A Tale of Two Marathons

Secrets from a Runner’s Log Book
by Papa Bear

In the summer of 1994 I set a goal to qualify for the 1996 Boston Marathon. I had run a marathon that spring (Avenue of the Giants) but dropped out and I didn’t think I would be ready for the 1994 New York City Marathon. Besides, I had never done as well as I should have in New York, so I thought an out-of-town marathon in early 1995 should be my first attempt at qualifying. If I ran one early (January or February) I would still have a second chance late in 1995 in case I didn’t make it. I chose San Diego since my brother’s family lives there and Kathleen Nitchelm and Joanne Robinson were planning on doing it. As luck would have it, I got the worst case of flu I can remember in mid-December which knocked me out for a week. I canceled San Diego and registered for Las Vegas (Feb. 4th). This was to be my first attempt.

My qualifying time is 3:30 (target pace = 8:00 minutes/mile).   To make a long story short, Las Vegas produced a 3:33:52 - not good enough. I then went on to Chicago on October 15 and ran a 3:30:13 (The BAA rounds off the seconds - thank goodness). I had qualified for Boston on the second try!   In looking closely at these two efforts I have gained some insight which may be of use to others. This analysis also illustrates the value of a training log - and what goes into it - in looking back at your performance. In putting this article together I took many of the numbers out of my log book and put them into charts and graphs. In doing so, I was amazed how the raw data suddenly became real information. Things jump out at your that were not so obvious in the log book.

My training:

For the last year I have been training on 4 days a week, plus one session of deep water running. My two good 1995 marathons validates this approach in my mind and I would recommend it to others. A typical week looks like this:

A.M.

P.M.

Monday

Tempo run (up to 10 miles)

Deep Water Running

Tuesday

 

Wednesday

Speed Workout

Thursday

Group run

Friday

Saturday

Long run (15 to 22 miles)

Sunday

Yes, that’s 3 rest days a week! It’s great. When I’m at the peak of marathon training I do slightly over 50 miles, with a breakdown something like 10-10-10-20 for my running days. I also do some weight work on my rest days. Let’s look at the log book for the 2 races, looking at the 12 weeks prior to each race.   The top row gives total miles, and the bottom row gives long run miles. I also did a “peaking race” prior to each marathon: the 10 at week 4 of the Las Vegas training was the December 10 Miler race, and the 13 (actually 13.1) at week 8 of the Chicago training was the Maple Leaf Half-marathon.

Las Vegas training:

 

Week

1

2

3

4

5

6*

7*

8

9

10

11

12

Total Miles:

41

50

41

32

39

28

8

51

46

50

30

22

Long Run:

15

20

15

10

17

 

20

18

20

12

 

* - At the end of week 7 and through week 8, I had - the flu

Chicago training:

 

Week

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

Total Miles:

46

35

46

36

46

51

53

38

42

52

33

29

Long Run:

18

16

21

22

18

20

22

13

19

21

12

 

One obvious difference is the big hole in the middle of my Las Vegas training due to getting sick. I missed long runs both weeks and my mileage dropped practically to zero. The other thing to notice is that I ran plenty of long runs - from 12 to 22 miles. But I run them real slowly. For Chicago, when the training started in late July (= hot!), many of the long runs were as slow as 10:00 minutes/mile - 2 minutes slower than marathon target pace.   It works! (ask Cliff). Anyone who runs long runs with me knows this is true.   I keep telling people to slow down.

My Health / Fitness:

Even though the flu hit 6 weeks before Las Vegas, I believe there was still a remnant in my body. In my training log for the two weeks prior to the race I wrote the word “congestion” 5 times. I also record my morning resting pulse in the log. The lower this number, the more fit you are. A high pulse rate may mean the body is over tired or fighting some infection. For the two weeks prior to each race notice the following pulse rates:

hidden in the log book was a story - the body was still fighting its own internal battle. My pre-Las Vegas pulse was consistently higher (usually by about 5 points) than my pre-Chicago pulse.

The Courses:

Las Vegas is slightly up hill the first 10 miles and then slightly down hill for 10 miles more. the race splits shown in my chart probably show the affect of this until the “wall” comes into play. Chicago is as flat as a pancake the whole way. I can’t complain about either one.

The Weather:

My favorite marathon weather is mid 40°s with sun at my back and maybe a gentle breeze. Well, Chicago was perfect. Starting temperature was 43 and it stayed under 50 (with clear blue skies) the whole race. The breeze was a bit gusty at times but it was not a problem. Las Vegas was another story. You start in the dessert around sunrise. It was about 40 degrees. Then the sun comes up. Remember the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” where the man dozes off during the desert crossing and then tries to get back to the group before the sun gets him. Well it wasn’t quite that dramatic but you get the idea. By the finish, the temperature was near 70 and there was not a bit of shade the whole race. Some late finishers actually found water stops emptied out.   Dehydration and overheating were definitely a factor in my hitting the “wall” in this race.

The Races:

My race strategy was the same for both races: go out 10 - 15 seconds/mile faster than the target paces and hold on as long as possible. The following chart shows the mile splits for the two races (the numbers are seconds above or below 8:00 minutes/mile - my target pace). These were recorded on my watch and then written into the log the day after each race:

The obvious difference in the two efforts is the fact that in Las Vegas I truly hit the “wall”, whereas in Chicago there was no “wall”, just a slight falling off. When the numbers from the log book are put into the graph, the wall literally “jumps out at you” on the page. In fact at the 20 mile point, my Las Vegas time was within 10 seconds of my Chicago time (2:38:28 vs. 2:38:38). The whole race came down to the last 6 miles (in a marathon it always does). In my log book for Las Vegas I wrote “Legs totally dead after 22. Wanted to stop at every point”. After Chicago I wrote “very tough last 4 miles” but never that I felt like stopping.

Conclusions:

For me to reach my goal time, everything has to be pretty close to perfect. The factors that hurt me in Las Vegas were probably a lingering congestion from the flu, a hole in my training (same flu), and the Las Vegas weather. The other lesson is that there doesn’t have to be a “wall”. But all in all I had two very good races in 1995 and I am proud of them both. I did reasonably well in everything within my control and I didn’t do too badly with things beyond my control such as the flu and the weather. As I said in my note on the Chicago marathon - thorough training and perfect conditions do not allow you to run easier - they allow you to run harder.