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Bridge week: In training and racing (US 15k course)

After putting in some big mileage last week, the plan for this week was to take it a little easier.  When Ian and I sketch out a marathon training plan, neither of us like to have more than 2-3 hard weeks in a row.  The quality and quantity of the last 5 weeks have been very good, so we removed one of the stimuli (quantity) for this week and next week as a bit of recharge before making a strong push for home after next Saturday’s US 15k Championships.

Since the mileage was lower for this week, the focus was squarely on two quality hard sessions.  The Tuesday workout – Hendrick’s Hill repeats – consisted of a continuous hilly loop in the park above campus.  The entire loop takes me anywhere from 3-minutes to 3-minutes, 10 seconds to complete.  I averaged 3:04 for the 10 loops, which is one of the quicker hill sessions for me; last month, I did 8 repeats at a slower pace.  I like doing this workout during the Boston buildup because it’s something I can lean on when running through the Newton hills on race day.

Saturday’s workout was a bit of introduction to what the focus of the workouts will be over the next 6 weeks: specific marathon sessions.  The workout was 8-miles at marathon pace, a 2-min rest, then 1 mile hard.  I usually struggle with the fast mile to end this workout, but the pace-change wasn’t as bad as I remembered.  I’m no different than anyone else – there are still workouts, or parts of workouts, that scare me!

I’m heading to Jacksonville, Florida on Wednesday this week for the largest 15k in the United States.  Over 17,000 runners are anxiously looking forward to tackling one of the toughest last 2 miles of any course – there’s a nasty bridge that can turn a good race crappy in a heartbeat.  The US 15k Championships is one of my favorite races on the circuit and I’m excited to gauge my fitness to past years.  Here’s to some sunshine and warm weather!

3/3-9 AM PM Total
Monday 45 mins S&C; 10 miles 6 miles 16
Tuesday 3.5 mile warmup. 10 x Hendricks Hill Loop (30:40). 6 x 100m hill sprints. 4 mile cooldown. 13 miles total. 6 miles 19
Wednesday 12 miles 12
Thursday 45 mins S&C; 10 miles 5 miles easy. 8 x 200m. 1 mile easy. 7 miles total. 17
Friday 10 miles 10
Saturday 4 mile warmup. 8 mile tempo. 2 min rest. 1 mile hard. 4 mile cooldown. 17 miles total. 17
Sunday 18 miles 8 miles 26

Trying new things.

“If you do what you have always done, you’ll get what you have always gotten.”

The above saying has long been a favorite quote of mine.  It cuts right to the heart of how I believe life should be lived: a continual search for ways on which to improve.  I don’t know about you, but for me, settling into a routine can be easy, especially when things are going well.  We take comfort in that familiarity.  But does the familiar always lead to the best results?

With familiarity comes consistency and that consistency will most likely lead to good results.  However, if you have an ounce of competitiveness in your bones, then those good results will only be satisfying for so long.  I don’t want a life in which things becomes stagnant; I want to continually seek out the new and better.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I embarked on a new frontier in my marathon training.  Twice this week, I got to experience a running “first”: the first time ran over a marathon distance on a single run and the first time I reached 150 miles in a week.  As someone who has been running competitively since middle school, rarely do I get to experience “firsts” in the sport anymore – let alone two in one week!

So, how did it go and how do I feel?

To answer the first part of the question, this has easily been the best week of training since I started this cycle.  Not only was the quantity more than ever, but I was able to maintain the quality that I need to run a fast marathon.  I didn’t want to sacrifice quality work just to say I ran 150 miles in a week.  Tuesday’s hard session was one of the best workouts I have completed in a long time – 8 x mile with :60 rest.  To be able to hit the times I did and feel good doing it gives me a lot of confidence with where my training is right now.

The week’s other big workout was my Saturday long run of 28 miles.  The furthest run I have completed in training up to this point has been 25 miles – almost a year ago today.  I have wanted to experiment with an over-distance run for a while and finally felt like I was at a point in my training where I could manage being on my feet for that long without compromising the quality of my day-to-day training.

The crew receiving some last minute instructions.

The crew receiving some last minute instructions.

I was able to get a ton of assistance on my run thanks to Dr. Lonn Robertson and the incredible running community here in Eugene.  Each year, Dr. Lonn hosts several events at his home that bring our running community together for all the right reasons: running, food, and beer.  The event scheduled for each March is the Boston simulator, which is a 20-mile run on the rolling hills of Bear Mountain, just outside Creswell (a Eugene suburb).  Dr. Lonn devised a course that simulates, almost perfectly, the undulating terrain of the Boston Marathon course and then sets out aid stations for everyone as well.  So this was a perfect place and opportunity to complete my long run.  I began my run an hour earlier than everyone else and then was able to have company over the last 20 miles.

When you are on your feet for almost 3 hours you have a ton of time inside your own head.  My thoughts during yesterday’s run were mainly fixated on how awesome our running community is here in Eugene.  Sure, Eugene is well known throughout the world to be a training hotbed for elites but what makes running community here so special are the people who joined who showed up for this event, and all the other non-elite, but very passionate, runners who live in this area.  When you can complete a 28-mile long run and walk into a home full of 35 sweaty, smelly runners and chat about anything and everything over a great meal, it gives you a great appreciation for what we have here.

993722_10151971141373714_1134392035_nI would be remiss if I didn’t thank Dr. Lonn for hosting events like these and opening up his home to the aforementioned sweaty, smelly runners.  It would be awesome if every city in the US had a running community like we do here in Eugene!  But every city would be much better served if they had a Lonn Robertson.  He’s an absolute first-class person who brings a smile to everyone’s face.  And while you’re smiling, the dentist in him will give you a quick one-over – only kidding, but not really…

As to how I feel, well, the quantity aspect of this week’s training was more manageable than I initially thought as well.  Cranking out over 20+ miles per day for a week is difficult to comprehend, even for the person doing it.  But, I can tell you that my body really hasn’t been able to tell the difference between the 150 miles I have run this week and the 120-130 miles I do on a normal week.  That being said, 150 mile weeks won’t become a thing of norm.

We’re under 50 days to go now and I’m starting to get excited about how things are coming together!

2/24-3/2 AM PM Total
Monday 45 mins S&C; 12 miles 7 miles 19
Tuesday 3.5 mile warmjup. 8 x 1 mile, :90 secs rest. 4.5 mile cooldown. 7 miles 23
Wednesday 7 miles 12 miles 19
Thursday 4.5 mile warmup. 3 mile tempo. 4 x 400, :60 sec rest. 3 mile tempo. 4.5 mile cooldown. 16 miles total. 7 miles 23
Friday 13 miles 7 miles 20
Saturday 28 miles (2:58:27) 28
Sunday 12 miles 6 miles 18

Finding a spark in an unlikely place

Last weekend, I took what more or less could be considered an impromptu trip Austin, Texas.  After a pretty mediocre race at the USA Half Marathon Championships in January, I returned to Eugene and began training for April’s Boston Marathon.  It didn’t take me as long as I thought it might to regain my fitness from the fall, as my workouts have progressed really well over the past few weeks.  But something was missing.  It felt like I was just going through the motions, which is definitely not normal for me.

I thought that the best way to break out of the funk would be to find a race in the sunny South — insert Austin, TX!  A little competition would break up the monotony of training and a taste of Spring would surely be energizing.  So I reached out the folks at the Austin Marathon and they graciously accepted a late entrant to their elite field.  Austin was everything I expected: the weather was fantastic, the race went well (more on that later), my hosts were wonderful (thanks Bob and Anita!), and I enjoyed being surrounded by a very fit and active community.  But the spark I was searching for came to me in the most unlikely of places.  Below is a story about 32 of the most inspiring runners I’ll meet this year…

The Austin Marathon committee asked me if I would be willing to speak to a group of middle school kids who were training to run the half marathon at their pasta dinner the night before the race.  My first thoughts: 1) of course, and 2) are middle school kids really going to run a half marathon?  I remember how long a half marathon seemed to me back in 2007, and I was a well-trained, recent college grad.  I can’t imagine what would be going through the minds of these middle school kids.

On my way out to Dobie Middle School on Saturday night, I learned more about Rogue Athletic Club’s Marathon High program.  The group provides a free, 5-month after school training program designed to give students who would not normally participate in standard interscholastic sports a chance to complete the Austin Marathon or Half Marathon. Three days a week – two after-school runs and one Saturday run – students participating in the program get the incredible opportunity to be coached by Olympic-level runners that are part of Rogue Athletic Club.  Nearly 90 middle school and high school students from Austin area schools were participating in the program; 32 were from Dobie Middle School, where I was en route to.

IMG_2519When I arrived at the school, I walked into a very vibrant and full cafeteria.  The room was buzzing with excitement.  Each of the kids running on Sunday were accompanied by parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings — it was a packed house!  I got a chance to meet with the school’s principal, along with several of the teachers, who gave me a quick rundown of their group.  It was so neat to hear the excitement in their voices as they shared stories of their training runs, and some of the shorter races they did in their build up.  There was tremendous pride in what their students were accomplishing.  And they were overjoyed to see all of the families having dinner together.

You see, events like this are a big deal to Dobie Middle School.  The majority of students come from low-income family backgrounds, the school’s academic ratings are considered low, and opportunities to participate in any after-school activities are few and far between.  But on this night, you wouldn’t have been able to tell.

After dinner, there was a short program to recognize some of the students who had stood out during the 5-month program.  The young boy who won most improved walked up to receive his award 50-lbs lighter than when he began training.  One of the girls spoke to the positive force and impact Marathon High had on her life.  And then they showed this video…

Marathon High from Mac Peña on Vimeo.

I had goosebumps throughout the night, but watching this video really hit home for me.  This is what our sport should be about, I thought.  These kids personified everything it meant to be a runner.  So what was I supposed to tell them?  Seems to me like these kids had taking to running like a fish takes to water.  I guess I was supposed to be the one inspiring them, but I found it to be the other way around.

After I returned to Eugene, I reached out to one of the teachers to get his account of how Sunday’s race went, and here was his reply:


Thank you so much for coming to our dinner. It was an honor to meet someone who took their love for running to the next level. It was truly inspiring to our students. The dinner was fantastic!

The past few days have been indescribable. Our students showed up to Dobie at 4:45am, earlier then planned because they wanted to be mentally prepared for the day and they wanted to join in on the fun. Running with these kids was life changing. It is amazing to see the students so determined while they run. I ran with Carol, Mayra (featured in the video) Jasmine and Lizette. At mile 9 Carol says, “Mr. Gonzalez, these girls are starting to get weak, we need to do something.” So without hesitation Carol starts chanting “LETS GO DOBIE! LETS GO!”  behind the girls encouraging them to chant with her and moving them forward. All eyes were on these girls as they pushed themselves up the crazy Austin hills. Every single one of our students crossed the finish line! Luis Lopez (8th grader) finished in 1:42:41 and Oscar Terrazas (6th grader) finished in 1:45:50, AMAZING TIMES!

Yesterday the students came back to school proudly wearing their finisher shirts and medals. The other students were very proud and supportive of them (something we don’t see a lot of this age group). Many new students are approaching me asking how to join. Several students in Marathon High are my 8th grade history students. One in particular has had some behavior issues in his classes throughout the year. However, yesterday I saw something different. He couldn’t stop talking about Sunday and how amazing it was. He finished all his work early and decided to write a Thank You card to the coaches with his spare time. Couldn’t be happier with this new attitude. Some of the students have had this attitude change throughout the program, but the significance of crossing that finish line affected them ALL.

The sport of running is so much bigger than what I get to do.  It has the ability to change lives, especially given the obesity epidemic in America.  But these kids learned so much more than what it means to live a healthy lifestyle.  They learned how to set goals, how to work hard, and most importantly, how to finish what you start.  And those are lessons they can take with them for the remainder of their lives.  Thanks Dobie Middle School for providing not just a spark, but a fire, in me!  I hope that anyone reading this has the same reaction I did – how can I duplicate this in my community?

Training updates

I missed my weekly update last Sunday; I was happily enjoying my remaining time in Austin!  Here’s a quick race recap, along with what my training has looked like these last few weeks:


Despite the vast majority of Texas resembling the elevation of your counter-top, Austin was surprisingly hilly.  As a result, the mile splits were all over the place (see below).  However, the effort was pretty consistent throughout, although I paid for the fast early pace on the hills over the last few miles.  I finished 2nd overall, with a time of 65:44.  Given the warm and humid temps, I definitely feel like this was a better performance than my run in Houston last month.  An encouraging sign, no doubt, especially for training right through the race.

I hopped right back into things this week with several good workouts and a quality long run this morning.  Next week is the big week – 150 miles, with a 28-mile long run.  It’s certainly pushing the limits, but my hope is that it’ll pay off in 8 weeks.  And I won’t know if I don’t try.  I will say that I love the challenge that comes with a high-mileage marathon training week.  It’s just like the race: you have to be aggressively cautious.  I think it’s great physical and mental practice for race day.

Austin Half Marathon Race Splits presented by Garmin

  • Mile 1 – 4:50
  • Mile 2 – 4:33
  • Mile 3 – 4:53
  • Mile 4 – 5:08
  • Mile 5 – 5:01
  • Mile 6 – 5:00
  • Mile 7 – 4:45
  • Mile 8 – 4:49
  • Mile 9 – 4:51
  • Mile 10 – 5:02
  • Mile 11 – 5:11
  • Mile 12 – 5:09
  • Mile 13 – 5:14

    2/10-16 AM PM Total
    Monday 45 mins S&C; 11 miles 7 miles 18
    Tuesday Row River BP: 3 mile warmup. 4 mile tempo. 5 x 1k, :90 sec rest. 4 mile cooldown. 14 miles total. 6 miles 20
    Wednesday 12 miles 7 miles 19
    Thursday 13 miles 13
    Friday 6 mile easy. 3 mile tempo. 8 x 200m. 11 miles total. 7 miles 18
    Saturday 8 miles 8
    Sunday Austin HM – 65:44. 18 miles 18

    2/17-23 AM PM Total
    Monday 6 miles 10 miles 16
    Tuesday 13 miles 6 miles 19
    Wednesday Lorane Hwy: 3 mile warmup. 12 mile tempo (3 tempo, 1 hard x 3). 2 mile cooldown. 17 miles 17
    Thursday 45 mins S&C; 11 miles 6 miles 17
    Friday Hendricks Hill repeats. 4 mile warmup. 1xHH, 8 x 100m hill sprints, 7xHH. 4 mile cooldown. 13 miles total. 6 miles 19
    Saturday 12 miles 6 miles 18
    Sunday 20 miles + 8 x 100m strides 5 miles 25
  • When winter returned to Eugene…

    After suffering through a New York City Nor’easter a few weeks ago, I was pretty confident that I had seen the last of any “real winter”.  My return to Eugene coincided with great weather – I ran in shorts and a t-shirt on 3 different occasions and we were unseasonably dry.  The timing was perfect as I began my Boston Marathon training block.  But all that changed, in a big way, for us Pacific Northwesterners on Thursday.

    First the snow.

    First the snow.

    Then the ice.

    Then the ice.

    As someone who runs twice a day and spends 2-3 hours outside exposed to whatever Mother Nature has in store, I can tell you the website where I spend most of my time is  Although my weekly training schedule is pretty set, if I know there is some wet/cold/windy weather on the horizon, I’ll try to load up my miles on the nicer days.  So when all of the weather reports pointed towards a wet and soggy weekend at the start of the week, I made sure to front-load some of my mileage.

    The original plan was to do hard workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday this week, with a long run on Sunday.  By Wednesday the predicted forecast had changed from rain to snow, with accumulations of 3-6 inches on Thursday and Friday.  When I went to the track for my workout on Thursday morning, the snow was already starting to fall.  There was a thin layer already on the ground, and although the quality of my 400 workouts was compromised some, I only had to dial it back a couple seconds for each repeat.

    The snow continued to fall throughout the day on Thursday and into Thursday night.  When the city of Eugene woke up on Friday morning, anywhere from 4-6 inches had fallen.  By that time, it was apparent that doing a hard workout outside on Saturday was out of the question, so I shuffled Sunday’s long run to Friday.  I left the house for Friday’s run thinking that most of the serious snow had already fallen.  Boy, was I wrong.  For 2 hours and 22 minutes it snowed…HARD.  With the help of running friend, Brad Chvatal, we were able to keep the pace around 7-minutes per mile.  Honestly, it was one of the toughest 20-milers I have ever done.  My legs were so tired during the last 30-minutes from all of the slipping and sliding.

    When the snow finally stopped falling on Friday (10 inches in total), it gave way to freezing rain.  We now had an ice storm on our hands.  The conditions on Saturday morning were such that even an easy run outside was out of the question.  However, with most of Eugene shut down – I seriously consider Eugene to be on the same level (pathetic) as say, Houston, Texas when it comes to snow removal – finding a place to run indoors was going to be a challenge as well.  Thankfully, there was a gym a mile from where I live that was open. Running 15 miles on the treadmill isn’t fun, but it was the only option available.

    Nice and warm, inside.  Not so much, outside.

    Nice and warm, inside. Not so much, outside.

    I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of chainsaws and generators.  The ice had brought down many trees in the area and several people were without power.  Things were not good in Eugene.  However, word came in that Cottage Grove, a small town about 20 miles south of Eugene and home to one of our staple long run loops, was warm and without snow and ice.  If you could make it out of Eugene, there could be a chance of finding some dry pavement.

    Not only did we find dry pavement, but Brad and I found the sun and Spring-like temperatures.  When we left Eugene, it was 36 degrees, foggy, and the town was covered in snow and ice.  20 minutes south in Cottage Grove it was 55 degrees, sunny, and beautiful.   Brad and I were both dressed for winter, so it got a bit warm, but after two grueling runs on Friday and Saturday, it was so nice to be clipping along on good footing.

    Sunday's long run! 2 lake loops.

    Sunday’s long run! 2 lake loops.

    There isn’t magic in being a good distance runner.  You have to work hard and weather some storms (see what I did there).  I hate training in this stuff – it’s why I moved from Ohio – and it would have been easy these past few days to find an excuse and run half of the miles that I did on Friday/Saturday/Sunday.  But you have to find a way to make it work – whether it means slugging out some miles in a snowstorm or braving the elements to drive somewhere better – and I know I’ll be better because of it.  As my college coach was known to say, it’s about making it happen.  If you love something enough, you’ll find a way to make it work.

    Below is the week of training, by the numbers.  The plan was to have some more quality, but the weather caused a bit of improv.  I’m not too worried about a missed workout this far out from race day because it’s still a base-building phase.  Next week will undoubtedly be better, as I am heading to Austin, Texas to run a half marathon (press release).  I see 70-and-sunny in my future!  But first things first, I need to go for another run to close out my week…

    AM PM Total
    Monday 45 mins S&C; 11 miles 6 miles 17
    Tuesday 4 mile warmup. 3 mile tempo. 16 x 15 sec. 100m with 15 sec. rest. 3 mile tempo. 4 mile cooldown. 14 miles. 6 miles 20
    Wednesday 13 miles 6 miles 19
    Thursday 45 mins S&C; 2.5 mile warmup. 8 x 400m. 6.5 mile cooldown. 11 miles. 6 miles 17
    Friday 20 miles 20
    Saturday 15 miles 15
    Sunday 17 miles, last 20 min fartlek. 6 miles 23

    US Half Marathon Recap. Boston Training begins.

    Two weeks ago, I opened up my 2014 season at the US Half Marathon Championships in Houston, Texas.  Having only been back into training for about 6 weeks, I traveled to Texas with tempered expectations.  The main goal was to get a fitness barometer before beginning my Spring marathon training block.  The result? I ran 1:04:34, the second-fastest half marathon of my career. Granted, that time was only good enough for 27th place, which isn’t anything to get too excited about.  But considering where I was on Jan. 1st, I’ll absolutely take it.

    This was my road. For an entire week!

    This was my road. For an entire week!

    December was a rough month for me.  Right as I was getting back into my training, Eugene was hit with its worst snowstorm since the 1970s, followed by a week-long cold spell – I guess we are calling that a polar vortex now?  Nonetheless, it was a lost week of training.  Then, towards the end of the month, I began having some problems with my knee.  My training was again sporadic.  I was finally able to string together 3 solid weeks of work leading into the race, but I knew a few good weeks wasn’t going to be enough to put me where I wanted to be.  I remember telling Ian before leaving for Houston that I would be happy with anything under 65 minutes.  I can admit now that 65-minutes was probably a lofty goal given the workouts I had been doing.  But Ian was confident that I could run somewhere between 64-65 minutes, so that became a secondary goal.

    Houston greeted us with fantastic weather on race day: clear skies, calm winds, and perfect temps.  I wanted so badly that morning to be in better shape because it’s not often that you get nice weather coupled with a fast course and great competition.  But no amount of wishing was going to make that happen now.

    As the race began, I found myself running alongside a group of about 10-15 guys.  We were all a part of a second pack that had formed shortly after the first couple of miles; the first 15 guys ran 29:10 for their first 10k, the dozen or so guys that made up the group I was in made it through 10k in 30:05.  Although I had felt surprisingly good through this point in the race, I knew that it was going to be difficult to maintain that pace.  A 30-min 10k puts you on pace for a 63-low half marathon, which would have been a big PR for me.  Knowing I wasn’t in PR-shape, I talked myself into hanging on with the group as long as I could.  That ended up only being another few miles.  Luckily for me, a few more guys were coming on strong so I was able to work with them over the last 5k of the race and they pulled me to a somewhat unexpected 64:34.

    The guys who were in the my group at the 10k, ended up finishing somewhere between 1:03:15 and 1:04:21.  Like I said earlier, it was definitely a missed opportunity.  However, I left Houston knowing that I’m certainly capable of running a sub-64 minute half marathon if I am training well.  Running under 64-minutes is big a goal of mine, because I know that it will help my marathon progress immensely.  I’m confident that my strengths translate much better in the marathon than many of those who finished ahead of me.

    Thanks go out to Houston, and the race staff, for once again doing a phenomenal job hosting what has become a first-class event.  They pour a ton of financial support into American distance running, and as a result were rewarded with one of the fastest American half marathons, in terms of depth, of all-time.

    Another thank you is in order for my wonderful family.  My cousin and her family, along with my aunt and uncle, proved once again that family does in fact come before sleep.  They are notorious among the Houston marathon fandom for being some of the first arriving spectators each year that I run.  An added bonus is that they spoil me afterwards with a great home-cooked meal and a nice comfy couch on which to nap.  Thank y’all!

    With Houston in the rear-view mirror, my sights are now squarely focused ahead on this Spring’s Boston Marathon.  I’m now two weeks into my training and things are going well.  I just capped off a 22-mile long run/workout to finish out 125-mile week.  I told myself on today’s run that I was going to try and post more regularly during this cycle, so I made a pact with myself to publish my training each week.  Hopefully, this will give you some insight as to how my training is structured.  And although I don’t expect anyone running a marathon to adopt my routine, I do think there are some general themes that translate into running a marathon, whatever time goal you have in mind.

      AM PM Total
    Monday 45 mins S&C; 10 miles 6 miles 16
    Tuesday 8 x hill circuit (300m). 12 miles. 6 miles 18
    Wednesday 13 miles   13
    Thursday 45 mins S&C; 11 miles 6 miles 17
    Friday 6 miles 5 x 1M/1K continuous. 1M hard, 1k PT. 14 miles. 20
    Saturday 12 miles 7 miles 19
    Sunday 22 miles; 1:30-2:00, 2 min on/off (5:00/6:00)   22