Modesto Marathon training: the second bit

I think it’s safe to say with over 237 miles for January – with weeks looking like 50+ (x2) & 60+ (x2) – that we are in the thick of marathon training. YAY!! I really like it here.

Aside from the typical general aerobic and recovery runs, the key workouts and a high-level overview:

1/9: 11 miles with miles 4-7 at tempo (6:55-7:05 tempo target, 7, 7:06, 7:10 actuals)

Totally got my ass handed to me the first time I tried this run. I ran to a cinder and dirt track near home, and between just feeling off, the rain, the puddles on the track, and the wind (why is it always windy on tracks?), I couldn’t dial in the paces to save my life. I also had some GI issues right up until I began the tempo portion. This was a little mentally frustrating because not long before, I had nailed a 3 mile tempo (and had PR’ed my 5k in the process), but that’s running sometimes. I was frustrated but just thought of the big picture and kept going.

muddy stems

1/10: 17 miles with Meredith along the rollers (7:45-8:45 LR target, 8:04 avg)

Always thankful for running buddies for the long runs, though this morning’s run started out a bit rough thanks to a random creeper just hangin’ out. Ugh. Once that nonsense stopped, the run was actually pretty smooth, and Meredith and I had a good time running across my city and the neighboring ‘burb and a little over 400’ of rollers. Most of the uphills aren’t until the ‘back’ portion of the run, so it’s an especially good Boston simulator for her, and it just makes it extra fun.

1/16: 11 with miles 4-7 at tempo (6:47, :54, :47)

Another dreary Saturday in the early morning hours, so I decided to go to a different, non-dirt, non-cinder track for my tempo miles. I have been trying to make a conscious effort to dial in the pace on these tempo runs a bit because paces are prescribed for a reason. Running on a rubberized track when it’s raining and windy, and therefore hitting the prescribed paces, FTW, baby. This was a confidence-boosting run.

1/17: 17+ LR in pieces: 13.17 @ 9:23 avg (with 1,107′ gain) + 4.35 @ 7:47 avg

Saurabh had arrived back to the Bay Area the day before, so we decided a meet-up to run-up Monument Peak was in order. Apparently I had stupidly not taken into consideration how incredibly muddy and wet the trails would be – the pull-your-shoes-off-your-feet, take-one-step-up-the-hill-and-slide-back-down type of mud – and after just a few miles of that, we (at my lead) decided to bag it since I wanted to finish the LR as quickly as possible. We ended up just running around the park instead, picking up some decent non-super-muddy hill climbs. Saurabh stopped around 7 miles, and since I had been gone for a while by now, I felt my milk coming in (breastfeeding FTW) and knew that I’d just get progressively more uncomfortable, so I left my car at the park and just ran home. Do what you gotta do sometimes! I eventually got home, and literally as I was walking in the door, the baby was waking up, ready to eat. It wasn’t until much later in the day, post-brunch, that I got out to finish up the balance of the LR, but I did it. I don’t want to make a habit out of breaking up my LRs like this, but I gotta accommodate life (and my boobs), so whatevs. It worked. And hooray for actually feeling pretty great post-MP attempt, despite my lack of climbing over the past month and change.


still pretty

1/23: 12 miles with 4-8 @ tempo (6:46, 49, 52, 45)

Back to my fav rain-friendly track since, again, it was a pretty dreary morning. I was pretty dubious that I wouldn’t die of GI distress during this run because my husband and I had a lovely date night the night prior, and my dinner consisted of movie theatre concessions… and popcorn is full of delicious fiber, gang. Fortunately, my guts held it together and didn’t decide to party until the CD miles. During the tempo, just like the week before, I tried to stay within striking range of my prescribed paces but started too quickly and began a slow burn before rallying for the final mile. I’d much rather start a tempo too slowly and negative split it than start too quickly and positive split. Pretty sure my stomach hurt for the rest of the day though. Lesson learned.

1/24: 18 solo miles @ 8:09 avg

18 miles can be formidable, and this run was replete with tons of mental negotiating and bargaining. I was alone – sans buddies or music – and felt like I was convincing myself with each mile to go just a little farther. My stomach again felt like ass for the first 4 miles, which sucked. I thought of about a million different scenarios that I could do – breaking up the run, bagging it entirely, you name it – but I ultimately just went with it. The funny thing is that I was never more than about 3 or 4 miles from home for the entirety of the run (hence the ever-present possibility of bagging it). I didn’t really begin to feel great until about 10 miles in, and by the time I was done, I was stupidly proud of myself because I worked through a ton of mental bullshit over 18 miles. Mental callousing, baby.

1/30: 12 with 4 @ tempo (6:55, 54, 49, 42)

“Dreary Saturday morning” is a thing these days in SJ, apparently. Back to my rain-friendly track for some fast running action, and I was determined to be smart about my pacing and hoped to reverse the “go too fast, kinda die, and then rally” tone from last week’s attempt. It’s so funny to think how the tempo running has been different for me postpartum than it was before I most recently got pregnant, and that’s probably a blog post in itself. I go into these runs a little anxious but more excited than anything – I get to run fast for a half hour or so! – and while I am concentrating on the paces, I feel fairly relaxed and as though I’m not digging or knocking on death’s door. HOORAY POSTPARTUM PROGRESS.


1/31: LR in parts: 4 @ 8:44 solo + 14 with pickups w/Meredith @ 8:22 avg

With a slight discrepancy in prescribed distances, and thanks to the baby’s eating schedule in the early morning, it worked out for me to run 4 easy miles by myself in the rain and dark before Meredith arrived. The two of us eventually set out to run 14 and change over the rollers again and took it easy on the front half before a nice progression and negative split home. The final miles for me went 8:29, 14, 08, 7:36, 29, 26, and 22, and I felt great on all of them. I’m still trying to find what my GMP is, and throwing in some fast finishes on my runs has helped clarify that a little.

The executive summary: all good. I’ll write another post on some ancillary stuff that I’ve been working on with this marathon cycle – some of it is specific to the postpartum period – since I’m already over 1,000 words for this post (sorry, friends’ eyeballs. Remember to blink periodically). I’m happy with how things are going and am excited to see what lies ahead. Here we go, February!


Two Hours – by Ed Caesar – book review

Though I’ve considered myself a runner for more or less my entire life, well before I broke out my running shoes, I buried my nose in books. In fact, as I think I’ve said elsewhere somewhere on this blog, I have distinct memories of being young (elementary school-aged), and when I’d put out my clothes for school each night, I’d also put out which bookS I was going to bring with me that day. Avid reader is an understatement.

Anyway, it probably comes as no surprise then that for as much as I love to run, I also enjoy reading about running. I recently came upon a new-to-me book, published in 2015 by first-time author Ed Caesar – Two Hours: the Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon. No one sent me this book; I’m not under any obligation to talk about its merits or demerits; I just simply like to talk about running … and books … and books about running.


The thirty-second synopsis is this: it’s a book about the possibility of a human being – specifically, a male – being able to run 26.2 miles (a marathon) in under two hours (specifically, again, 1:59:59). If you’re not a marathoner and you don’t know how that math computes, allow me: that’s 4:34 minute miles for 26.2 miles.

That’s, really fucking fast.

Like really fucking fast.

More broadly speaking, Two Hours is about the limitations – self-imposed, psychological, physiological, biological, or hell, even socially – of humanity and our potential to overcome them. To say that running a marathon that effing quickly is an exercise in the serious pursuit of a serious unicorn, or an exercise in pushing the bounds of humans’ endurance, is a serious, if not offensive, understatement. This book explores the history of the modern-day marathon as we know it, following along a historical trajectory beginning at what we understand to be the birthplace of the marathon and culminating in modern-day, at the Berlin and NYC ’14 marathons.

Much of the book follows along the fella whom Caesar regards as a prime candidate to come close to that coveted 1:59:59, Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai, who has (among other accolades) the seriously impressive attribute of having run the world’s fastest marathon at Boston ’11 (2:03:02). The heartbreaking caveat here, of course, is that Boston is ineligible for record times (because of the course’s point-to-point setup and because of its net downhill), and to add insult to injury, Mutai also had what some consider an unfair advantage the day that he ran and won Boston – a tailwind for almost the entire 26.2 journey from Hopkinton to Boston.

Caesar expertly intertwines Mutai’s biography with the trajectory of the marathon and its contenders over the years. Included in the story of the marathon of course are other key players over the years – Haile Gebrselassie chief among them, as well as the late Sammy Wanjiru – and how they have influenced the sport and, either directly or indirectly, Mutai, himself. I love this type of writing because it doesn’t really matter if you’re a marathoner or hell, even a runner; it’s just fantastic, seamless, “human interest” type of writing that just so happens to be to the backdrop of marathoning.

Being that it is about running, after all, the book also spends a little bit of time exploring some physiological aspects inherent to running and why, exactly, these details matter – things like an athlete’s VO2 max, altitude-based training, and dietary differences. Even with this “scientific” information, which might immediately turn people off who aren’t in the sport, Caesar still writes about it in a way that makes understanding these aspects’ importance completely accessible to the average reader. In other words, fear not: you’re not reading a double-blind, peer reviewed, scientific journal article about the molecular biology of the world’s best marathoners. Yes, you’re reading about what forces interplay to make two-oh-three-ish guys (marathoners who complete the distance in about 2 hours and 3 minutes)on the biological level but – more than anything – on the societal levels. This key fact is what makes this book so compelling and interesting.

The elephant in the room (book?) here that Caesar didn’t even touch until chapter 8 (of 10) is everything surrounding doping that has engulfed the world of professional running. I can understand this, and at the same time, I don’t. It is horrible that so many professional runners have doped during some of the biggest matches of their lives – cheating themselves but more importantly, the clean athletes who should have won – and unfortunately, more often than not, these allegations don’t appear until years after competition. What really sucks is when an athlete’s country has been riddled with doping allegations and confirmations – as in the case of Kenya – because it implicates clean athletes, perhaps athletes like Mutai, who rightfully earned their wins. Caesar’s chapter on doping illuminates this point head-on as he details how Mutai has been accused over the years of doping – and especially once he became successful year after year at some of the World Marathon Majors.

As a reader, I was expecting Caesar to delve into the doping issues much earlier than he did because like many other running fans, I am unfortunately suspect of amazing, maybe-too-good-to-be-true winning times. Doping sucks for the athletes, no doubt, but it also sucks for fans because it’s no longer easy to just accept our athletes and their talents being the result of hard work and genetics. My point here is just to say that I was surprised that Caesar took as long as he did to talk about doping in the marathoning world, but at the same time, I don’t know if expounding upon the issue any earlier in the book would have made any difference. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I guess.

Here’s the biggest takeaway about Two Hours. Yes, it’s a sports book; yes, it’s a book about marathoning; yes, it’s a book about how and when and if a human male, probably Kenyan or maybe Ethiopian, will ever have the biological, physiological, and psychological wherewithal to successfully race 26.2 miles in under two hours, but really, it’s a book about the human condition and experience and how we voluntarily challenge ourselves.

We, as a species, tend to think things are impossible to overcome – we simply can’t fathom it – until one day, we finally do.

The best example: for the longest time, it was impossible – against any sort of scientific or logical knowledge or spiritual feeling – that a male human could run a mile in under four minutes.

A sub-4 mile was impossible until one day, it wasn’t (props, Sir Roger Bannister). And once this suddenly became possible, we as a species started to do it … again. And again. And again.

So many of us, myself included, place self-imposed limitations on what we can do in our running or athletic capabilities (but also probably in other life pursuits, too), and in the process, we shortchange ourselves.

We write our story that says that we can’t do this or we can’t hit this pace, and for worse – not better – that’s what we believe; the story that we ascribe to ourselves is the story we subscribe to, day in and day out.

Though it may be mind-boggling to fathom a human male covering 26.2 miles in under two hours, we are doing ourselves a serious disservice to discount the possibility of it ever happening. It’s like believing that today’s professional marathoners are the fastest and best that they’ll ever be for the rest of time, that there will be no advances in training methodologies, technologies, or any other useful aspect to marathoning in the future that will allow humans to get faster.

We have to be kidding ourselves if we think that humanity is already in its finest and fastest hour.

In case it’s not totally evident, I really enjoyed reading Two Hours in the throes of my marathon training – my first postpartum and thus, my first in over a year – because it leaves me excited for both humanity’s potential performance at the distance and more personally speaking, my own. I have neither the desire nor the talent to ever try to run a sub-2 marathon, but hitting a sub-3 sometime in my life is definitely on my list of big, exciting, scary-ass goals (though I’ve got some work to do first!).

Two Hours is a fast read. Go pick it up, and tell me what you think.

wife and mom ruminating on her love of the run