The Interval, 12/20/17

U Loopers celebrating the Winter Solstice. Photo courtesy of David Schwalm.

Happy Holidays to all the readers of The Interval!  Just a few thoughts on the local scene, some Interesting Articles and Upcoming Races at the top of the column.  Keep scrolling for a longer section, a discussion I had with David Schwalm, Fernando Melendez, and Eric Snader on the Hanson’s training method they used for CIM.

I’ve enjoyed being part of some seasonal celebrations with my running friends.  The Wednesday morning U Loop crowd had 2 winter Solstice parties this year, one last week and the other yesterday.  What could be better than an 8 mile run in the dark followed by mimosas and tequila shots?

TrailRoots holiday fun run. Photo courtesy of Jessica Casey.

The picture above is the TrailRoots gang on their second annual fun run to look at highly decorated houses followed by drinks and tacos.  (All TrailRoots activities are followed by tacos.)

Holiday armadillos. Photo courtesy of Katara LaBrie

Like many runners, I have been thinking about what races I want to run in 2018.  For some, this activity is governed by qualifiers or lottery results.  Joe Cooper and Billy Satterwhite made it through the lottery and will run the Western States 100 in June.  Lots of Austinites will start training soon for the Boston Marathon.

I decided a couple of years ago to prioritize my longevity as a runner.  After a few years of poor results due to injury I changed a few things:  less total miles, more trail miles, add strength training.  The results have been good in that I have trained and raced consistently, a little slower than in the past, but no injuries.  While thinking about 2018, I listened with interest to the latest Running Rogue podcast, with the main subject being training macrocycles.  Chris and Steve discuss many points, but the main one for me is that you have to put in months, even years of hard work if you seriously expect to achieve a “command performance.”  The choice I am struggling with is between consistent training with lots of races, none of which are huge targets, and training for a particular goal.  2018 is 11 days away….

Interesting Articles

A cool article about running while pregnant, from iRunFar.  The author is an MD and she had a miscarriage soon after completing a 50 mile race.  She writes about the facts that convinced her that training and racing, even an ultra, are not harmful to the baby or mother.

Another great article from David Roche, for Trail Runner.  This one is about running economy and the concepts will be familiar as you listen to the Running Rogue podcast or read about the Hanson’s program below.

Houston runner Sabra Harvey was named Masters Athlete of the Year by the USATF.  From Runner’s World.

Upcoming Races

I plan to be at the annual Black Eyed Pea Run from Rogue.

The following weekend is the Bandera Endurance Run and I’ll be volunteering with TrailRoots.

Discussion about CIM and the Hanson’s Marathon Training Program

Over the fall I observed a bunch of people training for marathons.  The group that seemed to be the happiest and most focused was a small offshoot from Gilbert’s Gazelles.  They still ran the Saturday long runs with Gazelles, but the rest of the week they followed a training plan developed by the Hanson team.  And they had great results at CIM.  Eric Snader ran a 3:17, a new PR by 8 minutes.  Fernando Melendez ran a 3:09, a new PR by 16 minutes.  Both qualified for Boston.  Eric and Fernando both credited Gilbert with creating such a great running community and for supporting them at CIM.  Eric said the cheering by Gilbert at mile 16 was like “taking another gel.”  One additional member of their group, Doug Rivera, is running Houston next month.

Eric and Fernando are veteran runners, each with multiple marathons.  How did they make such big improvements?  I talked it over with them and their training/pacing partner, David Schwalm, also a veteran marathoner.

Armadillo Running:  Thanks for joining the discussion, Fernando, Eric, and David.  What is the Hanson’s program? How is it different from what you guys had done before? How do you think it contributed to the good performances at CIM?  First, Fernando, can you tell me a bit about your running background?

Fernando:  I’ve done seven full marathons.  All in Texas, except CIM 2017. I started back in 2004 when I ran  the Motorola Marathon in Austin and then I stopped running for a few years and picked it back up in 2010. My best time before this one was a  3:25 in the 2014 Dallas Marathon.

AR:  What kind of training groups or programs did you use?

Fernando:  Mostly I would just download something from the web and follow that. In 2014 I was following the Runner’s Edge by Stephen McGregor.  While I did most of the workouts, I did not follow it as religiously as we followed the Hanson’s method for CIM 2017. Most of my weekly total mileage was between 40 and 50 miles.  I joined the Gilbert’s Gazelles in 2015 and ran Dallas that year.

AR:  Same questions for you, Eric.

Eric:  About 5 years ago I ran my first marathon, Austin. It was then that I joined Gilbert’s Gazelle, which was my first time really learning how to run. Since then I’ve run Houston twice, Bryan College Station, and St. George. Being in the Gazelles has really given me the confidence that I can run marathons, and even be kind of good at running.  More recently, I’ve been trying to qualify for Boston because it seemed like that was the next level, but I hadn’t been able to get there. I signed up for CIM 2017 because I had heard nothing but great things about the race and I remember that David said he was going to help me get to Boston.

AR:  How did the Hanson’s program come up?

Eric:  Someone had mentioned the Hanson’s method and I had never heard of it before, so I looked it up.  I checked it out from the library and it seemed to hit on all the points for which I was lacking.  Not enough speed workout, not enough miles per week, not enough pace work.  The three of us decided we were going to go head first into Hanson’s and we’re going to try to follow it to the letter.  That was nineteen weeks before CIM and that’s how it all got started.

Fernando:  I remember talking about Hanson’s with Eric and  because I was afraid the long runs were not that long  I was planning on running a  mix between Hanson’s and what I had used before. I ended up just following Hanson’s.

David:  Yeah, I remember talking during a long run, saying that “I haven’t done a marathon in a while and I don’t really want to do one again” and Eric said “well I want to get to Boston” and then I said “I want to see you do that because I think that’s like the grand achievement of almost any marathoner.”  It was just something that I wanted to see Eric do. And so I said that I would help and I would even go out to the marathon and pace him.  And then he comes to me and says he wants to do the Hanson’s plan.  I had been familiar with it because I had looked at it years before when I was really running a lot.   I never thought the miles were there in the long runs. Then I went back and read it and everything sounded logical.  Training for my PR marathon, I think my longest run was 18 and I just did a lot of 14, 16 mile long runs, but ran a lot of miles. And the thing with the Hanson plan is the overall mileage is fairly high, getting up into the 50s and 60s.  So I went back and looked at the plan and I’m like, well the mileage is there, the workouts are sound, let’s try it.  You’ll never know until you try it and see what happens.  So that’s kind of how it all started.  Then we told our friends in the running community and asked “what do you think of this?”

Eric:  I feel like we got a lot of flack from that.  16 miles is the longest long run.  I can’t tell you how many people would say to me “do you really think that’s enough?  I really think you should be running 20 or more miles.” And it certainly made me question whether or not this was going to work.

AR:  How is the plan structured in general?

David:  The plan is divided up with the first ten weeks in the 40s, you start creeping up into the 50s, a couple of 55 mile weeks, and then the next 8 weeks is almost all 50s and 60s and you’re running six days a week.  Nothing less than six miles in a lot of those runs even on your easy days. So you end up with pretty good mileage.  I was following these guys on Strava and they really stuck to the plan and their easy days were almost exclusively 9 minute miles with a lot of it on the trail.

Eric:  I felt that if we’re going to follow Hanson’s, I wanted to follow it almost exactly as we could because I was afraid that if I didn’t and it didn’t work, then there will be other variables that could account for that.

AR:  So we all know there’s variables in marathon training.  There is a plan and then there’s reality, right?  How did you compensate for variables like heat and humidity and hills?  If Hanson said you guys have to run speed work at 6:30 pace, but it’s a hot and humid day, what did you actually run the speed work at?

David:  I think we were really consistent regardless of the weather in terms of pace. The good thing about the Hanson’s book is that it has exactly what you’re supposed to be doing every day.  We ran some hot days and we ran some good days, but our pace was pretty consistent.  Maybe the first ten weeks is when you’re doing the track workouts, the speed stuff before it switched to more mileage and pace runs.

Eric:  You build your speed first.  By week eleven you’re almost exclusively working on your marathon muscles.  On Tuesdays you do your lactate threshold, your half marathon pace runs and those are all six miles total.  The first week was like a 1 mile at that pace, then a four hundred meter recovery and then another mile at pace, and then build up from there.  Starting in week 3 was the marathon pace runs, on Thursdays.  These started at 6 miles and you add a mile every 3 weeks, up to 10 miles total for the last 2 weeks.  So you’re definitely getting great marathon workouts.

AR:  When I’ve done marathon training, the MGP runs were what I dreaded every week. Fernando, how did it go for you?

Fernando:  When we started the prescribed MGP runs on Thursdays with 6 or 7 miles, I was not nervous at all. But as we started incrementing the mileage to 7, 8 and so on, I would be a little nervous the night before.  But in reality, I mean, the fact that the method increases only one mile at MGP every 3 weeks made it very, very manageable.  I did have one bad 9 mile MGP run that  was the only one that I felt totally spent, oh man, that was not a good day for me.  For the whole program, we ended up running at MGP,  somewhere around 120 miles.  I think that really helped my body to get used to running at MGP.

We started training for a 3:20 marathon and then as we started getting gains in our MGP runs, we increased  the pace.  For me,  It was a gamble  to attempt a 3:10.  I thought of it as a stretch goal.  But,  once race day came, everything around the marathon, the weather, the course, nutrition went perfect.  So I truly believe the MGP runs really helped me to attain the  goal that I had  set for myself.

AR:  When everything works, that’s special.  Your PR was 3:25 and you decided to go for 3:10 and you ran a 3:09.  Man, that’s a good feeling.

Fernando:  Yes. One interesting thing is that I feel the training took me to mile 26.  I was actually tracking I think a little faster than 3:09.  And then at 26 I had a little bit of a muscle spasm and I had to stop probably for forty seconds (within .25 miles of the finish line).  And even with that,  I was able to break 3:10.  But definitely I think if I had to start all over again my MGP runs in my buildup would have been what the method prescribes for a 3:15 or faster.

David:  In the first few pace runs, it was 7:30s and we kept going down even when we were running 9 or 10 miles at the end, into the 7:20s.

AR:  Eric, how about for you on the MGP runs?  Do you agree with Fernando?

Eric:  In previous trainings, when I would do the pace runs they would be every couple of weeks and it would go from 4 miles to 6 to 8.  And I always dreaded them and I never felt good afterwards.  So the first 3 weeks when we did the 6 mile runs, I think I felt a little nervous.  Could I run a 7:30 pace? I didn’t know.  But everything is so gradual.  I think the whole mental aspect for me was really quite amazing.   So the 3 weeks of 6 mile pace runs and then that next week I remember thinking OK, I’m only adding another mile so it’s only 7 now. And then when I started seeing my performances, I was shooting for 7:38, but typically the average for the pace from would be 7:35 or 7:34.  And I got more and more confident so that after the 3 weeks of 7 miles and then we did 8 miles and I just kept thinking, I know that I can do this.  And, as David said, after we finished all of our pace runs, I went and I computed what our average pace was for the 3 sixes, for the 4 sevens, for the 3 eights, et cetera. And yes, our pace got faster. So I felt really confident and I attributed that to the training being so incremental and also having David and Fernando and Doug Rivera as part of my training group.  But I just felt really, really good. And it translated to the marathon where when I saw, when I was running the first half, I knew what 7:38 felt like, I knew what I should be running. And I just felt really quite amazing.  And then when I saw David at 13.5, I felt great and I had the thought in my head, this is going to happen, this is the day I’m going to have a great race and I felt that way probably up through mile 20 and David was able to break it down.  We did our pace runs on Great Northern and Shoal Creek, 3.5 miles.  So David kept saying, “OK, we’ve got like two Great Northern loops to go.”  I was able to think “it’s just a pace run.”  Even miles 25 and 26 where I was getting tired, I still ran three to five seconds under my goal pace.  On the last two tenths of a mile where I couldn’t do the math and I really thought I was headed for a 3:20, David yelled back and said “you’ve got a 3:17 if you just dig deep.”  And honestly, I just so much wanted to be able to tell one person in particular, Ivi, that I was able to run a 3:17, so much so that I ran a strong last two tenths of a mile and my pace for that was 7:16.  So those pace runs really gave me not only physical strength but also a ton of confidence as well.

AR:  A key part of Hanson’s is what they call “cumulative fatigue,” running 6 days a week and fairly high miles, but nothing longer than 16.  Did you feel like that was a big part of the benefits of the program?

David:  All throughout the training. I was checking on the guys “how are you doing, how’s the training, etc.”  I’ve never been through a complete training cycle where someone didn’t get injured.  And these guys just kept getting stronger.  They always felt the runs were there, the mileage was there.  If you run smart and you’re not getting killed by a 20 or 22 mile run, that seemed to help with preventing injury.

Eric:  The cumulative fatigue, so you’re running six days a week.  Even if it’s just a recovery run, you’re running it at minimum 8 miles a day so that by the time you get to Saturday, your legs have already put in about 20 to 25 miles. So the idea is that you’re running on tired legs, your body is physiologically adapting to that and then the 16 miles you run on that Saturday, it’s kind of like the last 16 miles of the marathon because you’ve already put in 20 to 25 miles on Thursday, Friday.

Fernando:  Long runs were to be run at 8:21 per mile.  We started running  about 50 seconds per mile slower than the target MGP  pace, which initially was 7:38.   The pace in the long runs got better and better as we followed  the training.  We were faster than that on the last 16 miler, closer to 7:50.

AR:  Any MGP miles during the long run or a fast finish long run?

David:  No, but I have to tell the truth to these guys.  On one of the last long runs 5 weeks before CIM, I just started picking up the pace without telling them.  And they felt great.  It was the only long run where we ended up with some MGP.

AR:  Did you ever feel ashamed that you were doing a minuscule 16 mile long run?

Fernando:  I didn’t.  I was looking at my training and we ran 260 miles in a month and I only had 2  16-mile long runs.  So we had the volume in.  It sounded right to me.  At the beginning, I was nervous about it, I thought about  running at least a 20 miler during the program.  But as we progressed I felt very confident about just following the program.

Eric:  So I have two pieces for this, the first is that because there was pressure and also self-doubt, I did have the thought that maybe I should be doing the 20 mile runs. But luckily I had the group and the plan, and we stuck with the plan. But then the other side is that I was excited not to do any runs longer than 16 because the long run should not be more than 25 to 30 percent of your weekly mileage.  Hanson’s makes this point that most of us will run 50 percent or more of our weekly mileage in one day.  It just felt right and also I kept thinking “but if I’m going to run a 20 mile run, I have to run 80 miles that week for that 25 percent of my week and that’s never going to happen.”

AR:  Fernando and Eric, you guys did so well with this training and then big PRs at CIM.  What’s next?  More marathons?  And will you use Hanson’s?

Eric:  I had said to Doug Rivera at one point I just want to qualify for Boston, run Boston, and then I’m done.  And I remember he looked at me, he laughed and he said, “OK, it’s not going to happen, but you can say it.”  I’m not done.  I know that I can run faster and now that I met my goal of qualifying, I want to see how much faster I can run.  I’m definitely going to follow Hanson’s in the future.

Fernando:  Yeah, I’m in the same boat.  I really haven’t decided yet for 2018. I’m definitely, definitely, definitely doing Boston in 2019 and definitely I will follow the same plan.

AR:  David, you said earlier that you were maybe done with marathons, but after this experience, and observing Eric and Fernando, have you revised your opinion?

David:  I would say that would be real hard to train for another one.

AR:  All right, we’ll see.

David:  Just one last thing, Fernando said they ran 120 miles at MGP, but you know we ran an extra week and did a 16 mile at close to MGP, so these guys ran over 140 miles at marathon pace.  That’s incredible, I just can’t say enough about that.  When you get out there for the marathon and you start running and you have the muscle memory, it’s pretty amazing when you think about it.  I don’t know anybody else or any other groups, even when I was training hard, that run that much at pace.  I think that’s a big key to the success of this program.

AR:  Thanks again to David, Eric, and Fernando.

Fernando Melendez, David Schwalm, Richard Menendez, and Eric Snader. Richard is a famous Gazelle. Photo courtesy of Eric Snader.