Let me tell you the story of FM.
We went to school together back when Nirvana smelled like teen spirit and Sharon Stone made quite a name for herself. We were long distance rivals back when our definition of “distance” was two loops around our university campus around the College of Commerce building, along the back entrance, left along the High School,through the football fields, around the Architecture and Fine Arts building before returning to the start line. It was maybe a total of 6 km…possibly. He won it one year and I took it the next year.
Fast forward to now where Nirvana is in the hall of fame and Kurt is an actual spirit (bless his soul), FM and I took on separate paths in our lives. Due to the magic of social media, we managed to keep in touch largely because he ended up marrying one of the women in my class.
Despite going our separate ways, we both continued running. I have been following FM on the fringes because I knew of his quest to get to Boston one day. Since he lived on the outskirts of Chicago, he had easy access to one of the great marathons of this world.
Year after year, he would try. And after 12 years and 14 attempts, he would come up short.
Finally this year, I asked if he needed a different perspective on training. Someone like FM who is fearless, never gives up, and willing to put in the work is a coach’s dream.
So we trained. 16 weeks, over 1000 miles, varying intensities, workouts, adjustments, and so on.
Finally, race day came and went.
3:09:41. A PB of almost 30 minutes and a BQ -5, pretty much assuring him of a starting spot in the 2018 Boston Marathon.
This is his story.
My first marathon was the 1997 La Salle Banks Chicago Marathon. I was 25 years old then. It was the natural progression for me from the 5K’s, 10K’s and Half-Marathons I have been doing since 1995 when I settled in Chicago from the Philippines. I was pleased to have finished the 1997 marathon in 4hours and 55minutes without formal training. I have been running at least one marathon a year since. I have gotten better that my finish times improved to 3:54 over the years.
The goal to qualify for Boston was not set until 2003. The closest that I have come to that goal is a 3:33 finish time in 2014. My age group qualifying time is 3:15. In 2015 and early 2016, I regressed to 3:45 in my 3 BQ attempts. In the Spring of 2016, Stan generously offered his expertise to help me reach my goal.
Stan and I go way back. We went to the same PT School in the Philippines. I am one academic year ahead of him and in the running world we are in the same age group.
Major Changes In My Training
Setting Realistic and Evolving Goals
The first thing we did was to establish in number exactly where I am in my running ability. He sent me a questionnaire asking about my personal best in different distances and how long ago they were ran, among other things. In my own words and in writing, he asked for my personal goal and when to accomplish it. My personal goal was to run the October 2016 Chicago Marathon in 3:15. At the start of the training, paces were run with the goal of dropping my current personal best to 3:20 with the intent to push for 3:15 depending on my performance.
Running Seven Days A Week
I have been using Hal Higdon Marathon Training Programs for my previous BQ attempts. These programs call for 5days a week of run with 2rest days or cross training days. I used to struggle with being able to run 5days a week because of work and home responsibilities.
Interestingly, when I Stan put me on a 7 days a week program, it became easier to schedule the training runs. There was even one day when I ran in the early morning before work, dropped off my daughter to school, went to work, came home, prepared dinner for the family, went for a run again, then have dinner alone.
Being Accountable to Another Person
Hal Higdon Marathon Program is a downloadable pdf file. I get the entire 18weeks running schedule. It was up to me to execute and keep track of my miles. On the other hand, Stan and I communicated weekly via email. I got immediate corrections and clarifications. He got timely feedback on how I am progressing and he was able to adjust the intensity of the training appropriately. That was how by week 8, he was pushing me harder toward the goal of 3:15. Furthermore, a phone call 2 days before the race solidified the plan to push for 3:10 to improve the chances of getting accepted to race in Boston.
Also, having Stan remotely watching, I was motivated enough to try harder because another person was investing time on me. The least I can do is to reciprocate that gesture of generosity.
I also joined the fun runs and weekend long runs in a local running store and its affiliate racing team. I shared my goal with a few of my team mates with the intent again of being accountable to another person.
My previous training regimen relies mostly on distance ran and average pace. Stan put me in a program with a healthy mix of hill sprints, aerobic runs, lactate threshold, tempo, interval runs, marathon pace, half marathon pace, 5K pace, 10K pace, and mile time trial. From the racing team, I also got training paces for 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1600m. A clear understanding of each of these paces in its theoretical sense and execution either on the track or on roads is a must for the desired physiological changes in the muscle, various energy system and mental state to occur.
Needing to know only the distance and my average speed in my previous training program, I was able to get by with a $35 Timex from Walmart, an Excel Spreadsheet, and a mapmyrun account as my training tools. When Stan introduced timed runs on varying paces, I struggled with tracking my progress. That’s when I decided to invest on a second hand Garmin Forerunner I got for $80 on Craigslist. There was a week of learning the settings, programming and fit on my wrist then it was smooth sailing thereafter.
Looking back, that week of struggling with the numbers, converting Stan’s kilometers to miles and appropriately adjusting the pace was a blessing in disguise. I erroneously converted the numbers to faster paces and were running them even faster for fear that I would undertrain.
Warm Up and Cool Down
It became an unspoken rule between Stan and I that when he sends me the weekly schedule, the runs on hard effort days are always bracketed by 2K Easy runs. This was not so in my previous regimen. If the Sunday run called for 20miles at race pace, I would start the first mile already at 7:27 min-mile then fade away to 9:00’s by the time I get to the 12th mile.
Higher Peaks Sustained Longer
My previous training program called for 3weeks of 50mile week separated from each other by one week of 36mile recovery week. A 50 mile week is Tue5miles-Wed10mile-Th5miles and a back to back 10 and 20mile runs on the weekend. In Stan’s customized program for me, there were 5 Fifty-Mile consecutive weeks. Because each week was given to me either on Sunday evening or Monday morning, the training volume did not become overwhelming.
Fasted- State Long Runs
My last meal before a Sunday long run would be Saturday evening supper. Throughout the day on Sunday, I drank plenty of water and sucked on hard candy. I learned how to survive on almond nuts. I sometimes cheated buying the honey-roasted variety.
Pacing in Races
Being a member of a racing team gave me 3 opportunities to be a pacer. These gave me the practice of preparing for a race, waking up early, driving to an event site on time, managing my nerves while in the start corral, and most importantly being aware initially of how a certain pace feels like then letting the body go on cruise control later in the race.
3Week Taper Strategy
I would usually reach the peak of my training 3weeks before the race, then drastically reduce the intensity. Stan placed me on a 3Week Adaptive Running Academy Tapering Strategy. It called to sustained intensity on the medium distance runs. Taking this cue, I also increased the intensity of the Aerobic runs from the recommended 8:17minute-mile to 7:45-7:50 range. As they got easier, I was also able to increase my half-marathon pace from the recommended 7:08 to the range of 6:30 and 6:50min-mile. On the last hard effort, Wednesday before the Sunday race, I ran a 3minute all-out effort and clocked myself at 5:45min-mile.
Meticulous Attention to Details on the Last Seven Days Leading to the Race
Part of the Adaptive Running Academy Taper Strategy is a rigid race week schedule of training runs, managing big city marathon race logistics, food, drinks, nutritional supplements and over the counter drugs to take and sleep-wake cycling. This schedule diverted me away from the festivity-oriented side events that the race organizers, friends, or running groups might offer. I made this schedule known to my family. This allowed my wife and two teenage children to participate in their own activities also.
Trusting The Training
I have heard this phrase before. I did not know how to execute this on race day. In more details, I would put into words how this contributed to my 3:10 finish in another narrative.