Trust the Process (Boston Marathon update, 3 weeks to go)

Trust the Process (Boston Marathon update, 3 weeks to go)
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With less than three weeks to go, we are now counting down to the Boston Marathon in earnest. (Although, who are we kidding, my countdown began last year, when I learned that my qualifying time actually got me into the race with 8 seconds to spare).

The latest runner update I received from the Boston Athletic Association included this little bit:

It is nearly time to taper your training and begin carb-loading for the big day. We wish you the best of luck in your last three weeks of training, and look forward to seeing you in Boston!

And an email from the folks conducting a research study on running mechanics in which I’m participating (and yes, I am ridiculously excited that I get to contribute to dorky stuff like “how do foot strike mechanics change, if at all, during a 26.2-mile road race?”) began thus:

Thank you for your continued interest and participation in the Marathon Running Mechanics Study! At this point in time, we expect you will have completed your longest run of training and are tapering towards race day.

But, you see, I have not. During my last marathon training cycle, the one and only 20-miler I ran was 10 days before race day.

Many runners believe that this is cutting it too close, and anything shorter than two weeks of tapering is not enough time for the body to recover before the race. I believe that, for me, a shorter taper works better. I first tried it two years ago on my coach’s directions, and was surprised how much better I felt, physically and mentally, than when I was tapering for two weeks, or even three.

In short: this is not a “taper madness has begun” training update. This is a “train your own training plan” update. A bunch of Boston marathon runners whose training I’m following have done two or even three 20-milers already, and have now begun to scale back. But that’s their training plan, not mine.


My training plan for the past week was focused on recovery from the Hellyer Half marathon – with the understanding that the week after, the miles and intensity would shoot back up. I have yet to run longer than 18 miles in this training cycle, and my long run last week (with three weeks to go until the Boston Marathon) was 16.2. Here are the details:

Monday: Short recovery run after the half marathon the day before. 3.2 miles in 31 minutes (9:36/mi average pace). Surprisingly, no soreness; just a bit of heaviness in the legs.

Tuesday: More recovery: 5 easy miles in 48 minutes.

Wednesday: Gently re-introducing the legs to short bits of speed: after a 20-min warmup (10 easy pace, 10 steady), I did 10x 1 minute at 7:30 pace and 1 minute at 8:30. (Except I think I miscounted and did 11 reps.) A total of 5.7 miles in just under 48 minutes.

Thursday: A fairly short (1 hour) trail run with a friend. Easy pace, but lots of climbing: 1,300 feet in 5.6 miles. Wore my Team Betty 2016 tights. The colors and patterns on those things are just so rad! Check out some Betty Designs stuff here.

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Friday: [This is important] Got a deep-tissue massage on my left leg in the morning. I have had some niggles on my left side for a couple of years now. Any time I pick up the pace (a lot – as I do in races), my left leg feels the fatigue sooner and, worst case, get cramped up if I’m going faster, longer. This didn’t happen during the half marathon, and I should have probably left it alone until after the Boston Marathon. But I didn’t. I got 50 minutes worth of work on it (massage, ART, and cupping therapy, which left huge purple circular bruises all over my butt and my upper leg – sorry, TMI?). The massage therapist said my Gluteus Medius, TFL and Vastus Lateralis are all cramped, tight and knotted, and he really, really went at them. Any time I go a chiropractor or to get a massage, by the way, and I’m told my “Gluteus medius” is tight, I smile with glee at the idea of literally having a tight butt. Thanks, doc!

Anyway, the short-term result was immediate soreness in my (tight) butt and upper leg. An easy 30-minute run later that afternoon felt sluggish and slow. But, I’m hoping long term the payoff will be worth it, namely: limber legs and cramp-free running!

Saturday: More post-massage soreness! Luckily, I didn’t have to push the pace: an easy trail run, 8.2 miles in 1:20 hrs and just around 800 feet total climb. Running down was tricky, as my left quad was still sore from the massage (the Vastus Lateralis is the biggest of the four muscles making up the quadriceps, and the one bearing the brunt of hard work and body weight when running downhill.)

Sunday: Long run day! This one was an easy-pace 2:20 hrs. Coach said to up the effort a little for the second half if I’m feeling good, but frankly, I was feeling like keeping it easy all the way. Got in 16.2 miles and an average 8:46/mi pace. A few miles in there in the 8:20s, but I was not capable of anything faster.

Total miles: 47.2
Focus: Race recovery

Oh, and I got my Runner’s Passport last week, which has my bib pick-up slip with my number. I’ll be running down to Boylston Street as Runner 20325!

Travel, Tennis, Taper, and Boston Marathon Training Recap (4 weeks to go!)

Travel, Tennis, Taper, and Boston Marathon Training Recap (4 weeks to go!)
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Hello! We just came back from an almost week-long trip to Indian Wells, where we spent roughly 12 hours a day watching tennis at the BNP Paribas Open.

So to the half-dozen people who read my weekly training recaps: sorry for posting this one so late! Please accept this as my apology:

[Feliciano Lopez, #21 in the ATP rankings, #1 in ABS?]

Travel can throw off a rigorous training schedule, especially if your destination is an eight-hour car trip away. Lucky for me, our travel week was also my taper week, because I’m racing a local half marathon this Sunday (tomorrow).

So here’s a two-in-one weekly recap:

Six weeks to go:

Monday: Long run with tempo intervals. This was the prescribed workout: start with a 20-min warmup at 9-ish pace; then do 4x 5 min at 7:40 with 1 min recovery jog in between; follow up with 70 minutes of easy pace running (8:40 or so), but try to get a hill climb in the second half of that section; then wrap up with another 4x 5 minutes at 7:40 or faster, with 1 min recovery jog. I knocked out all the prescribed paces, but darn and drat, was it hard! The weather had been unpredictable, with rain on and off in the days leading up to this run, and sure enough: just as I was done with the first set of hard intervals, it started pouring. The easy-pace portion was an out-and-back on a road with rolling hills, and coming back I had strong headwind blowing freezing rain right in my face. The second set of fast intervals felt harder than any speedwork I’ve done lately. But I did it and I’m actually grateful for the rain and wind. Boston weather is unpredictable in April and I’m glad I can get at least a few training runs in not-ideal conditions. Total distance run: 18 miles in 2:36, at an 8:49 average pace.

Tuesday: Easy five mile run with a friend; nearly 10 min/mile pace.

Wednesday: Easy 5.5-mile run at 9:19/ mile average pace.

Thursday: Progression run, 1 hr 15 min. Run first 15 min easy, next 15 min slightly faster, then run 25 min steady and the last 20 min: go hard. Legs felt good and sufficiently recovered from Monday’s long run. Splits: 9:34 – 8:53 – 8:42 – 8:19 – 8:02 – 7:53 – 7:38 – 7:41 – 7:36.

(photo from earlier that day, as I coached my Thursday Track run group; yup, that sunrise was something else…)

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Friday: Easy 30-min run; 9:25 average pace.

Saturday: Another long run, this one on the trails: 13.1 miles with 1,680 ft climb. After a mile-long warmup and some running drills, I climbed for about 5.5 miles at an easy effort, then pushed the pace on the way down, and tacked on another short climb to round out my time to just over 2:05 hrs.

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Sunday: Travel day; an easy 30-min run in the steady rain before we left.

Total weekly mileage: 57.2
Emphasis: Two quality long runs

Five weeks to go:

Monday: First day in the desert; an easy 50-minute run to wake up the legs (and glutes!) from the 8-hr ride the day before. 5.5 miles in dry air and wind.

Tuesday: Time to do some work. Cruise miles: 6x 1 mile at fast pace, with 1-min recovery jog. The goal was to start the reps at 7:50 and work down from there, ideally to 7:20, but faster if I was feeling good. I did a similar workout a couple of weeks ago and yeah, these miles felt just as hard. The wind was very strong, and I ran the first mile and a half with it at my back, then against it for two and a half miles, then back with the wind behind me for the last one and a half miles. You can pretty much tell from the splits when I was running with the wind and when I was running against it: 7:49 (I thought I was being super extra awesome that day, because the pace felt easy… I found out why when I turned around in a couple of miles) – 7:41 – 7:35 (ouch, wind!) – 7:42 (WIND!!) – 7:30 (second half of this with wind at my back) – 7:13 (ahhhh, that felt nice). Total miles: 8.1.

(That day, we climbed up to the very highest seats in the tennis stadium, the only ones that had a tiny bit of shade going for them if you lean against the wall. Boy, was it hot:)

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Wednesday: Easy run, 3.5 miles at 9:14 average pace.

Thursday: Another easy run, 3.4 miles at 9:05 average pace. Last run in the desert before we headed to the Tennis Garden for the rest of the morning and then, the eight-hour trip home.

Friday: Entering taper mode: a 45-minute run, first 30 minutes at an easy pace, last 15 minutes progress to faster, but not too hard effort; no faster than 8 min/ mile pace. Got 5.5 miles in at an 8:34 average pace.

Saturday: Last run before half marathon Sunday; easy 30 minutes and 4x 20-second strides at a comfortable pace (not too fast). Got in 3.5 miles total.

Weekly mileage (before half marathon): 29.7 miles.
Emphasis: Taper week

The recommended taper for a half marathon is four to seven days long, depending on the athlete’s schedule and fitness. Ideally, you would cut your volume down to anywhere from 30% to 60% of your previous three to four week’s mileage, but keep some intensity in to keep your muscles “springy” (do some mile repeats, a progression run or two, some strides at the end of short runs). I’m using tomorrow’s half marathon as a tune-up for the Boston Marathon, so a seven-day taper would have been unnecessarily long. I’m also a fan of short tapers overall, which happens to be my coach’s approach and works for me (for a marathon, I usually do as short as a week, and no longer than 10 days). Every runner’s body and brain work differently, some need more time to recover – others go taper-crazy if they dial down the mileage too early. The key is to find what works best — and then make the best of it.

Party time tomorrow! 🙂

Should You Work with a Coach? (And Boston Marathon training, 6 weeks to go!)

Should You Work with a Coach? (And Boston Marathon training, 6 weeks to go!)
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Like clockwork, with six week until race day I’m feeling like a rag. The miles are piling up and I’m feeling it, but I also know that’s all part of the process. So I’m not letting it get to me.

You want to know what helps the most, though? Having a coach. It absolutely, positively removes any self-doubt I might have about how my training is going, whether I’m doing too much or not enough, and whether I’ll be ready on race day. It’s simple: I trust my coach that he knows what he’s doing. I know that barring any unexpected setback or injury over the next six weeks, on April 18 I will toe the start line at Hopkinton as prepared as I can be. That, to me, is worth every penny and then some.

Whether to hire a running or triathlon coach is a personal decision. Much of it has to do with cost and coaching style. Depending on where you live and how involved the coaching relationship will be, it might cost you anywhere from $100 to $250 a month. Some coaches will work with you one-on-one, sending you a training schedule weekly and communicating with you at least a few times a week, making updates to your schedule as needed. Others will send you a monthly schedule and check in with you up to once a week.

Either way, working with a coach can be beneficial for runners of all ability and goals, from running their first marathon to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or more.

Work with a coach cover

A coach brings to the table:

1. Experience.

Let’s say you’ve been running for a year, have roughly 500 miles of “experience,” including a few 5K and 10K events. You’re ready to tackle your first half marathon. Should you hire a coach?

Maybe. For your first long-distance race, assuming you will not have a specific time goal, you might use a cookie-cutter plan you found online and do just fine. But things happen. Travel, family events or a busy schedule at work might prevent you from doing a key long run. You might have to skip a week or two because of illness. What to do then? A less experienced runner might, for example, decide to “make up” for a missed long run by doing it a few days later, not giving themselves enough time to recover for their next long run.

Working with a coach will, at the very least, adjust your training plan properly to accommodate missed training in a way that will not get you injured. Not to mention, you have someone to ask questions: and we know that when you are faced with the gargantuan task of running 13.1 or 26.2 miles for the very first time, you have many of those.

2. Objectivity

Let’s say you’re an experienced runner. You’ve run several marathons and have improved your finishing time with each one. But now you’ve hit a plateau. You know what you’re doing — or you think you know what you’re doing, but for some reason your times are not improving. A coach will be able to objectively review your training for the last weeks or months and see things you might be unable to see or admit. Maybe you’re running your easy runs too hard, maybe you’re not running hard enough. Maybe you’re racing too much. These are things that we, as runners, often refuse to admit because they’ll force us to change our habits. A coach will have no trouble pointing out where and how you need to change if you want to improve.

3. Accountability

There’s nothing like knowing that your coach will be reviewing your training week to motivate you to go out and nail those intervals or hill repeats, right? And yes, friends can be great motivators and running with them is free. But have you ever found yourself talked out of a hard hilly run in favor or an easier one because your running partner isn’t feeling like hills today? Working with a coach will keep you motivated and accountable.

4. Planning

It’s priceless, really, to not have to think about your training. Every day, you know what you need to do — and you know that if for some reason you cannot do it, your training schedule will be updated to accommodate your life. You don’t get that from cookie cutter training plans, and you certainly don’t get it when you make your own training schedule.

I’ve been running races for 13 years and running for nearly 25. I coach runners myself (I’m an RRCA and USATF Level 1 certified coach). But when it comes to my own training, I put it in the hands of my coach. I trust him completely.

Now, let’s say you’ve decided to hire a coach. Month after month, you pay a person to tell you how to train. Both of you have a vested interest in you succeeding. So how do you make the most of your relationship?

1. Be honest and transparent

Tell your coach everything that is relevant to your training. Past injuries. Current injuries. Tiny pains that you think may be turning into an injury. Dietary limitations. Schedule conflicts. Goals. Hopes and dreams. If it has anything to do with your training – anything – do not hide it.

2. Be accurate and update your training log on time

Just as it is important to you to have your weekly training plan on time, it is important to your coach to know how your training is going! When you work with a coach, you will share a training log document of some sort, where you will log all your sessions. Do it as often as possible! Don’t wait for days or weeks to report how each run has gone, and be as detailed as your coach has asked you to be: pace, time, effort level, tell all.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

There is no such thing as a stupid question. Really. Depending on how often you communicate with your coach, write down and send him or her any questions that come to mind about your training. If it is within their scope of expertise to answer, they will. If it isn’t, they will refer you to the appropriate specialist, be it a registered dietitian, chiropractor or physical therapist.

4. Do what your coach tells you to do

Trust your coach. You hired them because you believed that they can help you get better. But they cannot do that if you’re not following their plan. If you find yourself questioning your coach’s decisions and don’t really trust them – it’s time to break up and seek help elsewhere.

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Boston Marathon Training, 6 Weeks to go

Speaking of trusting the coach and the process, here’s what I did last week:

Monday: Long run, 17 miles. I didn’t do one the week before because of travel, so we moved it to Monday. (See? Flexibility.)

Tuesday: Easy day: morning swim (2000 yards) and an easy 45-min run in the afternoon, 5 miles.

Wednesday: Morning: 60-minute fartlek. After a 15-minute warmup, I did 4x 1:30 min on (tempo effort), 1:30 min off; then 4x 1 min on/ off; 4x 45 sec on/off, and finally, 4x 30 sec on/ off. A total of 7 miles.

Afternoon: A very easy 40-min run, 4 miles.

Thursday: Hilly run, 1 hour – 7 miles. First 45 minutes at steady pace in the hills, followed by 15 min cooldown on the flatter road, and a few strides.

Friday: Easy day. Morning swim (2000 yards) and an easy 45-min run in the afternoon, 4.7 miles. Felt slow, sleepy and sluggish all through.

Saturday: Trail run, easy effort; 8.2 miles in just over 1:20 hrs, and 780 ft of climbing. It started raining, too; though luckily the real downpour did’t begin until I got back into the car!

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Sunday: I was supposed to do another long run here, but as my coach correctly observed, I was looking pretty dead on Saturday, so we pushed it until Monday. An easy 45-min run instead, with a few strides at the end, for a total of 5 miles.

Total mileage: 58.4
This is the most miles I’ve run in a week, ever. So it’s little surprise that I’m feeling fatigued. (Although, as I write this, I’ve already done the long run that got postponed, nailed it, and feeling much better. Tell you more about that next week!)

Do you work with a coach? I’m curious to hear about it!