Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Plan - Running Leaner, Meaner and Smarter

Having made a very vocal declaration of my intention to qualify for the Boston Marathon to all and sundry within earshot, and the even more public decision to write about it on the Blog, I now have to go out and do it. Saying you are going to qualify for the Boston Marathon and actually doing it, are, to not put too fine a point on it, two entirely different exercises. And there is no getting around the fact that running a marathon in 3:30 is a very different beast from running one in 3:53, which is my personal best to date. Twenty-five minutes is a huge amount of time to carve off a personal best. So what makes me think I can do it? And how am I going to get there? Please allow me to ramble…

For starters, I am not built like your typical marathoner. I’m more mesmorph and not much ectomorph.
At 6’1” and roughly 200 lbs, give or take an entrée or two, I am mindful of the fact that there exists a rough rule of thumb that states that for every percentage point of body fat you lose, you should become about one percent faster. So the first step in my strategy to qualify for Boston is to getter leaner. I'd put my body fat at somewhere between 12 and 15%.

What does your typical marathoner look like? For me, Kenyans come immediately to mind. And I don’t much look like I’ve ever set foot in the Kenya Highlands, never mind come from there. I say this because the lion’s-share of the top ten fastest-ever run times in the world in the marathon are held by Kenyans. The feats of West African runners in distances from 5K to the marathon are staggering to contemplate when you analyse the results of distance events in the last twenty years.

And not just any Kenyans mind you, we’re talking about a select group of Kenyans, largely from the Kalenjin tribe, from a relatively small area of Kenya, in the Nandi Hills. And these superb athletes seem almost to be cut from the same bolt of cloth, resembling each other in height; 5’5” – 5’7”, weight; in the neighborhood of 125 lbs, and levels of body fat; under 3 percent. So at an elite level, there are clearly genetic parameters at play.

One of my favorite marathoners is former World Record holder (2:08:34), Derek “Deke” Clayton from Australia. Deke was called a “monster” marathoner by the sporting press who wrote that he “pounded the pavement” as he ran. And how large was this monster? Six feet two and more than 160 pounds, that’s how large. It’s enough to make you go back to the buffet.

It’s not that I’m all that slow, I ran track, 100 and 200 metres in high school. But I also ran out of gas two-thirds of the way through 400 metres. In College and University I was much more drawn to the gym than I was to the running trails and at one point I weighed around two hundred and twenty pounds with less than ten percent body fat. I could also bench press more than three hundred pounds.

In my late twenties I ran four to six times a week, and living in the heart of Vancouver, spent my early mornings circumnavigating Stanley Park on the Sea Wall, about 10K . It was a perfect way to get an hour of exercise, averaging between 42 and 48 minutes, depending on how I felt. I managed to reel off a number of 37-38 minute 10Ks in the full flower of my youth.

During my thirties I had a lot of back trouble that stemmed from a series of traumatic injuries and almost all of my exercising routines were curtailed. In fact, for a couple of six-month periods, I was unable to walk without the use of a cane. I ultimately ended up having back surgery for herniated discs, L4-L5 and L5-S1, the procedures being a discectomy
and a laminectomy
Post surgery, I was left with a significant degree of chronic back pain, although I consider the surgery to have been a huge success and I’d do it again in a heart beat.

The advice I got at the time from my neurosurgeon, my physiotherapist and my family physician was that I should consider finding a form of exercise that would lessen the impact on my lower back. Did I find an alternative form of exercise? Not really. The result was that by the time I was approaching forty I was also approaching two hundred and fifty pounds. Yikes! I promise to post a photo in the near future that I keep on my refrigerator door. I look like a Scottish Sumo Wrestler lost in the jungles of Borneo.

One day I looked in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw and I decided right then and there that if I was going to be in pain, I might as well be in pain and be in shape. So I hired a personal trainer and I started running again, working my way up to about an hour a day.

I dropped thirty pounds in a very short period of time (three months) and plateaued for a while at about two hundred and twenty pounds. Being goal-oriented by nature, I also liked the idea of running a marathon at forty. Over the course of time my weight continued to drop, first to two hundred and ten pounds and then to two hundred pounds, which is where I balance the scales today.

The great benefit to this weight loss, and a completely unforseen and welcome development, was that I was better able to manage my back pain to a much greater degree. Certainly I felt much better and had a much more positive attitude. I don't think I can overstate the benefits that a running lifestyle has given me.

Over the course of the next ten months I believe it will be possible for me to shed a pound and a half to two pounds per month. I would be extremely happy with any weight under a hundred and ninety pounds by the time I plan to qualify for Boston in October at the Okanagan International Marathon in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Up until now, almost all of my weight loss has come from the amount of exercise I am getting from running three to four times a week, year round, and training for multiple marathons. The next stage of weight loss will certainly require me to monitor my caloric intake and pay greater attention to my specific training and nutritional requirements.

In the meantime, my best 10K times in the last few years have been in the 43-44 minute range and my best half marathon has been a 1:41. One of my favorite websites for all things having to do with marathons is and they have some fabulous training tools. They also have a race predictor that calculates potential times in races based on times you have already run in other races. Eureka!
According to the calculator, based on a 44-minute 10K, I should be able to run a 3:24 marathon. Based on a 1:41 Half, I should be able to run a 3:31:32. At least I’m still in the ballpark.

Therefore, the second step to qualifying for Boston is to get meaner. And by that I mean focused. I’ll be concentrating on getting more out of my hill training and speed work outs, and being disciplined in my long, slow distance runs where I plan to continue with Jeff Galloway’s advice to go the extra miles. I'm planning to work my way up to 30 miles.

The third part of my strategy to qualify for Boston in Kelowna is to run smarter. I am a huge believer in the benefits of training with a Heart Rate Monitor - - and have done so in all my marathons. I can’t imagine training without one, although that may say as much about my love of gadgets and toys as anything else.

My resting heart rate in the morning is 47-49, although occasionally I’ll see a 46. Should my morning HR get above 50 I know it’s time to back off a little. My Maximum Heart Rate is a little strange, and outside the normal bell-curve. I take the “220 minus your age Rule of Thumb” and toss it out the window. In Hill Training I can get my HR up to 210 and I saw 212 last Spring. I usually run a marathon at a steady 160-162, do the last 10K at 168-172, and in Victoria I did the last kilometer at about 178 and crossed the Finish Line at 182.

My other toy to which I’m addicted is my Nike Triax pedometer - It's like having a speedometer on your wrist. I re-calibrate mine a couple of times per year on a measured track and while Nike only claims 97% accuracy, on a track I can get that to within one percent. And this is where the smarter part of qualifying for Boston comes in. I’ve run my last three marathons with the Triax and to say I was shocked by the data I collected would be a gross understatement.

The year I ran my guts out in Victoria into a 30-35 knot headwind I was very disappointed to finish in 4:02. But I was stunned when I checked my pedometer to see that I had not run 26.2 miles, or anywhere close to it. According to my Triax, in the process of weaving around other runners on the course and meandering around the corners without really paying the slightest attention to the racing line, I had covered 27.4 miles! I had run an extra 1.2 miles, even taking into consideration a few percentage points of error, this was significant. I was shocked, and immediately gave myself credit for having run a better race than I thought, if not a particularly intelligent none.

The following year in Victoria, in order to avoid some of the masses of runners, I started near the front of the pack. That strategy and my best attempts to follow the race line as best as I could, resulted in the Triax registering a distance of 26.8 miles. Better, but still over half a mile extra. And my time? 3:53.

So next October I am going to attempt to qualify for Boston in a much more sparsely attended marathon, on a flat, stretched out course without a lot of curves – none other than the Okanagan International Marathon in Kelowna. That plan alone should be worth another 6-8 minutes off my time. And the closest I'll get to free time. All the other improvements in speed and time that I'm looking for are going to take hard work and effort over a long period of time.

My first goal is to run the Vancouver Marathon in May around 3:45 and then run the Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna in any time under 3:30:59.

That’s my plan to qualify for Boston – run Leaner, run Meaner, and run Smarter. The time between now and October 9th will tell the tale.


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