Road to the Philly Marathon 6 – Breaking Through

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Sunset over Rice Field Complex in Wrentham, Ma. I’ve logged a few hundred miles on the grass here in 2016.

I’ve made some huge strides in the months since I last posted on this blog. Seeing all of my training since April finally come together has been really cool, and I couldn’t feel more prepared for the full 26.2 in Philadelphia.

Training

I significantly upped my training in the months of September and October, finally cracking a few 70-mile weeks. My focus for the Philadelphia Marathon has been learning how to run fast on tired legs. The best way to accomplish this is through stride efficiency training.

A big takeaway I had from practicing Wing Chun was the importance of being efficient with movement. For fighters, this can mean everything from proper hip alignment in a defensive stance to the extent of elbow recoil during chain striking. For runners, this simply means not wasting movement as you get from the start of a race to the finish line.

Since I started taking running seriously in May of 2015, I’ve become absolutely obsessed with learning how to run fast without getting tired. While a big part of that equation is fitness, the bigger part is training your central nervous system to efficiently move your entire body in harmony as you put one foot in front of the other during a race. Here’s my formula to maximize that training:

  1. Consistency РBy staying healthy and not taking extended periods off from training, you can incessantly embed the movement of running into your brain.
  2. Variety – By varying every aspect of your training, your central nervous system will learn how to effectively navigate through any type of foreign stimulus. You’ll also recruit as many muscle fibers as possible for efficient running. For me, variety has meant running on different surfaces (grass, hilly and flat roads, tracks, trails, and dirt paths), running at different speeds (race pace, aerobic threshold pace, lactate threshold pace, and slow, deliberate running up hills), and running dozens of different workouts (see examples below).
  3. Film Analysis – This is another trick I learned from my martial arts days. By watching the smoothest runners in the world, your brain can pick up on the subtleties of efficient movement, and that stays with you while you’re training. This fall, I’ve probably watched Eliud Kipchoge’s London Marathon breakaway move about 100 times.
  4. A Focus on Aerobic Threshold Work – I first heard about aerobic threshold work while listening to a podcast on a run in October, 2015. I don’t remember who it was, but the coach on the podcast said that if you start increasingly adding aerobic threshold miles into your training, you’ll eventually be able to build to a point where all of your miles can be run at that pace. My aerobic threshold pace in the fall of last year was around 6:50 per mile. After adding in more and more miles at that pace, I eventually got my aerobic threshold miles down to 6:05 pace, and I’m now averaging around 6:40 per mile for my total weekly mileage. Guys, this stuff works.

Take a look at the video below. There are two clips of me running at the same race – one is from 2015, and one is from earlier this month. It’s amazing what a difference a year makes.

To get ready for the Philly Marathon, I’ve been logging loads of miles on rolling hills and grass soccer fields and running as many 10-14 mile tempos at about 10 seconds slower than marathon goal pace as I can fit in. I’ve also done four major workouts to focus on race specificity.

  1. September 18th – Hard 2-Hour Tempo Run in the Humidity (18.2 Miles): This run was one of the hardest of my life. I wanted to get in a marathon semi-simulation effort a few months out from race day, and I picked an incredibly humid day to do it. I was up all night throwing up after this was over, and it took me about eight days to fully bounce back. But I feel like this run helped take my stamina to a new level, and it made the rest of my training a whole lot easier.
  2. ¬†October 1st – Fast-Finish Long Run (17.7 miles): This workout was on a cool and rainy day, so it felt 10x better than the 2-hour tempo I had done a few weeks prior. I jogged the first 11 miles with my training partner Luke at an easy pace, ran the next 5 miles at marathon pace, and then closed with a 5:25 mile, which culminated with an all-out sprint.¬† I had read rave reviews about fast-finish long runs from other runners, and I can now see why. Running this hard on tired legs forces your body to adapt to “fatigue speed”, which you need in a marathon.
  3. October 25th – 20-Mile Easy Run – This was just to get used to being on my feet for a long period of time. I did a speed workout a few days later to take advantage of my tired legs, and that was a lot harder.
  4. November 5th – 4-Mile Trail Race, 10k @MP – Again, the focus here was variety. I hadn’t been doing a lot of trail running, so I wanted to give my central nervous system a new stimulus so I could continue to improve with two weeks to go until race day. I took first in the race (the Bird Park 4 Miler) and was able to beat the old course record by over 15 seconds. The 10k at marathon pace afterwards was to simulate the fatigue I’ll feel in the later stages of the race.

Nutrition

I do my best to eat as many whole foods as possible. I believe good food is the best investment you can make, so I never skimp on the quality of food I buy. But with the amount of training I’ve been doing this fall, I’ve been forced to rely on Gatorade, Cliff Bars, and Puffins Cereal for convenience and quick calories. Beyond that, the only new food I’ve incorporated into my diet has been lentils, usually in the form of lentil pasta.

I was running the nutrition numbers on my own diet in October, and I just didn’t see enough iodine in there for me to be comfortable. Iodine is an elusive nutrient, which is why we’ve been fortifying our salt with it in the United States for years. The problem is, I only cook and season with Celtic Sea Salt (which isn’t fortified), so I’m often left gobbling handfuls of strawberries to make sure I’m getting my iodine needs met.

To address this on-paper problem, I decided to experiment with some kelp tablets from Whole Foods, which contain loads of iodine. Within a few days, my energy levels were all off. Iodine significantly impacts the thyroid, so the tablets were obviously more than my system needed. I eat seaweed salad about once a month, and the body is really good at storing iodine in the long-term, so I guess that’s enough for me. This experiment was a classic case of trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.

I also am continuing to take small amounts of Algae-Based Omega 3 fats from Spectrum. There is so much conflicting research out there when it comes to Omega 3s, so I don’t feel comfortable making a blanket statement about supplementation. I do know, however, that I personally tend to function better when I get my longer chain Omega 3 fats in pill form. It’s tough to shell out almost $30 every two months or so for a supplement, but again, I don’t believe in skimping when it comes to health.

I also bought a new brand of Vitamin B12, which is essential for red blood cell production and glucose metabolism. I bought a methylcobalamin mouth-dissolving brand made by Jarrow’s Formulas, and I’ve been taking it every morning after a few cups of coffee (B12 requires acidity for metabolism). I get a noticeable jolt of energy with this stuff, so I plan on sticking with this brand for years to come.

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Gear

After experimenting with the New Balance 1400s this summer, I went back to the old reliable Fresh Foam Zantes this fall. New Balance has come out with a new version of the Zantes since the original model, so I’ve had to go online and to wholesale outlets to find the remaining pairs of the original version I’ve gotten so used to. New Balance really took a step back by making the new line of Zantes heavier than the original (7.6 oz to 8.6 oz). I understand the business model of having to introduce new products, but it’s a shame runners constantly have to adapt to new models of shoes year after year.

Final Thoughts

This fall has been a whirlwind, and I’m going to miss it. Strictly from a competitive point of view, I would probably be better off building mileage for another year before racing my first marathon, but life is too short to constantly strive for perfection, and I want to get at least one marathon in while I know I still can. Life is unpredictable, and I don’t take for granted the fact that I’m healthy enough to lace up my shoes every day and hit the roads to train.

So much can happen on November 20th, but if everything goes right, I think I’m in shape to break 2 hours and 40 minutes. Regardless of my time, though, I’ll just be grateful to be toeing the line. I love running, and I love competition. Life is a strange journey, but if you’re truly honest about who you are, you’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to be. For me on November 20th, that means downtown Philadelphia. I can’t wait.

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