Category Archives: P. Mark’s Blogs

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.  http://runitfast.com/sequoyah-marathon-half-marathon-5k-10k/Sequoyah 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

 

 

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 TrainingPeaks.com 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

.

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

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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 http://tiux.co.  [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

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“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

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10 Days Before the Marathon

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

Getting to This Point

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

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

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

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

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

The 10 Days of Taper

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

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

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

    — P. Mark Taylor

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

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

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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