More on the marathon

October 7, 2006

My preparation for and performance at Twin Cities were both quite similar to what I did in the spring leading up to and at the Vancouver Marathon. I had hoped that an equivalent training regimen would somehow lead to a better result this time around … but it’s been said that doing what you’ve always done before and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.

In both cases, I did the marathon about 10 to 12 weeks after a period of training for something else; thus my buildups were rather brief. Because of my limited time to train and apparent need for lots of recovery in between hard workouts, my weekly mileage was quite low (55-60) relative to that of most others trying to run under 2:22. In general, I followed a hard-easy-easy schedule; hard days usually consisted of long intervals with short recoveries or tempo work at or under marathon goal pace (5:20 per mile), often on pavement, and most easy days were 5 miles at a comfortable pace (around 7:00-7:10 per mile).

During the races themselves, I had two main problems. First, although I was able to run 5:20-5:25 pace early on (splits at halfway: 1:11:13 at Vancouver, 1:10:45 at Twin Cities), this pace did not feel as easy as it needed to. Second, I started to feel the microtears in my quads (an unsurprising but unpleasant consequence of pounding the pavement) at mile 15 or 16, about five or six miles earlier than I had hoped for. Therefore, in future marathon attempts, I think I need to adjust my training to make race pace feel easier and make my muscles more damage-resistant.

So how would I do that? I’d probably benefit from a longer buildup — a good 16 to 18 weeks of marathon-specific training, to give my body more time to adapt to the specific challenges of this race. And I might have to crank up the overall intensity and mileage, too. It seems likely that, the more miles per week you can log at or near race pace, the better your legs will become at resisting both fatigue and structural damage. There once was a brief blurb in Runner’s World about why the Kenyans are so fast; its title was, “Their secret: train like hell.” Perhaps it’s a secret I need to experience firsthand.

Before leaving the topic of Twin Cities behind, I should note that I was treated extremely well by the race staff, who provided me with some very nice “elite runner” perks (free hotel room, guided course tour, special staging area near the start, etc.). I also enjoyed the camaraderie of the other runners who were there, including my Seattle Running Company teammate Mary Hanna, who was 2nd in her 45-49 age group with a time of 3:00:51; her remarkably extroverted sister Catherine, who makes her marathon debut today at St. George; my World Cup 100K teammate Patrick Russell and his wife Katie, who treated me to a nice pre-race dinner; and the euphoniously named Brian Lyons, a fellow sub-2:22 hopeful who came up just short. Next time, Brian, you’ll do it for sure.


  1. It's possible that equivalent training wouldn't even get you equal results next time, so it's no doubt wise to figure out how to do more. I wish I knew the secret to making marathon pace feel easier for longer during the race, but a longer build is probably a good start. I was really hoping you would realize your goal this time around, but I'm still in awe of what you've accomplished thus far. Good luck with the next training cycle.

  2. Greg,The thing you leave out of your analysis is the fact that you during your training cycle for this race you prepared to welcome your first child. Everything from working on the house to caring for and with your wife is an additional source of stress. Stress is stress, and it can come from training and from what surrounds the training. Given where you are in your life at this momment, I think your ran remarkably well.Alec

  3. Miles aren't important. Time on our feet is.More miles generally equals more time on your feet.Eccentric muscle damage, the kind you felt at 15-16 miles, is caused by repetitive muscle contraction. Whether you run 1:10 at the half or 1:15 the feeling after 90 minutes of running hard would have likely been the same. Assuming that your stride rate remains the same you'll run the same number of strides over 2 hours regardless of how far you actually run.Density of training is more important than a high mileage week or a weekly long run of 2-2:30. If you can average 100 miles a week for 10-12 weeks you're putting close to 90-120 minutes of repetitive muscle contraction per day…compared to the less than 60 minutes you currently do per day.Think about it. You are training for a race that lasts between 2 hours and 2:30. So you have to approach that in training as much as possible. Usually people can get that done during a straight long run, BUT that's only one part of the pie. If you can get in 2 hours of running per day, split into two runs of course, you've greatly increased the density of training. Your body recovers from runs mostly during your sleep. That is when the body repairs itself. So…a day where you run 2 hours split over two runs is nearly as good as a regular 2 hour long run because you're not going to recover much in the time between your two runs because you haven't slept. Density of training.

  4. Alan, you sound rather confused.First of all, muscle damage IS pace-dependent. A slow shuffle will do less damage than a faster, more dynamic gait if both are done for an equivalent time.Second, I'd argue that a single run of two-plus hours is a much better simulation of a marathon race than two one-hour runs separated by several hours. I'm not saying that high mileage is unhelpful, but I believe that getting in those long runs should be a higher priority than achieving a high weekly mileage (or time-on-feet) total with a bunch of shorter runs.Third, your distinction between "density of training" and mileage is silly. You correctly note, "More miles generally equals more time on your feet." In that case, how is it possible that "Miles aren't important. Time on our feet is" when the two are essentially one and the same? Likewise, your statement that "Density of training is more important than a high mileage week" is nonsensical, since doing a high density of training will give you a high mileage and vice versa.

  5. HI,I'm new here, and felt I needed to chime in…I think your training is pretty reasonable. It's your goal that is off. It's always been my experience that making up a time I want to run and then chasing it leads to pain and disapointment. If I train the best I can, with the time and commitments I have, then run as I feel (when I feel the pace is too fast early on, I slow down a bit), I maintian a positive attitude and don't let stuff I can't control (weather, competition, notions of some wished-for time, etc) get me down. You may not get a 2:22 this time around, but you'll be a lot happier with the 2:24 (or 2:23.59) you earned. And, when the time and training are right, you will run 2:22, or maybe even 2:15.Meanwhile, have fun. Jogging strollers are great resistance work and you get a better workout at a lesser speed. Plus, the company can't be beat!

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