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Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

Category Archives: Training & Racing

Renewing Your Love for the Run

“Keep your love for running as your highest priority,
regardless of your running goals.”
— P. Mark Taylor

I am tired.  Since the end of 2009, I have been training.  I trained for marathons.  I trained for Ironmans.  For just over 8 years, I have raced 800 meter races, mile races, 5Ks, 10Ks, 15Ks, 10-milers, half marathons, marathons, half-Ironmans, Ironmans…

…and now…  .. I am tired.

Yes, I have taken breaks.  Sometimes I have gone a week without running.  Sometimes I have gone a month without any serious training.  The breaks were scheduled for my health and for my long-term success.  I have planned so carefully, done the calculations countless times, and my breaks were very much designed to lower my cortisol levels and give my body a chance to recover so I could go hard again safely.

…even so… ..I am tired.

I am the only one putting pressure on myself.  I want so badly to succeed.  I am fifty and I hear the clock ticking.  It haunts me like the crocodile chasing Captain Hook.  Time is ticking loudly.  It taunts me:

  • “You will never reach your goals!”
  • “You are too old to make it to the next level.”

The constant ticking of the clock is not the only taunting I hear.  I hear the same old negative thoughts that everyone hears:

  • “You just don’t have it.”
  • “You must not want it bad enough.”
  • “You are doing it wrong; no wonder you always fall short of your goals.”

The worst part of the taunting is that it has my own voice.  I hear these things and I hear myself saying them.

…and I am so tired, so weak, so disheartened…

secret-city-2012__SQUARE.jpgRelighting the Fire

I am not physically tired.  I am healthy and strong.  I am just washed out emotionally as it relates to my athletic pursuits.

I have heard it said that the best way to handle your kids in sports is to say, “I just love to watch you play/run/throw because I see how much you enjoy it.  It makes you happy.”  The same experts say that the worst thing you can do is make your kids practice and/or compete as if it were a chore.  A lifelong love for a sport is fueled by the love of doing it.

The same is true for running, triathlon, and any other sport you do as an adult.  Whether you are training to finish a 5K or training to qualify for Boston or Kona, it still remains true.  You can keep a strict running schedule, but always keep your love for the sport primed.

Happy Place Number 1

In my first book, I had a little section about rekindling the love by going back to your happy place.  For me, that means cross country.  Run in the grass.  I love going to parks where there the local high schools have cross country courses set up.  These runs are nearly never compatible with my current training for various reasons.  When I run cross country, I run for the love of it.  I am happy.  I have only run one trail race in the entire span since starting to train in 2009.  That was last week.  I let my goals take me away from my happy place… until now.

Happy Place Number 2

My other happy place is the long run.  I have always enjoyed the longer distances, especially the marathon.  I get into a zone where I am relaxed and the world is a great place to be regardless of any present circumstances.  The thought of it brings a smile to my face.  I let my knowledge of the sport of running and triathlon take me away from more frequent long runs, rides, and swims.   I carefully balanced my training for minimal wear and tear along with maximal performance.

In my planning for minimal wear and tear, I took myself away from my happy places.  I stole the me-time that fuels my passion for running and triathlon.

…and that has worn me out…     … and I am oh so tired..

Renewing Your Love for Your Sport

Some people reach this point and just give up.  This is not a solution.  Giving up running is a way to stay permanently away from the things that bring you joy.  Not good.  The solution for being tired of your sport comes from rearranging priorities, not from giving up.

Remember the things about your sport that made you love it.  Go there early and often.  Prioritize it above performance, above the logical things that lead to being great.  Plan your training, but always keep in mind what keeps you in love with the sport.

Put “love of the sport” days on your weekly calendar.
Allow yourself flexibility on distance, pace, and time.
The goal of those training days is to smile.

Enjoy the run.
just P Mark__my signature

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Race Report: Atlanta Fat Ass 50K

It takes guts to run a 50K.
It takes G.U.T.S. to host the Atlanta Fat Ass 50K.

Thank you to the Georgia Ultrarunning and Trailrunning Society (G.U.T.S.) for putting on a great race.  The Atlanta Fat Ass 50K is a time for their local group to get together, have fun, do some running, and have a chili cook-off.  The race is free to members, so I was happy to pay $15 for annual dues and get to participate in the run and the chili.  🙂

Now you know why it takes G.U.T.S to host the race.  Why would it take guts to run it?

The Fat Ass 50K was:

  • my first trail race
  • my first ultra-marathon race
    (ultra = running race longer than 26.2 miles)
  • my first trail run over 13 miles
  • my first run of any kind longer than 5.5 hours

First Trail Race? 

Yep.  I have run cross country races.  All of them were mostly on grass.  Very few roots or rocks.  All of them were only five kilometers long (3.1 miles).  I have run on trails many times, but never as a regular thing.

my fat ass

Apparently, I was not as happy as the runner in front of me!

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Zen experience of a run through the woods.  It is life-affirming and relaxing.  In the end, however, I think God designed me to be a road runner.  My legs are much happier running on a nice smooth blacktop.  Most people have the opposite experience.  It’s not you; it’s me.  I’m just weird that way.

I absolutely loved the trail that G.U.T.S. selected.  It is gorgeous.  It has a nice variety of runscapes:  a few gravel roads, some very nice trails along the creek, and a good sized technical section including rocks to climb over and some steep inclines, including a long set of stairs.

Will I do trail races in the future?  Yes.  I will start adding them in this year.

First Ultra-Marathon? 

Yep.  The marathon was my main focus for several years.  I would do shorter races, but everything was planned around the marathon.  My goal was to get to the end of 26.2 miles with nothing left in the tank.  I was aimed at squeezing every ounce of speed possible.  If I felt fresh at the end, it means I was not trying.  With this mindset, I thought of ultra-marathons as a distraction from my training.  They took too much time to fully recover.  It just was not on my to-do list.

Will I do ultra races in the future?  Yes, but my next one will be a road race.

First Trail Run Over 13 Miles?

As I said earlier, I am not naturally a trail-runner.  If you are wise, you are wondering how I could prepare for this race with a long run of 13 miles.  Let me explain:  I did not prepare to race this race.  I signed up for a fun run.  Coming off a couple of Ironmans, I knew I could do the distance.  I knew it would be MUCH slower than I have ever raced on purpose.  I ran more trails in the month before, but I knew I was not prepared to “race” in any form or fashion.  I did prepare, but only enough to finish.

First Run of 5.5 Hours?

Yep.  Since I had never run longer than a marathon (26.2 miles), my slowest marathon was also the longest run I have ever completed.  I finished the Knoxville Marathon in 2010 in 5:25.  During the Fat Ass 50K, I had lots of flashbacks to that race.  In both races, I ended up doing a lot of walking.  In both races, I underestimated my fuel needs.  At Knoxville, I suffered through some very stiff winds and cold rain while I walked.  At the Fat Ass 50K, we dealt with temperature in the 20’s for the first couple of hours before it warming up just a bit.

How did I do?

It was my first 50K, so I knew that just finishing means that I would earn a PR (personal record).  That was the only goal.  I had guesstimated that I might average 12 minute miles.  That was based on averaging 11 minutes per mile while on the trail.  I expected to take about 30 minutes of breaks over the entire race.  Things went as planned until I made a fueling error on the 3rd of 6 loops.  That and a GI issue made the fourth loop quite a challenge.  By mile 21, I was in survival mode.  I was okay with walking a bit more.  My breaks got longer.  I finished with an average pace about 1 minute slower than my guesstimate of 12 minutes.  I also took a wrong turn at one point that added half a mile to my run.  If I had intended to really race this one, I would have been very upset with myself.  On this fun run, however, I was able to relax and laugh at myself.

Final Time:  6:40:20  (a personal record – Woohoo!)

Final Thought

I traveled to the race with Muna and several friends from the Rocky Top Multisport Club.  I knew Muna was out there setting her PR for her first 50K too.   I thought about her throughout the race and her presence motivated me when I needed it.

fat ass

Don’t look for me. I took the picture.

Although I did not run with the group during the race, we did have a group dinner the night before.  I knew there was group support and jocularity before and after the race.  All of this adds so much to the race experience.

Life is a team sport.  I am glad to have awesome people on my team.

Enjoy the Run!

 

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Ironman Louisville 2017 Race Report

Overall Time  –  13:29:04

The entire experience of Ironman Louisville was great.  The race was well organized, the bike course was gorgeous, the local support was great.  It was a fun experience that I would recommend to anyone looking to go the full 140.6.

The Swim

I was a little nervous about the self-seeding.  We were told to account for the river current as we placed ourselves into corrals similar to marathon starts.  My swim has been improving and I was pretty sure I could manage to complete the swim in one hour and ten minutes.  When I arrived at the swim start area, I could see the corral groupings were organized in increments of 10 minutes:  60 minutes and under, 1:00 to 1:10, 1:10 to 1:20, 1:20 to 1:30, …  I stood between two corrals for a couple of minutes.  My estimated time was on two corrals!  Should I swim with the group where I will be the slowest or swim with the group were I will be the fastest?  I choose the 1:00 to 1:10 corral.  I planned on waiting at the back of that line, but the poor volunteers needed help.  They kept trying to get folks to break it into two lines, but nobody was listening.  I walked up to where they wanted the second line, stuck my hand in the air, and yelled, “This is the other line.”  I was now lined up to be one of the first swimmers in a group that would be mostly faster than me.  Oh well.  We marched to the dock and went in like lemmings.

I expected to be passed throughout the entire swim and I was right.  I tried not to pay attention to folks banging into me and stay focused.  For the first 400 meters, I struggled to catch my breath.  I finally figured out that splash of the other swimmers was filling my breathing space with water!  There was not much I could do about that except breathing more often to make sure I was okay.  As the crowd thinned, the breathing was easier.  I got into more of a rhythm and felt stronger.  This was crucial because we were swimming upstream.  I could not feel the current, but I knew it was there so I pressed hard.  As we neared the turn around buoy, I could tell we were moving out to a stronger current.  Those last 200 meters upstream were more challenging.

At last I made the turn.  It had taken me 26 minutes exactly to go about 1400 meters upstream.  Once I made the turn, things got easier.  There were still lots of swimmers, but we were a bit more spread out.  Now I could relax a bit and just cruise with long strokes.  In training, I have been learning to take a breath on every 2nd stroke, 3rd stroke, 4th stroke, or 5th stroke.  For me, the more strokes between breaths the more efficient.  This flexibility paid off big-time.  I did 5 strokes when I could, but a lot of my breathing was determined by the proximity of the nearest swimmer. If a swimmer was on my right, I would breath on the left.

I aimed for 1:10:00, but I finished the swim in 1:08:07.  Bam!!!

The Bike

I knew there was a lot of elevation gain on lots of rolling hills.  I watched my Garmin carefully so I would not exceed my pre-planned maximum effort as measured by my power meter.  I was going fast on the way out, but I was sticking to the plan.  The first miles were just easier.  Then came the relentless rolling hills.  I upgraded my bike to prepare for this, but I think it just wore me down mentally.  They just wouldn’t stop.  I would refocus periodically to stay positive.  First lap done.  On to lap two.  Then came the rain and very strong winds.  There were many points where it felt as if the wind were trying to rip the handlebars out of my hands.  It was intense.

All that being said, there were a lot of positives.  The course was a gorgeous ramble through Kentucky horse country.  Awesome.  I did not miss that.  I saw it and it made me happy.  I also saw the fans.  Some were local and some were out-of-towners there to support their athlete.  They were there.  They had cowbells, signs, those hand clappers things.  There was one tiny girl sitting on her driveway bang on a cooking pot as loud as she could.  That smile was priceless.  These things all helped lighten the load of the tough course and the inclement weather.

I was hoping to finish the bike in 6:30, but I was happy to settle for 7:08:25 under these conditions.

The Run

I had been looking forward to the run most of all.  I held back on the bike with the goal of having a very strong run.  By the time I ran out of transition, I knew my A-goal for the run was not realistic.  I decided to just go out, do my best, and enjoy the run.  Well, I did enjoy the support, the crowds, and many other things.  My run started off slower than intended and it went downhill from there.  I felt healthy (unlike last year’s fiasco), but I had very frequent breaks at the port-a-potties and I just kept slowing down.  I went as fast as I could without cramping.  I went into run/walk mode and just tried to make the best of it.

Then I hit the wall.  I had underestimated how many calories I would need to consume.  There were two times on the second loop when I had to focus on getting a lot of calories in the tank right away.  I was getting lightheaded.  I was very well hydrated.  I had balanced my electrolytes.  I just had not consumed enough calories.  In hindsight, I should have packed more Honey Stinger Waffles (gluten free) and I would have been fine.  I may have been able to maintain a consistent pace had I started consuming heavy early in the run.  Remember, this is only my third attempt at a 140.6.  My lack of experience and miscalculation slowed me down.

I finished the run in 4:51:57.  Honestly, this is the only part of the race where I think I could have done better.  It was not for lack of effort.  More lessons learned.  Next time I will over-pack for the run.  I will bring more calories than I think I need just to make sure.

People

I am sure that I would forget someone if I tried to name everyone who supported me in this endeavor.  IronMuna, David, Melanie, Jim, Jennifer, and several more were there at every big moment to cheer me on.  We had several members of the Rocky Top Multi-sport club racing.  Their support is priceless.

 

How to Run Faster**

{an excerpt from my book: “The Gift of Running”}

“The most effective path to faster running is to run faster.”  — P. Mark Taylor

No, I’m not kidding.  It is still true over 4 years after I first wrote those words.

It is possible to gradually get faster by running longer, but that is more effective for the newbie runner.  Once you reach a certain fitness level, the increases in speed that you get from increased mileage begin to dwindle.  When this happens you have only one choice: run faster.

To some this will sound like a catch 22 situation;  I can’t run as fast as I want to but you are telling me to just start running faster.  Well, it is more complicated than that, but for the sake of learning I will simplify my explanation.  I am telling you to run faster but we will change how far you run so that you will be able to run that fast.  Still seem like a puzzle?

The thing that allows you to run faster than you have been running recently, is that some of your runs should be in a series of runs at shorter distances. If you can run 4 miles at a 10 minute pace, then you can probably already run 400 meters much faster than that pace. That is the key.

Key Idea:  Doing runs at a variety of distances and paces will prepare your body to handle running faster and move you towards your goals.

If you thought of running as just going out and putting one foot in front of the other, you are right.  That is true with all types of runs.  Each type of run, however, has a specific goal & purpose.  If you want to get faster, the best way to do it is to do a little bit of each type.  The ideas in this article are true for runners at all levels and at all distances.  I use this way of thinking whether my goal is the 5 minute mile, which I plan to conquer in a few months, or the marathon.  If you are thinking about 5Ks or 10Ks, this advice will work for you as well.

Safety Warnings:  Before I go on to the details, I want to say three things about safety when it comes to getting faster.

1)  You should be relaxed & comfortable at any speed.  Yes, I said relaxed.  You can work really hard and still be relaxed.  By relaxed, I don’t mean loose and free-flowing, just that you should not feel tense while you run.  If you tense part of your body, then your form will suffer.  If your form suffers, then you are on the road to injury.  Nobody gets faster by getting injured.  Stay both focused & relaxed as you do your speed work.

2)  Too fast, too soon is hazardous for your health.  Exceeding the guidelines leads to injury… and nobody gets faster by getting injured.

3)  You can’t do speed work every day.  It is not safe & your muscles need to recover.  The newbie runner can do one speed workout each week.  More seasoned runners can do 2 hardcore workouts each week.  See the section on easy runs & rest days for details.

With these important safety notes in mind, let’s talk about different types of runs done at different distances:  Repeats, Intervals, Tempo Runs, Race-pace Runs, & Easy runs.  Not everyone would agree on these as the types, but that is what I am going with for today’s blog.  Within these categories there are dozens of styles and specialized types of training, each with their own suggested guidelines.

Repeats

Repeats are the fastest of the runs, done at the shortest distances.  If you are running for more than 2 minutes, then you are running too far to do repeats.  Yes, they are that short.  Any distance that is under two minutes could be a repeat.  If you are training for long distance, this might be 400 meters (1/4 mile).

  • Run your repeats at race pace or a little faster.  Race pace is the pace at which you could run a 5K now, NOT the pace that you hope to achieve later.
  • Be sure that you are fully recovered from the first 400 meter run before you start the second.  Walk it off.  Carefully stretch. Get a small drink.  When you feel ready and relaxed, then start the next one.
  • You don’t have to do 10 to get faster from doing repeats.  Some people do 4 repeats.  Some people do 10.  Do what you can do while still maintaining your relaxed form.

If your pace will not allow you to complete 400 meters in 2 minutes, then you might not be ready for repeats just yet.  You can start with Intervals.

Intervals

Intervals are a lot like repeats, but have a different goal in mind.  While repeats are about increasing raw speed, intervals are more about maintaining your new speed over a distance.  Because of this, intervals should be at a little bit longer distance.  Aim for a distance that you could complete in less than 5 minutes.  800 meters (1/2 mile) is a common distance for interval training.

  • Run your intervals at race pace, but no faster.  Remember: Race pace is the pace at which you could run a 5K now, NOT the pace that you hope to achieve later.
  • Instead of being fully rested as you did in repeats, interval training does not allow for full rest.  The time between intervals should be about the same time as you took to run the last interval.  Unlike repeats, you jog during the recovery time between intervals.
  • Since the distances are longer than the distance for repeats, the number of intervals that you complete in one workout should be less.  You can do 3-8 intervals as long as you continue to maintain your relaxed form.

Tempo Runs

If you are racing longer distances, then you will want to practice running faster for even longer periods of time.  This is the goal of a tempo run.

  • Run your tempo miles a little slower than race pace, about 80-90% of the full effort that you would use in a 5k race now.
  • Tempo runs can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on your fitness and goals.
  • You can choose to do one or more tempo runs as part of a longer run or have it as a stand-alone workout.  In either case, make sure that you run a warmup and a cooldown in addition to the tempo miles.
  • To get faster, seek the combination of distance & speed that pushes you consistently near the limit of what you can maintain.  If you can’t maintain relaxed form, you are pushing too fast or too long. 

Easy Runs & Rest Days

Will easy runs & rest days make you faster?  Probably not.

Are easy runs and rest days important for building speed?  Absolutely critical!

How does that make sense?  Easy!  If you work the same muscle group hard every day, the muscles will get weaker.  The muscles need time to heal.  Easy runs exercise your muscles as they recover from the stress of the speed workouts.  It gets your blood flowing & speeds healing, especially the day after the speed work.

Easy days are the runs in which you ease up and get in the rest of your miles for the week.  I define the “easy” pace as being around 2 minutes per mile slower than how fast you would run a 5K today.

As for rest days, some runners can run every day.  Most runners cannot.  I recommend at least one day of full rest for your legs each week.  As for me, I am 44 years old and moving closer to the next age group. 🙂  As my workouts have become increasingly challenging, I have increased my rest days from 1 per week to 2 per week.  Listen to your body.  Rest enough to heal quickly and prepare for more speed work!

In Conclusion

Enjoying running is more important than being the fastest runner in the park.  I want you to enjoy the challenge of getting faster while maintaining your health.  If you haven’t done speed work before or it has been a long time, then go into it carefully and slowly.  Stick to the guidelines.  Rest up.  Maintain relaxed form.  You will gradually get faster.

 

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

 

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

How I Improved from 5:35 to 3:27 in the Marathon in 18 months

[This post is an excerpt from the updated essay included in my upcoming book Unwrapping the Gift of Running.]

“You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.”   – Frank Shorter

Even though Frank was a world-class marathoner, I respectfully disagree.  I do remember my last marathon.  I remember all three of them.  If I didn’t remember, then I would not have learned from them.  If I had not learned from them, then I would not have returned for a second or third.  The name of my blog is Wise Running.  That is not a claim that everything I do is wise.  In fact, it is the opposite.  I am gradually becoming wise through the school of hard knocks.  The more mistakes I make while running, the wiser & faster I become

I am now in training for my fourth marathon.  I have my training plan and I am sticking to it as much as I can.  It is, to say the very least, vastly different from the training for my first marathon.  Looking back, I no longer consider that training.  What I did before my first marathon was haphazard and probably a little dangerous.

  • I was only running a few days a week, because my knees were always sore after a run.
  • I didn’t have a plan, I was just making it up as I went.
  • I only ran one 17 miler and one 20 mile run, everything else was 13 miles or less.
  • I took a total of three drinks of water during training runs in the entire “training” program.
  • There was only 1 run where I tried to consume any calories

Yes, that’s right.  I didn’t feel comfortable drinking while running, so I took a grand total of 3 drinks during the entire “training” program.  If you know anything about running long distances, you can probably guess what kind of experience I had in my first marathon.  Not good.

In April of 2010, I glided through the first half of the Knoxville Marathon in just over 2 hours and felt strong.  By mile mile 16, I knew I didn’t feel right.  By mile 18, I started cramping a little.  By mile marker 19, every muscle in my body was taking turns cramping.  I walked the last 7.2 miles.  It began to rain hard.  By the time I crossed the first bridge over the river, it was raining sideways because of the huge cross-breeze.  I was wet, cold, shivering, and generally miserable.  Thank God for nice people!  A volunteer under the bridge in the 20th mile gave me poncho.  It kept me warm enough to stave off the medics and gradually walk to the finish.  It was a humbling experience watching all of the pacers pass me one by one.  I refused to quit.  I completed my first marathon in 5 hours and 35 minutes.  I was in pain & suffering for the next week.

What did I learn from marathon number 1?  Plenty!

  • You had better have a training plan or you will suffer!
  • You had better have calories, electrolytes, and drinks or you will suffer!
  • I am not a quitter. 🙂

That is the beginning of the story.  What happened in the next 18 months? 

The first thing that I always do after a bad run is to plan my return.  You can’t let a course beat you.  The second thing I did was to start reading.  I had half-heartedly looked at training plans before, but now I was seriously shopping for one.  I read up on hydration, energy gels, shoes, & everything else I could find.

I did not start the marathon training right away.   In fact, I started where I should have started the first time.  I began to train for shorter distances first.  A couple of months later, I ran the Expo 5K in 21:55, a 7:03 mile pace & almost a full minute faster than my previous 5K time.  Next I set my sites on improving my half-marathon time.  I had managed to survive a 1:59:27 at the Oak Ridge half the previous year.  I began to build a mileage base running 4 days a week fairly consistently, which was not easy because my knees were still ailing.  In October of 2010, I ran the Secret City Half Marathon in 1:48:59.

The things I was doing differently than before:

  • I gradually built up my weekly mileage.
  • I did a speed workout at the track about once a week, running 400m or 800m repeats.
  • On my runs over 10 miles, I was experimenting with sports drinks and energy gels.

One more critical thing happened in late December of 2010.  I purchased a pair of Vibram Fivefingers KSOs.  These are extreme minimalist shoes.  They are not for everyone, so don’t take this as a suggestion.  The KSOs were important for me because they have no cushioning.  The lack of cushioning caused me to alter my running form to a much better and safer form.  The result was happy knees!  When I run in Vibrams or other shoes with no cushioning, my knees do not get any more sore than any other part of my body.  What a blessing!

Training for the 2011 Knoxville Marathon

Despite my best intentions of implementing the full Hal Higdon marathon training schedule, I found myself starting late.  I did, however, accomplish most of his Advanced 1 training schedule.  I started on the Advanced 1 rather than intermediate plans because of the mileage base that I had built.  I found that I could adjust this particular schedule just a bit and it pushed me just a little harder.  Just right.

The things I was doing differently than before:

  • I was following an expert’s marathon training plan that challenged me just enough.
  • I focused my track work on 800 meter repeats exclusively, running every 800 at 3:30.
  • I was taking electrolyte capsules to supplement the sports drinks & energy gels.
  • I ran three 20 mile runs in preparation for the marathon.

1 Year After My First Marathon

I returned to the scene of the crime a year later.  I was not going to allow a course to defeat me and get away with it.  I was here for revenge.  I had specialized training, energy gel, a fuel belt with my own Gatorade, electrolyte tablets, and cool shoes.  Yes, folks, I was back to kick some butt!

Did it all go as planned?  Of course not.  I had rumblings in my tummy before I had reached mile marker 5.  Thankfully, the Knoxville Track Club and the race director know what runners need.  There were plenty of porta-potties along the route.  I made prolonged visits to these facilities no less than four times.  That was glitch number one.  Glitch number two came when I dropped the electrolyte capsules somewhere in the first 6 miles.  Thankfully, I had taken several before the start so I wasn’t completely out of luck.

Despite these issues, I still finished the first half of the marathon at around 1:48.  The first part of the course has more hills than the second half, so I knew that I could cruise to a decent time even if I got tired and crampy.  This time the second half of the marathon did go much better.  I took the time to drink more, but kept a respectable pace.  I felt my body running low on fuel, but I had energy gel.  I felt sort of a pre-cramp feeling, so I chose to slow down my pace and try to relax my muscles.  I did gradually slow down more than I wanted to, but I managed to complete the course in 3:55:59 – about an hour and 40 minutes faster than in 2010.

I still felt as if I had been run over by a truck and my feet had a lot of blisters, but I had taken that course to school!  It had beaten me in 2010 and I beat it in 2011.

The Next 6 Months

It only took a couple of days to recuperate from the extreme soreness.  In that time, I was already beginning to plan my next race.  I knew that I would return to run the Knoxville Marathon in 2012, but I wanted to run a marathon before that.  I eventually found the 7 Bridges Marathon scheduled for mid-October of 2011.  It was just a short drive south to Chattanooga and the course looked to be flatter than Knoxville.  I did not wait for the 18 week marathon training schedule to kick in.  After resting and some gentle, short runs for the first two weeks, I began the process of cranking up my mileage and speed work.

  • IMPORTANT:  At this time, I learned that the most important way to handle running in extreme heat is to be running long runs as the heat increases from spring to summer.

In other words, in addition to precautions of extra water and electrolytes, you also have to gradually get your body used to running in increasingly hot temperatures.  If you begin to increase your mileage a lot when it is already hot, you may suffer a heat stroke!!!

Thankfully, that did fit my plan.  The official training plan that I used to prepare for the 7 Bridges Marathon was Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 plan.  It represented another increase in mileage and intensity.  By this time, I had shifted to running in Vibram Fivefingers Bikila LS shoes.  I ran six days a week and felt pretty good.

I followed Higdon’s advice and used my marathon training to get some faster times in shorter races.  I ran the 2011 Expo 10K in May in 43:09 [6:56 mile pace] and the Fireball 5K in July in 20:41 [6:39 pace].

The things I was doing differently than before:

  • I ran 6 days per week & rested every Friday regardless of how good I felt.
  • I was following a new marathon training plan that challenged me just enough.
  • I was now doing my 800 meter repeats at 3:00, 30 seconds faster than before
  • I continued testing out new sports drinks & energy gels.
  • I ran more 20 mile runs in preparation for the marathon and even went 22.5 once.

18 Months After the First Marathon

I was beginning to fantasize about qualifying for Boston.  At my age, it would have taken a time of 3:25.  That would have been 30 minutes and 59 seconds faster than my marathon just 6 months prior.  At this level, it is not considered realistic or even smart to try to improve that much in such a short time.  On the other hand, I knew that I was getting faster and smarter.  I thought I had an outside chance if everything came together just right and the wind was at my back the whole way.

Rather than expect a miracle, however, I decided to say that 3:25 was my fantasy goal but that I would be happy to finish anywhere in the 3:30s. After all, 3:35 would be a big improvement over 3:55.  For the pace of my training, this seemed reasonable.

sprintingAt the start line, I was nervous!  I couldn’t decide between my two strategy choices.  Should I run at an 8 minute pace and then speed up on the back half to see what I could do?  Should I start out a little faster than “Boston pace” and hope to get close to that mark?  When the starting gun went off, I was thinking plan B.  I had to take a shot at Boston.  If I failed, I would still finish with a good time.

That is exactly what happened.  I finished the first half at a 7:24 pace that felt comfortable.  It did not feel like pushing it.  I drank and ate more than I had ever attempted in previous marathons in the effort to avoid the dehydration and nutrition issues that had slowed me down.  I was gradually slowing down throughout the second half, but with three miles to go, I could still run the last miles at a 9 minute pace and qualify for Boston.  Unfortunately, that is when I really started to slow down.  Despite my best training and my best drinking strategy, I was still dehydrated.

When I crossed bridge number 7 I had no gas left and that is when the cramps set in.  I gave up Boston and slowed down.  I was disappointed, but I knew that I had made a tremendous improvement and run the right race.  Looking back, the only change I would have made would be to drink 5-8 more cups of Powerade along the way.  It is just an educated guess, but I believe I would have finished 5 to 10 minutes faster if I had slowed down to drink.

As it was, I dragged myself across the finish line in a time of 3:27:27.  I had improved my time by a little less than half an hour.  Nice!

And From There?

Since I first wrote about this huge improvement, I have managed to whittle my marathon time down to 3:08:22.   I was 42 years old when I started this journey and 48 years old at the time of my current personal record for the marathon.   I continue to run marathons for fun and sometimes to compete.  The faster you are, the more difficult it is to make significant gains.  The good news is that gains do can continue as you:

  • Training consistently and wisely
  • Eat Well
  • And enjoy the run.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

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Maybe you knew all of these lessons already, but they were new to me.  If you have learned just one new idea from reading this, then I will be happy.  We runners have to stick together.  Its more fun and safe that way.

You can find me on the web:

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wise-Running/223617527674175

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/#!/Wise_Running     @Wise_Running

Daily Mile:  http://www.dailymile.com/people/PMarkT

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pmarktaylor/     @pmarktaylor

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

_____________

Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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10 Days Before the Marathon

wise running logo 7_25_12The hay is in the barn.  It is October 28 and I just ran the last key workout for the Savannah Marathon.  That leaves 10 days between today and race day.  It takes a full 10 days to see the full benefit of any particular workout, so this is a logical stopping point.  I will not get any faster.  Through rest and easy running, however, I will keep my speed and increase my health.  The little bumps and bruises, the sore parts, the cramps, strains and all of that, those things need time to heal.  They need to be gone by race day.  Fresh legs with no soreness but all of the speed I have earned through a thoughtful and hard-fought process of training.  Yes, 10 days ought to do the trick.

Getting to This Point

Much of my summer was focused on track meets and developing raw speed.  It was in mid-July that I first started sprinkling in some marathon-specific workouts.  I still had a few track meets left as well as a half-iron distance triathlon, so I was not fully devoted to marathon until later.  My long runs began to get longer and I sprinkled in some tempo runs here and there.

In August, my monthly mileage gradually went from somewhere in the twenties to somewhere in the thirties.  Throughout September, I averaged 41 miles per week.  Through experience, I have learned this is the sweet spot for my marathon training.  I make the most progress at about 40-44 miles per week.  Some people can handle a lot more.  This is me.  I have stayed right around there through the first 3 weeks of October, too.

My longest runs are every other week.  At first I was measuring by miles, but after 16 miles I start measuring by time.  My long runs went from two hours and twenty minutes, to two hours and forty minutes.  I completed two 3-hour long runs.  The Sundays between these very long runs were in the 10 to 12 mile range.

My training paces have changed over the months as well.  In July and part of August, I was doing a lot of short (200 meters to 800 meters) intervals at 5:40 pace or faster.  I gradually decreased time at those ridiculously fast paces while increasing time and distances at paces ranging from 6:30 15257355495_c5aa8f7266_oto 6:50.  These are the paces that I want to run during the marathon, so I have run a lot of mile repeats and tempo runs in this pace range.  No, I do not plan to average 6:30 miles in the marathon.  I would like to average in the 6:50 range.  I have to plan for time to walk through water stations and take a potty break.  Hence, I practiced 6:30’s and 6:40’s to aim for an average in the 6:50’s.  🙂

I have done races along the way, but I considered them all to be training runs for the marathon.  I wanted to maintain two to three key workouts per week.  That meant that I could not afford to rest up to really kill any races along the way.  So, they were just training at a good pace.

The 10 Days of Taper

So here we are, 3.5 months after the first marathon-specific workout.  The hay is in the barn.  I will take it easy.  All runs will be at 8:00 pace or slower except for a few strides now and then.  This is enough effort to maintain my speed but easy enough to heal completely in 10 days. My scheduled miles for this week add up to 26.  Next week, I will run 9 to 12 miles before race day on Saturday.

Not only am I going for a personal record (PR) at the Savannah Marathon, but it also the one year anniversary of our wedding.  Muna and I got married on the way to the race last year.  It will be a great day no matter how the race turns out.  Gotta keep things in perspective.

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“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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Assessing Progress: Keeping Race Results In Perspective

 

wise running logo 7_25_12At last night’s track meet, my 800 meter result was two seconds slower than last year.  My first reaction was disappointment and frustration. I am sick and tired of not making significant progress.  Upon reflection, however, my slower performance is a sign of good things.

How could this be?  When you look at race results you must ask yourself some key questions:

Was that the best I could do on that given day, under those specific conditions?

For my 800 meter race last night, my performance was solid during most of the race.  My first lap was a couple of seconds slower than the plan, but the strong wind accounts for that.  Good start.  I lost some mental focus in the first 100 meters of the second lap.  By the time I realized what was happening and managed to refocus, I had run about 130 meters slower than the planned pace.  From there, I was able to regain my intended pace and then accelerate for the last 150 meters.

Does it show progress from recent performances?

Yes.  Even though I finished slower than last year at the same event, I did make progress.  My most recent 800 meter race in June was 2:29.  This was 4 seconds faster.  So, compared to recent performances, this 2:25 is progress.

Moreover, the comparison to last year might not be fair.  There have been three events that occurred in the last year that made me slower: two wrecks and a knee injury.  In light of the fact that I took one full month off from running, it is a pleasant surprise that I am only two seconds slower.  That is a fairly good recovery.

What did I do well during the race?

The thing that went very well in yesterday’s 800 meter race was mental focus.  In many recent events, I have lost my mental focus about half way through the race and never regained it.  I have tailored my training to overcome this by practicing getting fatigued and then running at race pace.  It has pushed my body to prepare to battle through fatigue.  It has prepared my mind to recover focus.

What aspect of your race do I want to improve on before the next race?

I still had 130 meters in this 800 meter race where I did not maintain focus, so I will continue to work on that.  I know that training is working.  I see the improvement.

With all of this in mind, I know that my current training is effective.  I have every reason to expect some personal records to fall over the next few months.

Every race is another opportunity to assess progress and make changes if needed.  I have another 800 meter race in four weeks.  I would like to see a 2:15 this year.  🙂

Remember This!

Aim high, but keep in touch with reality.
Give yourself credit for every little bit of progress.
This becomes your courage to push for your best in the next event.

 

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor

_____________

Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Experimental Training: Staying the Course

Back in January, I reported that I was engaging in “experimental training” focused on building speed.  I summarized by saying:

  • I will run less frequently, but with greater intensity.
  • The speed-work I run on the track is going to be much faster and more intense than I would ever recommend to a client.
  • I will work harder on power through intense speed-work and additional weightlifting.
  • My long runs will still gradually increase as I prepare to run the Boston Marathon.  This remains the same.  There is no substitute.  The experimental side of the long runs for now is that my tempo runs will be embedded within those long runs each week.
  • I will replace my easy running days with cross-training on the bike and in the pool.

Has the experiment paid off yet?

No.  At least not in terms of scoring personal records.

In fact, I have had some relatively slow races lately.  Am I getting slower?  No, I am not.  I am training as fast as ever. ImplementationDip

What I am going through right now is called an implementation dip.  I am challenging my body in new ways.  Hence, my body is changing in subtle but important ways.  In the graph at the right, I am somewhere in the red zone.  My performance had plateaued, so I implemented alternative training and my performance dipped down.  As I continue with the new training, the performance will begin to rise again.  When the change is complete, I can expect my performance to not only match my prior level but to begin exceeding it.  By staying the course on this plan, I should begin setting personal records again before fall rolls around.

On a related note, this is messing with my head a little.  In races this year, I have not felt exactly the same as before.  As a result, I have not been able to make good pacing decisions.  When I get past the implementation dip, the feel of races will be more consistent.  This will help me better adjust my pacing during races and maximize my race performances.

Have I seen any benefits so far?

Yes.  I am healthier, with fewer aches and pains.  At 46 years old, that is a big deal.

I am running fewer miles and doing more cross-training that causes less wear and tear.  I am still doing a lot of cardiovascular work to enhance endurance.  It is just in different formats.  Fewer aches and pains means I am more comfortable doing strength training.  This in turn allows me to get faster.

It also breaks up the daily grind by offering alternative training sites and experiences.  Having fewer runs per week makes my runs feel even more special than before. Even though I have added biking, swimming, and some triathlons, I am still a runner.  That is where my goals are.  That is where my heart soars.

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor

_____________

Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

 

 

Running 101: Steps Towards Proficiency in Endurance Sports

wise running logo 7_25_12

 

 

 

I hurt my knees lifting weights with poor form.  Lesson learned.  Now I need to rest from running until my knees are happy again.  In order to maintain my fitness level, I need to switch to an endurance sport that does not put much pressure on the knees.  I started swimming again just a few weeks ago.  Now it must become my main sport for at least two weeks and maybe longer.

The truth of this really just set it: swimming must become my running for a while.  What would this mean?  How do I train?  Would I need to do speed work in the pool to replace the aerobic and lactate benefits of my running speed work?  Would I need to swim very long distances to maintain my endurance?

I quickly came to the conclusion that I simply need to apply the principles that I use to help people getting started into serious endurance running.  I just need to change the sport.  I set a few principles out for the Newbie Runner in a previous post that were about the way to think about yourself and running.  The present post is more about how to choose what kind of workouts to do in the natural progression of endurance running or other sports.

Step 1:  Start where you are, and build an endurance base.

People decide to “get serious” about endurance sports at various levels of participation.  Some people are starting from the couch.  Some people run 3 times a week before deciding to “get serious about training.”  At whatever level you are currently training, the first step is usually to gradually increase mileage.  If you are starting on the couch, walking a quarter mile several times a week may be the correct first steps in the process.  If you run 3 miles per run three times each week, then you simply start adding a mile to one of your runs each week and let it build.  Never add more than one mile to a run as compared to the week before.  Too much, too quickly can lead to injury.

As for me and my swimming, I just started swimming three times per week, going about a mile each time.  In my first two weeks, just finishing a mile was challenge enough.  This week I am stretching my swims to 1.25 miles.  Gradually, I will move that up to a 3 mile swim once per week and 1.5 mile swims twice.  I expect that to take several weeks, maybe even two months.

Step 2:  Gently begin strength training.

As your activity level increases, it is a good idea to gently begin a strength training regiment which is helpful for your sport.  Every endurance sport requires general strength and core exercises, you just need to add in a few sport-specific drills and/or lifts.  As a running coach, I have specific drills that I have my clients do at least three times per week.  If they have a specific weakness, such as pronation or an IT band issue, then I give them a few strength drills to correct the problem.

For my swimming, I am going back to the weightlifting plan that I used when I started back into running back in 2009.  Every part of the body got stronger.  I am renewing my commitment to being as strong as I can without gaining significant weight.  I am building muscle, so there will be some weight gain, muscle weight.  🙂 I am also adding a few swimming specific strength drills recommended by top coaches.

Step 3:  Begin to build speed as you continue to slowly add endurance.

After you are running regularly and feeling stronger, you will want to become faster.  This is good and natural.  Be careful, however, as running too fast can lead to injury. Pick one day per week at most to do speed training.  If you have never run a 5K, then do not attempt speed training.  After you have established a personal record (PR) in the 5K, then do your speed work by running short distances at a pace just a few seconds faster than your 5K race pace.  See my post on “Getting Faster” for specific details.

I was tempted to do a little speed work in the pool the other day, but I do not think I have a strong enough base yet.  In a week or two, I will pick my speed day and swim a few laps at a fast pace on that day each week.

Step 4:  Find your thresholds and begin to challenge them.

Also included in the “Getting Faster” post is the idea of interval training and tempo runs.  Each run is designed to challenge a specific set of biological functions that support endurance sports.  Simply put, interval training pushes your body to recover more quickly from running fast paces.  Tempo runs challenge your body to maintain the fastest pace possible without needing to slow down to recover.

Here again, the principles of interval training and tempo workouts will directly translate from running to any other endurance sport.  I can become very fast at swimming one lap at a time, but if I want to be a fast endurance swimmer I must complete these two types of workouts periodically.

At Every Step:  Make sure you are enjoying the ride.

When asked about how to help their kids become great basketball players, Michael Jordan told parents this: “Let them love the game.” He went on to explain that you have to love what you are doing in order to maintain the motivation to work harder than everyone else.  If you want to be great, you must first love the sport.

Whether it is running, swimming, or any other sport, you must maintain your love for the sport.  Some love running for the social interaction with their running buddies.  Some love the challenge.  Some love the quiet time out on the road.  Whatever it is that you love about the endurance sport of your choice, remind yourself of that love.  Feed that love.  If it is the social aspect, run with friends most of the time.  If it is the challenge of pushing yourself, then plan to push hard once a week.  Spend the rest of the week planning it and looking forward to it.  Whatever it is that fuels the fire of your desire to excel and helps you truly enjoy your sport, do it.  People that enjoy the ride will keep on running, keep on swimming, …

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Running in Cold and Icy Weather

What adjustments do you need to make for running when the cold weather appears?

Pace

According to a formula worked out by Tom “Tinman” Schwartz, our running paces are not only slowed by heat, but also by cold temperatures as well.  Schwartz found that 53 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for the runners in his study.  The farther the temperature moves away from 53 (hotter or colder), the slower the pace they would achieve with the same effort.

For example, you can expect a time increase of 1.66 percent when the temperature drops to 30 degrees, a 3 percent increase at 20 degrees, a 5.33 percent increase at 10 degrees and an 8.33 percent increase in time when the temperature hits 0 degrees.  The formula may vary slightly for runners of different body types, but the trend will still hold true for all.

My point is that you need to give yourself a break and not expect to run your best pace in freezing temperatures.  Thankfully, however, training through these cold weather months will pay off.  Persevere!

Attire

Personally, I am quite comfortable running in 40 degree weather if I have the proper attire.  Below 30 degrees begins to become uncomfortable.  Thankfully, there are ways to get more comfortable in cold weather.  You can adjust to cold weather by adding layers of clothing.  This gives it a big advantage over running in the summer.  After all, there is a limit of how much clothing you can remove to adjust for heat.   🙂

For the cold temperatures, dress in light layers.  A huge coat or heavy pants will weigh you down.  Light layers can hold your body heat effectively but have the added advantage that you can take them off if you get a little hot.  Light layers also have the advantage of allowing you to maintain good running form.  Cover your head and neck.  Mittens are often better than gloves, but wear whatever you are comfortable wearing.

Barefoot & minimalist shoes might not be the best choice on the coldest days.  I believe it is possible to get frostbite on your feet even if the rest of you is toasty-warm.

Ice & Snow

Please be careful when it comes to slippery conditions.  One slip is all it takes to injure yourself.  It is better to take an extra rest day than it is to risk your health.  Moreover, that little slip can lead to a much longer rest if you have to wear a cast!  I’m aware that those that live in the north probably see snow and ice is just a way of life, but you at least have to be careful.  Take extra care and slow your pace down in these conditions so you can live to run another day.

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!” — P. Mark Taylor

_____________

Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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