Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Marathon Training is a Big Fat Lie

One of the nine people that actually read this blog asked me what I've been up to.  So I thought it was time for a short post about what is new and noteworthy.

April was about training  After healing from Potawatomi I tried to ramp mileage back to around 80-90 miles per week.  The overall goal in April and May is weight loss to try to make climbing the mountains of the San Juans and the San Gabriels a little bit easier.  I've been running well and really enjoying the training.  The Flatlander Ultrarunners have been interested in a lot of group runs in interesting places.  That really helps.

I also had an opportunity to pace two good friends - Tony Cesario and Alfredo Pedro Perro at the Indiana Trail 100.  Both finished.  It was a great time and a great race.  I am definitely putting it on my to do list. I really enjoy pacing.  I think it is an important part of giving back to the sport.  If you haven't done it you should.  

The sub 24 Hour crew!

Todd and Siamak

Alfredo Pedro Perro

In late May I am scheduled to run the 56 mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa.  One needs to "qualify" for the race by running a sub 5 hour marathon or a longer distance within certain time restraints.  Those restraints are not conducive to people like me that run at the back of the pack in tougher type trail races.

I thought I had my qualifier.  Three days before the deadline I determined that I was wrong and that I needed to go run a marathon within three days.  All I needed to do was break 5 hours.  BUT I needed to get to Kenosha Wisconsin in rush hour traffic, sign up, go home, get a few hours of sleep, pack, and drive back at 4 a.m.  And nothing could go wrong in the interim.  

I ran (plodded) road marathons for many years before I became an ultra runner.  In those years I was taught many keys to marathon running: the virtue of the taper, training programs, speed work, proper planning and race execution, etc. etc.  I'm sure someone will argue with this point, but some marathoners tend to be over planners, somewhat superstitious and ritualistic (okay, douchey).  What I was about to do ran counter to everything I was taught about marathoning.  No specific training.  No planning.  I had run 90ish miles the week before and I already had 40 miles of training that week.  I did no speedwork.  I barely slept the night before.  I threw my gear together last minute (including some 'seasoned' Hokas) and the entire thing was executed by the seat of my pants.

Now, of course, four other members of the Flatlander Ultrarunners hopped on board.  If you want people to make bad decisions at the last minute which are running related, join an ultrarunning group.( #crazypeople #bandwagoners)

I set the "virtual partner" on my watch to five hour pace, stuffed a bunch of salted caramel gels in my waist pack, and ran by feel staying ahead of that qualifying time -- with no race plan whatsoever.

My prior PR was 3:50.  To attain that time (my first sub 4:00 marathon) I lost weight, did speedwork and tapered.  I was also about 20 pounds lighter than I am now.  Although I had a secret goal of beating that time I was realistic about the fact that it was unlikely.  

At the halfway point I was shocked to see a clock that read 1:47.  I knew that was too fast, but I started to negotiate with myself that if I could hang on a bit longer I would break 4 hours.  I stopped at every other water station, stood still and drank.  I made two bathroom stops.  I petted one dog.

I resisted the urge to look at my watch the entire second half.  (Not a peek).  The negotiations continued mile by mile.  I think the fact that I started passing many people in the last 6 miles really inspired me.  In the last two miles I probably passed 50 people.  When I turned the corner to the finish line I had NO idea what the clock might say.


I was shocked.  Every mile I ran in the race was faster than my average training pace.  I have absolutely no idea how that happened.  Could it be the extra weight? The lack of speedwork?  The failure to taper? part of me thinks it was not looking at my watch.  I guess I'll never know.  But the experience led me to the (tongue in cheek) conclusion that marathon training is a big fat lie.  My best guess is that taking all of those "truths" out of the equation and remembering that its just running makes all the difference.

*I realize that half (meaning 4 or so of you) of the readers will say "Just imagine if you trained right..."  We will probably never know.  

Next up....Comrades!!!!


  1. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Congrats on your marathon PR Scott! Actually, I am not surprised by your performance, you've put a ton of mileage recently, so your legs have just done what you have taught them: RUNNING STRONG!

  3. Did you run the course again the next day to get your 90 in for the week? What kind of dog? Did you and Alfredo just run back to Chicago for a fun run??

  4. Great achievement! Congrats!! I agree that meticulous preparation is often overrated!