An open letter to the Struggling Competitive Age-Group Runner

secret city 2013NOTE:  This is an excerpt from my upcoming book,The Gift of Running: Next Level Edition, and serves as an introduction to the second half of the book.


Dear CAG,

I want you to know that I feel your pain. You have been working your butt off for years only to find that your race performance has peaked. You are either stuck on a plateau or you may have even started to slow your pace.

Fair? No! Of course it’s not fair. You continue grinding out the workouts that have worked magic over the years. Now, however, you find that the magic has faded.

Whether you were competitive at the top or simply focused on your own performance, you long to rekindle the days of personal records. If the old workouts have ceased to help you make those improvements, there are a few strategies you can use that have a good chance to re-ignite the fires of competitive spirit. Here are the ideas:

  • Take a month or two break from training or racing of any kind.
  • Take a new perspective.
  • Try new training approaches.

Take a Break

A long complete break from training may be the only thing that has a chance for you to make a comeback. If you have been constantly training for years without any major breaks (over two weeks), your body has stopped responding. Your body has stopped making adaptations in response to workouts. Your adrenal glands are shot. You will know if this is the case by this simple test.

How many days each week does the following conversation occur?

  • Your mind says, “Go train!”
  • Your body screams, “Pizza and Netflix with a nap for a cooldown.”

It does not matter how many times you go train. It only matters how many days this mental battle occurs. If it happens two or three times each week, you may just be tired from hard training. You might take an extra day off in that case. If it happens 4 or more times for multiples weeks, you are probably overtrained. Take at least one month off. If you do go for a run once or twice a week, do not wear a watch or use an app. Just enjoy a quiet, gentle jog of 3 miles or so.

After at least 30 days of no training, resume your training. Remember that you will have to rebuild your endurance base and speed. Start like a beginner and gradually ramp it up over the next 2 months. You will be slower, but you will feel fresh and excited. You can surpass your pre-break performance after 3 to 6 months. In the long run, you will be happier and healthier.

Take a New Perspective

Aging sucks. If you have been competing for over seven years and you are above the age of 35, chances are that you have peaked. For those that have followed expert advice for all of that time and made fairly constant progress, you are unlikely to get any faster. You can expect to see your VO2max score drop 0.5 each year if you keep your training at the same level.  This means a gradual slowing of your running times.

If that is the case, then happiness requires a change in perspective.

Expecting to beat the times and performances of your youth is not reasonable. In the new outlook, you should be looking for 5-year PRs and age-group achievement. Every time you enter a new 5-year age group (such as 45-49) you have a chance to set new Age-Group personal records and compete with your fellow age-groupers. Train hard. Enjoy the run as always. Be competitive with the right mindset and the experience can be very satisfying.

Try New Training Approaches

A trustworthy old saying is: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” That is not where you find yourself. Your performance has lacked luster for a while. You have done your tried and true training for a long time with a lot of success, but it no longer yields improvements. The new saying is this: “It’s broken, so fix it.”

How do we do this? The traditional training ideas have ceased to be effective for you. Some of these include the following principles:

  • Traditional Strength (hill training, weight machines, …)
  • Specific Training (different workouts with specific paces for specific adaptations, intervals, tempo,…)
  • Periodization (endurance base, speed work, strength running, gradual increase of distance)
  • 80-20 Training (20% at 5K race pace or faster)

These ideas worked for you. They were very important for a long time. We will not abandon these. We will build on them. We will mix them up. We will incorporate traditional training form other sports to enhance our running training. There are three principles that serve as the foundation for the Next Level training that is found in the chapters that follow.

  • Specific Strength
  • Piggy-Backing
  • Load-Switching

We will explain each in details in the following three chapters.


NOTE:  This is an excerpt from my upcoming book,The Gift of Running: Next Level Edition, and serves as an introduction to the second half of the book.



New Year, New Resolution?

Nope.  Just say NO to New years resolutions.

Why?  Well, sometimes I find it hard enough to do what I set out to do for just ONE DAY, let along a whole year!

So where did all this nonsense start?  The origin of making New Year’s resolutions rests with the Babylonians, who reportedly made promises to the gods in hopes they’d earn good favor in the coming year. They often resolved to get out of debt!

As time has evolved, our resolutions haven’t much.  One of the biggest Resolutions is to get out of debt…..and lose weight! Now lets think about that resolution for a moment.  We say “I’m going to shed this 20 starting January 1st!” and then by the weekend we are indulging in old habits.  Why? Well, because living from day to day is hard enough.  Why the whole year? We don’t really go at it realistically, first of all.  We go from one lifestyle to the other end of the spectrum and still expect success.  We often try ridiculous diets, exercise an unreasonable amount, and often don’t make any REAL lifestyle changes.  As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I see it every year.  I’ve seen clients come in and workout twice a day, 7 days per week, and then can’t understand why they are burnt out within a month, and gain all the weight back plus! Plus, surviving on 1000 calories is the most unrealistic idea in the history of ideas! That is usually the case for any diets that people try out of desperation.

This leads to disaster and is the majority of the reasoning as to why the resolution of losing weight doesn’t really ever work.

“So….Coach….”,  you ask, “How do we go about deciding to lose weight, or sticking with it?”

Well, don’t decide to lose weight first of all.  Find Balance and change your lifestyle, and becoming healthier will be an awesome by-product (which includes possible losing weight!). Simple right?  Well, no, not really.  Finding a balance between being super strict and still enjoying life is hard.  I decided to tip the balance scale over the last two week and have the bloat to prove it! However, because I use balance in my daily decisions, It isn’t a big deal to get my train back on the track.  I know what to do, and find it easy to get back on the right road quickly.

I spent the past year studying nutrition, trying different combinations, and reaping the benefits of my research.  I recently completed my Nutrition Certification so that I could help myself and help my clients combine good eating habits with good physical activity habits.  That was not my intended 2015 goal.  My goal was to get my health under control, and I didn’t realize that nutrition was my issue.  Through consultations and research, I found that out and was able to evolve my plan to change my habits!

So for the year, instead of a New Years Resolution, I have a different idea: Make a 2016 Goal! A goal is more easily attainable because it is more structured and specific.  So if your resolution is “TO LOSE WEIGHT” Your goal would be “To educate myself on better food choices by managing macros in my daily nutrition”.  So once you begin working towards your goal, you will see the side effects in your waistline! Changing your nutrition will also affect your workouts by making you feel better and therefore workout better!

A non fitness example is time management.  If your resolution is to “Get out of debt” Your goal can be to pay off your three lowest debts or even just your lowest.  This makes it more attainable!

Once you have your goal set, ask your fitness professional to help you construct a plan.  Next, find a support group to help you make your plans habits, and eventually your lifestyle!

I will be starting a Facebook support group just for this purpose! Message me on facebook or email me at if you would like to be added!

So here is my 2016 Goal: Sub 15 hour for Ironman Boulder, and Knoxville Marathon PR. My Louisville time was 15:49:20.  I just wanted to survive and finish before midnight.

What is my plan? Speedwork, Intervals, and listen to my Coach and trust my training.  For Louisville, I constructed my own training plan, and it worked, but I didn’t have anyone to be held accountable to.  Now with my Coach, John Hanna with E3Tri, I have to follow his plan (which works with my plan as we work together), and he has access to my training logs.  I never want to disappoint my coach!

Many blessings to each of you, and I wish you a happy 2016 and happy goal setting!


Reflection on my 2015 Racing Year and Planning for 2016

2015 represents the second half of a comeback. I had a stellar year in 2013. I ran many excellent races and scored several personal records (PRs). At the end of 2013, however I had a knee issue that caused me to take a month off. In February of 2014, I suffered a concussion after being hit by a car as I rode my bike. My head healed, but I had a long way to go to regain my fitness. I finished the year by qualifying for Boston (BQ) one more time, this time in Savannah. It was 10 minutes slower than my marathon PR, but I was back in BQ shape.

That sets the stage for 2015. I had 4 goal races this year. As always, I had a few surprises along the way, but the year turned out to be very productive.

Goal Race 1: Boston MarathonBoston 2015

I ran my first Boston in 2014 and it was a disaster. With this in mind, my “A Goal” was to run fast enough to qualify for Boston 2016. All I really wanted out of the 2015 race, however, was to have a solid run of which I could be proud. Both of those goals were met! I felt strong early. I struggled with Heartbreak Hill, but I knew I was strong enough to meet my A goal. That made the pain of the hills much easier to take. I finished strong and qualified for 2016 with a 3:23:39. That is 1 minute and 21 seconds faster than the qualifying time for my age group.

Goal Race 2: USA Track & Field Master Outdoor Championship

One of my long-term goals is to move towards a 2:00 performance in the 800 meter run. I had run a 2:23 in 2014 and I was hoping to take 10 seconds off at this track meet. I did not succeed. In fact, I started exactly on target pace but I ran out of steam in the second lap. Looking back, I know I did not do enough training specifically for this race. Lesson learned. The experience was worth it. I’ll be back.

Goal race 3: Challenge Cedar Point Full Iron Distance Triathlon

This was my first full Ironman-distance event. That is 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles on the bike, and a full 26.2 mile marathon. Inspired by my wife’s Ironman performance in 2014, my goal was to finish with 26.2 miles of smiles. I survived the swim even though Lake Erie was getting pretty choppy towards the end. The bike is my biggest weakness. I am still new to cycling and it showed. Still, my goal was to end with a smile. So I took it easy and stopped a lot. By the time I finally got to the run, I was tired, but happy. I met my goal by smiling, talking, laughing, and showing my gratitude to volunteers along the way. 13:59:43. I will do it again, but not in 2016.

Goal Race 4: Savannah Marathon (and Sequoyah Marathon)

I believed that I had done the right training to be prepared to set a new personal record in the marathon in Savannah if the weather was just right. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. It was extremely humid and very warm. I had shed my shirt at the second mile marker. I had given up on a PR before mile 5. I pushed hard and was beginning to fade when the race was cut short. They did not allow me or anyone left on the course to complete the full race. It was hot. Two runners eventually died from the effects of heat.

So… my wife, Muna, and I decide that we would take advantage of our training by running the Seqouyah Marathon at Pinson Mounds three weeks later. The Sequoyah is a 9-loop course and that loop has very little elevation. More importantly, the weather was perfect during my run. It was cool and there was only a very light mist of rain during my race. I was right about being in PR shape. Finishing in 3:08:32, I had beaten my previous PR by over 4 minutes. A great end to a productive year.

Tentative Plans for 2016

I will run many races in 2016, but I will have only 4 key events around which my year is planned:

  • Knoxville Marathon (April)
  • USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championship (July)
  • Richmond Olympic Triathlon (October)
  • Savannah Half Marathon (November)

My training plan for the year will have 8 distinct phases, each with a slightly different purpose and training focus:

  • Light Triathlon Cycle 1
  • Run Cycle 1 (ends with Knoxville Marathon)
  • Light Triathlon Cycle 2
  • Medium Triathlon Cycle1 (Ends with USATF Masters Outdoor Championship)
  • Medium Triathon Cycle 2
  • Peak Triathlon Cycle (Ends with Richmond Olympic Triathlon)
  • Peak Run Cycle (Ends with Savannah Half Marathon)
  • Off-season Recover and Rebuild

The plan has balance. Yes, I am running during every phase. What is changing is the number of miles I will run, the number of days I run each week, and the specific purpose and intensity of the running. The plan includes strategically timed strength training and cross-training. It includes periodic tapering and recovery to stay healthy. It gradually builds my fitness level over the entire year before easing up in the off season.

Enjoy the run!
P. Mark


Reflection on Winning a Marathon

I won a marathon last week: The Sequoyah Marathon at Pinson Mounds 2015. Marathon 2015 with plaque and medal

On one hand, I want to say it is no big deal. After all, it is a very small marathon (20 finishers) and the course is not certified. On the other hand, the course was still 26.2 miles long and I was first across the finish line.

On one hand, my finishing time of 3:08:32 would not even put me in the top 100 in my age group at a huge marathon like New York or Chicago. On the other hand, it was a big PR (personal record) for me by over 4 minutes.

Does this make the victory smaller? On the one hand, it is a very small win because I could have jogged it in and still won. I had no top-end competition. On the other hand, however, that might be taken as an insult by the other marathon finishers. Each gave what they had on that day. They certainly deserve my respect.

How do I celebrate this? Believe it or not, I have wrestled with this question quite a bit.

The final decision: I won a marathon. Everyone out there was competing with themselves. Blood, sweat, and tears. We gave it our all and I finished first. No dilemma. Congratulations to all who toed the start line. You rock!

In the end, I chose to officially make the claim on Facebook and Twitter: “I won a marathon.” Then I posted the results to let people see that the number of runners was small. Let them wrestle with it. We all gave are all. We deserve what we earned.

Special shout-out to two runners near and dear to my heart:

  • My wife Muna was third overall female!  Woohoo!
  • My friend Jennifer ran over 23 miles that day, her farthest run by a long shot. Great progress!

I will write another post about how I made such a big PR. For now, here are the final results of The Sequoyah Marathon:

1 P Mark Taylor 48 M 1 3:08:32
2 Francesca Muccini 48 F 1 3:49:42
3 Mike Samuelson 50 M 2 3:52:17
4 Nathan Wilson 42 M 3 3:53:00
5 Amy Frederick 30 F 2 3:54:13
6 Muna Rodriguez-Taylor 38 F 3 3:57:05
7 Kevin Gerteisen 47 M 4 4:06:46
8 Marylou Corino 37 F 4 4:30:44
9 David Nichols 54 M 5 4:30:44
10 Halbert Walston 41 M 6 4:53:02
11 Marjorie Mitchell 54 F 5 4:56:07
12 Leanne Goodwin 35 F 6 4:59:48
13 Erin Goetz 28 F 7 5:09:40
14 Joseph Montgomery 56 M 7 5:10:17
15 Kendra Schoffstall 52 F 8 5:15:52
16 David Essary 34 M 8 5:25:18
17 John Leighton 55 M 9 5:31:31
18 Amanda Staggs 30 F 9 5:39:11
19 Wesley Hardacre 35 M 10 5:53:17
20 Mark Parrotte 58 M 11 5:59:15



Rock N Rollman Race report, Macon, Ga, 10/10/15

My plan for 2015 was to make doing a half-iron distance seem a little easier, thus eliminating the butterflies and pre-race jitters.  Also to diminish recovery time to a day or two of soreness.  Oh, and to be faster…duh.  Well, lets look at the stats first:

Swim: 49:45/Bike 3:41/Run 2:13/Overall 6:52 5th age group.  Drumroll please……YES, its a PR (but not by that much)

The race was in Macon, Ga.  The plan was to drive down Friday and stay in a cheap but bug free hotel.  Finally got a non-smoking room at this one, but it seems noone listens and the room stunk.  NO biggie since the traffic was horrible and we didn’t get to the hotel till after 10.  After getting unloaded and settled in, I finally fell asleep long enough to hear my alarm go off at 4am.

Race start time was supposed to be 7:30am, and I still had to pick up my packet.  We left the hotel and stopped by a gas station to look for yogurt.  None, no luck, so I grabbed a peanut butter pastry and a banana.  I drank my Base Amino, and prayed that the unstructured breakfast wouldn’t harm my race.

As we pulled in, the lightning was picking up.  My hope was that the weather man was right and the storms would clear up by race time.  Just as I finished setting up transition, the sky opened up and down poured the rain.  We were waiting under a shelter, and I could just hear my towels, and shoes, and gloves, and helmet getting soaked…..ugh.

The announcer said something about delaying the race, so I got to relax a little more, but transition was closing so I headed back in to get my wetsuit.  The water temp was never definitively  announced, but they said it was wetsuit legal, so I went with it!

After getting in to get the initial shock out of the way, we ended up standing around on the beach waiting for what seemed and eternity.  The race didn’t actually start until 8:30am, an hour later.  By then I was getting hungry and my nutrition plan was lacking for an hour later.  I told myself it would be alright, and without any further ado, the ladies all ran in and began their swim.  The course was an upside V and very clearly marked with big orange and yellow buoys.  This was the first swim of the season that was in a calm lake, fog free, and current free.  The water felt good and I started paddling away.  The last session I had with Joe Peeden with 865Swimming involved cutting my stroke at my hipline and pulling up.  He said that my rotation was causing my hips to go out of alignment.  So my stroke reflected the training that he has been having me do on my stroke.  I could see the buoys coming quickly, and I felt efficient with my stroke.  Looking back, the swim was a PR officially!

As I got to the shore and came out of the water, we had to make a trek across the sandy beach to the uphill climb to transition.  Since my first tri of the season was a hell of a lot bigger climb, I felt prepared for this hill charging, barefooted.

I got into T1 and knew I would have to use a wet towel to make it into wet socks only to put on wet shoes.  Luckily the rain had stopped and there was a little overcast still.  I opted out of the arm sleeves/coolers for the bike because they were still soaked and it was fairly chilly.  I finally made it out of transition and headed out of the park.  I was told that the course was a roller course and would be fun.  I’m thinking that the person who said that may have been satan himself, or someone equally crazy.

GOing into this race, I had gotten a new bike.  IT was an awesome Quintana Roo Lucero.  LIght, frothy, fast….not ready yet.  Apparently there was some mismatching of parts and the cables were rotten.  Lucy, as I will call her (short for Lucero), was having to be kept at the bike shop to be fixed.  So with a begrudging attitude I was riding my road bike.  Jamie, my purple road bike, had gotten me through several races and has been great to me.  She was doing great as we navigated through the turns.  At about mile 24 I was realizing that the rollers were more than just that.  There were slow ascents up slight grades, just enough to pull your pace down and hang heavy on your legs.  The descents were over within seconds and the momentum was not able to be kept for very long on them.  My legs were tired by the half way mark.  All of the sudden a pack of cyclists come rushing past me.  GREAT, I thought, Not only do I suck, but I suck SO BAD that these people just caught me all at once.  That was the thought going through my head until the girl on the back of the pack asked me if I had taken a wrong turn TOO. Oh. Well no. That sort of makes me feel better.

We cut through this town called Knoxville….Georgia that is.  And the roads were pretty rough.  There was a long downhill there that felt like I was riding down railroad tracks.  Ouch, that hurt (and still hurts today I might add).

After that my ride was miserable.  I questioned many things, but mainly why the hell I needed to do ONE MORE RACE.  I was hurting bad, worse than I had ever hurt on the bike.  I thought that since I didn’t do my last long ride as prescribed by my coach that I might be destined to be miserable on the bike.  I was very happy to see the return road and get off the bike.  Between the pain in my back and the numerous hills, I was done.  Forever.. No more biking, I’m a runner for crying out loud! and I was getting Hangry! Oh the humanity!

Ok, I made it back to transition.  I was hurting, and I took my time to get ready.  The pain in my lower back was tremendous and making me miserable.  I turned and looked at Mark, who was diligently cheering me on, and told him I was done with the stupid bike.  I don’t suppose he heard me because he kept on cheering.

I finally ran out of T2 only to be screamed at by a ref that I had forgotten my bib.  Crap. I had to run back into transition and grab it.  ugh, this might be a long run.

So finally on my way.  Oh it felt great to run.  My plan was to take it easy. I imagined that my posture and form was identical to Marks when he was running his ironman.  Like a deer frolicking across the grass (record scratch sound here) or maybe an elephant galloping through the fields…whatever, it worked for me.  The first mile I passed about 10 walkers….10 kills just handed to me (for my Ragnarians)! The course was a Y, with one leg being a Y within a Y.  The first leg of 6 miles was a steady up hill and slight down hill stuck on repeat.  There was the first 3 miles seemingly flat though, which helped on the return.  The weather had dried up and the sun was beaming down more and more as the run wore on.  I had my base in my hand, and had stayed pretty hydrated on the bike.  I knew I was after having to make a pitstop at mile 3!

The pain had subsided, but not completely disappeared.  IT would stay loose for a minute then start tightening back up until I had to stop and fold forward to release.  I spent alot of time stretching that lower back.  The volunteers were great, and there were ice towels and ice at each water stop.  I kept following an older black woman with crazy curly hair.  She was skipping through some of the water stops, but I was steadily gaining on her.

After the second turn on the second Y leg, I was within a few yards of catching her, and then I had to stop and do a stretch.  Damn back! I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I was almost done.  I pushed to keep going.  Kept thinking about what people call the pain cave.  I wasn’t sure about it, but I was pretty sure I was there.  And then finally I caught the curly headed woman in front of me, and then passed her, wayyy passed her.  She had ran out of steam and fell way back. I felt fast, and I really wanted to hear from my coach, John Hanna (E3Tri) that I was still making progress.  Since I am training more on the bike, my runs are getting easier.  This race would have been great had it not been for the pain in my back.  I coasted on in, and soon found my hubs cheering for me to bring it on in.  As I turned into the finish shute, I was already picking up the pace for the finish line sprint.  Across I went.

Now mind you, I had just completed a Half Iron, I have also just recently lost another 8 lbs.  When the girl asked me what size shirt I wanted, I replied small.  She gave me that look and said “ARE YOU SURE?”  I never wanted to punch anyone that badly.  LOL, I took the small, and it fits by the way, punk.

But other than her mouth, she was great, as was all the volunteers out there.  The race was well put together with the exception of the organization for starting an hour late.  I know what goes on behind the scenes of a major race, so I can be tougher yet understanding.  I would do this race again, but would have to be mentally more ready for the hills.

So final time turns out to be a PR by 2 minutes.  Not the glorious improvement that I wanted, but like I tell my own clients, it will take time.  My races last year were well over 7 hours and I came close to getting DQ’d at Storm the Fort with a 1:18 swim.

I will tie the year together this week.  This has been a dynamic year health and nutrition wise but now it has all come together!

#baseperformance #e3tri #ironmuna #teamtennova #rtmcknox


Becoming an Ironman: Race Report from Challenge Cedar Point 2015

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This story started two years ago as I was playing the role of sherpa (gopher, waterboy, …) for Muna as she did a few triathlons. She finished the 2013 triathlon season with her first Half-Iron triathlon at Atomic Man in Lenoir City, TN. I saw how much effort it took. I had to admit that it looked fun. I bought my first triaironthlon bike in November of 2013 and began to ride. I intended to try my hand at this triathlon thing. I was already an established runner, having qualified for Boston 3 times. I knew that I was a competent swimmer. Cycling was going to be my challenge.

I rode a little bit in December as I took a break from running. I did my first few 20-mile rides and then got hit by a car in February 2014. Hit and run. A concussion was the worst part physically. I was in training for my first Boston Marathon and lost a little more than a week of training. I was thankful that it was not worse.

I picked up a used road bike and started riding again. I did not ride regularly, but I was riding. Boston did not go well, which is not too surprising since I had taken the entire month of December off from running and then dealt with the bike wreck. After that, I rode a bit more consistently. In 2014, I completed my first three triathlons. I started with a half-iron, then a sprint triathlon, and another half-triathlon. I really never had interest in the shorter races. I was interested in triathlon mainly to get better at marathon fueling and hydration. Hence, it makes sense that I wanted to do longer races.

While I added my first triathlons, Muna worked towards her first Ironman. She completed Ironman Louisville 2014. She did it with style. Once she got through the swim, she couldn’t stop smiling. She didn’t try to race; Muna just wanted to enjoy the ride and run. And she did. It was fun just to watch her go by with a big smile and words of encouragement for everyone around her. I decided right then and there to follow that example. I would do an Ironman triathlon in 2015, but I would not race. I would train enough to enjoy the ride and then follow through on race day with a relaxed attitude.

2015 Race Season

I began 2015 training for the Boston Marathon, my first goal race of the year. This year, my health and luck were a lot better. I added swimming and cycling as small parts of my overall training plan for Boston. This served as cross-training, but also served as an initial foundation of my triathlon training. I had a very good race at Boston this time, finishing in 3:23:39. This was fast enough to qualify for Boston again, so I was happy with it.

As soon as I recovered from Boston, the running goals took a back seat for a while. I had a half-ironman triathlon to complete in just 8 weeks. I had done some cycling and swimming, but not nearly enough to prepare for a half. I had a long way to go in that 8 weeks. I was not only ramping up my speed and endurance in those, but I was also laying the foundation for a short summer track season. I was a busy guy. I had a few lackluster local running races before I reached the Challenge Atlantic City Half-Iron Triathlon. My main goal for this event was to have a good ride. Although my overall time was about the same as my previous half-iron races, my bike ride was definitely faster. Since that was my goal for the race, I was happy with it.

My second goal race for 2015 was the 800 meter run at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Track Championship. I was gradually increasing my cycling and swim bases while I ran a lot of speed work. In hindsight, I was trying to accomplish too many things at once. I did not have a good day at that track meet. I was close to my personal record, but I fell very far short of my goal. I learned what to do for next year. I will spread my speed training throughout the year rather than trying to cram it into one little chunk of the year.

And on to the Ironman…

With that fiasco behind me, I was now free to focus my training on my next goal: complete an iron-distance triathlon with a smile. I had 51 days between the track meet and the Ironman. I did a lot of careful mathematical analysis. I used to analyze my current fitness level (CTL). My aim was to double my fitness CTL score from the time I completed the half-iron in Atlantic City. At Atlantic City, my CTL was about 30. That score peaked at 62.7 just ten days before the ironman. All of my distances for Swims, Rides, and Runs increased gradually over a 6 week period. I completed my first century ride (100 miles) 5 weeks before the race. I did a 2.5 mile swim 4 weeks before the race. I was already solid in running. I had the foundation. I had the fitness. I knew I could go all of the distances. What I had left to work out was nutrition and hydration. I had a very careful plan. I had electrolytes, fast and slow carbohydrates, protein, and amino acids all in my custom-made sports drink (Inifinit). I had Honey Stinger chews for when I wanted something “solid” to chew. I had a Base salt stick as a backup in case I started cramping.

I was incredibly nervous for about three days before the race. I was scared to death I might forget something. I was so glad to have Muna there to remind me of what I needed. She helped calm me down. I needed that greatly. This was especially true since there was talk of possibly cancelling the swim. The weather was rough the day before the race. The winds had blown the race equipment around and even capsized the boat that was setting buoys for the race. I was almost in tears. I had worked so incredibly hard to have the fitness level peaked enough to be ready. If the swim was cancelled, I would not be an ironman this year. The thought made me sick.

Thankfully, the bad weather had also cleared out the algae that had plagued the marina at Cedar Point. As a result, the race was allowed to use the marina area for the swim. The weather finally settled. On race morning, the weather was cool, but relatively calm. There was lots of wind, but half of the swim course was protected by the breaker wall for the marina. We got to swim!!

The Swim

The course was a simple loop around the breaker wall for the marina. The full iron-distance athletes would swim two loops. We entered the water two at a time. I was thankful for this because the original plan called for a mass start with everyone entering at the same time. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like the beating you get when swimming in a tight crowd. The time trial start (two at a time) went smoothly. We started on the smooth, protected side of the breaker, so the first part was relatively easy. It took me some extra time to get my goggles settled in properly, but it was calm and the wetsuit helped keep me floating even when I stopped to adjust the goggles.

After turning the corner to the unprotected side of the breaker wall, I felt the waves of Lake Erie. On the first lap, the waves were not a big issue. The wind picked up significantly by the time I got around to that point on the second loop. I could no longer define my own timing. I had to time my strokes and breathing with the waves to make sure I was making progress and getting the air I needed. I remembered that I was not in a hurry. That helped. I cooperated with the waves instead of forcing the pace. Despite the difficulties and a little extra distance, I still completed the swim about 10 minutes faster than I had anticipated. I stepped out of the water just in time to hug Muna, who was waiting to enter the water with her wave of the half-iron triathletes. Good finish to the swim. :)

The Bike

It was about half a mile from the swim finish to the transition area and the bikes. I had flip-flops on instead of shoes because the original plan had a much shorter jaunt between events. I walked a little and jogged a little. I reminded myself to smile and wave at the crowd. This was not a race, this was an experience. I was supposed to enjoy the ride; so I did. I grabbed my bag, put on the bike gear and rode away. Only 112 miles to go on the bike before running a marathon. The thought was so absurd that it made me giggle a little.

The course was cool and windy. I think it slowed me down about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour on the average and extended my ride significantly. Some to the roads were rough. That being said, however, I enjoyed the ride. I refused to hurry. I stopped at the porta-potties frequently. I smiled and waved at the volunteers and police lining the route. I thanked them for being there. I had little conversations at the aid stations. I met lots of nice people.

There were hills, but I am from East Tennessee. These were nothing. The wind was the tough part. I drank a lot and stopped more than I intended to, but I was relaxed. I could have gone faster on the bike, but it would have hurt my run. I did not train to race. I had trained just enough to finish with a smile. The only part of the bike that sucked was those last miles on an incredibly rough road leading back to Cedar Point. I had to slow down because those bumps hurt. Every few seconds I stopped pedaling and braced for the next impact. My average speed for the entire ride dropped by 0.3 mph on that last stretch. But I finished.

The Run

Muna was waiting for me in the transition area. I got my hug and went to change into my running clothes. One more hug and I was off for my 26.2 miles victory lap. Okay, it was really two 13.1 mile laps, but you get the idea. My entire plan revolved around getting my pacing and nutrition right on the first two parts so that I could enjoy the run. I did. It was not without aches and pains, but the run was full of joy. I got to talk with people all along the way, not just the water stops. I also ate and drank quite a bit. I had my Infinite drink, but also ate bananas, chicken broth, and Honey stinger chews.

I started out a little too fast, but I slowed it back down to even out my pace. I gradually slowed as the run went on, but it did not matter. I was meeting my goal and I did keep my cadence around 170-180 steps per minute. I was healthy and happy, especially considering the challenges of the swim and bike.  Just like the swim and bike, Muna was waiting for me at the end of the run with a smile and a hug.  I am blessed.

Pure Iron

Any remaining self-doubt had been washed away in the swim. I knew I would finish. The only question was how long it would take. Based on my training, I had estimated that it could take anywhere between 13 and 15 hours, depending mostly on weather conditions. The weather was a little tough on the first two parts, so I finished in just under 14 hours. I did not track my time during the bike or run. I knew I was following my plan and that the time would be okay. My time landed me in 10th place out of 16 in my age group that completed the entire race. 13:59:43.123.

But I met my goal. I have had three goal races in 2015 and I met my goal in two of them.

Not bad.

Oh yeah… and one more thing…

I am an Ironman.


Race Report – Challenge Atlantic City Half-Iron Triathlon 70.3

Challenge AC 2015 4 picsMy third half-iron triathlon was my slowest:

  • Swim 1.2 miles = 45:35
  • Bike 58 miles = 3:19:52
  • Run 13.1 miles = 2:21:02
  • + transition times = total of 6:37:38

If I had trained specifically for this race, that would be disappointing. The truth is that I have been training for two other races.

  1. I have been training hard for the summer track season. Since the Boston Marathon in April, I have aimed most of my running for the 800 meter race in July.
  2. I am just at the beginning of training for a full-iron triathlon (Ironman) in September.

With that in mind, how am I to describe this race? Baby-steps. I am a runner. I am a running expert. I am a running coach. But I am a novice in triathlons. This race was just my fourth triathlon. I only added swimming and cycling to my training regimen in December of 2013. The learning curve is steep for both swimming and cycling. So many technical details and form issues in both sports.

Although the overall result of this half-iron triathlon was about the same as the first two. How it played out was actually very promising.

Baby-step 1 – Swimming

We swam in salt water, but it was an inlet so waves were not present. We had the usual issue of swimmers running into each other, crossing, paths, etc. This was my first race wearing a wetsuit, but I barely noticed. It helped me stay on top of the water, which is a tremendous help. The only issue there was some minor chaffing.

The baby-step forward was in my swimming form. I just recently learned to think of my lower palms as the paddles and to keep my arms bent so that I have more power on each stroke. I am sure that I have heard and read those instructions many times in the last two years, but I finally found the right video to help me understand exactly what I should be feeling during each stroke. The most important part for me is to feel my lat muscles doing the bulk of the work. The latissimus dorsi are the back muscles that start under your shoulders and go all the way down the back. They are big and long. The lats are the powerhouse behind pull-ups and lat pulls. If you build them strong and focus on them you can get a lot of power on each stroke.

This focus on my lats during the swim helped me swim much faster than I have before. The time, however, does not show that. I had leaky goggles. No matter what I tried, my goggles continued to leak. Hence, I spent a lot of time slowing down or stopping to empty the saltwater out of my goggles. This was frustrating. I kept reminding myself that this was not an A-Race. I was less concerned about time, and more concerned about getting the experience. It was also just a really long workout.

Having stopped so many times but still getting about the same overall time result means that I was swimming faster than my previous half-iron triathlons. Call it a win. Baby-steps.

Baby-step 2 – Cycling

The progress on the bike was much more clear. I averaged 17.41 miles on a very windy course. That is 1.13 miles per hour faster than the bike portion of my previous half-iron. That is kind of a big deal. I was hoping for 18, but this was still such a big jump. Count the victory. Celebrate.

How did I accomplish this increase in speed? Time. Trainer. Form. I have gradually increased my time training over the last few months. I obviously have to keep increasing that by the time I do a full-iron triathlon. Enabling that is my bike trainer. A bike trainer is a stand on which you mount your bike so that you can ride your actual bike inside your house. It turns your bikes into a stationary bike. You can change the difficulty level by shifting gears. I was able to increase my time on the bike by ignoring bad weather. Ice on the roads? Stormy? Doesn’t matter. Put your bike on the trainer and ride safely in your home. It is the equivalent of the treadmill. Outside is better, but the bike trainer offers an excellent workout.

The biggest breakthrough on the bike, however, has been in form. Like the swim, I have read and heard much about bike fit and bike form. Like the swim, I only recently began to understand what they have been trying to tell me. I am more comfortable on the bike than I have ever been. I am in the right position and loving it. Not just feeling good in regular bike position, but this race I was in the aero position nearly the entire time. The aero position is leaning forward with forearms resting on pads on the handlebars and hands out on special aero handlebars closer together. This puts your body in a more aerodynamic position. That gives you less wind resistance. That helps you go faster. That is why it is called aero position. In this race, it was a big deal because we had so much wind. Each time I was in regular position, I felt like a kite in a tornado. Aero position was absolutely necessary yesterday. I was grateful for the fact that I was comfortable enough to do aero position nearly the entire time.

So What Happened on the Run?

I ran the Boston Marathon in an average pace of 7:46. Why did I average 10:46 on the 13.1 mile run in this triathlon? Simple. I had not trained enough. Not the run training. I did not put in enough swimming and cycling to build my endurance base. Even though I had some baby-steps forward in the swim and bike, I still have a long way to go. Hence, this slow run was a side-effect of wearing myself out on the swim and bike. I ran as fast as I could without cramping. I kept trying. I just didn’t have it. My electrolytes were fine. I was hydrated. I had fuel. I just did not train enough for the bike and run. This was my longest swim and longest bike of the year. I did them back to back. Of course, I was going to suffer a bit.

Was I disappointed in the run? A bit, but not surprised. I knew my training. I knew my limitations. I just reminded myself that this was just a really long training session.

As the run dragged on, I told myself:

  • You already met some goals.
  • You are gaining experience.
  • Just keep running.
  • Get the finishers medal.
  • Cheer for Muna and friends.
  • Celebrate the baby-steps.

It was a good day.

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


Next Level Running: Hip Drive and Running Form [post 3 of 10]

Good running form is about spending the least amount of energy to move the fastest speed possible in the forward direction.  The way to go faster in the forward direction is to put most of your effort in that direction.  It seems like a simple concept that should go without saying.  The average runner, however, spends about as much energy pushing up and/or sideways as the amount of energy she spends pushing forward.

Key to Form # 1: Foot Landing

There are many sources out there telling you how your foot should strike or not strike the ground.  Is heel-striking always bad?  Is mid-foot striking better than forefoot striking?  I believe mid-foot is more natural and helpful, but as a coach this is not my focus.  “Striking” refers to which part of your foot touches the ground first.

Remember This:

The part of your foot that touches the ground first is not as important
as where your foot is compared to the position of your knee.

Your foot should touch the ground lightly when your knee is directly above the center of the foot.  Too many runners land with their foot in front of their knee.  This is how to put the brakes on!  This is how you slow or stop!  It is also how you get pain under the front of your knee after a while or the next day.

No matter which section of your foot touches the ground first, the bulk of your weight should be carried on the middle of your foot.  Your heel may be touching the ground, your toes may be touching, but it is the middle of your foot that should feel the burden of the weight of your body.  As you make contact and accept all of that weight, gently shift so that you feel the weight there as you push forward.

Remember This:

We do not hit the ground with our feet.  We lightly touch the ground
and then accept our weight, gently balancing it on the mid-section of our feet.

This takes a coordinated effort of all of the muscles from your hips to your toes to keep this action as gentle as possible.  This avoids injury.  Think light!  Move like a ninja!

Key to Form #2:  Point All Effort Forward

The keys to good running form are all based on this forward moving concept.  Your arms should move straight forward and backwards, not swiveling one side to the other. Up and down movement is wasteful too.  When comedians make fun of joggers, they run in place bouncing up and down like a yo-yo.  The better the running form, the less bounce you have.  This is one of my personal weaknesses on which I must focus and correct periodically.

Focus on moving your feet backwards.  As soon as you make contact with the ground, you can:

  • use your hamstring muscles (on the back of your upper legs) to PULL your body forward &
  • use your quadricep muscles (on the front of your upper legs) to PUSH your body forward.

Once your foot is directly under your body, you can:

  • begin to let your heel lift off of the ground while you continue to PUSH your body forwards using the other parts for leverage &
  • use your calf muscles on your lower legs to PUSH forward.

Key to Form # 3: Core Strength and Hip Steadiness

Your hips should remain steady, keeping your belly button facing directly forward at all times.  Zatopek hip extensionEven while you drive your leg all of the way back as far as it can reach to push you forward, your hips should remain square, holding that belly button forward.  If the hips are rocking forward and backwards or side to side, you are wasting energy.  If you held them still, you would go a little faster with the same amount of energy.  This is the role of a strong core.  All of your abs and stabilizing muscles around your waistline help your hips remain strong while you body twists above them.  The hips are the anchors that provide leverage for your legs to pull and push backward on the ground.  This is what propels you forward.

Key to Form # : Hip Drive and Extension

Look at the photo above.  That is Emil Zatopek winning the 10,000 meters in the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952.  He also won the 5,000 meters and the marathon.  Zatopek is a great example of the power generated from the hips.  Yes, the hips are remaining steady, but the power is created there just below and above the hips.  Above the hips, muscles are holding the hips steady.  Below the hips, the muscles are pushing backwards to propel the body forward.

Look at that photo one more time.  Do you see how far back he is pushing?  As his stride finished, Zatopek remained in contact with the ground while his leg straightens out behind him. That last push is call leg extension.  The whole motion of straightening the leg is called hip drive.  Hip drive can be powerful.  It is the most powerful force when you do squats and dead-lifts.  It also holds the potential of being the most powerful part of your running form.

Most runners, however, do not use their full leg extension.  Hence, they are missing out on the extra power created in that last piece of hip drive.  That is like owning an 8 cylinder car, but only activating 6 cylinders.  If your car was not running on all cylinders, you would take it to get it fixed!  Most runners, however, do not know they have an extra gear.

Learn about hip drive and hip extension to take your running to the next level!

Next Steps

In post 4 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • A full range of strength training exercises to enhance your health and running performance
  • How to decide which exercises to do and how much to do

In post 5 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • The fundamental workouts that will make you a better runner
  • The role of consistency

Until then…

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

Next Level Running: Activate & Strengthen Your Glutes [post 2 of 10]

In post one of this series, I pointed out that glute activation and hip drive are the keys to getting to the next level of running performance.  If you have been running long enough to hit a plateau, however, you might be wondering, “How have I managed to avoid using my glutes all of this time?”  Good question.  You have used your glutes at least a little, but most runners do not use them as the powerful motor that they were intended to be.

Your glutes are the muscles that form that spot that you sit on… your backside, bum, or ass.  When activated, they straighten out the angle formed by your upper body and lower body.  When most people think about glute strength, they think squats and dead-lifts.  These are the big compound exercises that have the potential to build your glutes.  The problem is that too many people use nearby muscles, the hamstrings and lower back, to compensate for weak glutes.  Hence, even if you squat and dead-lift frequently, you may still have under-active and weak glutes.

Activate Your Glutes

In order to avoid this compensation and really decide whether or not we have been activating our glutes, we use isolation exercises.  The go-to exercises for isolating the glutes are the the glute bridge, the hip thrust, and a specific variation of the single leg squat.

I will let this video do most of the talking for me about glute bridges and hip thrusts.  I will just add this: when I first started this process, I kept one hand on my hamstring while I did one-leg glute bridges.  I made sure that my hamstring stayed relaxed, doing little or no work.  This ensured that I really was activating and building my glutes!

Build Your Glutes with Single-Leg Squats

After you have been doing glute bridges for a while, it is probably safe to move on to the single-leg squat.  The key here again is isolation.  There are many variation of the single-leg squat.  You must choose one that you know isolates the glute rather than allowing the hamstring to do most of the work!  Here is one good variation designed for that purpose:

What About Squats and Dead-lifts?

Squats and dead-lifts will always be the main exercises for leg strength, including the glutes.  Return to these after you have become strong at glute bridges, hip thrusts, and this version of the single-leg squat.

Next Steps

In post 3 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • How to coordinate your muscles to create hip drive
  • Full and proper running form

In post 4 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • A full range of strength training exercises to enhance your health and running performance
  • How to decide which exercises to do and how much to do

Until then…

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




Next Level Running: Adding Power to Each Stride [post 1 of 10]

form sprinting playingOnce you have become a strong runner, you may be looking for new ways to improve. You may have learned to keep a cadence of 180 steps per minute. You may have done hill repeats, intervals, repeats, and all kinds of other things to get faster. These are all great and important. Each time you add one of these to your arsenal of workouts, you probably found improvement. After a while, however, those improvements get smaller and smaller. As you read this, you are probably nodding your head because you understand. You have lived this scenario and you are looking to break that pattern.

How do you get to the next level?

  • Do effective workouts you have never done.
  • Increase your power supply through a change in form.
  • Increase your power supply through strength training.

I will blog about the 1 and 3 in future blog posts. For this blog post, I will begin a discussion of #2.

Increase Power through Form

Almost all runners do a good job activating and building our quadriceps. These are the muscles on the front of your upper legs. They are huge and very visible. They are strong. The quadriceps activate to straighten out your legs. They are used in running by landing with bent legs and using the quads to straighten the legs. If you are leaning forward, then this propels you forward.

If you’re a bit more advanced, you may be using your hamstrings. Hamstrings are the muscles on the back side of your upper legs. They are not just on the opposite side from the quadriceps, but they also serve the opposite purpose. They bend your leg. Since the quads propel you by pushing, the hamstrings propel you by pulling.

If you coordinate the quads and the hamstring just right, they can work together to propel you forward. What is missing from this scenario? The glutes, calves, and core. The calves activate to push your foot down. If your foot is behind you on the ground, activating this movement means being propelled forward with a bit more power.

The core includes all of the muscles between your ribcage and your legs, all the way around your body. This includes your lower back, your abdominals, and all of the stabilizing muscles all the way around your midsection. The core muscles hold your position. They allow you to align your body to get the biggest push from your quads, the biggest pull from your hamstrings, and the added push-off from your calves.

Hip Drive: The Key to Next-Level Power

The highest level of coordination that leads to the greatest power, however, does not stop there. The gluteus maximus and minimus can combine to be your number one source of power, exceeding even the mighty quadriceps. When activated, they serve to straighten out the bend at the waist which pulls the upper leg backwards. In this way, they can coordinate with the action of the quads and hamstrings to propel you forward. The motion created by the glutes and stabilizing core is called hip drive. Hip drive requires all of the aforementioned muscles to be coordinated AND the added power of the glutes and nearby hip stabilizing muscles.

Alas, many runners barely activate their glutes. That means minimal hip drive. That means that almost all of us are missing out on reaching our full potential.

 Remember This:
Glute activation and proper hip drive are the key to attaining
the next level of performance for the vast majority of runners.

In post 2 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • How to activate your glutes
  • How to strengthen your glutes

In post 3 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • How to coordinate your muscles to create hip drive
  • Full and proper running form

Until then…

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