The Art of Tapering

With the Boston Marathon now just 8 days away, that 3rd Monday in April everyone has been training for since the turn of the calendar is suddenly very real.  As we say in the running circle: the taper has officially begun.

But tapering is tricky.  Everyone seems to have a theory on how best to taper prior to a marathon, which I think speaks to the complexity of the issue.  I’m not smart enough to tackle how others should taper, but after several good marathon training cycles, I know what works best for me.  And although I’m not sure what gets me physically ready for race day would work for the masses, I do think everyone could benefit from readjusting their mental approach to tapering.

As both runs and workouts begin to shorten, I believe there is a tendency to lose a bit of focus in the final weeks of training.  My best guess as to why this happens is that many runners see their workouts on paper as “easier” because the volume is so much less than what they’ve been doing for the past 6-10 weeks.  The mentality that you’ll be able to “just glide through those last few workouts” is probably what causes people to get concerned during their taper.  It’s not that you weren’t physically ready for the workout, it’s that you weren’t mentally ready.  I believe that approaching those final few workouts with the same mentality as you did for your workouts and long runs back in week 8 will yield better results during those final weeks.

This thought process, for me, is also consistent with how I would like to race – I want to be able to close races well and finish strong.  But I don’t think this is a light-switch that can just be turned on come race day; it’s something that takes practice.  Showing up for practices mentally ready for my last few workouts, and not just going through the motions, is part of the mental exercise.  And so is making all right non-running related choices over the last few weeks: sleep, diet, awareness that I’m not on my feet too much, etc.  Just like my race, I want to finish my training cycle strong.  It’s part of what gives me confidence on race day!

Quick updates

Yes, I’m aware that I’m a week behind on the training updates, which means you get the last two weeks all at once.  I was in San Francisco for work March 31-April 5, during which the MBA students in our program met with marketing and front office execs for different sports product companies, professional sports teams, agencies, and businesses who operate in the sport sponsorship world.  The trip was great, and also opened my eyes to just how far behind the times the sport of track and field is in comparison to others in the industry (I’ll save my thoughts for another post after the marathon).

View from our Wednesday afternoon meetings at GMR Marketing

View from our Wednesday afternoon meetings at GMR Marketing


On the back-end of that trip, I traveled to Sacramento for the SACTOWN 10-mile.  For me, this was nothing more than one last long tempo workout – finishing 3rd overall was just an added bonus.  I like being able to use races as simulators because it forces yourself to actually go through your race day routine.  As it ended up, I ran most of the race by myself, but I don’t think I would have run as fast, or felt as good, had I just done a 10-mile tempo back in Eugene.  So thanks to the Sacramento Running Association for giving me the opportunity for one last quality tune-up!

I spent the first part of this week re-immersing myself into my normal EUG routine: back to the familiar running routes, the morning strength and conditioning regime, and actually making meals for myself again!  After a light hill workout on Wednesday, I completed my last real substantial workout before the marathon yesterday morning: 3 x 3-mile, :60-:90 rest.  This has become a benchmark workout I do 10 days or so out from race day.  Paraphrasing what Ian told me afterwards, “not that I ever think anything bad will happen to you, but it’s always nice to get through the last workout without any issues.”  I couldn’t have agreed more.

Now it’s time to rest up and enjoy a few more nights of sleep in my own bed before leaving for Beantown on Friday.  Look for one final pre-race update next Friday.  The week we’ve all been waiting for is finally here!

3/31 – 4/6 AM PM Total
Monday 45 mins S&C; 11 miles 11
Tuesday 6 miles 10 miles 16
Wednesday 4 mile warmup. 25 x 400m, :45 rest. 3 mile cooldown. 13 miles total. 13
Thursday 12 miles 6 miles 18
Friday 6 miles 3.5 mile warmup. 3 mile tempo. 8 x :30 strides during 6 mile cooldown. 12 miles total. 18
Saturday 8 miles 8
Sunday SACTOWN 10 mile race. 16 miles total 5 miles 21


4/7 – 4/13 AM PM Total
Monday 11 miles 6 miles 17
Tuesday 11 miles 6 miles 17
Wednesday 3.5 mile warmup. 8 x Hendricks Hill loop. 6 x 150m strides. 3.5 mile cooldown. 11 miles total. 5 miles 16
Thursday 45 mins S&C; 10 miles 6 miles 16
Friday 9 miles 9
Saturday 3 mile warmup. 3 x 3 mile, :60-:90 rest. 2 mile cooldown. 14 miles 14
Sunday 16 miles 16

Mind Games: Having selective memory

The Boston Marathon countdown has dwindled to 22 days.  It’s almost hard to believe that in just over 3 weeks, thousands will make that historic trek from Hopkinton to Boston!  But now that we are inside the month window, it’s something that I think about daily.  I find myself constantly replaying memories of last year on my runs: the bus ride, the warm up, walking to the start line, the official at the start line who pointed east and reminded me that ‘Bawston is that-a-way’, the deafening screams from the women of Wellesley, the crowded streets as you approached the city, and the feeling of strength I had over the last few miles of that race.  They are the kind of flashbacks that put a little pep in my step on easy runs.

There is no doubt that the experience I gained from last year has helped me prepare for this year’s race.  At this time a year ago, I was flying blind.  Having never been on the Boston course before, I had to rely solely on the help of others in order to prepare.  Luckily, the people I sought out and talked to provided tremendous insight.  But there’s no better teacher than experience.  The fact that I can replay those moments from last year in my head, or review my post-race notes, is a comforting feeling.

If you watch sports on tv, any sport really, it’s likely that you have heard commentators talk about an athlete’s ability to have a ‘short memory’.  This usually refers to an athlete having the confidence to focus on the present and the ability to forget about the bad play/outcome that just happened.  I’m not entirely sure the term ‘short memory’ accurately accounts for what takes place inside an athlete’s head.  I tend to think the best athlete’s have what I call ‘selective memory’ – it’s similar to the accusations your mom made of you at some point during your childhood, you know, the ‘selective hearing’ bit.

I’ll contend that an athlete who under-performs doesn’t necessarily forget about that moment or performance, but rather when it comes time to do the task again, they only envision themselves completing it successfully.  It’s not that they’ve forgotten about a previous mistake made – in fact, they probably remember it well enough to correct what didn’t work – rather they focus on what they’ve done in practice, or previous games, that allow them to be successful.  It’s this mindset that lends itself to peak performance.  So the next time you toe the line to race, or are just preparing to accomplish an important task in your life, consider the thoughts that run through your mind.  What are you choosing to remember?  Those thoughts have to be positive or you’re creating more work for yourself.

Below is the weekly training for March 24-30.  My first half of the week was lighter given the volume and intensity of workouts that I did Friday and Sunday of last week.  The workout I completed this morning was the main focus for the week, as it will be one of the last long-quality workouts I complete prior to April 21st.  The session was alternating 2-miles @ marathon pace, 2 miles :20-seconds slower than marathon pace for the middle 16 miles of a 21 mile run.

Cottage Grove Lake. Location of Sunday's long run.

Cottage Grove Lake. Location of Sunday’s long run.

I’ll be spending the upcoming week in California and my volume will start to slowly taper off as race day approaches.  However, the plan is to stick to some hard sessions for at least the next 10 days, which will include a 10-mile race at the SACTOWN10.

My final words of the week are dedicated to those of you who are running this year’s Boston Marathon: remember to not overdo it these next few weeks; you want to have your legs under you when you are standing on the start line.  Too many people try to squeeze in that unnecessary one last long-run or hard session and end up with tired legs on race day.

Fresh legs. Fresh mind. Fast times!

3/24-30 AM PM Total
Monday 45 mins S&C; 10 miles 6 miles 16
Tuesday 4.5 mile warmup. 16 x 400m, :45 rest. 3.5 mile cooldown. 12 miles total. 12
Wednesday 10 miles 6 miles 16
Thursday 12 miles 7 miles 19
Friday 4 mile warmup. 1 mile, 4 x 400m, 800, 4 x 400. 3 mile cooldown. 13 miles total. 7 miles 20
Saturday 10 miles 6 miles 16
Sunday 3 mile warmup. 16 miles (alternating 2 miles @ marathon pace, 2 miles :20 sec slower per mile). 2 mile cooldown. 21 miles. 21

5 weeks out: adding specificity to the mix

With just over 4 weeks remaining until next month’s Boston Marathon, this past week of training, along with the next two weeks, are the most critical weeks of my buildup.  We are still far enough outside of the race day window to complete some specific marathon sessions, so that was the focus of this week’s training.  It will end up as my second highest mileage week of the training block, with the idea of completing long workouts on some tired legs.

After last weekend’s race, and cross-country travel, I spent the first few days of the week with some easy miles to make sure I was recovered and ready for the big workouts at the tail end of the week.  Thanks to some unseasonably sunny and nice weather here in Eugene this week, the recovery was quick.  I never thought I would see an entire week of sunshine in Eugene during the month of March!  My workouts this week began on Wednesday with some hill repeats on the Hendricks Park loop.  It was a short bridge workout to Friday’s session: an 18-mile run with a set of 1000m repeats from during miles 8-13.

But the week was built around this morning’s long run/workout.  Last weekend’s race was a good indicator of fitness and I felt like I was one or two specific marathon workout’s away from putting myself in a really good position to compete well on April 21st.  I knocked out the first of these two workouts this morning (the next one will come next weekend).  The 24 mile course began with 14 hilly miles, including a hard and steady 3-mile hill climb (over 800 of net elevation gain) from miles 2-5.  The focus of the last 10 miles shifted to the kind of grind-it-out, marathon training that I like 4-5 weeks out from a goal race.  I ran miles 14-16 and miles 21-24 at marathon pace or faster in order to work on running hard on tired legs.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.13.41 AM

A look at this morning’s 24-mile long run/workout.

The workout was exactly what I needed.  Sure, I ran 28-miles the other week, but that goal of that run was to stress a completely different system than what was accomplished today.  I know after today’s workout that I am where I need, and want, to be with 29 days to go: healthy, fit, and energized.  It’s workouts like today, and weeks like this week, that get me excited for the possibility of running fast on race day!

Below is an overview of this week’s training.  2 more real weeks to go, then I’ll start to back things off a bit.

3/17-23 AM PM Total
Monday 45 mins S&C; 12 miles 7 miles 19
Tuesday 13 miles w/ 8 x :30 sec striders miles 9-12. 7 miles 20
Wednesday 4 mile warmup. 8 x Hendricks Hill Loop. 6 x 150m striders. 4 mile cooldown. 13 miles total. 6 miles 19
Thursday 45 mins S&C; 12 miles 7 miles 19
Friday 8 mile run @ 5:50 pace. Miles 8-13 = 8 x 1k, :45 secs rest. 5 mile run @ 5:50 pace. 18 miles total. 6 miles 24
Saturday 12 miles 5 miles 17
Sunday 24 miles. Miles 2-5 hill climb. Miles 14-16, 21-24 @ marathon pace. 24

2014 US 15k Championships recap

The bad: I just returned to Eugene after a 16-hour, door-to-door travel day – woof!

The good: spending 7 of those hours 30,000 feet above ground provided ample time to throw together the weekly recap.  This week of training was the lightest since I began my Boston Marathon cycle, for three reasons:

  • 1)   7 weeks into the cycle, and with 5 weeks to go, this was a good time to hit the reset button of sorts; the hope is that my body will absorb the last 7 weeks of training, while also preparing itself for one last push.

  • 2)   The travel to and from Eugene, Oregon to Jacksonville, Florida makes it difficult to put in any significant mileage.  Cross-country flights usually mean one run per day.

  • 3)   The US 15k Championships race; although this wasn’t the focus race of this training cycle, I wanted to have a better performance in Jacksonville than I did earlier this year in Houston.

    As a result of the reasons mentioned above, both of my workouts this week were short and sweet.  On Tuesday, Dan and I did a set of 3 x 2k (400m hard / 100m float) on the track.  It’s a continuous 2k with a fartlek type effort where you run 400m hard, then go right into a :20-:25 second 100m float, repeating that 4 times, until you reach 2,000m.  Thursday’s workout was a light 4-mile tempo, followed by some 200m striders.

    The rest of the week’s training is below, but I wanted to give a brief recap of the race and weekend in Jacksonville.

    When you are in the middle of marathon training, like I am right now, you never really know how a shorter race like this will go.  I’ve had a mixed bag over the years.  As a result, I find that I get more nervous to run, say a 15k or half marathon, during the meat of my marathon training cycle, than I will for the actual marathon race.  I know that when I stand on the starting line of a marathon, I will have 12 weeks of specific work for that race under my belt; whereas, running a fast 15k when you are coming off 130-150 mile weeks is a bit of a crapshoot.  If I were asked to describe my 2013 15k race in one word, I would use pathetic.  For whatever reason, I could not get my legs to run faster than marathon pace.  2014, however, provided a much different feeling and result.


    Although I almost immediately found myself running out of my “comfort zone” as we wound our way through the Jacksonville neighborhoods on the sun-splashed morning, at least I was able to get out of the darn zone of comfort this year.  I’m pretty sure my legs never even afforded me that chance during 2013.  I engaged in the race pretty early, keeping contact with the front group through the first 5k (14:45).  As the eventual race leaders began to string things out, I found a pretty good rhythm to lock into and had people around me to work with or people in front of me to focus on.  I reached the 10k in 29:52 and would finish 15th, with a time of 45:28, over a minute faster than last year.

    Despite each 5k getting slower, I felt like my effort was pretty even throughout.  The last 5k of this race is one of the toughest 5k segments of any race on the circuit all year, as it includes a 1.3 mile climb to the summit of Hart Bridge.  The plus side to all that climbing that you get an almost all-downhill last 1600m to the finish, which can make even slow marathoners like me seem fast.  I was at 41:12 with 1600m to go, which would mean I ran the last mile in under 4:20.  A bit of commentary, Ben True, the eventual race winner, ran his last 1600m in under 4-minutes!

    All in all, this was a solid performance for me.  In the 3 years of coming to this race, it was my fastest time and highest place finish.  More than anything, I felt like I was racing as opposed to just hanging on for dear life for 45+ minutes.  This would be a tough distance for me regardless of where I am in my training, so I’m happy that I was able to mix it up a bit with some of the guys who do well at the shorter stuff.  I’m not one to think that a 15k five weeks out from a marathon can be a predictor of much, but I am leaving Jacksonville confident that I am on the right path for next month’s Boston Marathon.


    Finally, I want to thank Richard Clark Fannin for once again hosting a memorable race weekend: the hospitality, getting us involved in the community, having guest speakers (Dick Beardsley), throwing a post-race party, and after-party, and oh yeah, the race.  Many of you who read this have no idea who Richard is, but the guy eats, sleeps, and breathes the Gate River Run…365-days a year.  He relentlessly recruits athletes to come to Jacksonville because he has a tremendous amount of pride in putting together one of the best races in the US.

    At Friday night’s pre-race dinner Richard presented a challenge to the elite runners in attendance that I wanted to share it with anyone who has given up their time to read  this far down the page: find one thing in the sport that you are passionate about – coaching, race directing, officiating, event planning, working in the industry, etc. – and pour yourself into it.  Maybe your passion isn’t running, but think about devoting your time and energy to an event that enhances and improves your community.  In today’s world, it’s easy to get pulled in so many different directions; you might do a lot of things well, but nothing great.  Commit to doing one thing great for your community.

    Richard does one thing well, damn well: the Gate River Run.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you can’t put a number on how many Richard Clark Fannin’s this sport needs.  Thanks, once again, for all that you do and congrats on getting yourself an American Record, RCF.  I know how much that means to you.

    The training week details are below.  Keepin’ the train a rollin’…

    3/10-16 AM PM Total
    Monday 45 mins S&C; 10 miles 5 miles 15
    Tuesday 3 mile warmjup. 3 x 2k (400m hard, 100m float) 5 mile cooldown. 12 miles total. 6 miles 18
    Wednesday 9 miles 9
    Thursday 5 miles 3 mile warmup. 4 mile tempo. 8 x 200m. 3 mile cooldown. 11 miles total. 16
    Friday 8 miles 8
    Saturday USA 15k Champs (45:28). 3 mile warmup. 7 mile cooldown. 19 miles total. 6 miles 25
    Sunday 12 miles 12
  • 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