Thanks to Jay for taking the time to fill out the BQ(Q) — those interested in lower mileage plans, and plans involving crossfit style training should pay especial attention to what Jay wrote at the end.
Name (and website/blog/twitter if applicable): Jay S.
Age (at the time of first BQ): 42
Height (at the time of first BQ): 5’8”
Weight (at the time of first BQ): 148
At which marathon did you get your first BQ? What was your finishing time?
Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon & Half – 3:12:01.
Tell us a little about the race.
Compact gravel surface along the C&O Canal Towpath in Washington, D.C. The marathon is out-and-back twice. A very slight uphill going out, and downhill back. Not enough to slow you down, but knowing you’re headed “downhill” on the way back (especially the last 6.55 miles) provides a mental boost. I also liked the idea of breaking the race down into four parts.
Race morning was maybe 65° and 85% humidity. Warmer than ideal, but it’s tree-lined and was under cloud-cover. The temperature definitely slowed me down, but it’s hard to say how much.
A BQ for me was 3:15, but I figured I needed better to gain entrance. My plan was to run for a 3:12 (7:20 min/mi) the first 3/4 of the race, then pick up the pace as much as I could after the third turn-around and see if I could break 3:10 as a stretch goal. The race had two start-times. A “non-competitive” start at 8:00 AM and a “competitive” start at nine. I went out at 8:00 for the slightly cooler temps. This was a very small race. For the 8:00 start, there were only 250 runners, split about equally between the half and the full. I’d never run on this course before, but I’d be able to get the lay-of-the-land (so to speak) on the first out-and-back. As typical for me, I went out fast, around 7:12 min/mi. I tried settling in with a couple other runners to slow myself down, but didn’t find anyone at quite the right pace. Eventually I just settled into my own pace, and the miles kept clicking off around 7:08 – 7:15. I knew I should slow down, but whenever I tried to it seemed like more effort. So I just kept it where it was. The first 6.55 mi clicked by in 47:14 (7:13 avg pace). The second 6.55 mi was uneventful and I ran it in 47:08, for a halfway time of 1:34:22 (7:12 avg pace).
I knew the third 6.55 mi was going to require my concentration. I felt like I was slowing down, but the splits proved otherwise. I ran the third 6.55 mi in 47:26 for a 3/4 time of 2:21:49 (7:13 avg pace). Now I was really hopeful for sub-3:10 as I still felt pretty good and the last 6.55 mi would be literally downhill. Unfortunately, around mile I started to fade a little to a 7:22 mile, then mile 23 was a 7:33. I’d also started to feel some intestinal distress. I was hoping I could run through it, but by mile 24 I realized it was slowing me more than just taking a pit stop. The porta-potties weren’t where I needed them to be, so into the woods it was on mile 24, which left me with a 7:49 mile. I was able to pick things up a bit, but not for long before my calves started to give indications of cramping (a first for me). A saving grace at this point was it started to rain lightly, which was very refreshing. I pushed my legs as much as I dare, but the last two miles were 7:43 and 7:58. I ended up running the last 6.55 in 50:21 (7:41 avg pace), crossing the finish line in 3:12:01 (7:19 avg pace). Funny, I ended up just where I should’ve been.
How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ? Did you run in college or high school?
I purchased a treadmill in 2002 to help lose weight. I was 31 years old and 35 lbs overweight at the time. My first race was a half-marathon in
Jan 2003, completed in 1:57. I never ran in high school or college, and wasn’t (and am still not) particularly athletic.
What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?
~ 10K miles.
How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?
About 1,800 miles in the 12 preceding months.
Approximately how many races did you run in that year?
5 races in the 12 months preceding.
Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?
I followed the Run Less Run Faster plan. But see my final thoughts.
Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?
Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?
Yes. See final thoughts.
Did speed work play a role in your training? If so, how?
Yes, it’s part of the Run Less Run Faster plan.
Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?
This is a bit long, but I don’t feel this interview would be complete
without going into my running history. I’ve now run a total of 7 marathons, including my BQ. My progression was as follows:
Dec 2003 – 4:22
Jan 2005 – 4:15
Oct 2005 – 3:56
Nov 2007 – 3:36
Nov 2013 – 3:22
Jul 2014 – 3:55 (Grandfather Mountain while training for my BQ, so I
ran it as a long run, not a race).
Sep 2014 – 3:12.
My first and second marathons were completed on typical beginner training schedules. For my third, I followed Higdon’s Advanced I plan. But, I never cross or strength trained, barely stretched, and started battling Achilles tendon issues in both legs. Not knowing better, I went to a podiatrist. Not knowing better, he prescribed orthotics. I continued to run as much as my body would let me. For my 3:36, I followed the Pfitzinger 55 mile-per-week plan, and this was the first marathon I actually felt good at the end, especially since I’d had to back off during training at times due to my Achilles.
I ran fairly consistently the next couple years, but nothing longer than half-marathons. In Oct 2009, I ran a 1:38 half which was a PR at the time. Unfortunately, in Nov that year I was a pace-group runner for a marathon when I was suddenly hobbled at mile 17, which turned out to be my Achilles. Months of PT followed. I was pretty bummed, because I had been in my best running shape at the time, and my Achilles hadn’t been bothering me that year. I thought I’d found the right combination of shoes, orthotics and training. But obviously not. So due to the injury and starting a new job, I ended up taking a break from running for the most part from 2010-2012.
By the end of 2012, I was ready to start running again. During this time-off, I’d read Born to Run, which motivated me to scrap my orthotics and stability shoes, switch to more minimal “zero-drop” cushioned shoes, and work on my form, transitioning to a mid-foot running style. Also, the PT I’d seen had evaluated my strength and running form, and told me my Achilles issues probably stemmed from my weak hips. My hips were collapsing when I ran, which put stress on my lower legs.
I needed to add strength and cross training to my running. I’d heard a lot of good things about Crossfit, so I started that in Jan 2013 and at the same time started building my mileage.
2013 was a year of Crossfit while slowly improving my mileage and pace, and mostly running by feel. About mid-way through the year, another runner persuaded me to run a fall marathon. I picked up a copy of Run Less Run Faster as it seemed like the best complement to Crossfit. I ended up doing the last 8 weeks of the RLRF marathon plan with Crossfit 2-4x week and off of that, ran the 3:22, which frankly blew my mind. It’s what finally gave me the confidence I could BQ. I ended 2013 at 1000 miles, with plans to BQ in 2014.
In 2014, I stuck with Crossfit and still running by feel until 16 weeks out from my BQ, when I started the RLRF 3:10 BQ training plan. I trained using its prescribed paces, but adjusted some of the speed work when it was too fast (mostly I ran the tempo and long runs as prescribed, but ran the interval work at slightly slower than prescribed). I also added some additional easy runs as I had a secondary goal to run 1500 mi in 2014. Midway through 2014, I boosted my mileage again when I decided I wanted to try for 2014 miles in 2014. I’m pretty sure RLRF doesn’t have you run over 35 mi/week, but some weeks I was up to 60 mi. Besides BQ’ing in 2014, I finished it with 2050 miles.
I believe it’s the additional strength and cardio from Crossfit that allowed me to push harder in my running that was key. That said, I don’t think Crossfit is the perfect complement to running, it’s just the one that worked for me. But I am now a firm believer in strength (resistance) and cross training, and the idea that running starts from the hips and requires a strong and stable core. I also now think that the running shoe industry and orthotics are mostly bunk. You gotta find what works for you, but I think most folks would be fine in a basic cushioned zero-drop shoe.
One other point: race nutrition. I researched carbo-loading for my BQ. See http://endurancecalculator.com/ and the related paper “Metabolic Factors Limiting Performance in Marathon Runners.”
– I spent two-days pre-race carboloading on > 90% carbs by using maltodextrin powder mixed w/water. It’s almost impossible to carbo-load properly on solid food as you end up with way too much bulk in your intestines.
– I had “breakfast” 3 hours pre-race of a sports bar, two gels, and more maltodextrin powder (150 g carbs total).
– I made my own sports drink from the maltodextrin powder and sugar. I consumed 42 oz of the drink during the race, as well as 3 gels (~ 125 g carbs total). This is the least fade (i.e. hitting the wall) I’ve ever had in a marathon and I think proper pre-race and in-race nutrition was an important factor.
I hope all this helps other runners.