Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wannabe Wednesday: The Main Reason I Wanted to Run a Marathon

You may have read my interview with my Uncle John, who is not only incredibly humble, but also an insanely talented runner.  Today's edition of Wannabe Wednesday features yet another person whose genetic pool I should have inherited, which means I should be a really fast, awesome runner.  But, you already know that part didn't happen.

What you might not know is that one of the main reasons I got in to running, and certainly one of the big reasons why I trained for and ran the New York City Marathon, is: MY DAD.  Below, I share an interveiw with him about his glory days on the roads.  Enjoy!

Dad's on the left - I would have cropped the photo, but how could I mess with it when all 3 are rocking such awesome the late 70s/early 80s attire?

Can you share some PRs of yours for various race differences
The following on some times that I think I remember properly from my second running career (starting after age 31 until age 36 and not when I ran in high school or college which were a good bit better and I younger).  5 mile 27:55; 10K 36:45; 10 mile 58:40; 1/2 marathon 1:19:10, marathon 2:54. Interestingly, I was probably a better runner in high school than my younger brother but in later years he became far better than me in any distance. He is a good example that you do not need to have been a high school track star to become a very good runner in later years if you make an effort and stay with it. I essentially stopped racing after age 36 and became a recreational runner three to five times a week for many years thereafter. 

Tell us about your best marathon ever - your finish time, which race it was, etc.
Although not my fastest, the Philadelphia marathon in I think 1980 was my favorite.  It was the first time it became a point to point run instead of three laps plus around the Schukyll River in Fairmount Park.  The weather was great, I knew many runners in it and I ran the second 1/2 faster than the first, including running the last mile in under 6 minutes to finish about 10 seconds under 3 hours.  The last mile passed within a block of our house in center city Philly at the time so many of the spectators were my neighbors.  A friend of my brothers ran the first 10 miles with me to keep me from going to fast after a slow 8:05 the first mile (there were no chips to record time only after one crossed the finish line then) and my brother waited for me around mile 18 with some Coca Cola that had been shaken to rid it of the fix). Serious runners would say I did not run hard enough to have so much left in the second half of the race but it made for an enjoyable experience and run which I can not say about most of the races I ever ran in with better finishing times at any distance.

How did you first get into running?  Were you a speed demon right off the bat, or did you start out like the rest of us mere mortals and then work your way up?  If the latter, can you describe your progression and what types of workouts or strategies you felt particularly began making the difference? 
I started running high school cross country as a junior because one of my friends who wanted to try out for the team talked me into it and offered a ride in his car home to practices.  I did it more to be a good friend and figured it would not hurt for me to get in somekind of shape.  I can never thank my friend enough for having gotten me started in something I have enjoyed doing the rest of my life until last year when an injury has prevented me from further running.  I was  far from being a speed demon when I started and never became one.  My strength was being able to maintain a decent speed for longer stretches than many except the elite runners.  In fact I think it took me at least two if not three weeks of training before I could run the entire cross country course without stopping. The course was only about 2.3 miles but had a tough hill in the first half mile and a longer gradual run that ended just before the 2 mile mark.  It was a great course and included a short run in the woods and at least one spot that required a short jump over a stream. It was a big advantage for us when we were the host team. I also could hardly walk the first couple of days after practice, developed shin splints that ached after running.  Not sure why I persevered but by the next year I was the number 3 runner on a very strong varsity team.  I remember one meet senior year where the coach of the host team made a snide remark that just in case any of us visiting runners were interested, the course record was X. I ran my worst race of the year that day and finished a painful 5th on my team but also 5th in the race and broke the course record.  That coach was not too happy with us. The best training for me in that first year was longer runs than I was racing at good but relaxed speeds.  Intervals and step running became more important after the first year when I was attempting to increase my speed, although I loathed the interval work. In high school we were allowed to walk between intervals but I latter learned and utilized intervals with jogging in between as the better way to build speed/endurance. 

Did you do much cross training or did you just run, run, run?
We did not know what cross training was.  So it was run, run, run.  Once a week our high school track coach (who was a great coach and person) would make all of the non sprinters go out for a one hour run any where we wanted as long as we did not stop. 

How did you learn to pace yourself throughout races and your workouts?  So many running articles recommend that you add sprints or tempo runs to your workout, but it can be very difficult to figure out how much is pushing yourself the right amount to (1) make it through the rest of the workout, (2) not be so sore that you can't workout in the coming days, (3) not get sick after, and (4) not get injured.  With so much to keep you guessing, what do you recommend for people trying to start incorporating more "efforts" into their "workouts"?
Use common sense and do not try to do too much sprint and tempo stuff too soon.  However, one should have a goal of how fast and how many intervals (with jogging in between to recover) one would like to eventually get to.  For example, if your goal is 6 minute miles for 5 miles then you clearly need to build to where you can run several quarters (10) in under 90 seconds (preferably in the 80 to 85 second range) without an all out effort. This can take a while to get there.  Once there you should aim for 5 to 6 one half mile runs with a quarter mile recovery jog in between at say a 2:45 to 2:50 pace.  And you still need to maintain one or two longer runs each week, with one or both more than the racing distance you are training for.  Another good technique that an elite runner friend once get me to do with considerable success is to run several races as training runs but at say 75% to 90% effort as part of your training regime with no rest days before or after the race. For example, running two or three 10K races at least 85% of all out raceeffort when training for a 1/2 or full marathon are great pace builders. These practice races are not to be a substitute for the necessary long training runs for a 1/2 or full marathon. and the hardest thing about a practice race is when people you can beat are passing you and you feel like yelling "I can go faster" but you need to eat your pride and let them go on these events. 

Did you typically create your own training schedules for races (and if so - what were some of your staples that you would always like to include, or could you provide a sample idea of what one might look like, etc.) or did you usually follow a published one/hire a coach/etc (and if so which one did you use)?
Did my own schedules and included things discussed above. 

What's your favorite type of training run?
Moderate speed middle distance run (4 to 7 miles)

What's your favorite distance to race?
10 miles as it helped separate the naturally swift from those of us with moderate speed but who had put in more miles to train for the race.  Longer races were often too punishing and often required more training to achieve peak performances than I had the time or desire to undertake.

Most embarrassing moment that ever happened to you on a run?
I accidentally became part of a small 5 mile race while finishing a 23 mile run and ending up beating the leaders to the finish line. It was a race for a small charity and none of the good local runners were in it.  I had no idea I had passed all of the racers until I was within 200 yards of the finish which was also the finish of my long run that day.  I veered off the course in the last couple of yards and people at the tape were yelling at me that I was off course not realizing I was not part of the race.  I felt stupid and worried that some thought I was being a hot dog or cheater, having not started with the group of racers.  So I quickly got to my car and drove away.  

Are there any conventional "rules of running" that you threw out the window and in retrospect wish you'd obeyed? 
Yes, I often overtrained and did not taper off the last week, especially before longer races like the 1/2 and full marathon in my early years.  One time I had a minor injury about two or three weeks before a 1/2 marathon and could not train except a couple of short runs the last week before the race.  I fretted that it had ruined my chance for a good time and that all of my hard work would be for naught.  I was able to run the race and ran like the wind for the first 10 to 11 miles.  I lost a little gas the last mile (I had been unable to do my last long run two weeks before the race due to the injury) but I still ran my best time at that time. Thereafter I learned to taper but I still often ran longer and faster than I should have many times.  Taking a day off now and then and sticking to planned distances, even when you feel great during a run, is the better approach as common wisdom suggests.  When I was running in my 30's, a bunch of my running friends would take pride being part of "Team Excess" by often running that extra mile or second or two faster during intervals than was part of the planned training regime.  Unfortunately the belief that if it does not kill you it will makeyou better was the mantra of many a training run.  That was clearly foolish and I wish I had been smarter about it.  

Many years later - Dad cheering me on in the Naples Half Marathon!
You definitely wouldn't know we were related from comparing our race times!


  1. I have never run a marathon but I keep getting that itch, it just scares me to death to be honest. loved this interview!

  2. This was great! I love hearing the stories of old-school runners like your dad--lots of wisdom there.