Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Greetings Faithful Readers,

My apologies for not posting today's Two-Something installment per schedule this morning. I found it necessary for me to take a time out from the other worldly platforms of social media spinning with starkly juxtaposed snippets of souls bared and tidbits of lives seemingly oblivious to the personal, communal, and national drama playing out in Ferguson, MO.

Regardless of your feelings (or lack there of) towards the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Mike Brown, this moment can be one of the defining ones of your personal history and our collective history. It can also fade into oblivion.

I believe that this moment is an excellent opportunity to practice the Japanese cultural and management philosophy of hansei or"self-reflection," becoming aware of and acting on opportunities for improvement. Beginning with ourselves, this process deepens our self-knowledge, and gives us an opportunity to make contributions to the world around us.

Thanks for reading!

If you'd like I'd be more than happy to dialogue more on this topic via email.

I would like to preface this newest post: all opinions expressed here are that of myself only and do not reflect those of my interviewees.

Please enjoy Interview #4: Mark Dolgin!

Interview #4: Mark Dolgin

I first met Mark Dolgin in 2010 through the Boston Bound program he references in his interview (now Boston 365). Since that time, Mark's running has progressed significantly, culminating (thus far) in a breakthrough performance at this year's BoA Chicago Marathon where he dropped over four minutes from his previous personal best, running 2:41:21.

As an experienced marathon runner, Mark tried a pretty unique training program for his latest race and it paid huge dividends. Keep reading to find out what changes Mark made and how he continues to improve after 8 years of running marathons.

Mark (far right) and Track and Trough Athletic Union teammates at the 2012 Chicago Half Marathon
Photo Credit: Hoyee Lennington

What is your running background? More specifically, how did you begin running marathons? 

I ran cross country and track in junior high and one year of high school track, and during college I did an occasional 5k or 10k, but that was the extent of my competitive running. I always said I'd never do a marathon. Running 26 miles just sounded nuts. My first year out of college, my company launched some sort of healthy living initiative, and as part of that they offered to pay the entry fee for the 2006 Chicago Marathon for anybody who wanted to do it. I had never run longer than 12 miles, but all around me people were signing up and getting all excited, and I just got kind of swept up in it. I went online and found the Hal Higdon novice training program, and that sealed it.

Can you describe your marathon progression?

Going into the first one, I had no idea what I'd be able to run. In my limited running experience I had been decent, I just had never run anywhere close to that distance. I decided that if I qualified for Boston (3:10:59) I'd run it, and if not then that would be the end of my marathon career. The idea of a sub-3 also entered my mind, but that didn't seem realistic. As is the case with many first-timers, I was way too excited and did a very poor job of pacing. I went through the half in 1:27 and felt great all the way to mile 20, and I thought a sub-3 was in the bag. Then I ran into a wall, mainly in the form of calf cramps. I finished in 3:03, and while I was disappointed that I slowed down so much the last few miles, it did qualify me for Boston. Training for that one went extremely well - I increased my mileage, started doing some speed workouts, and going into the race, sub-3 didn't even seem like a good enough goal anymore. I was pretty sure I could run 2:55 or better. Well...it was a total disaster. I don't know exactly what went wrong, but it was awful. I had to completely stop for about 20 minutes just past Heartbreak Hill, had a 51 minute 5k in there, and finished in 3:31. Six weeks later I went to San Diego to try to redeem myself, and that was almost as bad as Boston (3:19, which included walking a good portion of the last 10 miles). It wasn't until my fourth try, in Phoenix in 2009, that I finally cracked the 3 hour barrier. I've now run 14 marathons and my times have been steadily declining, although there have been a few more bumps in the road along the way.

Some of those experiences sound miserable. What kept you going through the  bumps and bruises?

I think that what got me running more seriously after my first marathon and what kept me going after the bad ones is all tied together. First, as awful as those two 2008 marathons were, my times at shorter distances were still improving. I felt like I was becoming a better runner, but for whatever reason I just hadn't been able to hold it together for 26 miles. There were definitely days when my confidence wavered, but for the most part I felt like it was a matter of when, not if, I'd be able to break 3. The other, even more important, factor is that I signed up for the Boston Bound program through Fleet Feet to train for that first Boston. Until then, I had always run by myself. After I got into the habit of running with people more often, it became as much a social activity as it was training. Giving it up didn't ever really cross my mind as an option, not because I have such mental toughness that I can will myself through anything, but because going for the Saturday long runs and weeknight workouts was the most convenient way to hang out with my runner friends.

In what ways has your top finishes at the Bowling Green Marathon (1st in 2012 and 2nd in 2013) impacted your approach to the marathon?

That first BG was a total fluke. I was signed up for New York and was packed and ready to go when the news came out on Friday afternoon that the race had been cancelled. I'd had a good training cycle and was all tapered and ready to run, so I scrambled to find a replacement race. Bowling Green still had open registration, was within driving distance, and the weather forecast looked perfect (it's really nice knowing how the weather will be before committing to a marathon) so that's where I landed. It was the first year they held that marathon and the website didn't have much information so I didn't know what I was getting into. I didn't know how big or small it was, if it was hilly or flat, and there were no past results to check and see if I could expect any fast people to show up. It turned out to be a tiny race (66 finishers) and I spent the entire time alone, other than my police escort and bike marshal. That was my first and only (so far) race win at any distance, and it was so much fun that I had to go back the next year to try to defend my title. Since I no longer had a title to defend after the second year, I'm back to picking marathons where I think I'll be able to run a good time and/or places I want to visit. So I guess this was a very long way of saying that Bowling Green really didn't impact my approach to the marathon at all, it was just a fun, unplanned diversion.

Mark en route to his Bowling Green Marathon win in 2012.
Photo Credit: BG Daily News

Your recent 2:41 personal best in Chicago resulted after following a program adapted* from Renato Canova's program for Moses Mosop's debut marathon (a 2:03:06 at the 2011 Boston Marathon). In what ways did following this program prepare you for a breakthrough performance?

It was a lot different than any other training I've done. For the last few years, my marathon build-ups generally averaged about 70 miles a week with a peak around 100, and most weeks would include a tempo run (6-10 miles near half marathon pace) and a speed workout (usually intervals ranging from 400s to 3200s at 5k pace or faster). My easy days were normally 8-12 miles around 7:00 pace. The Canova program significantly increased my mileage and almost entirely eliminated any faster than marathon pace runs. Most of the workouts were at marathon goal pace or slightly slower, and they were almost all very long. Quite a few of them were terrifying to see on the schedule (a ton of credit goes to Anu Parekh, who was also on the Canova plan and dragged me through the whole thing). There were days that were a more obvious sort of scary, like 25 miles at 25 seconds slower than marathon goal pace, and days that were a bit more deceptive, like 8x3k at marathon pace with 1k jogging recovery between each one. That one didn't seem so bad on paper but by the time we finished it ended up being a continuous 23 mile run with over 15 at goal pace. For the 10 weeks leading up to the marathon, I averaged about 95 miles a week and peaked at 115. The easy days were at 7:30-7:45 pace or slower because we were so beat up from the workouts that's all we could manage (and Canova would have told us that we should have been going even slower on those days). All that volume really got us ready for the marathon though. I went through the half in 1:21:07, which would have been a half marathon PR for me not that long ago, and then ran close to a minute negative split. What slowed me down towards the end was my quads cramping a little bit. Aerobically, I felt like I could have kept going all day, and I credit that to Canova. Canova and Anu...who I ran with for 21 miles before he dropped the hammer and finished in 2:40:06.

What's next for you? Will you be following a Canova-style program again?

My next marathon will be the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine next May, and I haven't decided yet what sort of training I'm going to do. The Canova plan worked, I'm just not sure if my body can handle that many miles again so soon. Sugarloaf might also be a harder place to PR because it's a little bit hilly and it's a smaller race so I may be running by myself for some of it. I may opt for a lower volume training plan in the spring and then get back to Canova for a fall marathon, but I have some time before I have to make that decision.

Thanks to Mark Dolgin for taking the time to participate in this interview, and best wishes to him as he continues his marathon journey at the Sugarloaf Marathon next spring.

*You can learn more about the program Mark and Anu followed by checking out John Davis' post on his site Running Writings. John has conveniently converted Mosop's schedule into relative paces for those wishing to adapt it to their own running.

Thanks for reading!

Thoughts or questions? Leave a comment below!

Special bonus points for spotting a reference to a previous Two-Something interviewee!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Interview #3: Matt Flaherty

We're already to our third interview! This week, we'll hear from Matt Flaherty, a professional runner and running coach based in Bloomington, IN. Earlier this year, Matt set a new marathon personal best of 2:21 in Boston.

I was introduced to Matt by, Fleet Feet Racing teammate, Dave Strubbe at the Daniel Burnham Open, a cross country race that my friend Lee Greenberg and I have produced since the winter of 2009. Matt won in 2012 and 2013 despite the 4000m race being quite a bit shorter than the ultramarathon events that are his focus. Matt is a smart, resourceful runner who competes well across a wide range of distances and disciplines. I've appreciated his insights on many occasions and I think you will as well.

Matt en route to his 2:21 personal best.
Photo Credit: Joshua Niforatos

What is your running background? More specifically, how did you begin running marathons? 

I've been running competitively since I was 11 years old, starting with junior high cross country.  I competed in both cross country and track through high school (Chatham, IL), and then ran Varsity XC and Track for the University of Illinois for three years.  I got into marathons almost immediately after college.

I was always better at the longer stuff, so I knew I would tackle the marathon post-collegiately.  As early as 2007 (the year I graduated), I set the Olympic Trials (OT) qualifying standard as a goal.  While I have now run faster than what the standard was at that time (2:22:00), the standard itself has been lowered to 2:18:00, and I'm still chasing it!

Can you describe your marathon progression?

My first marathon was the Missoula Marathon in 2007.  I was working at Glacier National Park that summer, eating a lot of unhealthy food and probably drinking too much beer. :)  I was a bit overweight and I didn't really train for the race, but I hopped in anyway.  It was very hot and the race was a bit of a humbling experience.  I ran a 2:52 for second place.  My first serious attempt at the distance came the following spring, where I ran a 2:26:35 for second place at the Go! St. Louis Marathon.

After St. Louis, I had a few years of bad marathons, where I was too aggressive in my racing.  Learning to really race for 26.2 miles can be difficult thing, and I had quite a few blowups/DNFs (Houston 2009, Berlin 2009, Chicago 2010, Dublin 2010).  I finally put together a solid race at the 2011 Grandma's Marathon, where I ran 2:22:53.  Even in that race, I ran a bit too aggressively for my fitness level.  However, I'd make the same choice again, as I was chasing the OT standard (then 2:19:00) and I felt I had to give myself a shot.  I went out in 1:09:15 at the half marathon point, before fading a bit over the final miles.

In the end of 2011 I began competing in ultramarathons, and then in 2012, I was injured almost the whole year.  I raced one marathon in 2013 (the Napa Valley Marathon, where I took fourth in 2:25:39), as well as three marathons this year, but I haven't trained specifically for any of them.  By that I mean I may be in good shape when I race them, but I don't do enough marathon-specific pace work in training or taper enough to really hit my peak.  Instead, I have been using marathons as logical building blocks and harder efforts for my ultra marathon training.  Despite the lack of focus, I managed to run a new PB at the Boston Marathon this year, a 2:21:20, good for 28th male and 32nd overall.  This was very encouraging for me, as I knew I wasn't training optimally for that race.  It lets me know that I have potential to go faster right now.

You've whittled down your marathon best while also competing at much longer (and much shorter distances). What role have ultramarathons played in your marathon progression?

While I don't think that all of the ultramarathons I'm racing are optimal preparation for the marathon, there has been an upside.  Ultras have taught me to grind through tough patches quite well.  I used to blow up in marathons quite often (2 DNFS and 2 blowups in my first 6 attempts), but that never really happens anymore.  I raced three marathons this year: Napa Valley (1st place, 2:26:15), Boston (28th place, 2:21:20), and Missoula (4th place, 2:27:49).  I didn't feel great at Napa or Missoula as they came early in my preparations for my spring and fall seasons respectively, but I could hang tough and race well despite feeling bad.

High fives as Matt takes the win at Napa Valley earlier this year.
Photo Credit: Beth Rosenbarger

In 2012, you experienced an injury that prevented you from running for quite awhile. Can you talk about returning to racing (marathons) after this lay off?

I had about 10 months where I couldn't train due to an Achilles injury.  While it was extremely frustrating at the time, I think I learned a few things from the experience.  One thing is that your lifetime base of fitness does not go away, even with 10 months off—the basic aerobic fitness is still there.  I realized this when I was able to run a 2:25 marathon (Napa 2013) on about three months of running with very few workouts.

How would you translate this for a less seasoned runner who may be coming off of an injury?

It’s hard to say exactly how things would translate for another runner (say, in terms of percent difference in performance), just because there are so many variables at play.  I think the lesson is really that you shouldn't rush an injury comeback or be overly concerned about losing fitness.  When I did start doing some workouts in the months following my injury, it was very strength based.  A fair amount of uphill repeats or uphill runs on a treadmill (it was winter in Chicago!), and progression runs working through a range of aerobic quality paces.

How has this experience developed your overall running and racing philosophies?

One of the lessons I learned is that some time completely off every now and then is a good thing.  Obviously my injury layoff was much longer than I needed, but I would say that taking off a 2-4 week period now and then is great.  People often ramp up their training way too quickly after a peak marathon.  At least once a year, I think we should all take a few weeks with no running at all.  You aren't going to feel great immediately when you start training again, but that's OK.  It's the nature of proper periodization.  It gives your body a chance to recover (hormonally, muscularly, mentally...) and truly absorb your last training block.  When you dive back into mileage, workouts, etc. too quickly, you're likely to stagnate a few months down the line.

You've raced abroad quite a bit this season with the next challenge being the IAU 100km World Championships on November 21st in Doha, Qatar. How are things shaping up for your Team USA debut?

It's been a long season, but I think I'm fit and fairly well prepared for the World Championships in Qatar.  I'm certainly very excited about putting on the USA singlet for the first time.  There are a lot of uncontrollable elements in this race, in particular, the weather.  The race starts after sunset (6 p.m.), but the temperature still may be as high as 80-90ยบ Fahrenheit with 80% humidity.  It will likely be a race of attrition for this reason.  Running conservatively and managing things like nutrition and hydration will be key.  I've never raced a flat 100km on the road before, so that could bring some unexpected challenges as well.  No matter what happens, it is a unique opportunity and I'm sure I will learn a lot!

After Worlds, I'll be taking my own advice and resting for several weeks before building up for the spring/summer racing season.  My focus races will be the Boston Marathon (hoping to run the OTQ of 2:18:00) and the Comrades Marathon in South Africa.

Thanks to Matt Flaherty for taking the time to participate in this interview, and best wishes to him as he represents the USA on Friday, November 21st!

To learn more about his training, racing, and coaching, visit Matt's website! In addition to his own racing and coaching others, Matt is also producing his own content on a regular basis. Some of my favorite recent posts are his photos from his trip to Patagonia, Chile for the Patagonian International Marathon 63k and his own interview series of top trail runners titled "Quick & Dirty."

Thoughts, questions, or comments?

Thanks for reading!

Shameless plug:

Registration for the 2015 Daniel Burnham Open is open, team up with your friends to participate in Chicago's only free cross country race!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In Two Days; Interview #3!

Interview three of six comes out on Tuesday, November 18th, 2014! Tuesday's interview will feature professional runner, coach, and writer Matt Flaherty!

Photo Credit: Kurt Flaherty

Congrats to last week's interviewee, Meagan Nedlo, for qualifying for her second US Olympic Marathon Team Trials with a 2:40 at the Richmond Marathon!

Registration for the 2015 Daniel Burnham Open is open, team up with your friends to participate in Chicago's only free cross country race!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview #2: Meagan Nedlo

The second (of six) interviews features 2:39 marathoner, Meagan Nedlo! Meagan and I met through our work in the running industry. Since I've known her, I have always been impressed with her ability to train at a high level while traveling the country and beyond for work. I thought that her perspective would be something that us working folks could relate to and learn from!

Meagan is full of sisu.
Photo Credit: Jane Monti

What is your running background? More specifically, how did you begin running marathons? 

My path to marathoning is probably unconventional compared to most women who compete at my level. I was a completely average high school runner in rural East Texas (12:00 two-miler) and wasn't exactly having to fend off recruiting calls from college coaches. I ended up attending TCU (go Frogs!) on a full academic scholarship and didn't pay much attention to running for the next few years. I still jogged occasionally but mainly just stayed fit on a general level. However, later in college I ended up getting a part-time job at a local running store which in hindsight is probably the single seemingly inconsequential decision that led to where I am now. It resulted in me accepting a tech rep position with Mizuno right out of college, then a year later taking a similar position with Brooks. During that time I was surrounded with people who actually took running seriously and I began to become more serious about my own "training." Midway through my two-year tenure at Brooks I started dating a guy who was a great runner himself and encouraged me to pursue coaching from one of his former college teammates, Jeff Gaudette. I reached out to Jeff, whom I'd only met once, to see if he wanted to start coaching me for what I'd arbitrarily decided would be my first marathon, Marine Corps 2008. He agreed and we began a remote coaching relationship (I was living in Atlanta and he was in Charlotte at the time). What I didn't know (or didn't pay much attention to) was that he was also coaching at the Division II collegiate level, alongside Scott Simmons at Queens University of Charlotte. But throughout this training cycle he came to realize that 1) I wasn't too terrible at running; and 2) I still had collegiate eligibility. He ended up calling me out of the blue and offering me a scholarship to earn my Master's degree at Queens while running track and cross-country starting the following January. So, even though my MCM debut turned out to be underwhelming to say the least (I dropped out around mile 20 due to stomach problems), in January I found myself packing up my apartment in Atlanta and moving to the Queen City!

Without question, my time at Queens and the support from Jeff and Scott is what transformed me mentally and physically into someone who performed like a "good" runner--and someone who believed I could be better! I dropped my 5k and 10k personal bests by over two and four minutes respectively, became a 3-time individual NCAA All-American, and changed my mentality from thinking it would be super cool to one day break three hours to setting my sights at qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials. And that, in a nutshell, is how I came to pursue marathoning more seriously going forward.

What has your marathon progression been like?

I already mentioned it began inauspiciously with a DNF at MCM in 2008. Well, despite everything I said in my previous answer, it didn't get much better in my second attempt. I was fit and ready to target the sub-2:46 [Olympic Trials Qualifying] standard at Houston Marathon in January of 2011, but for whatever reason (likely due to muggy and windy conditions), it just wasn't my day. I was on pace through halfway but then faded badly over the next few miles and ended up dropping out at 17, defeated and embarrassed. Still, in the back of my mind I believed I was ready to capitalize on my fitness sooner than later. Coincidentally, two weeks after Houston I was scheduled to work the expo at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama as part of my then-new position with footwear brand Karhu. I knew I could get an entry if I wanted to, so without telling more than a handful of people I decided to quietly enter the race and chase the standard again. On a brisk, chilly day with a rolling course, I finally executed my race strategy and crossed the line in 2:45:01, almost a minute under the qualifying time. I was going to the Olympic Trials! Since then I've run 2:41:06 (at the Trials in January 2012, good for a 49th place finish more than 100 spots ahead of my seed position) and 2:39:08 at Philadelphia in November 2012. I've struggled a bit over the past few years but am toeing the line again at Richmond on November 15th with the goal of punching my ticket to the 2016 Trials!

I have often observed Meagan race and win while traveling for work. Here she is doing a victory lap after winning the 2012 Chicago Half Marathon.

Photo Credit: Matthew Sands

You've run 2:39 and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the marathon, what gave you the confidence to pursue these goals?

I think a big part of what gave me this confidence was seeing the confidence that others had in me. And not just people like my parents and friends, who always tell you you're awesome at something even when you kind of suck, but people like Jeff and Scott and my boyfriend and others in the running community who actually knew their stuff. I remember when Jeff was recruiting me to run at Queens, he told me on the phone that he believed one day I would become a national champion in the 10k. I literally laughed out loud--I'd barely broken 39 minutes at the time! But less than two years later I would find myself entering the final lap of the DII national championship race fighting for the victory. I ended up third that day, behind two runners who would each at some point break the DII national record for 10k. That one moment, more than anything else, made me realize that I should never limit myself or allow myself to be held back by self-doubt. It's not always easy and the progression hasn't been picture-perfect and linear, but I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't still believe there was more and better to come.

On your blog, you've posted a lot of discrete workouts. How would you describe your overall philosophy for the marathon? How has this developed over time?

First let me say that I believe everyone is different and there's no one "right" way to approach marathon training. For me, I'm not particularly fast or innately talented. If I can break 70 seconds for 400 meters during a workout, it's a banner day. I'm never going to be doing mile repeats at 5:00 pace. And, if you look at my PRs for every distance except the marathon, they all line up as consistently mediocre with my 2:39 being a glaring outlier. So in order for me to run "fast" at the marathon, my training is fairly unglamorous: high mileage, lots of tempos, lots of doubles, just sort of grinding out the miles day by day and hoping that ultimately my strength will be my speed. I would say that philosophy has remained fairly consistent over the past few years, although one thing that's changed a bit during this specific cycle has been a conscious decision not to fixate so much on the numbers. In previous buildups I've been adamant about hitting 100 miles per week or some other arbitrary number, to the point where I would add miles to my long run or go out for a ridiculous Sunday afternoon shuffle simply for the purpose of tipping the scales from 98 to 100. Now I just trust the workouts and runs that my new coach, Terry Shea (formerly of the BAA and coach of a group of amazing women (and a few decent guys) such as previous Twin Cities champ Jeannette Faber and recent US Marathon Champ Esther Erb) gives me and let the numbers fall where they may. I've had several weeks where I've looked at my log on Sunday and realized I was going to end up at 89 or 97 or whatever and not given it a second thought. I trust his guidance and I trust that if it were imperative for me to hit that next milestone number he would let me know.

During your marathon build ups, you log quite a bit of mileage. How do you balance this with travel for work/life in general?

This can get a little tricky. I would say my average mileage during marathon training fluctuates anywhere from 80-105 mpw. I also work full time (having recently switched over from Karhu footwear to Craft apparel) as a national sales manager so I travel quite a bit across the US and Canada. Sometimes it can be challenging when I have a red-eye flight or a 12-hour day at a trade show or a sales meeting to prepare for, but along with my coach I try to be forward thinking and build in "down" weeks when travel/work is super stressful and to make sure that my big workouts fall on days that are manageable. Also, I'm fortunate to work in the running industry alongside a group of like-minded people who will often accompany me on doubles at lunch or understand if I have to "work from home" because I'm traveling for a race. That said, I try not to abuse that flexibility too often and if I have a 14-15 mile workout on a Tuesday morning I'm still going to be at work by 9am (but I can't promise my hair will be dry). For the most part, though challenging I do enjoy the travel and getting to run with cool people (like Dan!) while on the road.

You're running the Richmond Marathon on November 15th, how has your training been going and what are your goals for the race?

Training has been solid. I don't think I'm going to PR (although anything can happen on race day) but I do think I'll be able to dip under the OTQ B-standard of 2:43. For now, I'm okay with that, and if all goes to plan I would consider making an assault on the A standard of sub-2:37 in the spring. During this cycle due to various reasons I've had to do probably 85% of my workouts solo, which presents its own set of challenges, but I've been really pleased with several key sessions such as 4x5k around 6:00 pace within a 20-miler, 2 mile-1 mile-2 mile-1 mile-2 mile averaging upper 5:50s, and even as recently as this Tuesday (12 days out from Richmond), 14 miles with 12 really comfortably at 6:11. The work has been done, now it's time to rest and freshen up and put my game face on!

Thanks to Meagan Nedlo for taking the time out of her busy schedule to take part in this interview, and best wishes for her run next week in Richmond!

Editor's Update:
Meagan ran 2:40:48 in Richmond, qualifying for her second Olympic Trials!

If you'd like to learn more about Meagan's training and racing, check out her dead blog Meaga Miles. Meagan, now that I've plugged your blog will you update it? Seriously though, Meagan has a ton of historic content on her blog. You can also view her training log on Athleticore.com, if you're a member. 

Hey readers, do you have questions or comments? Ideas for questions for future interviews?

Leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

Shameless plug:

Registration for the 2015 Daniel Burnham Open just went live yesterday! Team up with your friends to participate in Chicago's only free cross country race!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Two-morrow! Interview #2!

Interview two of six comes out tomorrow! We'll hear from Meagan Nedlo, an Olympic Trials Qualifier in the marathon!

Photo Credit: Michael Sands

If you missed it, here's last week's interview of Mark Scheitler!

See you tomorrow!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Interview #1: Mark Scheitler

Our first installment features insights from 2:54 marathoner, Mark Sheitler. Mark was an acquaintance, but it wasn't until this past summer where my friend Eric Baum began running regular tempo runs with Mark and a group of Chicago runners poised to break three hours that I really began paying attention to his running. Older than most of the other members in the group, Mark had made significant progress with a limited running background over a short period of time. After his run in Berlin (and an exceptional pre-taper 5k), I thought he'd be a great candidate for this interview series.

Mark running the tangents in Berlin

Can you talk to how you got into running marathons?

I did not run in high school. I was not involved in any organized sports in high school. I was a cyclist, a road cyclist, and I worked in a bike shop. Cycling was kind of my thing, but I was never very good at it. I trained a lot though and I think it built a fitness base for me, a cardiovascular base that I’ve carried with me and leaned on heavily at this point my life now that I'm 43.

I spent 20 years between high school and being 38 where I never worked out or participated in any sports at all. I what a lot of people do, I went to college, got fatter, and when I was 38, I had my mid-life crisis. [I] went to my doctor and my cholesterol was off the charts, I was 200 pounds … It was getting time for medicine, and I decided, "It’s time for a lifestyle change."

I knew athletics would be part of that, but it definitely started with diet. I went after cycling a little bit because that was my history and all the gear and complexity and marketing and business of it turned me off. I also did a little running because in gym classes in high school I had some success, I ran some faster times. And I loved it, I caught the bug. It was a great way for me to be competitive because at work we'd hire a lot of new 20-something year-old guys who were running 5ks and when I first started doing them, I was terrible and really slow and I couldn't run a mile. This was, you know, within the last five years. But that competitive spirit and trying to beat those kids really fueled me in my training and I worked really, really hard.

The marathon was something that didn't interest me the first few years because it was so out of reach ...  As I built my fitness and my speed, adding distance became more and more of an interest. I think it was three years ago, I went out running and decided to try [] a half marathon in training. I was so proud of myself [that I ran] 13.1 miles and then it opened up my mind ... A lot of the runners I know [did] marathons and that's when I started going after marathon training.

I did my first season with a [Hal] Higdon plan, my second season which was last year I did two fall marathons and then this year I did my fourth marathon in the fall. So I've got three years of marathon history as a result.

You've run four marathons, can you tell us about your progression?

2012, was the first summer I trained for a marathon, the [Bank of America] Chicago Marathon, my first one. I think I focused really heavily on the long runs like a lot of people do. I [ran] my 18 miler and really just be wiped out for the weekend from it ... But I had no real coach and I wasn't much of my own coach. I'd read a little bit on a one page blurb online on the Higdon [plan], I printed out some mileage, and then I did all the long stuff on weekends and a little bit of running during the week. My training wasn't phenomenal, but I went out and ran my first race.

My first one was 3:18. I needed 3:15 for my age group for [a] Boston [qualifier] and I missed it because I cramped up at the end ... I didn't have the fitness, and I didn't set my goal well. I learned a lot from it. It humbled me. It certainly humbled me to be limping down Michigan Avenue. It inspired me to go back and train much harder the next year. [I] realized what I was doing wasn't getting me where I wanted to be.

Year two, this is when I really started to progress as a runner, in particular as a distance runner. I got hooked up with [Chicago Endurance Sports], started training with a group, met people who were at my level, and my fitness really took off. My passion for running took off, too. I learned how much more rewarding running with friends and sharing those experiences can be. So when my fall marathon came up last year, I was signed up for Chicago I actually added Fox Valley [Marathon] to the mix because I was hoping it would be early enough to ... use as a Boston qualifier. Of course I missed the cut off, by just a few days []. But, I was able to run a 3:03:59 in Fox Valley.

Then, since I was already signed up for Chicago, I learned what it's like to run back to back marathons. I ran that three weeks later and ran 3:03:52. I'll say that experience at Chicago was really vindicating because it really meant a lot to be going fast down Michigan Avenue up that hill after what it had done to me the year before. Having people scream at me to keep going as I limped through the cramps. I learned a lot in that experience about what marathon racing was which is a whole part of this, too. It's not just about fitness and it's not just about preparation and organization and the mind game, it's about what you do on the course and what's reasonable.

This year, I ran a fall marathon in Berlin. I signed up through the lottery last year and got into the Berlin Marathon. So I trained for that this year. My goal definitely was to break 3 hours. That was my goal for sure.

Going into Berlin you had another full year of training, significantly more training than when you had first started training for marathons. Were you trying to sneak in under three hours or did you think you were going to make another pretty big jump?

I think what I learned from the two I ran the year before was that I shouldn't have been able to run a PR at Chicago after what I ran at Fox Valley. I hadn't set my goal high enough. I wanted to run 3:05. I ran it pretty easily at Fox Valley and I ran my last few miles quite fast. Compared to 3:05 pace. I had a lot left in the tank. When I got to Chicago, I didn't even expect to PR there after Fox Valley, I just wanted to run with my friends for the experience. I felt so good, I realized I should go for it and I ran really hard to get those extra 7 seconds off my time. So when it came time for Berlin this year, I felt really confident about breaking three hours. I also felt really scared about aiming too high [thinking back to] going through what I went [through my] first marathon where [I cramped] up ... that experience [was] miserable. I much prefer the positive experience of a negative split. I think psychologically and emotionally and from a pride standpoint that's a race I want to carry with me through the year. That's one of the magic things about the marathon is that you don't get many cracks at it. So a good race experience is something you can ride until your next crack at it and a bad race is something you have to carry.

So what ended up happening in Berlin?

So I got to Berlin and definitely thought I could break three hours. I thought about shooting for a 2:57. My stretch goal that I was marginally confident [I could achieve] would be a 2:55. My training when really well. My race plan ... in Berlin that I executed was to go out reasonably slow, my first 5k was the slowest chunk of the course, then I ran a really steady 6:45 pace through the middle chunk of the course, and then at the last six miles I felt strong and I dropped it down to the low 6:30s and caught up time and ended up with a 2:54:36.

So you hit your moderate stretch goal and took 9.5 minutes off your PR.

I was pleased. I think one of the real differences about Berlin for me this year. Was how much I ran based on feel. Some of that is just where my corral placed me. I wasn't in a sub three hour marathon corral. I was in a 3-3:15 corral so there were lots of people I had to work my way through. I told myself to be patient and to use that to my benefit, to go slow in the beginning, let the crowd thin out, start eating them up, and really lean on that competitive nature that we runners have and say, "I'm going to pass all these people ... I'm going to get my chance because it's an awfully long race." These are races. We all find our race with in the race. We may not be racing for the finish [tape], but we're doing it for some reason and if you can find more and more reasons to do it, it keeps you going to the end and keeps your brain engaged which I think is very important.

There's a big difference between being happy to finish and saying, "No, I have goals. I'm not going to be just happy to finish." When I ran my first marathon, everyone told me that, "Just be happy to finish." That doesn't work for me as a runner and I think that's part of who I am that made me push myself to the point I'm at now.

Looking ahead, where do you see yourself going? We also had someone request runners speak to the reality of slowing down with age, how do you see this coming into play?

I mentioned earlier that running has been kind of my mid-life crisis and like all mid-life crises, we're running away from old age. I really enjoyed tracking my own progress and the pride of continuing to improve. A big part what I'm doing here is to find out where my limit really is. As I improve year to year, I know [the rate of improvement is] going to slow down. It's going to slow down because physiologically I may not be able to get better and it's going to slow down because I'll get older and who I am is going to change. I wish I knew what lies ahead of me, but the only way I'm going to find out is to continue to train and I can't even speculate.

In terms of goals for your next marathon, what's next? What will you be shooting for?

I am signed up for Boston this year [2015]. I'm going to Boston, I'm going to enjoy that experience and I do want to compete in it. But I'm also wary of what it's going to take to train for a spring marathon. I thought about running a spring marathon last year, but my fitness wasn't where I wanted it to be to make it worthwhile. This year being signed up for Boston, I'll be more disciplined about training through the winter. I would love to break three [hours] there and I think if I'm smart there's no reason I shouldn't. But it's a different kind of race. Everything I've said so far is about running on flat courses like Berlin, Chicago, Fox Valley, and that sort of [course]. What do I want to do at Chicago or Berlin next year? I have no idea ... how far I think I can go, but knocking another 10 minutes off my time would be wonderful.

I think we can all agree with that sentiment!

Throughout your marathon career, you've had some pretty lofty goals. What provided the confidence that you could achieve these goals?

I think the hardest thing about marathoning is picking your pace wisely. It's this balance we try to [create] between having too much left at the end and nothing. I struggled tremendously with what was reasonable with my first marathon and all things considered, I came pretty close. I made it 19-20 miles at my goal pace before I really collapsed. Of course those were the hardest six miles that I couldn't do.

Why did I pick a fast pace? Why did think I could qualify for Boston in my first one? I just thought it would be really cool to be able to say. I'll admit that. I certainly had done enough 5ks and I ran a 10k. I did some little things to build some confidence. I will say that continues to be very important to me. I absolutely believe in running races at shorter distances over the course of a training season, to check in with yourself and get a gauge of what level of fitness is reasonable. I certainly did that in my first year and I've done that in all the years since.

Mark builds race day confidence from past race performances

Speaking of racing as a part of training, can you talk about your training and how it's developed over time?

After the first marathon, I really realized I needed to be more serious about my training. I did some reading and I had to become my own coach. Last year and this year, I did the Hanson Marathon Method training plan. This is the flashy thing about Hanson, 16 miles is the longest run that you do. Now, you do many of them. You do three or four of them depending on how you adjust your schedule. [Y]ou do a large quantity of running [outside of long runs]. So I was running six days per week rather than four. It's about building cumulative fatigue.

For a person like me who's trying to break three [hours] and isn't banging out 80 mile weeks. I really believe in the Hanson plan and I think it is really wise because it balances the training for all the things it takes to be a complete runner. You have a speed workout, you have a tempo run that's really focused on doing well [in] your marathon, you have a long run that helps build the mind for the repetition and the hours of running, but then you also have all those recovery runs that are so important for building cumulative fatigue so you're doing all those workouts on tired legs which makes you so much fitter.

I'm a huge believer in the concept of running many days per week and being disciplined and committed to that. When you run those recovery runs Hanson's is very strict about pacing. It's so easy to always want to go fast. The hardest runs are those recovery runs where you can't find anybody to run with and you have to bang out 8 miles at an 8 minute mile or 8:30 pace and you just want to go faster to get them over with, but you do that at the expense of your workouts. ...[T]he number one thing that I really focused on [was] having a plan [then] believing in the plan and not deviating from the plan on the run. Runners are incredibly psychological beasts and we get out with our friends and they say ... do this that or the other thing and you do that at the expense of the rest of your runs during the week if you're not careful. It starts becoming a trend and suddenly you're off the charts. I try to be really, really disciplined about believing in the value of the plan and not in the individual runs.

You mentioned before the benefits of training with a group and finding others with similar goals. Can you talk about finding balance between running with a group and adhering to your plan?

It takes a lot of discipline. For example, I only have one friend who does Hanson's so he and I can buddy up on the long runs and end them short at 16 miles. He's as much a believer as I am so that works well. While the rest of our friends go off and run 18 or 20 or 22, we call it quits at 16 and we don't have the same things to celebrate as they do for their biggest [runs]. But we're in it together, I think that's an important piece to it. I believe in the results, it works for me and my friends don't challenge me on that. The hardest part is just not being a part of the group for those last few miles. It's typically long runs where I train with other people.

My speed work, I tend to have to run a lone a lot just because I work out in the suburbs and most of the folks I run with run downtown or with the Fleet Feet [Racing] team. Getting to the Wednesday night speed workouts is tough. So I'll program out my Garmin with my workout with pace thresholds and I'll go to the trails at Busse Woods near where I work and I'll have my watch be my coach, telling me what to do, and I'll bang out my intervals.

You prepared some thoughts about your running philosophy. Have we touched on most of those points or are there other things that you think about as being very important to your running that we haven't touched on?

I was thinking about the marathon and what makes it special to me. ... I've recognized that there's this balance between these three things: there's your fitness and preparation physically, there's your mental component, and then there's your actual race execution and being ready on race day. I think [for] the marathon because of the nature of the distance and the limited opportunities we have in a racing year to do it. All three of those things come into equal balance. You absolutely need to be fit. You absolutely need to think ahead and have your mind in the right place so you don't make up your own excuses to quit. It's incredible to me how [] runners become their own worst enemy; re-planning their race in the starting corral is not okay, we can't do this, people do it all the time. Being ready for race day, making sure everything is in order is a huge logistical challenge between the things your eat, your schedule for waking up, your corral clothing ... what you're going to wear ... and everything else, there's a lot of planning that goes into a marathon. You need to get all of those things right.

I've also seen that we love to talk with this reverence for the marathon. We love to talk with reverence for times like breaking three [hours], [or] qualifying for Boston. The minute we break one we have a new one. The danger of taking with such reverence to these things is they become scary; we put them on a pedestal. We need to smash through those things. That's what we're going out trying to do. So being our own worst enemy, ... so much of it is right between our ears that's where the race happens. I hugely believe in that. I do a lot on my own to try [to] not let the brain part of it stop me.

Racing in Berlin this year was very stressful for me. I knew I'd have timezone changes and strange foods that might be tempting me, and all these things. I did everything I could to think through it ahead of time and take away my excuses. [For example,] jet lag, it won't matter. I never sleep before a marathon, I don't think anybody does, and I've run lots of good races where I was tired. One night's sleep doesn't matter. Sleep matters cumulatively. I really tried to sit down and imagine the things that could go wrong: "What if it rains?" I love running in the rain. Don't let it freak you out at race day. I think that's part of what makes marathons special is that those things are very threatening if you don't get them right. That's been part of my training, too. It's not just about the fitness piece. The fitness piece is the baseline and then the mental piece is the more subtle and sneaky piece that you've got to get right.

It's taken me a long time to learn those same lessons. Your mental preparation has got to be one of the key components of your racing success.

I make checklists, I think of all the things that can go wrong. Because you're out there suffering on the course and you might have 5 miles to go and you're looking for an excuse. We look for excuses to stop and you've got to remove those excuses, you've got to be prepared ahead of time and make sure they don't become excuses. Because we make bad decision on the race course. We think we're smart, [but] we're not smart.

No, we're glycogen deprived. [Laughter.]

I included "secrets" in the subtitle of the interview series, and I think you've revealed all your secrets, those are the secrets of running a good marathon. Do you have anything you'd like to add?

Where I've been lucky has been in picking my pace. I said earlier, I think that's the hardest thing in stepping up to a marathon if you're a new runner ... or if you're trying to break a goal. You can't set a goal based on what you want. You need to have enough facts on your side to make you believe you can get there.

This year, I wanted to know if I could break three hours. Early on in my training, eight weeks in, ten weeks to go, I ran a half marathon. I ran a time that when you plug it into the McMillan calculator says, "You should be able to break three hours." I did it when I wasn't fully in shape, I hadn't done the peak of my training, I wasn't at my best. I did it on a warm day. I really learned how much better I run when it cools off outside, how much faster and easier things become. It gave me a lot of confidence to know that I should be able to go out and run a sub-three marathon because I had that race in my pocket.

Despite of all that, as I was hitting my taper, I know how crazy we can become in our tapers, I said, "I'm going to throw a 5k in here. I'm as fit as I've ever been." I really wanted to break into the 5-something minute miles in a 5k. I'd run 18:45 5ks, it was really frustrating me. So I ran the Bucktown 5k this year. I crushed it. I built a lot of confidence. I ran 17:36, 5:39 pace. I was thrilled. I hung on to that through my taper. It told me, "It's okay, [you] don't need to be running." That was a real secret for me this year because [] I see all of my friends wanting to run more. I'm a big believe in the taper. I think it's an age thing, and this is another secret, I taper really hard.

How do you mean?

So Hanson [program] has a three week taper you do. The first week it's not too severe, but in the last week the intensity is down in all the runs, it's all easy running. I didn't even do that. I did all easy running and very little of it. I did three runs the week before my marathon, including the shakeout the day before. 14 miles before I went to the marathon. Practically nothing. I know a lot of folks wrestle with how much running to do leading up to their race. Most of the folks I know tend to run more than that. But I felt so snappy at the start line, and I think this is part of the things of being an older runner, too, I don't heal up as fast as some of my friends who are younger than me. If my legs are fatigued, one day off might not be enough. I think that worked really well for me.

Special thanks to Mark Sheitler for participating in this interview, and another hearty congratulations on his recent run in Berlin. Mark is a very savvy runner and I look forward to following him in the future.

If you're interested, Mark has logged every run he's done as an adult on Garmin Connect. He also has a full race history on his Athlinks profile.

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