Nell’s workouts have been nothing short of excellent since her Grandma’s Marathon win in late June. After Grandma’s our plan was to focus on “speed-development” in a series of shorter races this summer and fall: the Falmouth 7-Miler, the USATF National 10-mile Championship, the USATF National 5K Championship, and the Manchester 5-Miler; and the Houston Half in January.
Our “take 6-months-off-between-marathons” formula worked well after her 2:31:23 debut at Cal International (December, 2018) and before Grandma’s (June, 2019). Nell approached Grandma’s well-prepared, well-rested, and mentally ready.
The result was a 3-minute PR – 2:28:06: 1:15/1:13 splits), a win, and meeting the 2:28:06 Olympic “A” qualifier, so we saw no reason to change the winning formula approaching the 2020 Marathon Trials (February, 2020).
As has been previously documented in various articles, we believe in relatively low-mileage and “integrated” vs. “supplemental” strength and aerobic cross-training. Nell basically does one interval session, one tempo session, one long run, and three strength sessions each week, along with her weekly training runs. Before Cal International, she averaged around 75 miles per week and slightly more before Grandma’s.
Our approach is to “do more with less” and has less to do with high-intensity/high-volume than training “progression”. Although “intensity” and “volume” come into play, we measure progress by improvements in interval sessions and race times over time as a function of incrementally faster workouts with about the same effort. Hence, improvements come as a function of a progressively faster workouts with about the same effort.
From a physiological point of view, we believe the human body will easily become dysfunctional if overtrained. Unfortunately, I see endurance coaches pushing athletes from middle school to elite/post collegiate well beyond their physical limits, resulting in injuries and sometimes long-term damage to their muscular-skeletal, endocrine, and cardiopulmonary systems, not to mention the real psychological damage associated with burn-out or career-ending injuries.
We believe in good health, appropriate training levels, and facilitating long-term career development. Besides low mileage and integrated cross training mentioned above, there are a couple of important differences in our approach to training and racing compared to the common practices of competitive US marathoner.
The first is our theory of “negativity”. This practice basically means running “negative” splits for virtually workout or race, thereby allowing the body to gradually warm-up/transition to high-intensity exertion with minimal damage. Generally speaking, our workout sequence is warm-up/transition/building & programming. But we are also careful to adhere to specific “numbers” throughout the process.
We seldom use vague or easily mis-interpreted language in our training sessions. For example, we might write our 5 x 1000m progression as follows: 1. 3:30 (transition/even-pace); 2. 3:20 (race pace/even-pace); 3. Surge middle 200m (85 first 400/40 second 200/42.5 last 200); 4. 3:15 (even pace); 5. 3:15 (Kick last 200m) 3:15 (82/78/35).
We believe that running negative splits this is a healthier and more productive approach to marathon running. From a physiological point of view, this allows marathon runners to optimize their energy to produce faster times while minimizing physical damage.
Nell’s personal marathon strategies have consisently and successfully embraced our negative split approach. Her 10K per mile splits at Cal International were consistently faster throughout the race: 5:55/5:52/5:50/5:48/5:47 (last 5K). Many observers claimed that she could run faster if she learned how to run more aggressively early in the race. Given the fact that she passed 7 competitors (who obviously ran more aggressively earlier in the race) over the last 10K would strongly suggest that she ran a smarter and faster race with her negative-split approach.
Her splits at Grandma’s further reinforced our negative-split strategy – she ran 1:15/1:13 to a 2:28:06/3-minute PR/Olympic A-Standard/5-minute margin of victory. Needless to say, we will stick with our strategy going forward, and I would recommend they same for most marathoners in most situations.*
Second, we write specific and progressive numbers for each rep of each interval session, rather than approaching the session with a random objective or with a “maximum effort” approach. This allows us to pursue a steady progression and evaluate the actual workout against the scheduled numbers. Are we “on schedule,” “ahead-of-schedule,” or “behind schedule,” and what adjustments do we need to make. More often than not, I see runners at all levels, even professionals, start the workout much too aggressively and struggle toward the end of the workout. This “max-effort-from-the-start” approach is less productive and can be devastating from a psychological point of view.
*Deena Kastor in Athens used the same strategy, yielding a Bronze Medal. Interestingly, when I discuss pace with even experienced US marathoners, they rigidly adhere to the old-school “positive-split” mentality, setting themselves up for a slower and more painful experience.