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

Sun, 22 May 2005 08:16:21 -0400

Marathon Results

RUNNING COMMENTARY 572

(A talk to the Portland Marathon Clinic, a large group training for that race this fall.)

Each year for the past 15 or so, I've come here as an outsider. Not as someone from Eugene, but as one who hadn't run a marathon for a long time and had never coached a marathon training group.

That has changed in the past year. The influence of your coaches has finally rubbed off, and I've started a Marathon Team. If you went to Eugene on a Sunday morning, you'd feel right at home.

I haven't stolen your training program, and our group is only about one-tenth the size of yours. But our target is the same: the Portland Marathon on October 9th. And so is our most important run: the long one each weekend.

For your group as well as ours, the marathon is still five months away. Tonight I'm here to assure you that you're on the right path.

The Portland Marathon Clinic has taken thousands of runners to and through successful races over the years. My program also has worked thousands of times, but nearly all of its past users were readers of my Marathon Training books.

Writing training schedules is one thing. They go to an unseen audience that I rarely hear from during the build-up months, and seldom after the marathon either.

I just give these runners a starting point. Then they take responsibility for whatever happens from there, and full credit for whatever goes right.

Coaching marathon trainees in person is quite different from writing for readers. Now I see each of them every training week and on raceday. I get to know them and become responsible for them all the way, ready to share blame for whatever goes wrong.

My first lesson learned as a mentor of marathoners was that they don't always listen. Given half a chance, they cheat on the program -- not by doing too little but too much, too soon.

These actions are a fitting payback to me. As a young runner, I was a handful for my coaches -- second-guessing them at every turn, thinking I knew more at 20 than they did a generation's experience further along.

Now I'm a couple of generations along. I have to laugh when the younger runners "cheat" on me. Here are three examples:

1. Kelly. When she signed up for a class of mine last fall at the University of Oregon, she had already finished training for her first marathon. She qualified there for Boston, by one second.

That winter she chose a schedule of mine over the one she'd used before. (My delight was barely disguised, as the old plan had come from the website of the magazine that had dumped my column.)

We sat down to talk about her training, then I didn't see her again until she was tapering for Boston. I asked how she felt.

"With long runs every other week, I wasn't tired all the time," she said as if she'd done something wrong. She confessed to "not running as little as you recommended during the week [no longer than an hour]. If I don't run at least an hour, or eight miles-plus, I'm not really running."

On marathon day, I followed Kelly's race from across the country. As her 5K split popped up on my computer screen, I yelled "No!"

Her PR pace was 8-1/2 minutes a mile, and here she was at 7:18s. I feared that she'd blown her race in the first half-hour, but needn't have worried. Kelly PRed by three minutes.

2. Nick. He's another college student, the same age (19) as Kelly. Both are second-generation marathoners. Kelly's mom ran Boston on her 50th birthday. Nick's dad is a regular qualifier there.

This year dad invited Nick to make the trip with him. Nick himself was training (with my group) for a marathon debut later this spring. His race was almost two months away, and his longest run to date had been 15 miles.

Before he left for Boston, I warned Nick, "You'll be so excited when you return that we'll need two hefty runners to hold you back." I should have recruited two on Boston Monday.

While still in Boston, Nick sent me an e-mail titled "Couldn't Resist." The spirit of the day had turned him into a bandit, joining 2000 others (mostly college students like himself) behind the registered runners.

He ran the whole way, finishing in a sedate-for-him 4:10. He told me later that he considered Boston a "training run" for his real marathon of the spring, our Team's race at Newport, Oregon. I would have advised him to ease down in the last two weeks but knew this wasn't what he wanted to hear.

Nick would go into the race his way, by spending the next-to-last weekend climbing Mount Rainier. Nineteen-year-olds can get by with that, just as they can run Boston on a whim.

3. Erin. Talk about pressure, on herself and indirectly on me. She's a news anchor for a local TV station who went public with her plans and results by way of weekly on-air reports.

Erin chose to use the same training program as our Marathon Team, six weeks ahead of us for her race at Big Sur. If anything went wrong, most of our town would know.

She had problems: the flu, a foot injury from taking a "makeup" long run and a race too close together, getting lost on a run and going 21 miles a month too soon. These glitches, all duly reported, showed that life happens during any program, threatening to end the training.

Erin's didn't end early. She got to the starting line, which is most of the battle in marathons. She ran 3:58 on a hilly course known to run "slow" by 15 or more minutes.

"It was one of the most rewarding, glorious, difficult and emotional experiences of my life," she said on her final marathon telecast. "I was so blessed to get to share it with our viewers."

I told the Marathon Team, "Her result should encourage you." I could have added, with supporting evidence from Kelly and Nick, that the training and race-pacing don't have to be perfect for the outcome to be okay.


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