This week we're featuring my Fleet Feet Racing teammate, Beth Panke. Relatively new to running, Beth has shown quite a bit of aptitude for the marathon. She debuted at the 2013 BoA Chicago Marathon in 3:07 and knocked almost 10 minutes off her personal best in the 2014 race, posting a 2:58.
Of all the interviews in this series, Beth's includes the most other runners whom she calls "family." I think you'll find Beth's passion for running and her enjoyment of the running community is contagious!
What is your running background? More specifically, how did you begin running marathons?
I actually think my path is a bit unique (and that may just be me) but I used to hate running. My dad tells this great story of when on our “Family Fitness Sundays” he would take the whole family to the track to run a mile (just 1 mile!) and I would just sit in the middle of the track and pout – yes, my mom would be lapping me around the track.
Something in middle school just switched and in 7th grade I started running with my dad. Nothing long or intense – it was just that I got to spend the morning before I went to school out on the streets with my dad. Now that I look back, it was really our time together. I never ran cross country in high school but continued to run 3 – 6 miles with my dad regularly. I still hated races and would get really nervous. The idea of competition did not fuel the fire the same way it does now. I just don’t think I was really ready for it.
Once I had started running with my dad though, the progression to marathons seemed like just what you did. My dad was my pseudo coach with 43 marathons under his belt – 8 Bostons. And the group he trained with in St. Louis called the “6:20 club” (met at 6:20am in the mornings and claim they ran 6:20min/mile) was filled with similar guys (no women allowed in the 80s unless they could hang) who only talked about how men were made or broken on the marathon course. It was this ideal that just hung in my mind as the thing that you did. I actually ran the last 10K of the Chicago Marathon with my dad when I was a sophomore in high school and from that moment on, I knew that I wanted to do marathons. I went to Vanderbilt and did not run for my college either but started to find what running was going to be for me.
Beth and an unnamed runner from Lithuania, killing it at what looks to be one of the nastiest portions of the Chicago Marathon course (Mile 22?)
Can you describe your marathon progression?
I consider myself such a rookie that I think my progression is still yet to come! I really have only started building my marathon base. I have run three marathons – Chicago 2013, Chicago 2014 and then NYC 2014. I really have to thank the community of runners in Chicago, mainly Fleet Feet [FF] and Chicago Endurance Sports [CES] and the 7:30 pace group ☺ for getting me into shape and guiding me and advising me through it all. When I moved to Chicago after graduation in 2012, I did a good amount of fall racing but really was just running on my own. I decided to sign up for spring training with CES and that is where the real journey began. I ran with the 7:30 pace group and met Katelyn [Draths] and Sascha [Edge] and Mark [Scheitler, Mark's Two-Something Interview] and they became my family. To this day I don’t know where I would be without that group. Then we all did summer marathon training and the family grew larger! Funny side note, I was such a rookie that it took me until JULY to get a watch and ran in cotton t shirts for almost all of training, Yup, that was me haha.
A sampling of Beth's run family on a shakeout run before the 2014 Chicago Marathon.
(Left to right) Jake Spitz, Matt Neibler, Beth, Alex Weems, Dennis Ryan, Mark, Sascha, and Heather Nadeau
So I would say my training for that first Chicago in 2013 was heavy mileage but not quality. I was just running A LOT and with that came the plague of runner’s knee. I was about a month out of the marathon and my hips were just weak. I actually had a free injury screening after the Elvis is Alive race and I told them if they were going to have me take time off from running that I would basically not listen. What a great patient I was! I will say though it was amazing how much incorporating PT exercises and strength got me back into the game without any time off really – [I] ran the whole marathon with no pain.
I did pretty darn well for my first marathon – 3:07:59. However, Coach Dad had me go over my splits with him and in his words they were “pathetic”. At one point, I was running a 6:22 and then got all the way up to 8:00 for one mile towards the end. Definitely paid for it. But I was in love with the marathon from the moment I crossed the finish line.
After that I really did not rest properly and got back into running too quickly afterwards. Had the same injury AGAIN over the winter and dropped out of the Boston Bound training group. It was so bad that I could not even kick when I would swim – I literally did laps down the pool only pulling with my arms. I hated that time. Came off the injury in the spring really ready to go – paced a few races and then had some strong spring races in the usual circuit – again doing training with CES in the spring and then summer marathon training, this time pacing the 7:30 group in hopes to work on consistency with my splits.
Katelyn and Beth pacing the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon
This summer the focus was different though too. I REALLY wanted to break 3. Just dead set on it. I started doing more effort based workouts during the week with Katelyn and Pam Manley (who joined the group when she moved here from Boston in July[, Pam's Two-Something Interview]) and focusing more on the week as a whole vs just a long run on the weekend. I really tried to focus on running on tired legs as well as putting in the effort in those effort based workouts and then actually slowing down on the recovery days, Marne Smiley has been my guru, coach, running partner and friend since that time – I tell her every day that I don’t know where I would be without her. We would get a run in here and there during the week and she really taught me how to slow down and shift my focus to the overall, big picture of my running goals.
When I joined the FF [R]acing team in July my world was opened up to even more amazing people to run with and learn from. This summer was pretty great and when Chicago came I was just ready. A big group of us were going out to break 3 and so it was like I had my family with me during that race. And a nice pacer (thank you Emil [Bojanov]!) got me through miles 10-21 – and at 22 I knew I had it. Crossed the finish at 2:58:39 – and the best part was I shattered my Dad’s PR of 3:01 ☺[.]
New York City [Marathon] was just three weeks afterwards and there was such a sense of “I get to enjoy this race” vs race it. I had done what I wanted to do and I could really soak up all that NYC had to offer. And it is truly an incredible race – it is the essence of the love/hate that is NYC – you will just always come back for more even though it bites you in the ass haha. Allie Walters and Erin [Chenoweth] and I all got to travel together and meet up in NYC after the race – again, it was like I had family with me no matter what. I came in at 3:14 for NYC and left happy with an incredible fall and ready for a little time off. Boston is next up in April and I can’t wait to be there for the first time. It is THE marathon. And I will be going for it!
Fleet Feet Racing teammates, Beth, Jill Czarnik, and Bess Ritter, enjoying some post-race fun at the Pumpkins in the Park 5k.
How has your marathon philosophy evolved throughout this progression?
I think I am still building and discovering my own philosophy as I am new to the sport, but there are a few main things that I have learned that I think have changed the way I view my running “career” and what I want to make of it. First, it’s the quality workouts and not just repetitive heavy mileage (although, I think you have got to get high mileage during training). Work when you have those lactate threshold runs or those tempo or strength runs – and really use the recovery runs as recovery. Your long run on the weekend should not be more than 25% of what you have run during the week. The focus should not be so narrow as to that fated long run but broader on the overall week. I also learned the value of stretching and investing in tools that do that. I used to NEVER stretch. Really never. Now I try to at least say, ok 10 mins. That’s all you have to do. And foam rolling. OH, and the ORB. Changed my life (you can buy it at FF ☺).
But I really have learned the value of stretching and preventative exercises. That is really the last thing – the strength and the preventative training rather than the reactive training. I like to use the word that the Edge Athlete Lounge that I go to says – it’s about “precovery”. I became a member there during training for Chicago this year and I know it is what kept me healthy and strong and injury free. Their compression boots, ice bath/hot tub and overall recovery equipment kept me getting back at it faster than before and stronger than before.
The other part of precovery is strength training. Marne, Jill [Czarnik], and I (and really this was Marne’s idea) got together this fall and decided that we were tired of having it be the norm that runners just don’t do strength training. The three of us have been plagued with injuries due to the lack of strength training and so we decided we wanted to change that – and truly create, if plans went well, an almost program where female runners could go to incorporate this. We have been doing strength training now twice a week at this gym behind the Whole Foods at North and Clybourn and I cannot wait to see how it pays off for Boston. It has become one of my favorite parts of my week.
Don't mess with these ladies!
(Left to right) Marne, Beth, and Jill
Great question – gahhh!!! I really tried to take the time to decide what I really wanted to get out of running and who I wanted to be – if I could get myself to at 2:58 essentially on my own, then I decided it was time for someone else to do the thinking and for me to execute. I am ready to take it to the next level – and I feel like elite women athletes are about 29-32 yrs of age so I got a good 5 years to build up to that! I got a coach and have been working with him these past few weeks and he will be training me, if he doesn't hate me after a few months haha, for the next who knows how many years. He is actually Marne’s coach too so she is really not getting rid of me anytime soon ☺[.]
My first goal is to shave a few minutes off my Chicago time in Boston – maybe a 2:56? Can I do it? Then, I am excited because I am really giving the reins over to my coach. I kind of am excited to be like, ok you tell me what we need to focus on for the next few years. That is why my schedule is sort of to be determined after Boston. I would though like to improve my turnover and speed – my 5K times are just not where I want them to be so I know one thing will be to focus on that aspect.
I noticed you ran a nearly perfect negative split race in Chicago this past October. Was that according to race plan or did it just work out that way? Either way, that's pretty impressive!
Thank you!!! I don’t know if it was intentional but my main focus was keeping that 5-7 second window on each mile. I knew that consistency was going to be key or I would screw myself over at the end. Since my first Chicago was so “pathetic” (but, it really was I just got lucky to hold on at the end) I knew that the key to me breaking 3 [hours] would have to be NOT TO GO OUT TOO FAST. My standard move haha. I actually looked at my splits with my dad over thanksgiving and he noticed that I never ran one mile this Chicago as fast as I did my first Chicago and I shaved ten minutes off my overall time – thought that was pretty cool. But again, all the other things I couldn't control (weather etc) came into place so it really was just taking advantage of that opportunity. And now doing that again in all other races!
Thank you, Beth Panke, for taking time to share your experience with the marathon! I really appreciated your "newcomer's" perspective to running, and look forward to seeing your steady progression over the next few years.
Questions or comments? Leave a comment below!