Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 20 Mar 2005 08:06:29 -0500

Boston and Beyond


My current column in Marathon & Beyond tells of running my first Boston Marathon. It also was my first marathon anywhere (no Boston qualifying times needed in 1967) and would remain my fastest ever (at 12 seconds under 2:50).

The time -- 40 minutes faster than expected -- shocked me then. It doesn't anymore. Now I know that the training was solid.

This Commentary and the next one, condensed versions of the M&B column, tell why the training worked. And how it became the model for my schedules published decades later.

WHAT THAT RACE TAUGHT. Training for that Boston Marathon had seemed minimal, peaking at 20 miles and 1-1/2 minutes per mile slower than Boston race pace. Where did the extra 10K, at a much faster overall pace, come from? Four factors:

1. Total TIME of my longest training run. Those 20 miles had taken me 2:41 -- only about nine minutes shy of the marathon time.

Now I know that time-on-the-legs, time for the mind to grasp how long the race will take, is more important than distance. This 95 percent of my marathon total was the closest I would ever come to matching race time in training.

2. A modest amount of fast racing. In the three months before Boston I raced six times, from a single mile on an indoor track to 14 miles through the mountains.

(I hesitate to mention that the last of those races came just four days before the marathon. So much for tapering.)

Now I know that regular shorter-distance racing is what made the slow training work. My best "training" for speed was racing. I couldn't or wouldn't have pushed as hard any other way.

3. Nothing but easy runs between the long ones and races. I ran no intervals, took no tempo runs, did no striding or sprinting or hill repeats.

Now I know the value of long recovery periods between big efforts. About six of my pre-Boston runs in every seven were truly easy, neither long nor fast. That winter and spring the easy runs lasted from a half-hour to an hour at a relaxed pace.

4. Raceday magic. This factor is hardest to sell to someone who hasn't raced much. I wouldn't have believed it before my first marathon, and my career in shorter distances was already hundreds of races along.

I thought then that you got back from races exactly what you'd put into training. That is, you couldn't expect to race farther or faster than you'd trained. This was how it had gone for me in track and cross-country.

Now I know that the crowd running with you, the shouts from the sidewalks, the split times, the drink stations, the musical entertainment, the friends and families watching and waiting is worth big amounts. I came to count on racing a certain distance a minute per mile faster than I could run it by myself, or racing twice as far at a certain pace as I could train alone.

Boston's magic, the most I'd ever experienced, registered in both a faster pace AND a longer distance. Never had any race result so far surpassed what the training runs would have predicted.

And, I quickly add, never would a marathon day go so well again. This wasn't for lack of trying.

(Continued in RC 564.)


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