Monday, November 30, 2015

California International Marathon Training

California International Marathon is this weekend and I'm looking forward to towing the start line for the second consecutive year.  There’s no doubt in my mind that my fitness is the best it's ever been. My most recent PRs at the half-marathon and 10-mile distances, as well as my workouts during this marathon training cycle, are clear indicators that I’m fit as ever and have a chance at achieving my ultimate goal of running sub-2:30 for the marathon.

Before I recap my CIM training, I want to give a little background of my past marathon training and the changes I’ve made over the last year and a half that has gotten me to my current fitness.

When I first started running marathons in 2003, I relied on running books such as Daniel’s Running Formula and Advanced Marathoning to guide me through marathon training. I would pick out workouts based on what I felt like doing on a given day. It was basically trial and error. Fifteen months after running my first marathon, I dropped my marathon time to 2:42 at the Houston Marathon.

It was after the Houston Marathon on January 2005 that I realized I could run faster and possibly even run 6-minute pace for 26.2 miles.  However, I knew I would need a coach to help and guide me through my training, so I contacted Greg McMillan (McMillan Running).  Ironically, I first met Greg while running the Houston Marathon.  I remember around mile 20 of the race, a guy (Greg) on a bike was encouraging me and a few other runners to stay relax and work together.  Apparently, Greg was on the course cheering his athlete and eventual Houston Marathon winner, Kelly Keane.  At the time, I had no idea that Greg was a recognized online coach and famous for his McMillan Running Calculator.

In just one year with McMillan Running, I improved my marathon PR by four minutes to a 2:38 at the Austin Marathon.  I won't go into too much details, but some of Greg's training that helped take my marathon running to the next level included fast-finish long runs, strength-building workouts such as marathon goal pace runs, and cruise/tempo intervals.  You can visit for more of Greg's training philosophy.

I was coached by Greg until 2007 when duty called and had to deploy for the third time in five years. After coming back from a longgg 15-month deployment in 2008, I continued to use Greg's training philosophy and a variety of running books to coach myself. I'd say I did a pretty darn good job, because I had a break-through marathon in 2008 at the Amsterdam Marathon running 2:35:37.  I not only PR’d by over 2 1/2 minutes, but also averaged well under 6:00/mile pace. As a self-coached athlete from 2009-2013 (except for winter/spring of 2011 when Andrew Lemoncello (McMillan Running) coached me for Rotterdam Marathon), I ran a total of 10 marathons, eight (8) of which were faster than 2:37 or sub-6:00 pace (my list of marathon results).

I was happy with my marathon results over those five years, especially that I had lowered my PR down to 2:33:50 and placed well in a few of the popular small-city marathons: 9th at the Munich Marathon, 11th at Big Sur Marathon and 12th at Richmond Marathon.  I even ran well at the big stage, 56th overall at the scorching 2012 Boston Marathon.  But there was one problem.  I was stuck running marathons in the 2:35-2:36 range and had not improved my marathon PR since 10/10/10 at the Munich Marathon.

After having my worst marathon experience and a poor showing (2:53) at last year's (2014) Boston Marathon I realized that I needed some change.  Additionally, at age 38, I knew my chances of improving my marathon PB and getting closer to that illustrious sub-2:30 marathon were diminishing.  So, I decided to get a coach to orchestrate my training and provide some motivation and accountability. My initial thought was to go with McMillan Running again, but as I stated earlier I wanted some change.

I had been following Scott Wietecha's training on his running blog (Running, Rants and Randomness) for some time and really liked his approach to training. Scott, an elementary PE teacher, glorified hobby-jogger for Newton Elite and a 2:17 marathoner, was kind enough to take me under his wing.  Under Scott's guidance over the last year and a half, I've improved my personal bests in the marathon (2:32:29, California Int'l Marathon), half-marathon (1:11:49, Philly Rock 'n' Roll), and 10-Mile (54:35, Army Ten-Miler).  I also ran my 2nd fastest marathon time (2:33:13) earlier this year at Boston in less-than-ideal conditions (headwinds).  I went into Boston in top shape and likely would have ran somewhere around 2:31 had conditions been better.

Scott Wietecha - three-peat Country Music Marathon Champion
Now, with CIM just a week away and having completed my hardest marathon training cycle ever, I'm ready to freshen up the legs and go to war for that sub-2:30.  My only hope is that the weather is good and that I run 2 minutes and 30 seconds faster than I did last year.

Here's a summary of my quality sessions/workouts during the last 12 weeks.  I labeled Q1, Q2, etc. as the number of quality sessions for that specific week.

Week 12: Q1 - 10 miles of alternating 1/2 miles at 5:55 and 5:35; averaged 5:53/5:33 for the recover/fast portions.  Q2 - 15 miles medium long run on rolling route with 4x1/2 mile at marathon effort.  (77 miles)

Week 11: Q1 - 6x1 mile working from 10K pace to slightly faster (5:15, 5:13, 5:12, 5:10, 5:10, 5:09) with 400m rec jog. Q2: 20 miles long run with last 5 miles at MP; ran the last 5M in 28:16 (5:39 pace) 6:27 overall avg pace for the 20 miles (102 miles)

Week 10: Q1 - 12x2:00 at HM pace to slightly faster with 2:00 moderate over rolling hills.  Q2 - 12 miles progression from easy to moderate effort over rolling hills.  Q3 - 19.5 miles long run with 3x4 miles at MP with 3:00 recovery jogs. Ran 22:49, 22:40, and 22:16. (99 miles)

Week 9: Q1 - 12x600m at 5K pace to slightly faster with 1:30 rest.  Q2 - 20 miles progression long run working from moderate pace down to MP; 6:03 avg pace.  (100 miles)

Week 8: Q1 - 10 miles tempo working from slightly slower than MP to slightly faster than MP; 57:03, 5:43 pace). Q2 - Philly Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, 1:11:49.  (82 miles)

Week 7: Q1 - 20x 400m at 75-77s with 1:00 rec jog.  Q2 - 4 miles tempo at HM pace plus 6x1/4 mile uphill and 2x1/4 downhill with jog up/down for recovery.  Q3 - 22 miles normal long run with the first half on rolling hills.  (103 miles)

Week 6: Q1 - 6x1 mile starting 5:30 pace and working down to 5:15 with 400m rec jog. Splits were 5:29, 5:25, 5:22, 5:19, 5:14, and 5:12.  Q2 - 20 miles long run with last 6 miles at sub-5:45 pace. 33:57 (5:40 avg) for last 6 miles.  (89 miles)

Week 5: Q1 - 6x1K at 3:10 (3:10, 3:09, 3:08, 3:09, 3:08, 3:09) with 400m rec jog.  Q2 - 9 miles with 4 miles fartlek of .15 miles fast / .35 miles easy.  Q3 - Army Ten-Miler, 54:35.  (77 miles)

Week 4: Q1 - 11 miles with fartlek of 1-2-3-2-1-2-3-2-1 with equal recovery; fast portion at 5:20 pace and moderate recovery at 6:20; averaged 5:16 for fast section and 6:12 for recovery.  Q2 - 12 miles progressing from easy to moderate pace. Q3 - 15 miles with 4x2 miles starting at 5:30 and working down to 5:20 pace (10:56, 10:47, 10:43, 10:39) with 400m rec jog.  (93 miles)

Week 3: Q1 - 2x3 miles tempo (16:41, 16:16) plus 2x800m at sub-2:30 (2:27, 2:27).  Q2 - 9 miles with 4x1/4 mile uphill and 4x1/4 mile downhill with jog down/up recovery.  Q3 - 20 miles long run with middle 14 miles progressing from 6:20 to 6:00 pace; 6:07 overall avg pace.  (100 miles)

Week 2: Q1 - 12 miles with 10x3:00/1:30 fartlek.  Q2 - 8x400m at sub-70s with 400m rec jog.  Q3 - 20 miles normal long run.  (101 miles)

Week 1: Q1 - New Haven 20K Race, 1:10:15.  Q2 - 16x400m at sub-80s with 100m rec jog; averaged 75-76s for the first 8 reps and 73-74s for the last 8.  Q3 - 20 miles long run with the last 5 miles moderate working down to 6:00 pace.  (93 miles)

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Rock'n'Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon - 1:11:49!!

Just three weeks after the Army Ten-Miler (ATM) I hit the streets again, this time for the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.  Rock 'n' Roll Philly served as a tune-up and my last race leading up to California International Marathon (CIM) in five weeks.  I ran this race last year when it was in September and finished in 1:13:13.  This year the race was pushed back to the end of October to accommodate Pope Francis' first visit to the US and the city of Philadelphia.  The unique date was a "blessing" because we were treated with perfect running weather (40 degrees with very little wind) on Halloween day. 

Marathon training has been going extremely well and with a recent PB at the ten mile distance, there was no reason I wouldn't be able to run a PB for the half-marathon.  My race strategy was similar to my ATM race; start out at about 5:30 pace or slightly under for the first half and then drop the hammer on the second.

The first few miles felt pretty easy.  I went through the first mile right at 5:30 pace.  Me and a group of runners, some were elite females aiming for the Olympic Marathon Trials Standard (Women - 1:15:00, Men - 1:05:00), actually freaked out because the timing clock at Mile 1 showed 5:08.  I then heard a guy on the bike tell his athlete not to worry because the clock was wrong and that the 1st mile was a 5:30.  My second mile split was slow (GPS split for was a 5:43) even though I felt like I was running the same effort/pace.  I hit the 5K in 17:11, about 5-10 seconds slower than I had planned.  I probably fell behind because I was too busy waving to my wife and daughter.

Definitely not running hard enough!
At 10K I was still feeling really good, maybe too good. I went through 10K in 34:23.  No wonder I was feeling too good!  I practically cruised the second 5K (17:12) in the same time as the first.  After 10K is when I started to roll.  I ran miles 7 and 8 in 5:25 and 5:28.  However, mile 9 was a slow 5:38.  I think a combination of a short uphill and sharp turn onto Falls Bridge caused me to lose some seconds.  Luckily, I made up the lost seconds on the next mile with a 5:19 split. 

At the 10 mile mark, which I came across in 54:56, I caught and passed about four runners, including three-time Olympian Jen Rhines. It's crazy to think that my 10 mile split was a sub-55 and only 21 seconds slower than my PB I set a few weeks ago.  Coming through the ten mile mark in just under 55-min meant that I'd only have to run 5:30 pace for the remaining 5K to hit my goal time of 1:12. 

I wasn't going to settle for 5:30 pace, so I tried to keep the hammer down and ran 5:24, 5:29, and 5:24 for the last three miles.  When I got to the 13 mile mark, just at the base of the short steep hill before the finish, I glanced at my watch and saw 1:11:10.  I knew at this point that I would break 1:12 for the half.  I sprinted up the short hill and to the finish like nobody's business crossing the line in 1:11:49, a new half-marathon PB by a whopping 80 seconds.  According to my Garmin splits and Strava, I ran the last .1 mile of the race at sub-5:00 pace, and that's with the hill. I'd have to say that the weekly hill blasts my coach has incorporated into my training has really paid off.

1:11:49!!!  New Half Marathon PB!

Below are my splits and a comparison of my 2014/2015 R'n'R Philly race.  Interestingly, I ran much faster this year but placed lower in the overall results, mainly because the fast guys and ladies decided to show up and run a qualifying time for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.  A total of 44 runners (24 men and 20 women) ran fast enough to qualify for the marathon trials in February.  Insane!

5 Km
10 Km
10 Mile
Chip Time
2015 17:11 34:23 54:56 1:11:49 5:29 68
2014 17:32 35:02 56:14 1:13:13 5:35 61

Some thoughts following my half-marathon PB:
  • I was thrilled to run a huge PR and sub-1:12.  However, I think if I wasn't being too patient early in the race I probably would have ran about 10-20 seconds faster. I'm not greedy though, I'll take a 1:11:49!!!
In disbelief!
  • It's obvious that I'm a patient and negative split type of runner.  Personally, I think it's the best and smartest way to run the long distance races. 
  • The race was a huge and perfect confidence booster leading up to CIM in five weeks.  I feel that my ultimate goal of a sub-2:30 marathon is well within reach.