Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 27 Feb 1999 09:22:31 -0500

What Went Wrong?

I wrote a recent book on the subject, Marathon Training. Many runners have bought and used it.

Nowhere in the book did I ask for their feedback. But I expected it anyway, especially in the age of e-mail, and many readers responded.

The book's subtitle reads: "The Proven 100-Day Program for Success." The exact wording was the publisher's, not mine.

I wouldn't have used the word "proven." That implies "guaranteed," and there are no guarantees in this game.

"Success" wouldn't have gone into my subtitle either. That suggests getting exactly what the runner wants, and the book makes no such promise.

Several writers didn't get what they wanted. None blamed me, but all asked what had happened.

Harry Gish from Kansas City, Missouri, wrote to me first and at greatest length. I'll let him represent the others who met similar fates.

Harry talked briefly with me at the Hospital Hill Run last May when he bought the MT book. He later reported his unsatisfying result from the Twin Cities Marathon in October:

"I'm 42 and needed 3:20 (7:38 per mile) to qualify for Boston," he wrote. "I ran the first half in 7:30 pace. My legs got tight, and at 23 miles I stopped to stretch and massage two cramped hamstrings before finishing in 3:43."

I replied with questions: How long did he train, what was his previous best marathon time, and what had he run recently at shorter distances? Knowing the answers would help me judge his potential at Twin Cities, and if his time goal there might have been too high and starting pace too fast.

Harry's response: "Long training runs of 12.4 to 24 miles averaged between 7:50 and 8:00 a mile. Speedwork of 2.5 miles, once a week, averaged 6:20 a mile. Other training runs of three to eight miles averaged between 7:30 and 9:00 a mile, depending on how I felt and company I was with."

His previous best marathon, a 3:21, had come eight years earlier. The most recent, in 1997, was 3:39. His latest half-marathons had been 1:40, 1:41 and 1:38.

"A look at your recent history suggests that you might have backed off two ways," I told him. "One would have been the opening pace of your marathon, and the other the overall pace of your long runs."

His half-marathons averaged 1:40. The usual rule of thumb is double that time and add 10 minutes to predict marathon potential. So Harry seemed to have been in shape for a 3:30 or so, which meant his start was probably too quick. He probably lost most of the ground to his potential 3-1/2-hour time in the last few miles.

His longest training runs might have been too fast at better than eight minutes a mile, and they might have left him unrecovered for the marathon. These runs were faster than his marathon pace, and some were nearly as far. Most advisers recommend training long at slower than projected marathon rate.

Harry said, "I'll see if I can get my half-marathons down to 1:35. Hopefully a good marathon (1:35 x 2 = 3:10 + 10 = 3:20) will follow."

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