May 21, 2012

Night Before the Race: Colfax Marathon

I got into Denver late on Thursday night and headed to my friend Kelly’s house, where I’d be staying on Thursday and Friday nights. Despite being exhausted, I couldn’t resist staying up to catch up on life over a delicious bottle of wine! I finally crawled into bed at midnight (which to me felt like 2am Eastern, since I don’t adjust my body’s clock when I’m in Dallas and prefer to stay on Eastern time).

The next morning, 6am wakeup came far too early – but it was time for me to head out to my RRCA training course. I was going to get my coaching certification! I didn’t know much about what to expect going into it, but right off the bat I was in awe: one of the other students in my class was Lorraine Moller, the bronze medalist in the marathon at the 1992 Olympics!!! It was so neat to get her insight on everything as we progressed through the class.

However, there was a lot about the class that did not make me happy – and actually made me feel pretty bad about myself and my running ability. While at the beginning of the course we discussed how there are many types of coaches and running goals (to win a race, to complete a marathon, to lose weight, etc), the class seemed to be mostly focused on coaching fast runners who want to get faster. I was really upset by some of the things that were discussed – for example, that “beginning marathoners” are those with times of 3:45 or more (in 70 marathons I have never yet broken 3:49 – am I a beginner?). It was recommended that if someone is a “slow marathoner” and finishing in 4 hours or more, that they shouldn’t do a long run of more than 3 hours, because chances are they are “only” doing that marathon as a bucket list once-in-a-lifetime thing, and therefore shouldn’t waste time training more than 18 miles. Um, I beg to differ!

I may apparently be a slow beginner, but I think the best thing that you can do is as many long runs close to the marathon distance as you can squeeze in. While most people hate the last 6-8 miles or so of a race because they hit the wall and are exhausted and hurting, my favorite part of a race is generally the last 6-8 miles. My body is so used to the 26.2 distance that it’s the equivalent of what other people feel when they run a 10K (hmm, funny how those training for a 10K definitely run more than 6.2 miles in training!) – you’re tired at the end, sure, but the body is used to running that far and it’s not shutting down or giving up yet. As a result, around mile 20, I usually find that those around me are slowing down – but I’m going at the same pace I have been since the beginning of the race, and using pretty much the same form. If it’s your very first marathon, I agree that there’s some value to getting to experience the magic of it being the first time hitting a long distance during the race – but I also would not recommend doing a marathon without having done at least one 20 mile training run, and I think the more you can get in, the more comfortable your body will be on race day.

Furthermore, I was really disheartened by how the class emphasized high mileage above all else. While I know that it’s a bit crazy that I tend to just run marathons and not train in between (weekly mileage: 26.2 miles), and I wouldn’t recommend that to those whom I train, I also don’t think that 50 mile weeks are right for everyone. The point was hammered home repeatedly that crosstraining is not going to help your running at all and is a complete waste of time; only running will make you a better runner. I completely disagree with this – of course you have to practice running in order to develop good form and running economy (which is critical for a marathon, where one little tweak in your form can make a huge difference over the long distance). However, I think you can save a lot of wear and tear on your feet and knees by weight training, getting your heart rate up on the elliptical, or just doing basically any kind of workout that helps burn calories and stay fit. If you’re training for a sub-3 hour marathon, maybe running 80-100 miles per week is the only way to do it, but for the vast majority of us out there who are (gasp) 3:45+ marathoners, there is a lot of benefit to crosstraining a few days a week instead of just pounding our bodies into the ground.

By Saturday afternoon, I was in a miserable mood, feeling like I was the black sheep of the class who believed that it was okay to just run a race and not try to win it. As I later discussed on Sunday night with friends, I believe that a race is as much about the journey as it is the destination. My favorite races were not those in which I PRed (in fact, I only remember snippets from the Kentucky Derby Marathon where my current PR was set), but those in which I had a blast along the way. I can remember every mile of the 2:40 half marathon I got to run with my mom, and I still list Running With the Horses as my favorite small marathon, despite it taking me nearly 5:45 to finish due to some knee issues. Am I proud of some of my faster finishes? Sure, but to me, getting a fast time is not the only measure of a race.

So when the course finally ended, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and I bolted for the safety of friends. My friend Caitlin moved to Denver with her husband last summer, and we had made plans to check out the awesome Denver beer scene that night. (This may not have been the best idea given that I woke up on Saturday with that nasty back-of-the-throat that signals the start of illness, but I couldn’t resist.) We headed for Wynkoop Brewing Company, which offered 2 oz pours of every beer on tap for just $1 each, and I gratefully enjoyed that along with a bowl of steamed mussels, some bread, and a plate of the most delicious hand cut fries I’ve ever tried. Mussels and beer: the perfect pre-race meal!

Post Wynkoop, we checked out one other beer bar in the area, and then I headed back to my hotel to rest up. 10pm – not nearly as I wanted given that I had to wake up at 4:30am to get to the race! I hoped that my impending illness wouldn’t manifest (perhaps the alcohol would kill the nasty bacteria??) and that I’d wake up in a bit more positive spirits than I was in on Friday and Saturday – after all, 4+ hours is a lot of time to spend out running and miserable.


13 thoughts on “Night Before the Race: Colfax Marathon”

  1. This surprises me! And I would’ve been very upset and disgruntled too. I can’t believe they were teaching people that mentality, it just seems so wrong. I would definitely not want to be coached by somebody who felt that way. People who run 4+ hour marathons take them seriously as well and obviously you know that. Ugh, it’s just sad to know a certification program is preaching garbage like that.

    On a happier note, I can’t wait to hang out with you at the beer fest in 2 weeks and I am looking forward to reading your recap!

  2. Those are the kinds of attitudes that so intimidate me. I’m a beginner when it comes to running. I’m very slow. That doesn’t cheapen my effort or drive to get better, though.

    I’m not sure that I’ll ever be a marathoner, but I hate the mentality that only sub-4 marathoners are “real runners.”

    Did you say anything to the class leaders, either during or after presentations?

  3. Based on your interpretation of your RRCA class, I would also be frustrated and disappointed. But I am also a little disappointed on the way you communicated your attitude toward being a coach of runners.

    I looked up the goal of the RRCA’s coaching program (“To create a national community of knowledgeable and ethical distance running coaches to work with runners at all levels of ability.”) and I don’t think (at least through my reading of this single post) either the presenters at the clinic nor you really seemed to honor the goal of the RRCA or the curriculum outlined for the coaching certification.

    Anyone can take their body of experience and be a coach, but it takes a bit more effort to be a coach that can utilize the broader base of knowledge available throughout the domain of a particular sport or field.

    Please don’t take this as criticism at your desire to be a coach sanctioned by a reputable organization, but rather just a reminder about the ethics and commitment to being a valuable source on someone’s fitness journey (and this from someone who has no current desire to be a certified coach).

    And one last anecdote from a famous coach, “A good coach will try to change your form, while a great coach will leave you alone.” Ted Hayden (UCTC).

  4. Steph – very much looking forward to the beer festival!

    Lydia – I brought up my feelings about crosstraining and was shot down pretty quickly. I probably should have tried to say more later, but by midday on Day 2, I admittedly ended up pretty much just sulking and keeping to myself. Not necessarily the most productive/mature thing, but I had a hard time being in the minority position.

    Danny – thanks for your comment; can you explain a little bit more though? I will agree that I don’t intend to coach “all levels of ability”; however, I’ll also note that the one part of this class that I did get a lot out of was how to coach runners who DO want to run 7 days a week (vs my preference). I definitely don’t think that the way I run works for everyone, and would never try to tell someone to just do what I do, because a lot of the time what I do is not very smart! πŸ™‚ Is that what you were referring to, or am I misunderstanding?

  5. A lot of my people consider me to be a fast runner. It’s worth noting that I started running marathons when I was 22, and when I was 26 my PR was still 3:59. Your 3:49 PR is ten minutes faster than that.

    Over the next five years, I focused on getting faster, and I peaked at the age of 31. Since then, I’ve found cross-training to be a valuable tool for maintaining my fitness without excessive risk of injury.

    There are many reasons we race. Getting faster is one goal, but it’s not the only legitimate goal. Running should be fun and fulfilling.

    Dave (MM 2629)

  6. I agree with the statement that “50 mile weeks aren’t right for everyone,” but are you sure the instructors were advising people to do this continuously? I have a few friends who are sub-3:30 runners and their training cycles have included just one 50+-mile “peak week.” Even though I’m nowhere close to their level, I disagree that cross training is the be-all, end-all when it comes to getting faster and performing optimally. Everyone is different– for me, it’s consistent training at no less than 30 miles a week, with a sufficient amount of complete (as in no spinning, no lifting, no yoga, no nothing!) rest days.

    I’m still just barely a sub-4 hour marathoner and definitely won’t ever be in it to win it. But the reason I’m sticking with just one or two marathons a year right now is because I actually DO want to peak at one or two quality races a year, and that’s precisely why I am seeking some unofficial coaching as I prepare my upcoming marathon training plan. From your post, I get the impression that you don’t support that approach either, which is something you should be up front about when runners begin to approach you for coaching services.

  7. (Comments can only be 4,096 characters long. My comment was precisely 4,200 characters.)

    Laura –
    First off, I think we do understand each other, but since you asked (and since others read this blog) I will attempt to further explain myself (without saying anything new). πŸ™‚

    Awhile back Let’s Run linked to an article on ESPN about coaches (I tried to find it but didn’t get anywhere, otherwise I would have linked it). The gist of the article, that I remember anyways, was that some of the more successful coaches in sport weren’t necessarily the greatest athletes in their own athletic prime or the most adept at teaching technique/skills, but they had an innate ability to get in tune with their athletes, thereby enabling their athletes to maximize their potential (don’t ask me to try to name names right now, ok?).

    My (limited) knowledge and experience of coaching youth sports (soccer and basketball), coupled with my reading of the RRCA’s website, suggests that the purpose of coaching is two-fold: (1) to provide accountability/motivation towards a desired outcome for an athlete, and (2) access to a greater body of knowledge than the athlete possesses.

    The study of sport encompasses many disciplines and there are many principles accepted by exercise scientists, coaches and athletes. We need the principles to guide us along our journey/process, but since human experience is intentionally diverse the way we interpret those experiences can vary. For example let us take the “principle” of the long run. I would suggest that any running coach would advocate the benefit of one day a week doing a run that is considerably longer than any of your other other daily runs (regardless if you are a 3,4,5,6, or 7 day a week runner). A longer run benefits various metabolic pathway changes that other runs just can’t do as effectively. But within the principle of the “long run” there are many ways (and reasons) to go about it. Which is fine. Maybe a four hour marathoner shouldn’t run longer than three hours in their training. Maybe a four hour marathoner should do a long run up to five hours but utilize a 9:1 run:walk ratio the entire time. Each coach will see it differently, but every coach will accept the principle of the long run. Then there is the hard/easy principle. Every coach will probably interpret it differently, but every coach believes in it as well. There are similar principles to nutrition and psychology in which everyone believes the essence of them, but the interpretation can vary quite a bit.

    to be cont…

  8. I am sorry the clinic made you feel frustrated, but I am probably even more sorry that you allowed someone else to have so much power of how you felt as an athlete/coach/person. The coaches who put on the clinic weren’t being very sensitive to the diversity of people, but they weren’t out and out wrong in their presentation, either. They are probably talented coaches in their own rights, but unfortunately have yet to demonstrate how the principles they believe in can be utilized across a broad spectrum of athletes. Perhaps if there is some form of post-clinic information gathering, you could carefully give some constructive feedback.

    And lastly, if someone ever came up to you and asked you to coach them to a certain time in a race that was faster than you have run, don’t feel like you should refer them to someone else who “has the experience.” The experience of running a 35 minute 10K has nothing to do with being able to coach someone to a 35minute 10K (I just picked that time/distance at random). (Food for Thought: the “best” coaches are the ones who have had the most success with the widest variety of athletes, because those are the coaches who understand bigger ideas-principles-better. I got that somewhere I can’t remember now.)

    I keep going back and re-reading your post, your comment, my comment, and this new comment to try to figure out where I am going with this. I think my problem is that I have no where to go with this line of reasoning, because we see the issue similarly. I’ll end this with two statements (which are already familiar to us): nothing in this world is simply black and white, personal performance and personal coaching can be mutually exclusive domains (or at least only intersect slightly).

    Yours in Running,

  9. Dave – absolutely believe that I could get faster with some training. Heck, I’ve never trained for speed so it would be awesome to really figure out what I could do! Question for you about the crosstraining – did you only incorporate that when you were at your speed peak, or did you find it helpful in the midst of speedwork as well? That is, do you think it’s separate from trying to get faster?

    Emilia – it depended on the situation; however, we worked on a training plan for someone who wanted to be competitive in 5Ks that had her running 50-60 miles most weeks. GREAT point though that everyone is different. When I was in the class, I put together training plans for those who DO want to run 50 mpw as well as plans for those who only want to do 30 mpw mixed in with some crosstraining. I think what I struggled with most was the idea that crosstraining is universally bad and that anyone who does it would hurt their running – whereas like you, I think it differs for everyone. (For example, we worked on a training plan for a guy who wants to qualify for Boston and currently loves going to a spin class and two yoga classes per week, and the universal advice was that he absolutely HAD to drop those classes, no ifs and ors buts. I realize that as a coach you sometimes have to get your athletes to do things they don’t want to do, but I thought he should get to keep his crosstraining if he loved it!) This class was definitely about a certain philosophy – periodization – by which you work toward a peak at one goal race; it was interesting to learn about that approach, but it is not necessarily what I would think is best.

    Danny – THANK you for the long response; such interesting food for thought! What you wrote about coaches not needing to be as fast as their runners is fascinating – that’s something that really concerned me as part of the coach. I don’t want to be an example of “those who can do; those who can’t teach”! πŸ™‚ You made a very excellent point about how I allowed the clinic to affect me. It’s something I was honestly a bit disappointed in myself with – after making a few attempts to speak up, I childishly gave up and didn’t continue trying to see how to work with the instructor to come to an understanding. Totally immature of me, and I’m not proud of that. It sounds like you have an extremely balanced philosophy to coaching (I love how open minded you are!) and that’s something I really want to strive for with my own coaching – being successful with runners who have different running philosophies than me. I think I see more posts / ruminations on this topic to come in the future πŸ™‚

  10. When I was in my 20s, I did weight training, but it never occurred to me to do aerobic cross-training. My only cardio was running, and I had my share of injuries.

    Later in life, I reached a point where it seemed like I couldn’t achieve the same fitness level without getting injured.

    Evenually, I found that by alternating between running days and cross-training days, I could improve my fitness while staying healthy.

    I wish I knew in my 20s what I know now. Substituting cross-training for up to half of your running is a great way to get results with less injuries.

    Dave (MM 2629)

  11. Laura – I’m not quite as balanced as you think (I willingly ran a 40 mile ultra on pavement against nasty traffic; totally NOT balanced). It is a constant struggle to convince my inner self that the inner journey of each person is actually their own and I shouldn’t judge whether or not they are being true to their whole selves – running or otherwise. But I suppose that is the purpose of life, no?

    Though to be honest, it seems to be slightly easier now that I have left the 20s behind (9 months ago). My mind seems more mature, and yet my body feels like a twenty one year old at times.

  12. I’m surprised that your RRCA class didn’t seem to acknowledge that there are different schools of thought regarding training for endurance running. Many people have trained and progressed successfully on lower mileage plans (FIRST, Galloway, Hanson’s). Perhaps not many elites, but how many elites are seeking out the stray RRCA certified coach?

    Emphasizing mileage per week on its own is always going to be focused on the faster runner, because what slower runner has time to do 35-50 mile weeks? I don’t know of many 9, 10, 11, 12 minute per mile runners who could devote 8 or more hours per week for months to running.

    As to the max 3 hour long run for us slower runners…I used a Galloway training plan that had me running past the marathon distance for a couple of long runs. I didn’t run into nutrition and digestive issues until I hit the 23 plus mile efforts. I would probably have dropped out of my marathon if that had happened on the day, but instead I had the opportunity to figure it out and fix it prior to my race.

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