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May 22, 2012

Train Like a Champion

In the first 24 years of the Big Sur Marathon, no Monterey County resident won the men's race*.  In the past three years, Monterey men have won three in a row.

(*That statement is sometimes disputed in that 6-time winner and course record holder Brad Hawthorne, whom the men's trophy is now named after, actually lived in Monterey County for a brief period - but when he sent in his race applications, his primary residence was listed as Danville.  It's one of those local runner-geek arguments around here.)

Big Sur isn't some podunk race that any random slacker can win just by showing up on the right day; it usually attracts a decent crowd of high-caliber runners, and racing successfully there requires sound strategy and strong mental fortitude.  So when we suddenly found ourselves awash in recent winners, my friend Mike decided to hit one of them up for training advice that he could pass along to the rest of our running community.

The result is the Monterey Herald column that follows below, which is just as applicable to the greater marathon community outside Monterey County.

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Running Life 05/17/12                                            "Train Like a Champion"

Champions are made when no one is watching."   - Author unknown.

When Adam Roach of Pacific Grove crossed the finish line first at this year's Big Sur Marathon, the entire community shared and celebrated his accomplishment.  What none of us saw, however, were the months of hard work he put in while no one was watching in order to make his triumphant day possible.

Adam Roach winning the BSIM; photo from Monterey Herald

We spoke with Adam recently to ask about his training for this year's race.  His responses highlighted some lessons that anyone can benefit from - even those of us who finish many minutes (or hours) behind him. 
Adam is 28 and works full time, so he fits running around his work schedule and family time just like the rest of us. He usually runs after work each week day and on weekend mornings, averaging about 80 miles per week in the springtime - a volume that is far lower than the 100-120 miles that many professional runners log.  

A typical week includes a Sunday 20-miler in the Fort Ord/Toro Park area with Daniel Tapia (2010 Big Sur Marathon winner) at about 6:00 per mile pace. Mondays are 10 miles at a "comfortably fast" pace of 6:15-7:00/mile.  Tuesdays include 10 miles of trails in Garland Ranch or Del Monte Forest


On Wednesdays, Adam hits the Pacific Grove High School track to run intervals at race pace.  Sometimes the intervals are long, such as 4 x 2 miles at marathon pace, and other times they're short, such as his favorite workout of fifty 400-meter repeats at half marathon speed.  Thursday is another "comfortably fast" run, Friday is a 10-mile tempo (slightly slower than race pace) run, and Sunday has 12 more "comfortably fast" miles.


What did we learn from all this?  Here are some key themes:


Consistent long runs are critical:  Adam didn't have any runs over 20 miles, but he did a 20-miler nearly every week from February through April.  He calls these, "The bread and butter of my training ... and the long runs over hilly terrain gave me endurance to be able to run hard for a full 26 miles on race day."  These runs were bolstered by the long interval and tempo run workouts, which helped him to stay comfortable while running at race pace.


Discipline and toughness:  Did any of those track workouts sound difficult to anyone?  How about a weekly 20-miler?  Or running every day for a minimum of 10 miles? You can't do these things without enormous self-discipline - and each progressive session builds increased confidence, toughness, and mental strength that will be needed to race off the front of the pack on race day.


Focus on the goal: Adam's race schedule was minimal, and his entire training program was designed solely to prepare him for Big Sur.  He ran the Mission 10-Miler in San Juan Bautista in January and the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon in March, and otherwise stayed focused on his one major goal race.


Just run, baby: Adam does minimal cross training, weights, or stretching, because he'd rather spend his limited workout time exclusively running.  Once a week he'll do a short abs/core workout, "But nothing too crazy."  Specificity of training pays enormous benefits in learning to run more efficiently.


Obviously, successful training plans differ for everybody, but Adam has clearly found a system that works well for him.  If you take some cues from his training regimen, you still might not win the Big Sur Marathon, but you'll almost certainly become a better runner.


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4 comments:

Anonymous,  5/23/12, 8:29 AM  

Good extraction of universal lessons from an otherwise out-of-reach training schedule. Not that 50x400m will ever be my favorite (or even "a") workout, but what is meant by "half marathon speed"?
Richard A

Anonymous,  5/23/12, 3:21 PM  

Now that i read it again, my question is stupid. So let me try to save myself. Are we talking 30 sec per mile faster than marathon pace or 20 seconds? Is there some universally accepted normal gap between the two?

Darren Walker 5/25/12, 12:21 AM  

Great post, really good lessons there. I think I could also benefit from 'focusing on the goal' a bit more, a lot of the time my training is a touch on the unfocused side!

Thanks for posting this and looking forward to future posts :)

Spencer 6/4/12, 1:43 PM  

Nice article! Lots of people tell you how to train, but it's nice to see the actual log of a race winner.

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