Five Parts of the Process I Am Looking Forward to for Columbus Marathon Training

What is one of the best ways to sustain passion and avoid burnout in your running? Focus not on the end result – an outcome-oriented focus (which may or may not be in your control) but rather on processes that lead to sustained improvement over time – a process-oriented focus. This is one of several terrific pieces of advice from Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg in their new book, The Passion Paradox, which delves into passion, burnout, and how to best cultivate success in the things you care most about.

Next week is the beginning of my marathon training cycle for Columbus in October. My goals are once again lofty: a new PR, a BQ, breaking three hours. However, from almost a decade of experience running and racing, I know first-hand how important focusing on the process, rather than the result, can be. Factors outside a runner’s control can derail the best of plans. Harsh weather, an unplanned illness, or an unfortunate injury all can spoil the best laid plans. While I love racing, the crowds, the energy, the feeling of putting all that work on the line to challenge for a result, I have a deep appreciation for the process that gets me to the starting line. With that in mind, here are five things I am looking forward to in training as I undertake the mammoth task that is preparing to run a marathon.

1. The grind

The idea of grinding may not sound particularly appealing, but it is one of the things I love most about running. Marathon training is hard, it is a slog, and there are days and even weeks where the sacrifices are easy to question. It is in these moments that I remember that if running a marathon was easy, everyone would do it. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, has built his team around the notion of pounding the rock, using a quote from Jacob Riis. Riis, a Danish immigrant, noted that when a rock breaks, it is not from the penultimate strike on the rock but rather from the many strikes that proceeded it, strikes that seemingly had done little to affect the stone. This is how I feel about training, that every day, especially those where the grind is bearing down on me, is a strike to the rock and that if I am loyal to the grind, the rock will break for me on race day.

2. Exploring

Consistent weather means opportunities for getting out and running in places I have not previously explored. Running upwards of 60 miles involves plenty of monotony. It is not practical to travel to someplace new or scenic to run every six-mile easy run. I find intervals are easiest done near home where I know where different interval distances end. Traveling somewhere different for a long run or a long tempo run though is refreshing. It staves off boredom, makes runs go by faster, and usually leaves me hungry for more running.

3. The chance to further my craft

I wonder if 2016 me would believe that I am doing now. I thought I had it hard then, training for my first marathon. Looking back at my training logs, mileage rarely broke 45 miles a week. Strength training was an afterthought. Mobility work? Non-existent. This summer I’ll eclipse 60 miles a week, tackle midnight lifting sessions, try to commit to mobilizing stiff tissues 10 minutes a day, and spend more time and focus on my diet and visualizing parts of my race. With each cycle I try to push myself just a little further, to incorporate and refine some part(s) of my training to make me a better runner. At the end of this cycle, I wonder what new aspect of my training will have gone from feeling difficult to feeling like it’s just another part of being a runner.

4. The small decision points along the way

In running, the race is the test, not the workout. I have learned over the years to hold back when I train, hoping to finish any workout feeling like I could’ve gone just a little longer, run one more mile, or finished one more interval. It is a subjective way to make sure I go hard but not too hard. You don’t want to be the fittest guy unable to toe the start line. Stopping short of going all out every day is the way I ensure my health even as I keep pushing my body to new limits. Even with that caution, marathon training comes with plenty of little moments that test one physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I’m talking about the days when getting out of bed feels like a chore, when an easy run could be skipped. Come on, it’s only six miles. Is it really that important? Long runs present the moments when it would be so easy, if not an inefficient use of time, to slow down, even to stop and walk the last two miles rather than pushing the pace and finishing strong against the will of screaming lungs and legs seared with pain. I could do my mobility work and soak my aching feet in an ice bath or I could drink those two beers while vegging out for two hours to a movie. I never make the right decisions in these moments 100% of the time. I do succumb to temptation after a bad day at work and forget the mobility for a Sam Adams. I do have a morning where I can’t motivate myself to run the six easy miles I have planned. I do skimp occasionally on my strength work. The goal is simply to be a little better each training cycle, to push myself to put in as much of the necessary work as possible to prepare for my race.

5. The last few hard workouts between peak week and tapering

Some runners fear the taper. Stripped of the hard training that has defined the last few months they find themselves with limitless energy and a maddening lack of places to expend it. Not me. I love the taper. The taper means race day is just around the corner and at the end of a Hansons plan, it has been almost 17 weeks of working toward that moment. I love the week or so before the taper starts, that coming down from the physical stress of peak week, when I tackle the peak mileage of the training plan. I always have a feeling after I tackle peak week that I have survived the worst that training can throw at me and that what remains is like the icing on a cake, the final needed additions to complete the final product. The time comes with several lasts. The last long run. The last strength run. Then finally, a final 10-mile tempo run. There is a feeling of intense satisfaction when that final race pace mile has been clocked. The hard part of another cycle has been finished. It is just a matter then of maintaining the schedule for another ten days, keeping to easy runs to let the body heal from the stress of training. You finish those and then race day awaits.

A final thought

You should continue to strive toward meeting your race goals. Focusing on the process does not mean forgetting that you have goals. I have a map of the Columbus Marathon course on my desk. My goal time, 2:58:00, is on a sticky note on my mirror. Focusing on the process simply means controlling what you can control and performing those tasks to the best of your ability. I know that if I tackle certain elements of my running process successfully I will be on the right track toward being able to meet my goals. If you are new to running, your process could be a simple as building your running habit, making sure that you get out the door four days a week. That was my first challenge. From there, as is clear from what I wrote above, the process has been to slowly identify more areas that I have control over and perform them to the best of my ability. This has not always resulted in faster race times. Some cycles have ended in disastrous races. Progress is rarely linear. It has resulted in faster races times over the course of time though, and in more enjoyment of the sport. Isn’t that really what we are all hoping for? Switching from an outcome-oriented focus to a process-oriented focus is the way to get there.

Burned Out With Your Running? Remember, It’s Supposed to Be Fun

Lately I have been thinking a lot about windows. When I ran my first BQ  last year, a competitive window opened, an opportunity to chase the sort of marathon times I could run at peak fitness. When I improved on that BQ five months later my focus narrowed to one thing, making sure I did not squander that fitness and close the window I had worked so hard to open. Even when I received the disappointing news that I had not been accepted into Boston, I could take solace in the fact that I was running strong and I assured myself that my perfect race was coming. Earlier in the year, before my calf injury, I was continuing on that trajectory, throwing down training times I had only once dreamed of. I was in the best shape of my life.

The injury ended up being short-lived. It did derail my running of the Cleveland Marathon, a godsend it turned out, because the unseasonably high temperatures that day meant I would have never been able to run a PR. However, I had only really needed about six weeks away from significant training. The window was still open and I set my sights on a race, any race, that would allow me to get in one more marathon before next year’s Boston registration deadline. The Erie Marathon seemed a perfect fit. I began to train again in earnest. Things seemed to be going well. My fitness did not seem to have declined that much. My calf usually felt good. I hit the start of my 18-week program and I was on my way to marathon number four. There was, however, one problem, a realization that had started as a nagging little voice in the back of my head and eventually turned into a consistent, shouted warning. I was not having any fun.

Weeks of 50+ miles of running, of strength training late at night in a gym, and using a lacrosse ball to painfully work out knots, I love it all. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t envision how excited I get when I am pushing myself to my limit. However, there are times during the year when I know I am not ready to handle that challenge. Having decided to run Erie, I quickly realized that rather than enjoying training, I felt like I was cramming for a test. Coming off of injury, I needed to start building up my mileage immediately for the demands of the hard marathon training that was to come. I went from sporadic, disorganized running to running six days a week and no workout could be missed. Even though I did feel healthy, I was still dealing with the unpredictability of returning from an injury. Setbacks did occur. I was still working through tweaking my strength training to handle the root cause of my injury. Small, niggling pains sent me into an anxiety-fueled panic. What if I hadn’t gotten the balance on my strength training right? What if I had not actually identified the root cause of my injury? I was barely into two weeks of training and already fearing that it was about to be derailed. None of this is conducive to good training.

My heart was not into my training either. The cold of another Northeast Ohio winter had lifted. I wanted to plant my garden, hike in the Cuyahoga Valley, drink at an Indians game. Certainly, I can do these things while in the thick of marathon training, but frankly I did not want to divide my attention yet. If I was completely honest with myself, I knew I needed more time to fine tune the new habits and practices I needed to incorporate into my training to help me stay injury free and push my performance forward. I wanted more time to build my work capacity in the gym, more time to develop a consistent mobility program, more time to optimize my sleep routine which can vary with my work schedule. I just wanted more time.

I also knew Erie was not the personally meaningful race I wanted to run. This is nothing against the Erie Marathon. The course seemed perfect for a BQ attempt with a small field and two loops of a state park. I still hope to run it someday. For my big races, though, I prefer a place that is emotionally meaningful to me. It is why I have always raced Cleveland in the spring and often the Towpath in the fall. Those places are synonymous with home. The Columbus Marathon provides that for me. I spent a year there in graduate school. I made great friendships and lasting memories. When I ran Columbus last year, it was a case where I was close to breaking through, but not quite ready. I want another shot at slaying that particular beast. And the change gives me that time I really wanted, five extra weeks to be exact.

The decision made, I find myself carrying around a small map of the Columbus course. I know how weird that sounds, but I want to constantly remind myself of how good I felt and where it went bad so I can be better this year. I am eager for that moment. I am enjoying the buildup to the start of my 18-week Hanson’s plan while feeling like I have just a little bit of leeway to tend to some fun spring-time activities. I skipped my run on Tuesday and laid in my garden during one of the few dry days we have had in recent memory. I felt fine doing so. I start back to the gym next week. I am better at making sure I conduct 10-15 minutes of mobility work a day to keep myself feeling loose. I’m not quite the well-oiled machine that I need to be, but I am ready to start building. Most importantly, training feels fun. Gone is the feeling of cramming for a test. Instead, I feel calm and ready, like I can see a new window opening.


On the Eve of the Race I Thought I’d Be Running

Upon crossing the finish line of the Cleveland Marathon last year, I stopped my watch, looked at the 3:05:11 it displayed, and thought of my dad’s birthday. April 15th. The 123rd Boston Marathon, I knew, would be run on April 15, 2019 and with the race I had just run I was sure that I would be in it. After navigating the chaos of the finish corral I collected my gear bag, retrieved my phone, and texted my old man. “I think we’re going to be spending your birthday in Boston next year.” I would spend the summer confident, but not certain, that I was right in my prediction. When September came and the registration window opened I submitted my entry, said a prayer, and hoped an invitation email would soon follow: “Dear Mr. Wheeler, Welcome to the Boston Marathon…” It was not to be. As the second week of registration dragged on whispers online hinted that almost all the slots had been filled with the Week 1 registrations, reserved for those more than five minutes under the qualifying standard. My 4:49 under the time was close, but not quite there. I kept my faith. A 4:49 was not that far away from five minutes. Finally though, the hammer fell. A twitter account dedicated to the event tweeted out the year’s cutoff time: 4:52. My 4:49 was three seconds short of that. An email from the BAA an hour later confirmed my denial. My schedule was now, I was sorry to say, wide open for my dad’s birthday.

At 10 am tomorrow I will be sitting in front of my TV as the 123rd Boston Marathon begins. I know it will hit me, as it has all week, that this is not where I thought I would be for this race. For a few minutes, I’m sure, I will imagine that I am there in Hopkinton, surrounded by 30,000 other runners, fulfilling a goal I set for myself in the summer of 2011 after I crossed my first finish line. I will see myself craning for a look at any elite runner I can see and taking in the “Welcome to Hopkinton” sign. I will wonder what my emotions in this moment would have been if I had been just three seconds faster.

Since that first race in 2011 my running has almost wholly been focused on building myself into a runner capable of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Years have been planned around race training cycles, at trying to coax an extra five or 10 seconds per miles out of my legs. There have been milestones: the first time I broke 1:30:00 in the half marathon (it took me three years longer than I first thought it would), the first time I ran 20 miles (I don’t miss 20-mile training runs — the plans I follow no longer call for them), the first time I ran 50 miles in a week (this number keeps climbing). There have been hard-earned lessons. Running fast in general requires far more miles per week than the 20 I was initially willing to invest. Failing to strength train invites all sorts injury issues and keeps you from hitting your full potential. Trying to coax more miles out of your shoes after your feet start to ache is dumb. Just don’t do it. Seriously, don’t.

Often, the most enriching experiences reach into nooks and crannies and crevices of life far beyond the experience itself. Such has it been for me and running. It is why, disappointed as I am today, I can experience the disappoint I have been carrying since September and still smile at how much richer my life has become since I first laced up in 2011. I have adopted new hobbies, explored new areas, and formed new relationships as a result of my running. Take cooking. I truly learned to cook in graduate school, a year before I first laced up. Running encouraged me to dig deeper into it. If I was going to have to fuel 50-mile training weeks, I might as well enjoy what I’d be eating. I still thrill at finding a new recipe that looks so good I have to rush out to buy the ingredients that night so I can make the dish. I also began gardening; healthy cooking could only benefit from having fresh produce growing 20 yards outside my door. In the years since I have found that few things make me happier than turning on an Indians game on the radio, cracking open a beer, and weeding my garden or picking the newest ripe vegetables as dusk settles in.

Running led me to more fully explore Northeast Ohio’s Metroparks system and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Towpath, a multi-purpose pathway, runs through it and I have logged thousands of miles on it. The park also is full of gorgeous hiking locales: heights and valleys, ledges and meadows, streams and lakes and waterfalls, all there for me to clear my head and recharge my batteries after a hard workout or race.

I have formed friendships with fellow runners, reconnected with old friends, our bonds now strengthened by our shared love of running, and helped others get into the sport. I started a podcast (I link to our youtube channel here but you can find us on most podcast platforms) where my cohosts and I discuss running’s current events, our own struggles and successes with training, and interview fellow runners of all walks of life to learn how they manage to struggle with what we all struggle with: balancing the sport we enjoy with the demands of everyday life.

Finally, there has been the subtle but significant change in the way I view life and progress and the pursuit of goals. Running as I do, with only two major races a year, means that I spend thousands of hours a year preparing for less than ten hours of actual racing. You would think that I feel intense pressure on race day; six months worth of work could be thrown out with a bad race. I do not view it that way though. I have come to view consistency, and not a lone day’s result, as the goal. In the words of two of my favorite authors, Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg: The goal is the path and the path is the goal.

I generally know now what I need to do during a training cycle to be successful. Consistency, day in and day out, is the key. With each cycle I introduce new stimuli, nothing too drastic, but small progressions that I hope will advance me just a little more as a runner. My race times have steadily decreased over my 8+ years as a runner as a result. If I can maintain this consistency I can arrive at a start line confident that I have put in the work to have a special day. If that day does not go as planned, I have still built a strong foundation for the next training cycle and learned valuable lessons along the way about what works and what does not.

It is a simple approach and it has impacted all areas of my life. It has made me a better soccer coach. Where I may have sought shortcuts in my younger coaching life, or lamented the less than speedy progress of a team I was coaching, I now have far more patience. Being a runner has helped me get back into the mind of a developing athlete. A bad workout I have makes it easier to talk a player through handling a poor performance or a disappointing game result. Likewise, I have become more sanguine about the areas of my life I am not content with (and there are plenty). It would be easy at times, to look at where I am at and then where I want to be and become overwhelmed by the gap between the two. The slow but steady progress I have made as a runner has helped me better understand that that gap can only be closed if you are willing to hit the road and log the miles. Run the mile you are in, commit to it daily, and the gap will shrink.

So I am not destroyed that I am not in Boston. I am looking forward to receiving the email that invites me in and tells me I’ve earned the right to run with giants. Tomorrow I will do what I have done every Patriot’s Day since I first crossed a finish line: I will watch the Boston Marathon, marvel at the elites, enjoy the images of the scenery along the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston St., and imagine how I’ll feel when I get to have my once-in-a-lifetime experience when it is my turn. I’ll swear to myself the same vow I’ve sworn as I’ve watched each of those past races, that someday that will be me and I will smile, knowing that someday is as close as it has ever been. Then I will head out for a drink with my dad. It is his birthday after all.

Good Reads on Boston Before Monday’s Race

It’s Boston weekend and here is some of the best reading I have done as I get ready to watch Monday’s race.

Sarah Sellers was the surprise of 2018 when the practically unknown nurse anesthetist finished second to Des Linden while running only her second marathon (!!!). In Sarah Sellers and the Craziest Schedule in Running the NYT takes us through Sarah’s demanding schedule (120 mile weeks while working 30 hours at her job) and her goals for Monday, 2020, and beyond.

SI’s Previewing the 2019 Boston Marathon: Who Are the Top Contenders looks at the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s elite field. Given that the weather is again looking cold, wet, and windy, predictions are hard, but I will go out on a limb. I’m looking for Edna Kiplagat and Geoffrey Kirui to win the women’s and men’s races respectively with Jordan Hasay breaking out for the American women after an injury-filled 2018. Jared Ward battled injuries in 2017 after his 2016 Olympic games but looked strong in New York last year. He is gunning for a sub-2:10:00 and with the new marathon standard for Olympic qualification has plenty to run hard for. Des and Yuki will both finish top-5, but neither repeats.

Mario Fraioli’s The Morning Shakeout is one of my favorite weekly running destinations. His newsletter covers several topics this week but he shares a few thoughts on this year’s race.

Des was long one of my favorite runners before she broke the tape in Boston last year. In The Champ Wants to Win Again Runner’s World covers what the whirlwind year has been like since her Boston win. She’s crossed the country doing interviews and appearances, changed coaches, placed sixth at New York, and has zero running commitments beyond Monday.

The course in Boston is as much a star as any of the runners. Wired, in How the Boston Marathon Messes With Runners to Slow Them Down, details how Boston’s course, which with its net downhill should lead to fast racing times, actually beats runners up and slows them down significantly compared to other major races.

Finally, Jared Ward is one of the US men’s elite runners I have been following closely since he made the 2016 Olympic team. Described as the running nerd, Ward is a marathoner, professor, and usually rocks a pretty epic ‘stache. In 26 Things You May Not Know About Me Ward gives us some quick insight into his life and passions outside of running.

Things Fall Apart: Five Steps for Handling Setbacks

Three weeks ago while many were surrounding themselves with shamrocks and green beer I was enjoying a little celebration of my own. A 15-mile hill run served as the capstone to the hardest week of running I had ever attempted and amidst comfortable spring temperatures I ran through the green golf courses and backyards that line one of my favorite running trails in Northeast Ohio. When I stopped my watch, recording the near-record time I had just completed for this course, I paused to take inventory before walking to my car and changing out of my sweat-soaked running shirt.

The hard week of training was over. I had smashed through all three of my quality workouts, the hilly long run, a tempo-hill combo run, and a set of Yasso 800’s that indicated that, yes, the sub-3 hour marathon I was gunning for was within reach. The new strength training regimen I had adopted seemed to have infused my body with improved recovery capacity. I was running as hard as ever and, though the familiar wear and tear and fatigue of marathon training remained, I often felt fresh when I headed out the door to begin my hardest workouts. Nine weeks down, nine weeks to go until Cleveland.

That confidence made the injury I sustained two days later that much harder to bear. The pain I felt deep in my calf at the end of my interval session, another workout that had gone well, came out of nowhere. This was not the sort of acute injury that comes with landing wrong on a rock. I had run through my intervals fast but in control only to find during my final recovery that I suddenly could not land without a deep aching pain rolling up my left calf. I went through a range of emotions, first dreading the worst, that I would be laid up for months, my year was over, then calming down and making contingency plans for all sorts of timelines. The pain became manageable and for two weeks I slowly built myself back up, massaging the tender areas, carefully adding mileage, attempting a first and then second hard workout, coasting through both. I dared to believe that I could still reach my Cleveland Marathon goals: a new PR, another BQ, breaking three hours. Truly, I believe those goals were all within reach. But then a new pain developed, in my right leg, up front and to the outside of my shin. This pain was worse. Walking was a chore. Swelling developed just above my ankle and if I bumped that area I thought I’d see stars. Where this pain had come from was just as mysterious to me as the initial calf pain that had laid me up. The conclusion it led me to, though, was more obvious. It was time to let go, take real time off, and heal.

Steps for Handling a Setback

1. Put the setback in perspective

In the moment any setback takes on an outsized appearance. Take mine: a race I was gearing up for has been taken from me. The chance at earning another BQ before the Boston qualifying window opens in September is at risk if my injury lingers. Certainly there was no guarantee my race in Cleveland was going to go well, but I had not considered the possibility that I could, conceivably, spend much of 2019 trying to get to a start line health. However, despite the largely emotional nature of this setback, and the uncertainty of when I can get back to full training, it has been helpful to measure this setback against others.

I missed almost all of 2013 with IT band syndrome, complicated by my relative inexperience as a runner and the life-consuming experience that was being a first-year high school English teacher. My inauspicious marathon debut was marred by a string of injuries that plagued me for a year. This setback is relatively, for the time being anyway, minor. My initial calf strain was mild. After three weeks it largely feels like it is back to full health, and I will be diligent in how I treat it going forward. My right leg pain is almost gone too, though the sore/tired feeling that accompanies mild strains remains. But just four days off of running has made a major difference. I feel, I hope, that in two weeks I will be ready to resume relatively hard running. That will cost me a race, but it is a small price to pay for putting myself back into a position to run healthy the rest of the year.

2. Perform an honest assessment of what went wrong AND what you were doing right

After every training cycle I enjoy sitting down and reflecting on what went well (hopefully after running a successful race) and on what went wrong. Even after the best races there is going to be a facet of my training that I could have done better or performed with more consistency. With training on hold, I have had time to sit down to figure out what led to my injury. Just as important, I have noted what went well. I am, after all, less than a month removed from feeling like I was in the best shape of my life.

First, I know that I reverted at times to an old bad habit of overstriding, which can place excessive stress on certain tissues, including the calf muscles. There were also times in recent months where a run or even just a day on my feet would leave me with pain on the inside of my left leg. I try to be mindful of my stride, be it walking or running, and that attention to form led me to realize that my left leg seemed to whip around in a circle rather than smoothly flowing from back to front. This is an issue of hip control, largely a weakness of the gluteus medius which helps stabilize the hips. While it is important to continue to rehab my calf, I also need to make sure I am working on strengthening my gluteus medius so that when I begin running again, my stride is more fluid.

As for what went well in training, I can point to my aerobic fitness which was as strong as it has ever been — my times were a solid 10 seconds per mile faster than last year — and the new strength training program I adopted which was helping my body recover faster than ever from hard efforts. To be honest, it feels like I have a roadmap toward breaking through to a new level when I get back to running. I just need to heal up so I can begin.

3. Reframe the setback into a comeback story

Positive energy beats negative energy. This is not a new age, feel good philosophy. There is science behind how enhanced mood promotes improved performance and output.

Setbacks introduce negativity where there was once so much positivity. A shift in mindset is needed to change that and the shift is well worth it. I am being kept from training, there’s no sense in denying that. However, I can recognize that the injuries provide me the opportunity to shore up my weaknesses so my training is not interrupted next time. I get to work hard so I can return to running as soon as possible. Being denied the opportunity to run and to race now means I will appreciate it more when I am able to do both in the near future.

Comebacks are energizing. They provide an opportunity to leave behind a difficult time and return to the business of trying to reach your full potential. They provide the opportunity for catharsis. There have been times over the last three weeks where I have felt like I’m stuck in a hole. I can dwell on that, or accept it is where I am at and that any climb has to begin with stepping off the ground onto a first rung.

4. Be realistic

I cannot wait to be back in the thick of marathon training. Sixty mile weeks and a constant state of fatigue? Bring it on! However, I am not looking to jump into the deep end immediately when I return to running. I’m still hurt, I have muscular imbalances to deal with, and I have identified my form as a culprit in my injury. I need to give myself time to build back up before I up the intensity or I risk turning something minor into something major. Really, it may have been me pushing too hard to strengthen the calf that led to the second injury to the front of my right leg.

Returning from injuries takes time and the path will likely not be a linear one. I remember almost ten years ago reading about Meb’s comeback from his 2007 hip fracture, an injury that almost ended his career. An important part of his comeback was knowing when not to run. Niggling pain he may have run through in years past he learned to take a day of rest for. You don’t want to be the fittest person not able to make it to the starting line.

Make sure you prep psychologically for being realistic. Acknowledge that the road back will be bumpy. That prep will make it easier to bear when things take a small step backward during your comeback.

5. Plan a few fun things for your downtime and for your comeback

As much as I want to be in the middle of training I do have to acknowledge that having some extra, unplanned time for myself is nice. Spring is finally here in Northeast Ohio and I am blessed to live near a bevy of gorgeous places to hike. I plan to take advantage of my downtime to treat myself to a few hikes when I would have otherwise been slugging out ten-mile tempo runs or 16-mile hill runs. I may go see a movie. I may day drink once or twice with my dad. Time is a non-renewable resource. I am crazy not to use some of my time off of training for a few activities that recharge my batteries and take my mind off my disappointment.

My mind is also on the future, however. With the weather turning nice, hundreds of miles of nearby nature trails to run on, and another marathon build up awaiting me, I am listing out several runs I am looking forward to completing in the near future. The trees are still bare here in Northeast Ohio but soon enough the foliage will fill out, the weather will warm, and the terrain I last ran through will look and smell and feel different. There is something special about running through the Cuyahoga Valley early on the summer day before the heat sets in. Often there is a mist off the Cuyahoga River, the sun ripples through trees, the day is just beginning. Ten miles can fly by on days like those. Those days are waiting for me. I’ll be back soon.

Down with a Sickness: Training Log February 25 – March 3

What happens when you combine a mild flu, hard running, and a vaccination?

Last week introduced me to two new and challenging road workouts and a new strength routine before a perfect storm sent me to bed for 18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

Monday February 25

With heavy heavy winds remaining in the area that drove the temperature into the single digits (and drove a tree into my mom’s van) I moved up my off day to today. When it comes to easy days, I am not a fan of ever skipping a workout. However, during the freezing winter months in Cleveland I am willing to be flexible with when I schedule an off day if it means missing out on uber cold weather.

Tuesday February 26

Hansons Speed Pyramid: 400m (1:28), 800m (2:52), 1200m (4:28), 1600m (5:58), 1200m (4:36 – yikes), 800m (2:57), 400m (1:25) with 400m recoveries and all run at a planned 5:55 mile pace. Total workout distance was nine miles.

Holy hell what a workout. This was my first attempt at a pyramid workout. Running at different interval distances proved a mental challenge. Where a standard interval workout, say 6 x 800m, allows your body to get into a psychological groove where you can internally measure effort and fatigue against time left to run, the pyramid workout meant every interval was a new stimulus, demanding something different from my body. I enjoy shorter intervals when running at 5k pace and struggle as they get longer. Sure enough I flew through the 400m and 800m only to spend the next three intervals hating the fact that I ever took up running. Despite the fatigue, I was able to pound out the last two shorter intervals in solid times.

Strength work: Running Rewired Horizontal Force workout + Stu McGill’s Big 3 and Deadbugs: Long arm band squat, thread the needle plank, hang spine twist, Romanian deadlift, split box jump, kettlebell swing, archer row, archer push up, single-leg shoulder press, farmer carry, hip thrust; curl up, side plank, bird dog; dead bug

Wednesday February 27

6 miles easy in 49:38

Strength work (focus on core and adductors): band assisted sliding back lunge, sliding side lunge, long adductor isometric ball holds, short adductor isometric ball holds, straight leg metronome

Thursday February 28

14 miles in 1:46:03 with the last five miles at roughly marathon pace + 25-30 seconds

Another new workout for me, the steady state long run. The workout calls for 50-75% of your total mileage to be run at marathon pace + 30 seconds. This being my first attempt at the workout, I opted to run the faster pace for just over 33% of the run. Running at the steady state pace was deceptively hard. Though 25-30 seconds slower than my marathon pace, dropping from a 7:45 mile to a 7:20 mile proved challenging and mentally taxing. The Hansons describe the run as providing a mental stimulus similar to a race and this was my experience. The final miles of a race are often about coaxing small wins from your body as you become aware of every aching muscle fiber. To finish this run I had to employ the same tactic, celebrating every mile marker, intersection, and stop sign I passed, all while continually correcting my form as fatigue set in. This is not the sort of workout I can see myself doing often but it is one I can see yielding oversized benefits on race day.

Strength work: Running Rewired Compound A + Stu McGill’s Big 3 and Deadbugs: Twisted warrior, super Swiss side plank, thread the needle plank, sling row, 4x (kettlebell squat, Romanian deadlift, lateral hurdle hop), ninja squat jump, 3x (landmine single-leg deadlift, kettlebell swing, split box jump), reach out, sling back lunge; curl up, side plank, bird dogs; dead bugs.

Friday March 1

8 miles easy in 1:05:46

Strength work: Running Rewired Band Circuit + extra core and adductor work: Banded arm circles, pull-aparts, long arm band squat, banded hip twist, bear walk, banded drive thru, thread the needle plank, foot screws, pull-aparts, banded arm circles; banded sliding back lunge, sliding side lunge, long adductor isometric holds, short adductor isometric holds, straight leg metronome.

Saturday March 2 and Sunday March 3

I did wake up on Thursday sort of stuffy and with slightly scratchy throat. I thought nothing of it and ran 14 miles and then did a hard workout. Same symptoms on Friday but my body felt great despite the previous day’s hard work so I ran another eight miles and did a workout with some bands. Then I went to work where the staff was given Hepatitis A vaccinations because there has been an outbreak in restaurants. I woke up Saturday and the combination of a slight cold/flu, hard running, and the vaccination left me feeling like death. I think I slept 18 hours out of 24. I took Saturday and Sunday off from running and will take off Monday too just to make sure I am recovered before getting back into the grind of training. Ultimately I miss out on 17 miles, seven of them at marathon pace. But that’s a small sacrifice against grinding myself into a week-long sickness because I don’t know when to take it easy.

Weekly mileage: 37 miles, Yearly mileage: 348 miles.

(Abbreviated) Workout Log: Jan 14-Feb 24 A Third of the Way There

“You know, if this is what winter is going to be like, high-30’s and not much snow, I think I will be able to handle it.”

-Me, in late December. An idiot.

Jan 14-Jan 20

Week 1 of training unloaded the first winter storm of the year on me. I love training for spring marathons in part because there is an unpredictability to when and exactly how you can train. You set up your week and then a winter storm hits and all your plans are upended. One learns to be adaptable.

The good for this week was I got in two of me three key workouts, my final speed development run and a four-mile tempo run. I also began my strength program, which is my big advancement for this training cycle, progressing from body weight strength training to lifting weights. I was sore as hell after two sessions and the going was slow as I experiment with new exercises. Still, attempting something new to try to push the envelope in training is exciting. I find I am excited on days where I’m scheduled to head to the gym.

The interruption came over the weekend as Winter Storm Harper hit. The snow drifts were up to my knees in some areas. Shoveling out took several hours. I skipped my long run that day.

Weekly total: 29 miles, Yearly total: 101 miles

Jan 21 – Jan 27

A fun week as interval training began. As the intervals begin to get longer I will come to like them less and less. I am not a speedy runner at short distances. I hated the mile in high school because it was not so much a paced distance run as it was a four-lap sprint. With age and experience my opinion of the distance has not changed. But intervals that go really short distances, anything 800m or less, I thoroughly enjoy. This week’s interval workout called for 12 x 400m and I was delighted to see that I hit my planned speed with ease. This will not be the case as the miles pile on later, but that is concern for a later date. My mileage was slightly down this week. After experiencing a bout of stomach flu on Friday night, which kept me from sleeping, I opted to sleep in on Saturday and rest rather than stress my body and possibly prolong the sickness.

Weekly total: 35 miles, Yearly total: 136 miles

Jan 28 – Feb 3

An attack of a polar vortex meant that I spent the week rearranging my schedule to make sure I could run my hard workouts outside. Strong winds during my interval workout meant that I ended up changing my route to avoid running as many intervals as I could directly into the wind. I spent much of the middle part of the week chained to the treadmill, watching Netflix and trying hard not to look at the miles elapsed counter, which I swear rolls backward when I’m not looking. The weekend finally warmed up and I ran my first real tempo run of the cycle and found that I surpassed my planned pace by an average of 10 seconds per mile, and ran one middle mile a full 25 seconds faster than planned. I was happy with the result but 1) I keep reminding myself that as the mileage piles on this isn’t going to be so easy and 2) hitting a planned split is important to develop pace and effort awareness and to prevent injury. Too many miles at too fast a pace can be a recipe for disaster.

Weekly mileage: 42 miles, Yearly mileage: 178 miles

Feb 4 – Feb 10

This week was full of good news on the road and came with a warning in the gym. I continued to run well during my faster runs, hitting my planned interval paces and running ahead, once again, of my planned tempo pace. I continued to be encouraged by my runs and where I can see them possibly going if I can keep these performances up. On the other hand, my strength workouts brought a warning as I pushed a little too hard and ended up with a slight core strain. As I have begun to strength train, I have remained cognizant of the fact that I am new to consistently lifting weights. I have paid attention to form and made sure that I focus on quality over compromised form to lift heavier. That said, I have tried to experiment and get my body as close to pushing against the line of what I am capable of doing, hoping to elicit the most gains possible. I pushed over that line this week, losing proper form which led to the core strain. It served as a reminder: on the road I am hitting paces that a few years ago I could not have dreamed of, but it did take years to build the ability to hit those paces. The same is going to be true in the weight room. I have no doubt I can push my body to lift more and get quite strong in the coming years, but in the meantime I will be wise to play it a little safer and sacrifice some weight for better and safe form. I am still going to be pushing my body regardless. There is no point going too hard and risking injury.

Weekly mileage: 45 miles, Yearly mileage: 223 miles

Feb 11 – Feb 17

Four or five weeks into marathon training two things happen: I start to experience left sided calf and medial knee discomfort and I hit a wall. My entire body aches, joints feel creaky, and a deep feeling of fatigue settles into my bones. This was how my week started. It was so bad I began to worry that I was pushing too hard, that the Hansons advanced plan was in fact too advanced for me. I found myself opening my Hansons book, examining the beginner plan I know I can handle and figuring out where I could pick it up and how significantly my mileage would drop. My interval and tempo runs felt like I was moving through quicksand. Paces that felt easy just a week ago I now had to reach for. I gained some confidence looking back at last year’s training log where I discovered similar feelings at exactly the same point in training. This, it seems, is just how my body reacts to the early grind. I made sure to continue with my runs and gym sessions. Since my core injury I added in some basic work to strengthen my core and adductor muscles. By my Friday easy run, I began to feel freer. The achy feeling went away and running did not quite feel like a chore. I finished the week with a 12-mile hill run that I crushed. I have scheduled several of these hills runs into my marathon cycles over the last year and they usually serve as confidence boosters, with the second half of the run forcing me to run uphill on tired legs. The week served as an important reminder and lesson about the truth of marathon training. It really does challenge your body in ways that take it right to the line of what is possible. That leads to fatigue and doubt about your ability to keep training, to push through the hard work. Keep moving forward. Walls are meant to be pushed through.

Weekly mileage: 47 miles, Yearly mileage: 270 miles

Feb 18 – Feb 24

A week that felt back on track after the fatigue from early last week. My intervals have finally gotten longer and to the point where it is a challenge to hold a 5k pace for them the entire time. I had to dig deep to hit my pace for the entire 1200m my interval workout called for. My tempo run got back to feeling free and easy. I really do feel like I have a whole new gear I can call on this year. One of my training goals is to log significant time running at a tempo pace that is between 6:45-6:50. To break 3 hours in a marathon requires running at or under 6:52 per mile. If I can keep running at a pace faster than that planned time, I can spend significant time in May running at a 6:52-7:00/mile pace and have it feel easier than what I did in training before I ramp up the intensity during that last 6-10 miles. So far that plan is going well and when I hit those faster paces, it does not feel that I require any extraordinary effort to get to them. The only hiccup in my training came on Sunday. Incredibly high winds (the local airport measured gusts at 67 mph) kept me inside. I planned on running on the treadmill but power outages derailed that plan. Still, I got in all my hard workouts.

Weekly mileage: 41 miles, Yearly mileage: 311 miles

Running the Hansons Way

I had one thing on my running mind when the calendar flipped to 2018: The wall. (NO! Not that wall…) The wall that runner’s dread, that point in a race where what was free and easy is becomes a death march. Steady strides become an agonizing shuffle. The race to meet a goal transforms into a race to simply survive. I was determined not to hit the wall.

Though I had previous marathon experience, my first and only attempt before last year had been in 2016, when my own naiveté had me training with a plan that did enough to instill confidence that I could cover all 26.2 miles, but not much else. To get myself to a place where I could challenge for the audacious goals I had set for myself I needed to be toughened up, my mind and body made ready to blast through the moments where I would inevitably asked the question: Can you do this? Under a plan that would have me perpetually feeling like I was running at the end of a race, rather than at the beginning, I had hope that instead of hitting the wall, I would bust through, the Kool Aid Man on a marathon course. Oh yeah!

I knew I needed a plan that emphasized both distance AND speed during training, the speed element sometimes lacking in plans that are tailored to runners just hoping to finish a marathon, but not necessarily at a fast clip. I knew I benefitted immensely from interval training. I knew I struggled with and needed to master tempo runs. I loved running long, my 20+ mile runs being one of the few highlights from my 2016 training. I found what I was looking for in the Hanson brothers.

Kevin and Keith Hanson are best known in the running world for being Desi Linden’s coaches when she won Boston last year. They have been around long before that, largely misunderstood as the “short” long run guys. The phrase reflects a deep misunderstanding of their approach to marathon training. Yes, their prescribed long runs are shorter than what most plans dole out, but their training is as hard as any I have undertaken, it is based on sound scientific theory, and it gets results.

When I first read the theory behind the Hansons approach to training, several elements of the plan stood out to me:

  1. Running six days a week: This is not a Hansons exclusive. I have seen several plans over the years that dictate running six or even seven days a week, but these have often been in plans pitched to advanced runners. The Hansons dish out running six days a week even to their beginners. Of course, beginner here is a loose term. If you are tackling the marathon for the first time, I would not recommend the beginner plan to you. The intensity is ratcheted way up from other plans I have seen. Had I attempted running the Hansons way as a younger runner I think I would have been turned off to running, so intense are the demands. In Hansons terminology beginners have previous racing experience in marathons or shorter races and are usually looking to race a marathon to meet a challenging time goal (there is a Just Finish program in the book, Hansons Marathon Method for brand new marathoners with less running experience). So why run six days a week? It is important to build consistency. Consistency is the key to reaping the rewards of hard marathon training. In previous years when I ran four or five days a week it was easy to put off a run here, reschedule a run there. The result was training that was all over the place, which likely held me back. Running six days a week demands dedication and, while it is sometimes psychologically draining, I found it turned training into a regimented practice for the first time in my running career.
  2. Three key (Something of Substance or SOS) workouts: Again, this is not exclusive to Hansons. I came into last year with experience running intervals and tempo runs. Many marathon training plans, however, emphasize the distance and not the intensity needed truly race a marathon. The Hansons provide that intensity. Speed work is run weekly early in the program, helping the runner to build the strength needed to run longer, hard workouts later in the program. This speed work always adds up to three miles, but with recoveries, warm ups, and cool downs, the workout can total up to nine miles. Speed eventually gives way to what are called strength workouts, which double the mileage of speed workouts though they are run at a slower pace (still fast though at 10 seconds per mile faster than planned marathon pace). Again, with recoveries and the warm up and cool down, the overall mileage for a single workout can get up there, topping out at 11 miles. Tempo work is run at marathon race pace, with the longest workouts reaching 13 miles when the warm up and cool down are included. When people focus on the “short” long run, which I will touch on in a minute, they ignore the demands from the entire week of training. A hard week in the later stages of training sees a strength workout and tempo workout total 24 miles combined before you ever get into the rest of the week’s mileage. The long run does not need to be long but running long at higher intensity has already been achieved.
  3. The “short” long run: Long runs are the third SOS workout you do in a week. While they are shorter than a typical program prescribes (many programs have a runner attempting multiple 20+ mile runs), and you only run a true long run every other week, they come at the end of a week that is already high in mileage. The result, as the Hansons brothers are known to say, is that running one of their long runs is “not like running the first 16 miles of a marathon, but the last 16 miles!” This is critical in the program design. The Hansons plan focuses on building what is called cumulative fatigue, where the body is continually stressed and never really allowed to fully recover until the taper. This may seem Draconian, and it does mean that you spend a large chunk of the training cycle tired, but it is really building the sort of fitness needed to break through the dreaded wall. Workouts are not the test for runners, the races are. Hitting a workout feeling fresh may feel good and encouraging, but is likely doing nothing to prepare you for the rigors of breaking through the wall late in a race when the body needs to know how to run on tired legs. Trust me, runng 16 miles at the end of a typical Hansons week is done on tired legs. Now I will add a word of caution here: pushing to fatigue for the sake of it is not smart training and will lead to burnout and injury. The Hansons don’t run you into the ground. I found that the plan took me to the edge of my abilities, but never pushed me over the line. I followed a plan that met me where I was in terms of fitness. I had experience running tempo runs and intervals. I had run 40-50 miles a week the previous year. I felt that the beginner Hansons plan was right at the level that would push me but not break me. If I had decided to try to run 100 mile weeks instead, I would have broken down.
  4. Active recovery with easy runs that simultaneously build a mileage base: This really is where the six days of training a week come in. Each week consisted of three SOS workouts and three easy runs. The easy runs brought two benefits. First, they served as active recovery for my weary legs. So long as the easy runs were run at a true easy pace, at times for me this meant up to two minutes over my planned race pace, my legs enjoyed the benefits of having extra blood circulated through the tired tissues, which brought with it healing agents, while avoiding the microscopic muscular damage that running at a faster pace brings. This speeded my recovery. These easy days also helped establish a larger base of weekly mileage. In the beginner program I topped out at 57 miles in weeks of overall running. These easy runs, though not fast, built bone density, grew additional mitochondria, spurred tendon and muscle development, and helped build endurance. The formula of these runs plus the SOS runs paid dividends on race day.

How I ran the Hansons way in 2018

For both the Cleveland and Columbus Marathons I ran using the beginner programs. Again, beginner is a misnomer here and I was pushed to my limit training for both races. At the easiest, once training began in earnest, I bottomed out at 38 miles in a week and topped out at 57 miles in a week. Speed week built from 400m intervals run at approximately 5k pace to 1200m. Strength runs ran through a pyramid structure, starting at 6 x 1 mile and building up to 2 x 3 mile runs, before descending back down again to 6 x 1 mile. Tempo runs run through three-week cycles, starting with a block of running a five-mile tempo once a week for three weeks, then jumping to a three-week block of running eight miles, then a three week block of nine miles, then a three week block of ten miles. For variety, I occasionally ran my long runs as hills runs, choosing to run most of the second half of those runs uphill to further challenge my fatigued legs. That decision paid dividends when I was able to tackle several small but challenging late-race uphill stretches during the Cleveland Marathon.

Largely I followed the structure and timing of the plan. The six day a week schedule makes moving workouts around challenging anyway. Race training in northeast Ohio during late winter/early spring can be hectic though. There were times when I had to rearrange my schedule to fit runs in when the weather would allow. I avoid, at all costs, running on a treadmill because I hate it. This does not mean I take unwise chances running in icy conditions or in dangerously cold weather. What it did mean was that if any tweaks had to be made, I tried to make sure easy runs were done inside and hard runs done outside. I avoided, at all costs, putting two SOS workouts back to back. The body just cannot recover fast enough to safely handle that much intensity over two days. I knew I would be risking injury if I tried. When concerns like that arose, I would rearrange not one, but two weeks of my running schedule to fit everything in. By being flexible, I was able to run almost every workout I was supposed to.

The results speak for themselves. I nailed two PRs, two BQs, and finished just three seconds away from gaining entry into this year’s Boston Marathon. Cramping and a bout of late-race nausea in Columbus held me back, and they are concerns I will have to address. However, a lack of fitness never caused me to hit the wall I so feared.

Pushing it forward in 2019

Sitting in my office are two dry erase boards filled with what every day of the next 16+ weeks will look like. It is my running calendar for the next four months, my plan for breaking three hours in the marathon. I am sticking with the Hansons plan and will be for the foreseeable future in my marathoning and half marathoning. I am that happy with the results. I have pushed on to the advanced plan and, barring some sort of injury setback, it will carry me through to race day.

The advanced plan follows the same basic outline as the beginner program. Mileage does not increase that much: where the beginner program peaked at 57 miles the advanced program peaks at 63. However, the increase in total mileage is significant. The beginner program sees five weeks that go 50+ miles. The advanced program more than doubles that to 11. Intensity begins earlier too. Speed and tempo work does not begin until Week 6 in the beginner program while it begins in Week 2 with the advanced plan with tempo work beginning the week after. The result is a plan that asks for more mileage and more high-intensity mileage, further steeling your legs against the demands of racing 26.2 miles.

I have also added some small tweaks to some of the SOS workouts. The hill runs will remain. They really did make a difference in the late stages of my races last year and I am hesitant to remove that training stimulus. Plus, I just love the course I run for those workouts. Training is supposed to be fun after all. I have, however, decreased the number of hill runs and added in a few fast-finish long runs. A main mental component of my training this year is reinforcing my race plan during training. Where I have jumped into my race pace early in recent races, I want to hold back something in the early stages of my races this year, and then turn on the afterburners later. Fast-finish long runs seem like a smart way to do that. I have also added a few tempo-hill sandwich runs. Mario Fraioli first published this workout in Competitor Magazine several years back and it quickly became a favorite workout of mine. The link describes the workout, so I won’t waste time going into detail here. What I will say is that the workout combines two workouts into one, challenging multiple systems and recruiting a wide variety of muscle fibers. It is a workout that is long, with its multiple breaks, and truly difficult as the second half of your day’s tempo run is completed after two sets of challenging hill sprints. While exhausting, it is a workout that leaves you feeling confident when you finish that last mile. I really felt I improved on my ability to run workouts at tempo pace last year and I am hoping this small tweak to a few tempo workouts seasoned in over the next several months will provide just a little more of an edge.

For information on the Hansons marathon training method check out these resources:

  1. Marathoning the Hansons Way This was my first exposure to the Hansons, read in a long ago edition of Runner’s World
  2. Hansons Marathon Method: Run Your Fastest Marathon the Hansons Way The source itself. This book covers in detail the intricacies of training the Hansons way, the physiological adaptations that occur when you follow the program, and the science that supports their approach to training

I will check back in after the Cleveland Marathon to report on how all this goes. Until then, happy running.



2018 and 2019: How Two Approaches to My Offseason Prepared Me for Marathon Training

In The Sting of a Near Miss: A Framework for Handling Disappointment (in Running or in Life) I described the difficulty of getting so close to a goal (gaining entry into the Boston Marathon) only to miss out on it (three…freaking…seconds…). As difficult as that experience was, the truth is 2018 was a good year for me as runner. I took my training to new heights and enjoyed the results that followed.

One of my goals with this blog is to teach others through sharing the technical details of my own experiences. I don’t simply want to tell you what I did but explain why I utilized certain training approaches and the learning curves and pitfalls of trying those approaches.

As we head in 2019 I will be sharing a series of posts that highlight a particular aspect of race training: off season training, running, strength training, nutrition, recovery, and mental training. I will explain my approach to each of these subsets of training in 2018 and how I plan to advance to make 2019 an even better year.

Off season training: late 2017 and early 2018

Given the vast interest in running and racing there is surprisingly little information on what do to in the down periods between race training cycles. Looking back at the training I did between the 2017 Towpath Half Marathon and the start of training for the 2018 Cleveland Marathon, one gets a clear sense I was making it up as I went along. Weekly mileage totals vary wildly. I do not run on set days. The sole constants are a weekly long run and speed development work. Tempo runs are nowhere to be seen.

To be fair, training outside of race training cycles does not need to follow a strict regimen, depending on what one’s immediate goals are. One of the reasons I love the break between my fall race and my spring race is that, at seven months long, it offers me enough time to break away from the strict routine of race training. If I want to relax, I can. If I want to head out and run and not worry about time or distance, I can. However, as the start of a race training cycle looms, the goal shifts. I entered 2018 knowing I would be utilizing a plan designed to elicit a major jump in performance. The plan, utilizing the Hansons brothers’ (famous for being Des Linden’s coach) approach to training, called for a jump in weekly mileage compared to my previous highs and running six days a week. Jumping into it after spending several months with an “I’ll run if I feel like it mentality” was brutal. I dealt with small but nagging injuries and struggled to adapt to running six days a week.

The last thing that stands out to me looking back at my training logs is the total absence of strength training. None was done. I simply ran. Given the demands marathon training would place on my body, I am somewhat stunned that I held up as well as I did under the Hansons plan without a base of strength work. I would start to strength train once actual marathon training began but it is hard not to wonder if my early training would have gone smoother if I had done more to strengthen my body first.

Off season training: late 2018 to the present 

This offseason I have built far more structure into my training. My earliest weeks were just about getting out and enjoying the freedom of the road again. Structure is good, but marathon training is a long slog and I did not want to get sucked in too early into the grind of a daily routine. However, after Thanksgiving I got serious and adhered to a plan that emphasized the following points:

  • Running five days a week, and later six days a week, to get me mentally back into the weekly routine the Hansons plan establishes.
  • A focus on three hard runs: long runs, speed development runs, and tempo runs. In years past I ignored tempo work until actual training began.
  • Strength work four times a week, establishing a pattern I plan to continue when marathon training begins. This year I am strength training using the principles Jay Dicharry outlines in his book Running Rewired. My workouts during the offseason have been at the low end of the intensity spectrum and will get progressively more intense when marathon training begins. I will be discussing strength training in more depth in two weeks.
  • Running a weekly mileage that progressively builds to the mileage I will be running during the first several weeks of marathon training.

I have followed this plan with one large break in the week that began the day after Christmas and continued through New Year’s Day. I took a trip, planned quite late, to Charleston, SC, in the days following Christmas and then passed around a stomach flu with the rest of my family. Rather than risking a setback, like a prolonged illness because I was pushing my body, I decided instead to take the week, adjust the mileage the week after, and then resume my normal training load.

With marathon training beginning next week I feel good about where my body is. My easy pace is faster than last year’s but feels effortless. I have felt noticeably faster during my speed development runs and my tempo pace, which I often struggle to find and hold, feels hardwired into my legs. Granted, I am running roughly 20 miles per week less than what I will peak at later in the year. If I learned anything from the Hansons plan last year, it is that the cumulative fatigue the plan prescribes will make everything feel harder as I get deeper and deeper into training. Still, a year later, I feel I am eyeing the start line of another training cycle with hard-earned experience, the confidence that comes with it, and feeling far more physically ready for the challenge that awaits. We will see what happens.

The lesson

Rest and recovery are important. Race training is physically demanding and the routine can be mentally draining. There is nothing wrong with using your down time to break from that structure and run when and how you want. However, when you begin to stare down the start of another training cycle, it is beneficial to prime your body for the mental and physical demands of training. Adopting structure, mimicking what your training will look like, but at lower mileage, will help you enter a new cycle with confidence. Time will tell if I’m better prepared for marathon training in 2019. I feel I am, though, and confidence can go a long way.

Next week I will be talking about the Hansons plan that I followed last year and my plans to advance that training this year. Hansons is not for everyone but I will vouch for the results. I hope what I can share about it will be educational to anyone that reads the post.

Happy running,



Ten Books Runners Should Read In 2019

Okay, so this was supposed to be a year-end post in 2018 where I reviewed the top books for runners I read last year. However, when your brother decides to push up his wedding and it requires a multi-day drive to arrive at the destination, things get pushed back. So here I sit, posting this a week later than intended but still chock full of information I hope you will all find useful. The ten books I am going to list are not all running books per se, but they are all books that can benefit or be of interest to runners.

Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

By far the best book I read in 2018. It is full of information on performance, recovery, establishing a proper mindset, and more and is applicable to running and life. I reworked almost all aspects of my training program to incorporate their suggestions. Stulberg is a former consultant at the elite McKinsey and Company and now coaches and writes about human performance. Magness is a coach to professional runners and the cross country coach at the University of Houston. Their twitter feeds are a plethora of great information and I highly recommend you follow them. Stulberg is @BStulberg and Magness is @stevemagness.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is one of the more important books I’ve read in the last five years. I still listen to the chapter on keystone habits five or six times a year. Duhigg covers the theory and science of habits and habit formation well and Clear builds on it with practical approaches to creating new habits, breaking bad ones, and advice on how to streamline the process. Anyone looking to start a new running routine or review their current running routines would be smart to give this book a read.

You Are Not a Rock: A Step-by-Step Guide to Better Mental Health (for Humans) by Mark Freeman

A mental health book may sound like a strange suggestion to runners but I think this book is a must-read tome for anyone. Freeman shares his own struggles with mental health (tales which showed me that I was not nearly as alone as I thought in my own struggles) and details an ongoing process people can utilize to handle their own mental health issues. One early strategy Freeman highlights is learning to identify and sit with your compulsions, rather than feeling the need to give in to them. His writing on compulsions made me realize how often I give in to compulsions, (cough checking my phone cough) even in the middle of workouts or between running and strength sessions. These habits have surely robbed me of some of the gains my workouts are designed to elicit and I have since begun to work on identifying my own compulsions and working to overcome them.

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

I read this early last year and was captivated by the different stories Hutchinson (one of my favorite sports science writers) shares. He dives deep to help us understand the roles the physical and psychological play in our ability to push ourselves to and even beyond our perceived breaking points. I took my mantra for last year’s Cleveland Marathon, “pain is a privilege” directly from reading this book.

Running Rewired: Reinvent Your Run for Stability, Strength, and Speed by Jay Dicharry

Dicharry is a physical therapist and running coach whose approach to strength training is to make sure runners are running with the proper muscles firing before they take on trying to lift heavy loads. Dicharry’s book clearly details the various ways that muscle imbalances and lack of mobility can compromise a runner and result in injury. A series of tests and corrective exercises seek to correct imbalances, early workouts establish dynamic core stability and glute and hip strength before later workouts work to develop more pure strength and power. After finally establishing the habit of regularly strength training last year, I am upping the ante and tackling Dicharry’s more progressive workouts in my lead up to the Cleveland Marathon in May.

Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You by Kara Goucher

I have long admired Goucher’s openness about her struggles with confidence. In this book Goucher further digs into this challenging part of her professional career and the ways she has developed confidence from the ground up. Moving beyond a simple biography, the book is also a workbook for the reader, inviting us to share our own insecurities and to use mantras, power words, and other confidence-building strategies to help us be our best. A great read that is applicable to running and life.

Kings of the Road: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom by Cameron Stracher

If you enjoy the professional side of running, this is a great book that digs into an earlier time period when the dominance of Americans Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar spurred the first running boom. Stracher does a wonderful job capturing the rises and falls of all three runners set against the establishment and earliest runnings of the Falmouth Road Race. At times I felt like I was standing in New England on the side of the road watching the three titans sprint by. I am not sure there is any practical information a runner can take from the reading, but for pure enjoyment of racing as a spectacle, this book does well to bring those old races directly into your living room.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

This is another book that takes the reader back into an earlier running era. I had no idea how close to disaster Knight was in the early days of Nike and how many times it could have gone sideways for him. I still have notes from reading this book about risks Knight had to take, small but important lessons he learned, and the psychology of going all in on an uncertain bet.

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey

Not a running book in any sense. I read this during the Olympics last year. For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with the Miracle on Ice. I have read everything I could on Herb Brooks and the methods he used to take 20 young men from different backgrounds and get them, not just to come together as a team, but to come together as a team capable of beating the best program in the world. The book details the backgrounds of each player and the months leading up to the games, all weaved together during a lengthy retelling of the game against the Soviets. I guess I like this book for runners because I run to compete: against myself, against the clock, and at times against others. This book beautifully captures the nuances of one of the greatest competitive sporting matches ever held.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Another book that is not a running book but that contains a central thesis that I think all runners can learn from, especially in this age of digital distraction. I cannot speak for any of you, but I will admit that my workouts are often interrupted by my devices. Sometimes it is because I am listening to music or have Netflix on in the background. Other times it is because a sporting event is going on during my workout and I return from my run to check and score, and then Twitter, and then other social media and now, dammit, I was supposed to start my strength training right after my run and that was 20 minutes ago and now I haven’t started and I need to eat and I’m getting hypoglycemic and I’m almost past the crucial 30-minute window to get in some nutrition after a run and… You get the point. Newport’s thesis is simple: In a world of distraction those who can stay focused will be valued commodities. In your running, your ability to keep the main thing the main thing, that is, your workout, will help you achieve stronger and faster progress than if you are constantly stopping mid-workout to take a picture or check your Twitter feed. This is a good book to help you understand the need to avoid distraction.