or no Boston time – they have all hurt.  It is not a matter of if.  It is simply a matter of when.

In other races whether they are a 5K, 8K, 10K, Half Marathon or even last summer’s half-ironman when the real pain comes you are close enough to the finish that the thought of how much longer you have to go doesn’t break your spirit.  It simply becomes a test of wills.  Can your desire to keep pushing defeat your body’s desire to back off?  It could be a mile or two, or in the case of the half-marathon those first thoughts creep into my mind right around the 10 mile mark.  I tell myself there is just 5K to go, and I ask myself the same question as always, “how badly do you want this today?”

But the marathon is a different animal.  The first hints of pain start to arrive around mile 17 or 18.  Up until that point if things are going well for me, I have been able to run free and strong.  Form feels good, my splits are solid and if I haven’t done anything stupid to this point – I am right where I need to be.
But then it begins.  A tightness on the outside of my hips is usually the first sign.  Then I will start to feel it in my quadriceps, hamstrings and knees.

The pounding continues.

My feet are usually the next source of pain until it simply hurts all over.  The feeling of strength, power and invincibility that was emanating from legs that feel like springs a little more than 2 hours earlier is now replaced by a mixture of pain, exhaustion and questions about how much you have left and how much you can afford to meter out so that at the end of the race, you simply are out of gas.
Unlike the other race distances, you may have more than 7 miles to go before you finish.  Longer than many recreational runnners will cover in a single run …. ever.  But to the marathoner, this is when the race finally begins.  Everything else is just prelude.

I read a quote earlier this weekend that struck a chord with me:

“The Race always hurts.  Expect it to hurt.  You don’t train so that it doesn’t hurt.  You train so you can tolerate it”.

To me, that sums up what is beautiful about the marathon.

In the coming weeks I look forward to the remaining tests.  The tough intervals, the long tempo runs with the training group and my final three 20+ mile long runs.

No matter how much work I put in, it will never been enough to push the pain completely to the side on race day.  All it will do is perhaps delay it long enough so that I will have just enough tolerance for that pain to get me all the way to the finish line.

In a lot of ways, the marathon is a 25 mile race, Because once you are into that final full mile – fast or slow, it hurts just the same.  It becomes a question of how smart a race you ran over the opening half of the course, as one minute too fast in the first half will cost you two minutes on the back half.
1:28:30 – 1:31:00.  Those are the two half-marathons we are hoping to run on September 14th.

My last three half-marthons have been consecutive PR’s in 1:24:06, 1:23:55, 1:23:31.

The question is can I put two perfect half’s together on the same day?  Can I be disciplined to run the first 20 miles of the race with my head, the final 6.2 miles with my heart?

In two months we’ll find out.  And if I had any doubt whether or not it was going to be different this time, Sunday’s 21 mile run with 4:00 minute long pickups over the last 7 miles at paces of 6:36, 6:41, 6:41, 6:36, 6:46 reminded me just how hard things are going to get late in the race on September 14th.

No matter what happens from here on out with our training – there is one certainty.  If I am serious about wanting to break 3 hours on race day, I’m going to have to be willing to hurt to do it.


Week number 11 of our Big Cottonwood Marathon cycle was entered into the books with a 21-mile long run to cap off a 71-mile week – only the 6th time we’ve ever run that much in a single week and only 4 miles short of our most volume ever preparing for the marathon that wasn’t – Boston 2012.

I remember those previous 70+ mile weeks when the final miles on Sunday were a struggle.  I felt like I was pushing right up until the end and while the volume was significant – I was also running them in February and March, not July and August here in Texas.

Back in 2011 training for New York City we did train through a Texas summer but we were peaking between 62-65 miles.

Sunday’s run – and I of course try to keep any individual workout in perspective – as taken alone and out of context – no single workout really means much of anything during a training cycle.  They are akin to a spec of sand on an entire beach.  But on Sunday coach assigned my “weekend workout” at the tail end of my long run, not on Saturday as we have been accustomed to in the past.

The plan on Sunday called for 13 miles at MGP + :60 seconds – or 7:50 pace – our typical summer long run pace – and then at mile 13 shift gears and run the next 7 miles with 4:00 minute intervals at Goal Pace, alternating with 4:00 minutes at 7:35.  At the end of those 7 miles, I would run whatever distance remained at an easy pace to reach 21 miles.

I ran the hill route out of the neighborhood, then hit the Avery Ranch Golf Course for more hills and a return to the neighborhood for the first 13 miles.  I took a quick sip of EFS on the front porch of the house and changed out of my soaked through running shorts into a new pair.  My shoes were still in pretty good shape, so I decided to run the rest of the workout in the same socks and shoes.  My heavy Brooks trainers.

My 4:00 minute intervals came in at 6:51, 6:45, 6:43, 6:40, 6:39, 6:42, 6:50.  Perfect.

As I ran the last 8/10 of a mile I still felt very strong.  My form was rock-solid.  I felt like if I had to drop 5 more miles at 7:00 min./mile pace – I had that much left in me.  All at the end of a tough week of training.  Now again, not to make too much of any of this, other than the fact that the plan that Coach Carmen has put together for me this summer seems to be working.

A good mixture of easy runs, long runs and strategic rest days mixed in with long intervals, repeats on the track and 5K-10K pace workouts to spend some time at Lactate Threshold pace.   Paces that I rarely if ever ran during a marathon training cycle in the past.

The payoff when we spoke about this approach 3 months ago was to make 6:50 pace seem much easier on race day.  That if I could improve my running economy or “gas mileage”, I would have what it took to close out Cottonwood strong and run the final 10 kilometers of that race with my hair on fire if need be.

Simply put.  I feel like it is working.  Never have I felt this strong, this ready, this early in a marathon cycle.  Now it is a matter of not peaking too early, continuing to build week upon week and then when the taper arrives, sharpen my mental game so that there is not a sliver of doubt in my mind about going for it on September 14th.

From the outside looking in I received an interesting comment from a good friend.  A runner that has followed every training cycle and race that I have put together since Run for Dom in 2010.  He has seen me at my absolute best and at some of the lowest of low points over the last three+ years.  After my workout on Sunday he wrote:

“Another strong confidence booster for ya’ Joe (both today’s run and the week) … while you are always focused and motivated you seem to be even more so for this marathon – and it appears to be paying off BIG TIME. have a terrific Sunday.”

What struck me as memorable about that note is that yes, to me I feel much more focused this go round.  More detached.  More clinical in my approach.  I have been keeping emotion and desire out of it thus far – as I know on race day I will be able to summon those feelings if I need them.  All I ever have to do is to cast a passing glance at the initials D.V.D. and numbers 8-15-10 on my race flats to tap into those reserves.

But for my friend Jim to remark that even he can notice the difference this time all the way from Wells, ME – than surely there is something different going on.

That was the whole point in working with Coach this training cycle.  I feel as if I took myself about as far as I could by myself.  It was time to shake things up.  Move out of my comfort zone.  Train differently.  Commit to each workout and execute.  Emotionless.  Detached.  Focused.

Some runners believe that on race day they can surpass what they have shown while training.  That it is all supposed to magically come together when the lights  go on and the stage is lit.

For some of them it works.  But when it comes to the marathon, the truth of the matter is I have pretty much run the races I was supposed to run with a couple of bad breaks thrown in with race day weather.

If that holds true this time – I’ll take it.  The race I am supposed to run on September 14th, the one that I am prepared to run – the one that I am ready to run will allow me to reach my full potential.  In the end that is all any of us can hope to get out of the sport.  We’ve got quite a bit more pounds of sweat and effort to pour onto the road, track and trail over the next 9 weeks.  That’s fine, all part of the price of admission.

Bring it on.

So, here we are 10 weeks away from our date with the Chevron Houston Marathon on January 13, 2013.  After running two marathons in 2012, we will be crossing our only marathon this year off of our race list only two-weeks into the new year.  For the first time in I can’t even remember how long I have no race plans after Houston.

Usually at this point, 10-weeks away from an “A” race, I already have an inkling as to where we will be headed next.  Heading into Pittsburgh in 2009 it was Boston in 2010.  After running Boston and Pittsburgh back to back for Dom in 2010, it was Austin in 2011.  Austin became New York, New York became Boston again and Boston of course became Houston.

But now, after a few tune-up races over the next two months – The Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, the Lights of Love 5K December 7 and the Shiner Half Marathon on December 16th – there really is only one race remaining and one goal.


Sub 3.

Nothing else is remotely on my mind.  No distractions, no fallback plans, no place to go after we pick up the pieces if we don’t make it.

For the first-time when it comes to the marathon I have pushed all my chips to the center, stood up and stepped back from the table.

All in.

As of today there are only 56 runs remaining and a little more than 560 miles of roads, trails and race courses between us and the starting line in Houston.  A lot of the heavy lifting was done this summer as we were training for our first half-ironman.  When I look ahead at the workouts, mileage and balance of the training plan that remains I feel confused at times.

I am running more mileage than I ever have before preparing for a marathon.  I am running more individual miles at race pace (6:52) or faster, a little more than 22% of my miles so far, and I continue to hit my pace marks time after time after time.  I have five 20-23 mile training runs spread out over the next 8 weeks of Sundays and none of them have me the least bit nervous or concerned.

I am running my hard days hard, my easy days easy and maintaining my body the best way that I know how.

Beginning next week I will have a nice 3-week break from work to finish out November as I will be transitioning to a new job – another rather fortuitous circumstance as I will be pushing hard these next three weeks breaking things down to build them back up in December, then taper into race day down in Houston looking to run the race of our life.  Those next three weeks are a blessing.

My race shoes, a gift from my Mother and Father-in Law hit the front step of the house Tuesday morning.  Aside from determining what clothes are going to match the weather on race day the best, our plans for race weekend are finalized.  Hotel, transportation, pre-race dinner – all boxes that have been checked off.

My race strategy is locked in to memory and I am fully committed.

First mile no faster than 6:58.

Half-way point in 1:28:30.

Run with your head through 20 miles.

Run with your heart to the finish.

I can’t remember a race where I was more calm and confident this far out from the starting line.  Usually I spend a lot of time analyzing every run, how I felt, how my pace was, am I getting faster, getting slower, is my goal the right one, am I good enough, do I want it badly enough.

This time around, all of those questions have answers and those answers tell me that I am ready.

56 more times between now and January 13th I need to concentrate, keep my focus and do the work.  That is all that is left to do which is a pretty great spot to be in right now during the meat of our training progam.

New York City served a great reminder to me this past weekend when the race was cancelled for the very first time since it began in 1970.  Things happen when it comes to the marathon.  Most of them out of your control, and most of them not in your favor.  Obsessing about them, including the weather, the course, other runners – it is all just wasted energy.  I’ve done it in the past and I am steadfastly refusing to do so this time.

I am going to focus on the things that I can control and do my very best to prepare for every challenge I am going to face on the race course.

The things I cannot control, I am going to leave up to the other 13,000 marathoners on race day to worry about.  They can do the worrying for me.

10,800 seconds are all I have to work with down in Houston.  Each one of them as precious as any other.  Sounds like a lot of time when you think about it that way.  I hope it is enough because at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure we’re going to need just about every one of them.

On to Houston.

I knew that Tuesday morning’s 16-mile training run was going to post some challenges.

It was going to be just a handful of days after the Texas Half Marathon and after a pair of Monday flights that took me from sunny, warm Austin, TX to Buffalo, NY.  Running on the road traveling is rarely “easy” – there is always some kind of challenge when you have to leave your familiar routes behind – but normally the length is not as far as 16 miles.

I found a 7.2 mile long trail to run along Ellicot Creek, starting at the UB campus in Amherst, NY out to Tonawanda and back.  With an approximately 1 mile run to the trail head and 1 mile return trip the mileage should work out just about perfectly.

The forecast called for 38 degree temperatures with just a touch of wind blowing – so all in all the conditions were going to be favorable – it was just a matter of getting up early enough to get the run in before a day of meetings.  Something we do routinely back home in Austin.

The challenge came the way of snowfall over the weekend, and the fact that the “trail” was not something that would be plowed.  I knew that it was going to be snow-covered, but what I didn’t know fully was just how rutted the trail would be and how difficult it was going to be to navigate all of the footprints that had been etched into the snowy surface, then frozen over as the temperature rose, only to freeze again overnight.

Ellicot Creek Trail

As I left the icy parking lot and took my first strides onto the trail after a mile long warm-up, I could tell this run was going to be one of the more challenging I have ever experienced.  Not used to running in the snow my stride was shortened as I tried to lift my legs a bit higher on my toe-off to clear the 5 inches or so of soft powder.

My headlamp was able to illuminate the way fairly well as I was able to follow the narrow pair of cross-country ski tracks just to the right of the trail.  But dodging each frozen footstep proved to be challenging as I lost my stride and balance continuously stride after stride, mile after mile.

As I approached the end of mile 8 and got prepared to turn around to head back to the start of the trail head I crunched through some ice and stepped into ankle-deep frozen water to my ankles.  Ugh.

I had more than an hour left of running and was now going to be battling cold, wet feet as well as the snow and rutted trail.

My mind quickly shifted to one of my favorite quotes about training and racing.

“Somewhere out there a runner is training while you are not.  When you race him, he will beat you.”

I took solace in the fact that on this day.  I was that runner.

I was the one pushing through the elements at 5:00 a.m. in conditions that would have forced many onto the hotel treadmill, or the scheduled 16-miler would have been cut short.

I pushed back to the hotel and finished my snowy 16 mile run in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 50 seconds.

16 snowy miles at 8:13 pace, when the effort felt much more like 7:15 to 7:30.

These are the runs that toughen the mind, the body and the spirit of the marathoner.

Those 16 miles were not the prettiest that I will run during this training cycle that leads to the starting line of the Boston Marathon on April 16th, but they very well my be my proudest.

With little fanfare I stepped into the warmth of the Marriott hotel in Amherst and walked past the morning hotel staff and on to the elevators.  Not one of them glanced in my direction or had any idea where I had just been.

Too bad.  They missed their chance to see a soon to be sub 3-hour marathoner coming in from a training run.  As of this morning I have no doubt that is exactly where we are headed on April 16th.

No doubt at all.

Over the past few years I have read a lot of articles and numerous books on marathoning.  I’ve internalized what the experts say about the various types of workouts that will prepare a runner best for the marathon.  How to pace your long runs.  How fast and how frequent tempo workouts should be.  The benefits of hill repeats and how important it is to run easy “recovery”miles to allow your body the necessary rest and rejuvenation period to adapt to the increased training load and grow stronger.

NYC Finish Line

I will run the New York City Marathon 4 years and 50 weeks after my first Marathon in Philadelphia back in 2006. 

I am trying to run it one hour faster.

When you think about it, that doesn’t sound too difficult right?  If I could just get 12 minutes faster every year I would be able to make my goal time and then some.  (I ran Philadelphia in 3:58:06 in my first attempt at the distance).

But when it comes to the marathon like most things in life it is the final gains that are the hardest to come by.  I was able to peel off 40 minutes and 23 seconds in my second marathon finishing Pittsburgh in 3:17:43.  But it has been that final 17 minutes and 43 seconds that has proven to be the hard part.

In New York in a little more than two weeks if we get the right weather, we have an excellent chance.

On Wednesday morning this week I caught a break and on a morning with near perfect running weather, (50 degrees, no wind), I felt like I was recovered enough from Sunday’s 22-mile long run for my final Marathon Pace Workout.

This final pace workout of 10 miles is my go to workout a couple of weeks out from race day.  It is a run that more closely simulates the actual race than any other – ticking off 10 miles at just about race pace – but not running too long where recovering from the workout would take so long that it would affect my final 2-week taper period.  The period when your body basically goes into the shop for repairs, your energy levels and glycogen stores are replenished and you peak for the race of your life.

My 10-mile course here in Austin is one with some rolling hills to it.  4 miles are run on smooth asphalt, while 6 miles of it is on a softer, slower, crushed granite trail.  I do not train in my lighter race shoes, but instead in my more cushioned and heavier Brooks Ghost 4’s which are 3 ounces heavier and :03 seconds/mile “slower” than my Adidas Aegis Marathon Racers.

So instead of running this workout aiming at 6:52 min./mile pace or the pace I will need to average to finish New York City in 2:59:59 – anything :04-:05 seconds per mile slower will mimic the “effort” I need to match mile after mile in New York.  I run this workout as a “no-look” workout, only glancing at my watch at the end of each mile.  Never trying to adjust pace mid-mile by sneaking a peek.

I want to “feel” the pace.  Internalize it. Know” it. 

I want to be able to know when I feel myself slipping a bit and then turn on the faucet just a little bit wider to get back on pace without totally opening the floodgates.   I will save that final turn of the faucet for Central Park when the distance and the hills start to rise up to meet me and try to dash my dreams of a sub 3 hour marathon.

.20 Miles to go

So on tired legs, headlamp strapped to our head, water bottle strapped to our belt I took to the opening hill to count them off:

7:00, 6:47, 7:01, 6:52, 6:59, 7:00, 7:05, 6:59, 6:47, 6:39.

10 Miles – 1:09:13.

6:55 Pace.

Just about perfect.  In the end all you can do is put in the work and hope that on race day it all comes together for you.  For many of the more than 46,000 marathoners on race day in New York it simply is not going to be their day.  The weather, an unexpected injury, nutrition, hydration or simply the will to race won’t be there for them.

For others it will all come together in a perfect storm of events and they will indeed run the race of their life.

I am going to fall into one of the above groups.  There is no way of knowing which one for three more Sundays.

But this much I know, the last 18 weeks have been all about giving us a chance.  We’ve got a pretty damn good one in New York City.