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

Boston Marathon 2015, My race report

Boston 2015In 2014, I ran my first Boston Marathon.  I had a bad day, taking nearly 5 hours to finish.  It wasn’t just one thing, but a combination of things that slowed me down.  Nerves, time off for a knee injury, getting hit by a car, …  I set out to run as close to 3 hours as possible, but went into survival mode at mile 6.

As I lined up for the 2015 Boston Marathon, I was much more confident.  I had gone injury-free for a year.  My training was going well.  I had created a “NEXT-LEVEL” training program that helped many runners achieve their goals in the last 9 months.  I used a variation of that program.  I was healthy, calm, and ready to get this done.  The weather forecast was cold and wet.  That forecast was showing itself to be correct, so I knew that I should go with my B-Goal.  My A-Goal would be a personal record of around 3:11.  In the cold, wet weather I expected to struggle a bit more, so I set my sites on just BQing (qualifying for a future Boston) by finishing faster than 3:25.

I aimed to start the first mile at 7:30 and then gradually whittle that down to a 7:10 pace by the halfway point.  I did average about 7:20 for the first 3 miles, which fit the plan fairly well.  At mile 12, I was on course with a 7:10 average pace.  That, however, was when I first felt a cramp coming on.  My left hamstring twitched during one stride and I slowed just a bit.  I made a quick stop at a port-a-potty during mile 13, but I was still very close to the goal pace for the first half.

I spent the second half of the race managing the cramps.  I never went into a full cramp.  I know what it feels like when I am about to cramp.  I know how to ride that line, going as fast as I can without going into a full cramp.  I discovered a relationship between the timing of these “pre-cramp twitches” and when I took in calories.  I stopped fueling at that point and drank only water.  I took in as much water as I could without stopping.  I soon found out how much was too much.

From that point on, I used pace and water to manage my conditions to avoid cramping.  I knew that I would not get a personal record, but I was still as a good overall average.  If I allowed myself to slow down just a little each mile, I would still keep the average under the time I needed to come in under 3:25.  With each uphill, I reminded myself that it was okay to slow down.  With each downhill and flat, I reminded myself that it was safe to press the pace just a tiny bit.

By the time I reached the 25 mile marker, I knew that I could run a 9 minute mile the last 1.2 miles and still be under my goal time.  Still, I pushed as hard as I could without cramping.  Then I saw that beautiful sign: “Hereford Street.”  I was still on pace and had two turns to go.  Right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and on to the finish!

I can’t tell you that I passed anyone on that last stretch.  Maybe I did.  Maybe I didn’t.  I didn’t care.  I had just spent the last 26 miles with thousands of others runners, but I was only racing one the entire time.  The race was against my limitations.  I had pressed my limits and managed my resources to get the most out of my body.  In the race against my limitations, I won.  I finished in 3:23:39.

The Real Story

This race was not won on emotions.  This race was won by suppressing the emotions and staying focused.  In particular, I won the race against my limitations because I had stayed in tune with my body.  I ignored the crowd.  I kept a laser-sharp focus on the road 20-30 feet ahead of me.  I felt every muscle and mentally went through a checklist of every body part in an ongoing scan.  When I did get emotional, I talked myself down and re-focused on doing my best in that moment.  I did what I needed to do to get the best possible performance.


My story is one of overcoming obstacles, overcoming past performance, and overcoming my own fear of failure.  I did this by staying focused over the last year and staying focused during the race.  After the race, I shivered wildly.  I realized just how cold and wet I had been for the last 3 hours.  I shivered and shook all the way to Boston Common, when I could finally stand in a heated place long enough to regain control of my hands.

That is when it hit me.  I did it.  I beat Boston.  I had come back to the course that defeated me last year and I was triumphant.  I BQed at Boston.  In fact, there was now only one marathon course which I have run, but not had at least one Boston qualifying time.

As with most races, the first thing I did is set my sites on the next big goal.  I had run my first 2 marathons at Knoxville.  I have BQed on every course after that. [not always on the first try, but eventually].  I think it is time to return to the Knoxville Marathon next spring so I can reach 6 out of 6.  If I can run under 3:25, I will have qualified for Boston at least once on every marathon course I have ever run.  That sounds pretty good.  Challenge accepted.

What Did I Learn Between 2014 and 2015?

A)  As an introvert, I need a plan to deal with the noise and distractions.

Many runners are encouraged by all of the fans, signs, and noise.  I, on the other hand, am an introvert.  I had to learn to drown it all out.  If you look at my photos, I am always looking slightly down at the ground about 20-30 feet ahead of me.  I was busy tuning out of the crowd and tuning into how I was feeling.

B)  I need to run my own race.

I was well aware that the people in my corral all had about the same qualifying time as I did.  That does not, however, mean that we can expect to run the race together.  Some will go out too fast for me.  Some will be going too slow.  I take the uphills slower than most of that same group of runners.  I make up for it on the flats and downhills.  If I had tried to stay with the equally capable runners that I started with, I would have charged the hills too fast and faded early.  In fact, there were only a few instances when I stayed with a group of specific runners for more than 20 seconds.

C)  I belong here.  I can do this.  I need to remind myself of that.

You have to qualify for Boston.  Most marathon runners don’t.  Despite the fact that I had already qualified for Boston on four different marathon courses, I still had my doubts.  Last year’s struggle did a lot of damage to my self-image.  Throughout this year’s race, I had to give myself positive affirmations:

“Just because they start out fast, doesn’t mean they are faster than me.”
“This pre-cramp feeling is just a sign.  I will deal with it and keep moving at a strong pace.”
“I am still on pace for a BQ.  I have this.  Keep pressing the limit.”
“I can average a 9 minute pace this last stretch and still get a solid BQ.”
“Yes, this is a slight uphill, but the finish is just around this corner.  You can keep pressing the pace.”

D)  I can still get faster and stronger while only running 3 days per week.

I had been doing my NEXT-LEVEL” training program and it had prepared me for the challenge.  I typically run 3 days a week, ride my bike 2 or 3 days per week, swim once every other week, and do a lot of strength training.  In the year between the 2014 and 2015 Boston Marathons, I gained 10 pounds and became a stronger runner.

I praise The Lord for helping me learn these lessons and getting me through this race.

Now on to the next challenge.

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

Every Finisher’s Medal Has a Story

IMG_0734medals 2I have earned many finisher’s medals since my return to running in November of 2009.  On the right is a small photo of most of them.  Each medal has a story, a context, a tale of triumph, defeat, friends, and laughs.

Why would I only display 9 of them on my medal rack?  Because some memories/achievements are bigger than others.  These are the stories I want to remember.  These are the stories I want to tell.

From left to right…

Knoxville Marathon 2010:  The first medal represents my first marathon.  In March of 2010, I was less than well-informed about the needs of an endurance athlete.  My training was sparse.  I had no nutrition plan.  I had taken one drink of water on one training run.  That was it.  Nothing else had passed through my lips on a training run.  No calories.  One drink of water on one long run.  If you know anything about endurance nutrition and hydration, you know where this led.  I ran reasonably well until mile 17 and the bottom fell out.  My legs locked up and I could barely walk.  The skies grew dark and a cold, windy rain set in.  I walked the rest of the way.  I shivered.  I must have looked pitiful, because the medics checked on me frequently for the rest of the marathon.  I was determined that I did not need help and I would finish.  I did.  5:34:38.  Then I could barely move for a week.  Good times.  I am not a quitter.

Knoxville Marathon 2011:   The second medal happened 1 year later.  One year of studying running.  One year of reading and studying.  One year of training.  One year of learning about hydration and nutrition.  I only ran two races between my first and second marathon, but I trained.  I didn’t train every day, but I trained all year.  This time when I got to mile 17, I could feel that my body was being challenged, but I knew how to pace myself.  I paid close attention and ran as fast as I could without cramping.  I gradually slowed down, but never stopped.  3:55:59.  More than 1.5 hours faster than the first try.  Consistent studying and training pays off.

7 Bridges Marathon 2012:   In the fall of 2011, I ran my third marathon, the Seven Bridges Marathon in Chattanooga, TN.  I had done more studying and a lot more training.  I managed to shave another big chunk of time, finishing in 3:27:27.  This was great progress and I was very happy, but it was also painful.  I cramped hard in mile 26.  I was on pace to qualify for Boston until that moment.  I could see the finish line, but I could not get to it.  I had to stand and wait for my legs to calm down.  My time was 2 minutes and 27 above the Boston mark for my age group.  But this medal is from the 2012 Seven Bridges Marathon.  Why this one?  It marks my victory over two things: cramping and gluten.  I had started the 2012 Knoxville Marathon in April, but had to stop.  I had been getting weaker during my taper instead of stronger.  I tried to ignore it, but I could not.  I spent more than half of 2012 trying to figure out why I was sick.  Finally in September, I was diagnosed as gluten-intolerant.  I stopped eating wheat for 6 weeks.  Then I ran the 7 Bridges Marathon.  Even though I had been weak for 6 months, I had trained anyway.  I was hoping that the slow paces would pay off because of the big efforts that it took to fight through my weakened state.  That gamble paid off at 7 Bridges.  My slower, weaker, but valiant attempts at training during my illness led to a finish time of 3:22:44.  I had beaten gluten.  I had beaten the cramps.  I had qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time.  This medal will always have a place on my medal rack.

Shamrock Marathon 2013:  After that, I was healthy and ready to score another big PR.  I had now studied three very different marathon training strategies.  I had even written a book about running.  I was laser-focused.  I had very consistent training with a very consistent strategy.  It paid off again.  Even though I still gradually slowed down, I did my best job of pacing ever.  I did cramp just a bit, but I was 100 yards from the finish.  I jogged it in for a 3:13:22.  My second BQ (Boston-Qualifying time).  Not only that, but I had BQed by more than 9 minutes.

Indianapolis Marathon 2013:  This one was only a PR by 37 seconds, but this is amazing in and of itself.  Why?  Because my training strategies varied greatly.  I was starting to play with speed.  I ran shorter distances and did a lot more speed-work.  I was reading and studying like always, but I was testing out my own theories about training.  I was also racing A LOT.  It was a couple of months from the marathon before I started getting a bit more focused.  I was gambling that my endurance base was maintained through out all of the different training strategies.  That gamble paid off.  Even though I did not make significant progress, I did show that I could maintain my fitness level.  This is remarkable because I was 45 years old.  At this age, we are expected to gradually become slower.  I had not slowed down.  I was 15th place overall.  Not bad.

Boston Marathon 2014:  This was one of my worst races ever.  I knew by mile 6 that I was not feeling well enough to run a good race.  I gradually slowed from under 7 minute pace down to trying to maintain a 12 minute pace. It was physically and emotionally painful.  As painful as this was, I understood that this was just a bad day.  I tried to smile and wave to the crowds a lot.  I knew my wife was waiting for me.  I knew she was worried as my splits kept showing slower times.  Every time I crossed a timing mat, I was telling her “I’m okay.  I’m still moving.”  I spent some moments of anguish in the medical tent until I recovered.  I vowed to return.  Just over one week from now, I shall.

Savannah Marathon 2013 & 2014:  I didn’t really set out to race Savannah in 2013.  It was about a month after the Indianapolis Marathon and I would not expect to PR.  I was, however, excited to run with my new wife, Muna.  We “eloped” on the way to Savannah.  We were newlyweds running together.  I paced Muna to 3:52:25, her first sub-4.  In 2014, I raced.  Even though I was doing my first triathlons that summer, I made sure to include enough specific training to prove that the performance at Boston was a fluke.  I would at least qualify for Boston again.  That is where I aimed and that is what I earned.  3:22:43.  BQ by just over a minute.  I walked away with the confidence of knowing that I know just how much effort it takes to earn the result I want.

Shrimp and Grits 5K 2015:  This is the 5K associated with the Charleston Marathon.  I ran a 19:28.  Nowhere near a PR, but that was not the goal.  I just wanted a fun run.  I usually check my pace regularly while aiming for some very specific time. Instead of aiming for a PR, I decided to race. I simply sized up the competition over the first mile and decided who I could catch by the end.  I met Tony at the start line.  He was 57 years old and in great shape.  He started out ahead of me, so I spent more than half of the race chasing after Tony.  I eventually got him in the last mile and then just held my position.  After the race I jogged down to the 14 mile marker of the marathon so I could run the rest of that race with Muna.  She was having a rough time, so my support was more important than ever.  She toughed it out and still finished with a great time considering the illness with which she was battling.  After we finished the marathon, I found out my friend Ethan had won the marathon and I had won the masters division in the 5K.  That’ll do.

These are not all my best races.  They are not all personal records.  They are, however, all significant.  Each one has a story that means something to me.  I could leave all of my medals up, but it would be very crowded.  I want to see these particular medals when I walk by… and to remember.

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



Product Review – TIUX Compression Socks

I occasionally review products that are sent to me, but only if they fit my criteria:

  • it was a product that I actually wanted to try for myself
  • and as long as I was not OBLIGATED to blog about it.

The first condition is because I want the product to be useful.  Why post it otherwise?  The second condition is because I only want to post reviews that are positive AND reviews for products I in which I truly have trust and confidence.

I am happy to report that I recently received one such product:  Tiux Compression Socks.

About Compression Socks/Gear:

Recent research shows that compression gear does not enhance performance except as a placebo effect.  There are two areas where compression gear still prove to be very important.  First, that placebo effect is big.  That feeling of protection that some folks get when they wear compression socks during a race is very real.  You should try it a few times to see if it helps you.

The most universal and important positive effect is not during a race, but after.  Recovery is expedited by better flow of blood.  That is the main purpose of compression socks.  The snug fit with a firm grip does not allow blood to pool in any one particular area.  The blood must flow.  Better circulation leads to quicker healing.  That is a huge advantage.  I wear compression socks or sleeves after every race.  After big races, I might wear them for several days.

Bottom line: Compression socks work.

tiux 5About TIUX Compression Socks:

TIUX is a start-up company that is dedicated to quality compression gear.  That being said, I came into this experience with a critical lens: Could this start-up produce a quality product to compete the big companies?

I put them on the minute my new TIUX Compression Socks arrived.  The first thing I noticed was the fit.  I usually wear size medium in compression socks because larges are too loose.  This pair was large and in charge!  They were clearly large in size, but they gripped my calve, ankles, and feet firmly.  Good start.

The next thing I noticed is that they felt extra thick.  After wearing them for a day, I was thinking that these thick socks might be best suited for winter. After the first wash, however, I changed my mind.  That feeling of thick socks went away.  That first time through the washer and dryer seemed to magically transform my TIUX compression socks to the perfect thickness.

Still, I refused to draw any firm conclusion until I had worn them and washed them many times.  How did they hold up?  Extremely well.  They still have that snugly, yet firm, grip.  They still fit exactly the same.  They still feel just right.  I have used them to recover from a tough race and several tough workouts.

The final report card:

Quality = A
Durability = A

TIUX compression socks have one more feature that is outstanding:  price.  TIUX has chosen to cut out the middle-man to save you money.  You can only get TIUX Premium Performance Compression Socks by visiting their web site at  [That is NOT a typo.  There is no “m” on the end of the web site.]

tiux 4

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


“You have earned my respect, Runner.”

Which runners do I respect?  The ones that have earned it.

To the one that is running regularly for the very first time:  your kind of crazy

There may be a lot of walking, but you are out there doing what you can to improve your health and fitness.  You have earned my respect, Runner.

To the one that is just jogging to lose weight:

It is great that you want to be lighter, but you are making efforts towards running that puts you waaay ahead of the folks still on the couch.  You have earned my respect, Runner.

To the one that only runs for the social aspect:

Yes, you always run at “conversational pace” and you seem to be more happy at the beer garden after the run, but you are still out there.  You are there two or three times a week.  You have earned my respect, Runner.

To the one that runs EVERY 5K because races are fun:

Yes, you, … you 5K freak!  Even if you only run once a week, you are out there consistently.  You participate, you run, you help raise funds for charity, and you are a part of the running community.  You have earned my respect, Runner.

To the Half-Maniacs:

You know who you are.  You are the one that does as many half marathons each year as you can afford to do.  You supplement your appetite for half marathons by running more half marathons.  At whatever pace you choose, you are out there doing it.  You have earned my respect, Runner.

To the Marathoner and the Ultra-Marathoners:

People think you are nuts.  I think they are right.  I love you just the way you are.  You have earned my respect, Runner.

To the speed-demon, driven by the quest for age-group glory or more:

I get it.  You push long and hard.  Sometimes you overdo it.  So what.  You rock the world and sometimes the world rocks back.  To me it matters less that you win; it matters more that you try to improve.  You try with all of your might.   You have earned my respect, Runner.

To everyone that tries to run, for the ones in wheelchairs, the ones with guides, the ones with knee problems,… people of all shapes and size, people of all ages, genders, … anyone that runs in any way, shape or form:

 You have earned my respect, Runner.

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



Runners Wanted: “Next Level” Training for 5K and Beyond

“I feel the need, the need for speed!”  — Maverick & Goose [Top Gun]

I mentioned a while back that I wanted to write my 3rd place in 1 mile 7 1 2014next running book about how to attain the next level.  I want to answer the question:  “When you have reached a plateau, how do you break through to faster personal records?”  I have done a lot of reading and a lot of experimenting over the last year.  Not everything has worked out… BUT, I think I have finally found a combination of research-based techniques that will do it.  This combination will bring runners to the next level!

Is this a magical elixir?  

It is certainly not magical and it is not a quick-fix.  It requires hard work and a precise combination of specialized training.  In other words, you can’t just go run whatever you want.  You also can’t skip days or change workouts based on how you feel.

What kind of workouts will it include?

My “Next Level” training for breaking plateaus is a combination of 4 types of workouts.  Each of the four workouts have a very specific set of purposes.  Each of the four workouts have been proven to be effective for those purposes.  What is truly new about my program is the combination of the workouts.  In his book Running Science, Dr. Owen Anderson identifies 7 variables that impact running performance:

  • Maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 Max or VDOT)
  • Running Economy
  • Minimum velocity for maximal aerobic capacity (vVo2 Max or vVDOT)
  • Velocity at lactate threshold
  • Maximal running speed
  • Resistance to fatigue
  • Running-specific strength

Of course the variables overlap, with each one affecting several if not all of the other factors.  Still, any balanced approach to enhancing your performance in running must account for all seven.  If you design separate workouts for each variable, you would not have enough time or energy to get them all done and see the changes you are seeking.  Hence, the real trick is in finding specific workouts that lead to significant positive changes in several of these variables.  For the purposes of the Next Level training system, we will call these types of workouts “Super-Workouts” because they do super things for several of the variables.  Like superfoods, superworkouts are powerful.  The right combination will make you much more fit and help you break through to the next level.

Runners Wanted

Before I publish that next book and share the specifics of this new system of training, I need to assemble a group of 20 runners who want to try out my Next-Level Training System.  Interested runners would hire me as their coach for the next few months, following the fee structure outline on my coaching page.  We would start by discussing the specifics about your current level of training and performance.  I would then tailor the Next Level Training System to your specific needs in terms of your paces, goals, and lifestyle.  Then we would closely track your progress and tweak the program as needed.  Runners that stick to the program will then be featured in the book about the Next Level Training System.

Eligibility:  Are you ready to go to the next level?

Runners at all levels are welcome to participate as long as you are willing to stick with the program for at least 8 weeks.  16 weeks is preferred but not required.

Reply Now by emailing me your request to participate.  I will take the first 20 runners regardless of current performance level.  Send me a message as soon as possible to make sure you are included.

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