Friday, February 29, 2008


I somehow wrangled two days off from work, which means I'm now a part of the Running Shop's team for the Ragnar Relay Del Sol. The race runs 182 miles from Wickenburg, Arizona to Mesa. The team placed second last year after Google sent some hired goons to clean up, but this year we actually have a shot at the win. Our team has 12 members split between two vans, and according to the race program I'll be running legs 3 (5.9 miles), 15 (6.9 "hard" miles), and 27 (5.5 "very hard" miles). Hmmm. We start at 6pm and run through the night, and with luck we'll finish at Riverview Park in Mesa around noon.

For this adventure I'm armed with four mix CD's (one all Wilco of course) and two containers of Kiera's cookies (one for each van). I'll get to catch up a bit with my fast buddy Jason, who now lives in Phoenix, and I'll get plenty of quality time with a bunch of other runner buds.

As for the legs, I feel like things are starting to come around after a week or so of plain old running. Here's the week so far:

Mo: 10 miles, 1h13, 7:05 pace
Tu: 12 miles, 1h24m, 7:00 pace, feeling good
Tu: 5 miles, 38m, 7:31 pace
We: 10 miles, 1h13, 7:18 pace, lots of trails and hills
We: 6.2 miles in 44m
Th: 10 miles, 1h11m, 7:06 pace, lots of trails
Fr: 4 miles very easy (so far)

I'm really excited about getting to do one of these races. I've missed the last two along with cross-country club nationals because I couldn't either find the time off or the money, but with an art show behind me and a perfect storm of guilt for my boss (my co-worker just took two days off last week), it just worked out this time. I'm bringing along the video camera, so if I can get my act together I'll post a clip or two next week.

As far as my approach for running three 10K(ish) races in the span of 18 hours goes, my plan is to start a bit conservatively on the first leg and hopefully build from there. Forcing myself to warm up and cool down after each section will be paramount, as will getting in some protein and carbs post-leg. Mystery Coach has advocated chocolate milk a few times, so perhaps I'll give that a go provided we have a functioning cooler. I think a few bananas for potassium and also a yogurt or two will help as well.

Wish me luck, and drop me a line if you're going to be racing too.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ask the Mystery Coach

Hi Mystery Coach,

We hear very little in this blog about cross training. I personally had a breakthrough marathon in which I dropped my PR from 2:59 to 2:38, and although I improved my training in all areas, I felt that weight training was the biggest key to my improvement. My running form improved a lot as I strengthened my core, I had much more drive in my upper body, and I was able to avoid injuries and train consistently for the 8 months leading up to the marathon. Mike obviously handles high mileage, hills, and speed with what he is doing now. Is there a need for greater cross training, and is there anything he can do to make a 5 minute jump in marathon performance or is he already at the level where he will have to work his butt off for another 2-3 minute gain?



Doug, I'm sure I could get Mike to run an extra 10 miles the day of his long run easier than getting him to do a cross training activity (especially if it is Pilates). Cross training may or may not benefit runner depending on the individual. In your experience you mentioned that you improved in all areas of training and was consistent in your training so maybe it wasn't just the weight training that lead to your improvement. Arthur use to compare training to making a cake where you have to have all the ingredients. Long running, hill running and time trials are still the flour, eggs and yeast of the cake. As long as you keep the weight training (cross training) in balance with the main ingredients instead of substituting it for a main ingredient you'll find success.

Hi Coach,

You regularly set Mike a session such as 10x1000 m , this always seems to end in Mike only making it through to no 7 before his legs give out ! To my mind this leads to negative thoughts in Mikes head because he failed to complete the session. Arthur Lydiard recommends 5 K of total effort during a repetition or interval session, maybe if mike stuck to this approach ie 5 x 1000 he could not only run faster but come out of the session feeling much more positive and more confident about his running. Please give your reasons for setting such a tough session for Mike and why you don't stick to Mr Lydiard's recommendations during interval sessions.


Richard, I don't think I ever give Mike 10X1000 as a workout, usually it says "Volume Speed" or "1000s" or as a suggestion "5-10 X 1000" (I may have even suggested "1-10 X 1000" once). The only criteria that is strived for is 15-40 minutes of harder running (some where between Marathon pace and 5K pace) and the athlete gets to stop when they have had enough. As Rich Englehart pointed out "Arthur expected his athletes to be honest with themselves about what they were feeling and able to do" Some athletes run 3-4 X 1000M at about 10 mile race pace and others run 8-10 X 1000 at 4 mile race pace and yet they "race" 2 miles on the track within 5 seconds of each other. I'd be interested to see in the comments section all the different variations of speed that runners use when they feel they are in top shape, you'll see that it is not as cut and dry as 5X1000 @ 5K pace.

Hello Mystery Coach,

I'm not sure if you're still doing the questions feature at Mike's blog, but if you do, I have got one.
Mike has stated more than once that he keeps slowing down over the last few miles of his marathons. It used to be the last 6 miles, and while the situation has improved, it's still the one issue that he thinks stops him from posting a better time.

I have heard that some coaches recommend over-distance training runs to solve that problem. I even seem to remember that Arthur Lydiard himself prescribed those at times, but I may be mistaken.

What do you think about that?

Thanks in advance Thomas

Thomas, We have tried a few variations on training to see where the biggest benefit is for Mike. This last build with the much higher mileage (110-120MPW) seemed to help more than just the longer long run. A 30 mile long run might help Mike but 30 miles takes 3:30 plus to run (not including additional recovery time) so scheduling and weather are issues. Runners like Amby Burfoot and Kenny Moore use to go out for 35 plus milers (although their mileage was around 90-100MPW) and Frank Shorter rarely ran longer than 20 milers (his mileage 120 to 160 plus(at times) so getting the right mix is unique to the individual.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Small Repair

I'm glad to be a runner today. I'm not talking about the long run this morning (which dragged a bit during the second hour and found me tired after about 13 miles), but for the afternoon's big activity: Teaching our 5-year-old daughter to ride her bicycle without training wheels. A dad needs to be in shape for this sort of thing.

I vividly remember learning to ride myself, and it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience. I was so worried about disappointing my dad by not being able to do it that I ended up very frustrated, and even in tears at a few points. My dad wasn't very patient back then, and I was probably a bit oversensitive. Eventually I got the hang of it, but it's never been an achievement or milestone that brought back good memories.

Will someone out there cue up "Cats in the Cradle" to play through the next few paragraphs? Thanks.

Anyway, I brought 2-year-old Finn and his tricycle along with Haiden and her two-wheel bike to the big grassy field at the Elementary school nearby. Haiden couldn't wait to get going, and after a few false starts I was running behind her as she pedaled along on her own power, my hands correcting her lightly at the hips when she leaned too far. When she finally got it, she knew it. And after the near-fall that ended her 50 meter cruise she turned around to face me, wide-eyed and grinning.

At this point Finn had given up riding his tricycle in favor of pushing it while running as fast as he could. While only 2, I think he realized that something very cool was going on when Haiden started riding for longer and longer stretches without any help beyond getting started and stopping (those are still tricky).

Remembering my own dad's impatience, I had mentally rehearsed today's scene, and I played it as cool as I could. I tried not to force or rush her, and only asked her to let me know if she wanted to give it another try after the near-crashes, rather than pushing her to continue. Over and over she either asked to try again or just pulled the bike off the ground herself and got into her starting position. After about 45 minutes I was exhausted from all the sprints with the quick changes in direction, and my back was shot from leaning forward with arms out while I did so. When I took off Haiden's helmet her hair was soaked in sweat from the adrenaline and the effort she put into learning to ride. It was obvious she had enjoyed herself and was proud of her efforts.

We stacked the bikes and helmets next to the playground, and while the kids spent the rest of their energy I realized I was emotionally spent as well. I was certainly more nervous about screwing up than Haiden was about falling, getting hurt or just not getting it right, and for that I was thankful. I knew that she would carry this memory with her into adulthood, just as I had with my first two-wheel ride, and I didn't want to screw it up for her.

The more I thought, the more I realized that the memory I carried for all these years probably doesn't give my dad enough credit. I think I wasn't so much afraid of falling and getting hurt while learning to ride two-wheeler as I was fearful about failing in front of my dad. Through years of little league, soccer games, and track and cross country meets I felt the same way. I would sometimes curse to myself when he showed up, for fear of disappointing him. Still, he showed up, over and over. Know where this is going now?

It's been 36 years, and I'm still learning what it means to give my best. All my dad ever wanted was for me to do the same. He never sat in the stands or stood on the sidelines waiting to be disappointed. Rather, he was hoping to see me wide-eyed and grinning at my own efforts. He just wanted me to try and to put myself out there for the character it inevitably builds. Just like when he gave me that poem back in high school just after I was cut from the baseball team and just before he forced me to run track.

No, he isn't a perfect dad, and I'm certainly not either. But we're much more alike than I'm probably willing to admit. We want our kids to be happy, and we try to pass on the lessons we've learned towards that end. We also want our kids to forgive us when we screw up, as parents often do. He probably still carries the memory of me learning to ride, and I hope for him it's similar to how I felt today. He's certainly earned that.

Training: 2/24, 17.5 miles, 2h03m, 7:00 pace. Tired for the second half, lots of hills
2/23, 10 miles, 1h12m, 7:09 pace

Friday, February 22, 2008

Another Head-Scratcher

I put in a very easy five miles last evening under a very bright full moon. It was light enough for me to run along the roads in Sabino Canyon at 8pm and actually see where I was going. The desert seemed lit up like a movie set, which made for a surreal 40 minutes or so.

This morning an email came from the coach asking me to pretty much repeat last week's cruise-interval-type workout. It's a drag that 5:55 pace is an interval now instead of plain-old marathon pace, but that seems to be where the body is right now.

The plan called for 2-3 x 2 miles at 5:55 pace with mile recoveries in 6:40. The coach also suggested running the last mile or half mile at a quicker pace (last mile if I did 3 sets, last 1/2 mile if I did 2 sets). It gets more convoluted, but you get the gist.

Last week I managed three sets with no acceleration at the end, but I felt a bit in the red during the final two miles. This time I never really settled in. The warm up found me at 7:30-7:40 pace, which is uncharacteristically slow and usually a harbinger of a bad day. The first set found me on pace with 11:50 for 2x1600, but at the end of the 6:40 recovery mile I didn't feel too fresh. Still, the second set came off with the same split, and while I didn't feel I was working too hard the legs felt a bit tired. It was during the following recovery mile that the legs really started to tire, and by the time I finished the third lap it actually took a little work to stay on 6:40 pace. With this in mind I decided to call an audible and turn the last set into either an up-tempo mile or half mile, depending on the legs. After a 400 at 79 it looked like 800 would do, and when I came across the line at 2:42 I knew it was time to quit...3 minutes earlier.

I know these runs will feel easy in a few weeks, but still I find myself fighting the temptation to get down on myself while I'm clearly not running my best.

Training: 2/22, 10 miles, 1h06m, 6:35 pace, w/2x2 miles at 5:55 pace (1 mi. recovery at 6:40), 1x800 at 2:42
2/21 pm., 5 miles at 7:37 pace

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Steady Captain

Just holding my place with a few more easy days as the legs get back under me, as per Mystery Coach's wishes. I'm hoping for at least one workout this week, probably something around marathon pace tomorrow or Saturday.

Training: 2/21, 10 miles, 1h10, 7:00 pace, felt great by the end
2/20 pm., 6.2 miles in 43m, a little tired
2/20 am., 10 miles, 1h10, 7:00 pace

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Out With the Trash

At the top of Finn's reading list

"MAN IN!!!! MAN OUT!!!" 2-year-old Finn spends much of each day screaming this as he's either jamming his sanitation worker action figure in or trying to pull him out of his big plastic garbage truck. The boy is fascinated with garbage and the people who handle it. Even his favorite book is about a garbage truck. "Know what I do while you're asleep?", it reads. Finn shouts the next line- "Eat Your Trash!!!"

If you're an employed suburban runner, you're probably quite familiar with the sanitation workers in your 'hood. Ours mercifully wait outside the subdivision until 6am before they start raising their unholy racket. I gave them a wave at 5:50 as I finished my first mile and headed out onto bigger roads.

Today was a good day, yesterday was a zero. I just felt like I needed one day of no running to get me hungry again, and when the coffee maker started gurgling at 5:01 I was ready to get out on the roads before the rest of the house woke up. By the time I passed the garbage truck I was feeling good, though I kept the pace modest at the urging of Mystery Coach. At nine miles I felt it: The stride was fluid and the road pulled easily under each step. The last three miles were an exercise in restraint, which was certainly welcome after many days of dragging on the way home. "Two more days of this and I'll be back," I remember thinking as I touched the garage door.

Training: 2/19, 12 miles, 1h23m, 6:58 pace
2/18, Big Fat Zero

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not There

For some reason this week just didn't come together for me. I was hoping to get 100 miles in, but I found myself tired and pretty unmotivated all week and ended up just over 80. Here's how the week went down:

Mo: 8
Tu: 11 w/3x2 miles around 5:52 pace w/6:40 mile recoveries
We: 10
We: 6
Th: 11
Fr: 10 w/8x300 jog/100 sprint & 1x800 downhill
Sa: 8
Su: 17
Total: 81

The coach specified a long run of two hours or more, a day of sprints and/or downhill 800's, and the cruise intervals, and I'm happy I was able to get those days in. However, all week I found myself feeling fatigued once I hit around 8 miles or so. With work easing off and life getting back to normal I'm hoping next week will be better. Between how this week turned out and straining my ankle last week, it hasn't been much of a month for me.

Training: 2/17, 17.25 miles, 2h, 7:00 pace. Tired for second half
2/16, 8 miles, 59m, 7:18 pace. A bit of blah

Friday, February 15, 2008

How do you do it?

The weather in Tucson, Arizona has softened me. How you guys and gals can keep your head up while running through sleet, snow, ice, wind, muck and the like is beyond me. Today I waited for as long as I could before heading out into a cold and windy rainstorm, and it was all I could do to stay out there for the full ten miles. I dodged puddles on the junior high track for two miles of 300 jogs/100 sprints, then circled around Sabino Canyon for awhile before putting in 1x800 downhill. The back of my knee has given me a few little pains while I'm sitting during the day, so when it started to feel a little "thick" about 400 in I decided to cut the planned three repeats to just one. The cold wind and rain made it that much easier.

Yesterday I put in an easy 11 miles, though I still felt a bit fatigued after eight. I can't quite figure out why, but I still think I'm behind the recovery curve with all the extra hours at work, and my plan to get in eight hours of sleep a night collapsed after two nights.

Wednesday felt fairly good after Tuesday's workout, and I probably took it a little too fast in the morning. I followed up the 11 miles with another 6 with the gang from the shop, and thankfully we just jogged along easily.

I had been thinking about a 5K this weekend, but I just don't feel motivated or ready. A nice easy long run followed by my second day off from work this month sounds good. I'm confident that next week will find me feeling better, and hopefully I'll feel a bit more motivated in the morning once winter leaves again.

Training: 2/15, 10 miles, 1h11m, 7:02 pace, w/8x300 jog/100sprint + 1x800 downhill
2/14, 11 miles, 1h18m, 7:05 pace
2/13 am., 10 miles, 1h8m, 6:50 pace
2/13 pm., 6.2 miles in 44m

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Still struggling to find time to update this week. The gallery I work for has pretty much been holding me hostage for the last 9 days, and at this point I think I'm beginning to sympathize with my captors. I volunteered to stay an extra three hours this evening just so that I could get my work done without constantly being interrupted by customers, phone calls and post-show problems. This should all blow over once the show it wrapped up, but my rest and recovery have been less than ideal.

Yesterday I got out the door late, but for the first time in several days I felt good during an 8 miler. This morning I headed out for 2-3 reps of 2 miles at 5:55 pace with one mile recoveries at 6:45 pace. I snuck onto the junior high track for the first two reps, and both felt controlled at about 11:43 and 11:44. For the last rep I ran down to my one mile loop, and during the last mile I could definitely feel some pressure on the final mile. I think I stepped over the red-line here a little, and while it was a bit of a drag to find it at 5:52 pace, I guess it is what it is. A few nights of good sleep and some time off my feet should improve things.

2/12, 11-ish miles, 1h11m, w/3x2 miles in 11:43, 11:44, 11:46 w/6:40 mile recoveries
2/11, 8 miles, 54m, 6:50 pace

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bum Week

I was hoping to charge out of this week feeling rested, recovered and ready to start more specific work to target the races coming up this spring, but instead I've found myself floundering a bit. The ankle strain on Wednesday meant cutting short that run, skipping the planned double later that day and skipping the run the next day. While Friday felt great, I found myself tired and listless on Saturday and Sunday.

I can blame the fatigue in part on this being the busiest work week of the year, but I've also not done enough to make sure I'm getting enough sleep while this work stress is going on (yeah, the kids don't help either). To this end, my goal this week is to get myself into bed by 9 for one week.

Here's how things went down over the past seven days:
Mo: 6
Tu: 10 w/8x300 jog, 100 sprint plus 2x800 downhill
We: 7.6 and a strained ankle
Th: 0
Fr: 10 w/7 at 6:13 pace
Sa: 12 tired
Su: 5 tired
Total: 51

I'd like to think I'm pretty much recovered from the marathon last month, but work has thrown a monkey-wrench into things. I'll start more focused workouts in the coming days, but I'd like to get one or two good runs in my legs first. Hope your week was better than mine.

Training: 2/10, 5 miles, 36m, 7:06 pace
2/9, 12 miles, 1h23m, 6:52 pace

Friday, February 08, 2008

"You Better, You Better, You Bet"

"But you're like Wolverine. I'm sure you'll be fine tomorrow." -email from the wife upon hearing about my ankle woes.

Swelling: Down to "mild"
Motivation: Through the roof

Did the planned workout with the coach's blessing. 7 miles of good ol' marathon pace plus 15 seconds per mile. The ankle seems fine as long as I stay on pavement and watch the turns.

Training: 2/8, 10 miles, 1h6m, 6:39 pace, w/7 miles at 6:13 pace

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Strain, Don't Sprain"

I blame Duncan for all of this. Awhile back he was on a kick about a band called The National, and since taking his suggestion and buying their Boxer I've been bringing it along on a few of my easier runs. Yesterday I found myself bounding down a tilting section of Dog Poop Trail and entering a short section of road while listening to "Start a War". The sun was just coming up over the mountains and I was cutting through the cold air with ease. I had the full-on feeling of looking down on myself running as the lyrics resonated, free and easy. I remember saying to myself, "This is why". I was answering any number of questions I get from time to time about what makes me get up and do this, why I feel compelled to do it daily, and why I do it so often. This is why. When it's good it's very good.

A few seconds later I crossed back onto the sandy edge of the trail from the short section of road. My foot sank into a wet sandbar and rolled under as my body kept moving. A few expletives later I surveyed the damage. I could put weight on it but it hurt like hell. I could feel the hot swelling coming on immediately as the outside of my ankle started pressing against the edge of my shoe. No cell, no cars. After about a half mile of walking up the Poop Trail I started running. It was ugly, but as long as the road was even it was ok. Since it was only another three miles to the house I loped along as best as I could, skipping the opportunity to make a collect call home at the grocery store a mile and a half out. It was nice to get home.

It looks like a strain, which is better than a sprain, and as a precaution I'm skipping the run today. The swelling is down a bit with ice, ibuprofin, compression and as much elevation as I can manage. I'll hopefully get out for a bit tomorrow if the swelling goes down some more. I guess this is my last recovery week post-marathon, like it or not.

Training: 2/6, 7.6 miles, mostly running and hobbling

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I'm a bit of a plodder. I've written about running "like I'm sitting in a bucket" plenty of times, and it's a hard habit to break. Thinking about propelling myself forward with each stride and wasting as little energy as possible when I strike the ground takes up much of each run, and when I concentrate I sometimes feel I get it right for at least a minute or so.

Mystery Coach has commented on form often since he started helping me, and he chipped in again after looking at several still photos from my marathon last month. I simply bend my knees too much and waste too much time and energy while on the ground. There's a photo in Arthur Lydiard's "Running the Lydiard Way" that shows Lasse Viren running on the track. Arthur comments that you can see that his leg just after take-off is a straight line from his hip to the tip of his toe after push off. I'm all angles. The good runners are already starting their paw-back just before they hit the ground, which is something I'm trying to ease into myself.

There's no way to fix this overnight, but I have been working on it. To that end, today I headed out to Sabino Canyon for a few downhill 800's at the coach's suggestion. I'm not running off a cliff or anything, but it is enough of a hill that I have to force myself forward to keep from braking, which is what I start doing (inadvertently) when I tire during the latter stages of a run. I started with just two today and covered the roughly measured 1/2 mile in 2:23 and 2:13. It took a fair amount of concentration to stay upright and in the right position, but with some practice it should get easier. This on top of the 8x300 jogs/100 sprints I did earlier in the run on the icy track made for a good day of leg-stretching. The hips should feel it tomorrow.

I ended last week with 71 miles after a long-ish run of 15 miles with my local running gang. Kiera enticed a good group up to our side of town with homemade cinamon rolls. Yeah, I guess those 10 pounds might take a bit longer to lose.

Training: 2/5, 10 miles, 1h8m, 6:56 pace, w/8x300 jog, 100 sprint, plus 2x.5 mile downhill in 2:23, 2:13
2/4, 6 soggy miles, 41m, 6:46 pace
2/3, 15 miles, 1h47m, 7:08 pace m