Tuesday, June 14, 2011

8 Marathons in 11 Months equals 10 lessons.

So, I've completed my 8th marathon/ultra  since July...I'm  DONE! What did I learn during this crazy-ass idea endeavor? I always try to think back and figure out if I'm actually learning anything or just making the same mistakes over and over 8)

Therefore, allow me to recap. I had run my first 3 marathons in 2009: 4:22, 4:15, 4:15.  My first marathon (Napa) was great.

During the 4:15 races I had problems with fading last 4-6 miles ...slowing down by a minute/mile or more...not a total bonk, but some tough running. In March 2010 I started training to try to go sub-4 hours at SF.

Race Recap

07/25/10: SF Marathon, PR race 4:06, faded 6 minutes off 4:00 pace in last 3-4 miles. Ran in Nike Pegasus. Always doing short (less than10 mile) runs in Nike Frees.

10/18/10, 85 days later: Long Beach Marathon , 4:22,  On 4:00 pace but cramped up in right calf muscle at mile 20..was starting to fade beforehand too.

I had torn a muscle doing over-aggressive stretching 4 weeks prior and it was not fully healed and I had missed some training to boot. Dumb. 

This is when I hatched my  idea..I decided I didn't want to peak for a PRs for a while  but run a butt-load of marathons and crack the fade problem and run slower.

I had learned about Marathon Maniacs by seeing some of these people at SF and it stuck with me as something I wanted to try. I thought about doing the minimal entry criteria (two marathons in 16days or 3 in 90 days) but decided that the next level up (silver, or 2 stars) was more challenging: 8-11 in 365 days.

12/19/10, 62 days later: Zombie Bay Trail Marathon, 4:42, First trail marathon in heavy rain, wind and mud..some quite slippery..flat course tho... Took it easy and had fun...did not fade but not quite even splits. Even with slow time 2 of 5 in age group.

Lots of problems with left calf after that during January training...(over compensation for previous tear injury?). Tried calf sleeves and they seemed to help.

02/06/11, 49 days later: Surf City Marathon , 4:22, even splits at easy 10:00m/m pace. No fade or problems with calves..a confidence builder that problems were solved. (Now using sleeves for all races / long runs and for recovery the night after)

03/20/11, 42 days later: LA Marathon, 4:12, Very heavy rain, cold, some hills, no fade, felt strong,  negative splits due to final 2 miles are downhill 8).  Wearing Saucony Kinvara shoes for racing and long runs now, Nike Frees for all else.

04/10/11, 21 days later: Skyline-to-the-Sea (50k), 7:50, first hilly trail race and first 50k, tough, 4000' of up and 6000' of down, fun and beautiful. Saucony Peregrines for trails. Not enough hill and trail training so walked all hills.. satisfied to finish under course limit. A completely different sport from road marathons!

05/22/11, 42 days later: Copenhagen Marathon, 4:10, even splits, no fade, felt strong.

06/12/11, 21 days later:  San Lorenzo Trail Marathon,  6:38:39, 4300' of climbing. 2nd hilly trail race. More wonderful redwood forest running as well as crossing rivers on foot!


It will be about 1300 miles for the July to July year with a total of 7 marathons, one 50k, and 6 long runs of 20-23 miles.  Note that 16.5% of my mileage was the races themselves.(!)

8 Races in 322 days. 
Average interval between races: 46 days (6.5 weeks).

10 Lessons

Lesson #0: This was a very good exercise in figuring out how to be marathon-ready without getting injured. You have no fat time to recover from an injury before the next race so you *must* be conservative in training and really listen to your body or you'll be a no-show.

Life, travel and social events can't be pushed out of the way when you are doing so many races...so you run some races after being at parties until late, doing travel, getting over a cold, etc. 

After a while, you realize you don't need to be a drama queen about "I'm running a marathon this weekend!".

(ok really 11 lessons so we have a lesson #0 )

Lesson #1: IMHO, there is something to this minimalist shoe stuff. After switching to the ultra flexible Nike Frees (more fore/mid-foot strike), doing eccentric heel lowering exercises and using barefeet or flats for casual walking around the house and work I have kept my Achillies Tendonitis at bay.

I also went from 82-83 to 86-87 stride/min consistently (at my 9:45-ish marathon pace, more at higher paces). I am now running marathons in shoes that are 3.5oz lighter than before with no problems which feels great.

Lesson #2: Convinced of benefits of core/leg strength training, range-of-motion training, drills and hills. Just have to be careful not to over do high intensity workouts. You need extra muscle mass to avoid the fade, especially if there are hills.

Lesson #3: Convinced by Phil Maffetone that static calf/leg stretches are not worth diddly-squit and are just dangerous. Stopped doing them 2 months ago and haven't noticed any difference except for the time saved. NO more tearing of muscles either 8/

Lesson #4: Calf sleeves seem to actually work. I've always had a few nasty calf "hard-as-a-walnut" trigger points during massages after my long runs or marathons. After using sleeves consistently for long runs/races those same trigger points are very mild or absent.

Lesson #5: You don't need any speed work to run marathons. You may not be running them at your fastest possible pace, but you don't lose that much speed and you can avoid the wall just fine.

Lesson #6: Running lots of marathons has built my base endurance, not just worn me down. My "pace sense" is better. My last 3 road marathons have been progressively faster and had no fade.  

Running a lot of marathons got me used to running marathons. Duh. Instead of a big build up and big-deal day, I'm used to it. I enjoy myself more and I'm very relaxed and I even take pictures (as you well know ;). I seem to have developed a feel for how fast I can go and not crash. I'm much more used to how things feel after mile 20/32km which is key.

Lesson #7: If you slow down just a little (10%) you can go and go. A 9:00m/m pace is very fast for me, a 10:00m/m a snooze, easy peasy. This is not a huge difference in pace.....60mph in your car vs 70 mph....who cares?

There is a huge energy cost increase as you approach your personal "Mach 1".

Lesson #8:   My post race muscle soreness has decreased..but I've found that from 5 to 9 days after a marathon I have a day or two where I get a second bump of overall fatigue. This passes quickly (1 day) but have to bag the running on that day and sleep a bunch extra. Ultra guys talk about some kind of delayed endocrine system reaction you should watch for...is this that? Dunno...but it commands my respect.

Lesson #9: What with recovery time and rest and some kind of taper (2 weeks or sometimes less) you lose a lot of running days, hence the low mileage averages

But, I really LIKE running more mileage...I can eat more food and not gain weight!. So, there's a balance. I think 4 marathons per year, with one or two fully peaked with more training effort makes sense for me normally.

Lesson #10:  I really like taking pictures during races even if it costs me a minute or two. N years from now I won't care about the 2 minutes on my times, but I will be very happy to have all the pictures.

I have pictures from all 8 races 8)


Now the head scratching  Some Questions:

Back in July 2010 at the SFM I ran a 4:06 after training 180, 150, 120 miles in the three months prior. OK, SF is pretty hilly so maybe I could have done a 4:03 on the flat?.

I just ran a 4:12 in LA and 4:10 at CPH on only 100 miles per month...WTF?

What is a reasonable marathon goal and how should I use my training miles most effectively to achieve it? I want to run a sub-4 marathon...... (for you 40-ish types that's like running a 3:40 or so, 'KAY?). I've already signed up for the CIM (California International Marathon)..I'll probably sign up for another one 6 weeks later as a fallback if for some reason I can't do the CIM.

I've always done self-coaching but I'm interested in making a change...looking forward to collaborating with an experienced trainer with an independent, unbiased eye.

To help with my training I've decided to hire Jill to give me some internet coaching over the next 6 months. 

Also looking forward to getting back into more mileage as well as some speedwork (with care!)

Slightly Confused But Happy Runner,


  1. Yay, for working with Jill. She is a great lady and fun to hang out with. I wish you the best in your upcoming training and congrats again on your achievements to date! You are a maniac!

  2. Those all sound like good solid lessons to me. For calf sleeves, I'm assuming that you mean compression socks that go up to right below your knee or so? Or just the sleeves that sit above your socks but are separate from them? I've worn them after a marathon to recover, but never while running.

  3. @nelly: Hi Nelly! No I mean the sleeves only. I prefer a sock that is different from the sleeve material.

    I also wear them on long airline flights.

  4. I think you have accomplished an amazing feat! And those are great lessons. I had achilles tendonitis last year, I didn't think minimalist shoes would help me though. Think I should try them? I think I get injuries because I am not strong, particularly in my core. Must do more core work.

    I also wear the Zensah compression sleeves, but I don't run in them. They feel great after a run, I should try them while I'm running also.

  5. Hi Linda,

    You might try a shoe with a less stuff sole like the nike free. It may take a while to get used to them go easy to start...a little bit at a time You want to learn to do a mid/forefoot strike, compact stride and fast turnover. This video will help:


  6. I had shin splints two years ago, and I changed my technique from heel striking to mid foot striking, also shortened my stride, and tried to increase my steps. I read Chi Running, that helped a lot. I'll watch the video, thank you!

    I always wonder why running shoes have so much padding and rubber on the heels, when that part of the shoe doesn't really get used, except when walking.

  7. @Linda: Ok, you are already doing the right technique. Are your shoes stiff in the soles?

    I also walk around in flats/zero drop sandals as much as possible, especially after hard or long runs.

    Do you do eccentric heel lowering exercises? I.e. stand on edge of stair with your heels out in free space so that just your forefoot is holding you up. Then lower your legs down gradually.

    Then raise yourself up (you can use the banister and arms to help..you don't need to make your calfs even stronger!) and repeat.

    When you can do 10 of these, start doing them with one leg at a time. I can do 12 of them on each foot. More would probably be better 8/

    Don't do these if you are in the middle of an acute A.T. problem of course! (OUCH!)

  8. Great lessons learnt, thanks for sharing.
    My favourite is "After a while, you realize you don't need to be a drama queen about "I'm running a marathon this weekend!"."


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