World Championship Marathon Training & Race Report (Toronto Waterfront) by Alan Evans

Alan Evans in his USA Running Outfit

In case you didn’t recognize him, here he is in his usual attire.

I’m still trying to get over the fact that after 44 years of competitive racing and over 50 marathons that I just completed my most satisfying and best marathon ever. Not the best by time (that was 20 years ago) but best by performance, which is something worth striving for at any age. It reaffirms that there is still something to learn about running and in the pursuit of the elusive “perfect” marathon. Feeling like I achieved as close to that as I will, I don’t want to forget what I did to get there. So when Dave Bischoff asked if I’d be willing to share my experiences, I jumped at the chance as a way to organize my thoughts and get them on paper. He reminded me that “when we stop helping others achieve success, we should stop period.” I couldn’t agree more. It also reminded me of a quote from the Tao Te Ching that I happen to reread about a week before the marathon: “The best athlete wants his opponent at his best … [they] embody the virtue of non-competition. Not that they don’t love to compete, but they do it in the spirit of play. In this they are like children and in harmony with the Tao.” I don’t want to get too philosophical but one of the keys during Toronto was being able to tap into that feeling of the pure joy of running that we all have felt, especially as young kids, running on the playground.
Let me start with a description of my training leading up to the race. First a few thoughts about how I train (some should sound familiar): consistency is more important than any single workout; however its consistency over the long term so if you don’t feel like running, take the day off; you can only get three quality days in a week – a long run, an anaerobic threshold and a set of intervals – so the rest is whatever you feel like doing; the long run is most important and conversely weekly mileage least important; get at least 4 and preferably 5 to 6 over 2 hour long runs before the marathon with at least 2 of 22 to 23 miles; if you have to give up one of the quality days to recover do the anaerobic threshold rather than the intervals; for a marathon, there is no need to do any intervals less than 800 meters but 30-40 second strides is a nice way to get leg turnover and improve running efficiency; run as much as possible on grass, trails or dirt roads but run at least one of your longest runs on the roads to get your legs used to the pounding. While the long run is key, anaerobic thresholds have made all the difference in improving my age-grade performance and slowing my decline in absolute time. As a good base plan to build off of and make modifications, I used one created for me by Coach Reif.
My complete training leading up to the marathon is at the end of the article. The fact that it was an injury-free training build up was of course essential to having a good race and can’t be taken for granted at any age but especially for masters+. I have been remarkably lucky to avoid major injuries but two serious ones in the spring almost cost me running in Grandma’s marathon which as some of you know has been a thirty-eight-year long streak. I put comments in the table where I thought something was important. The short-hand letters for pacing is MP for marathon pace, T for anaerobic threshold, I for interval, R for repetition. Of course, these training paces implies a goal race pace as a basis. Running the “Time to Sperr” 10 miler at the end of August in 59:24 gave me what I figured was an overly optimistic conversion of 2:45:36. Afterall, I had ran Grandma’s marathon in 2:52 three years in a row and running faster didn’t see possible. And it was the same pace as what I did in Ann Arbor at the USATF master’s half marathon championships in May. However, I wasn’t concerned since most of the time I ran based on time not exact distance and simply checked my heart rate to calibrate the effort.
What seemed to go particularly well was the last week before the race. I have heard that one either loves the taper or hates it. For me, I was happy to have more time for other things since running can be so time-consuming. But it is such a change in physical activity, my psyche is also affected. My mind unreasonably began to question whether I’m even still a runner with such little running actually going on. “I run therefore I’m a runner” is a simple mantra for my mind to grasp so it also easily grasps the opposite. “Am I really capable of the pace I have set for myself?” Unfortunately, that question won’t even begin to be answered until at least the 20 mile mark of the race. Adding to all this monkey-mind of brain activity to compensate the lack of physical activity is that a good marathon training plan to me has always been a bit mystical to me and to be taken on faith – build up to 6 to 7 miles at threshold pace and 6 to 7 miles at marathon pace combined with running 22 miles at a much slower pace and somehow that prepares the body to extend the 6 to 7 miles to a full 26. I can’t explain why the training works; experience has taught me to simply put my faith in it. The last week of the taper when I feel least like a runner puts that belief to the test. Knowing that having doubts in the last week is par for the course helps dispel those doubts. A few up-tempo minutes of running were also reassuring even if it was still hard to wrap my mind around the pace I was supposed to do for 26 miles. In a weird way, having the marathon marked in kilometers since it was in Canada was enough to fool my mind into what ended up being a pace 8 seconds a mile faster than my most aggressive plan (the plan was to shoot for 2:50 +/- 2 minute pace so that if I was on pace I could afford my usual two minute slow down at the end and still get a 2:52.)
Within that last week before the marathon I got an email out of the blue from USATF asking for my sizes. Yes, a little personnal but I figured maybe a singlet was in it for me if I answered. Little did I know they would be sending a complete running outfit – singlet, shorts (a boring USA blue to match the rest ?), T-shirt, long sleeve pull-over, water-resistant top and pants. I began to feel a certain responsibility to do well and represent my country as corny as that sounds. (On the other hand, I’m still planning the video sure to go viral where I’m stripping off each article of clothing of my outfit to off-camera chants of “USA! … USA!”) … ok, got to stay focused. Other key factors leading into the race were: hydration (I didn’t even drink alcohol for several nights beforehand!); having my wife do most of the driving on the way up and sitting most of the day before; finding a great restaurant to carbo loading; and mostly not worrying.
After all the preparation, in some ways, the race itself was uneventful. The start temperature was 37°C with a pretty good wind to drop the wind chill to 32° F. This had me contemplating exactly what to wear. I ended up to the USA singlet over the short-sleeved USA T-shirt and compensated with glove liners and wind muffins and a winter headband. Given the temperature, I was glad for the gun to go off. After all the energy conservation of the taper, it felt like being shot out of a cannon. The sensation of speed may have been an optical illusion caused by my eyes watering due to the cold. In any event, for the rest of the race, I had to keep reminding myself to back off a bit, that there was plenty of time left. Marathons are such a race of patience and I was chomping at the bit like a quarter horse.
Even though it is hours long, the recollections are like photographic snapshots – a person chanting “USA! … USA!” (no, I didn’t feel the urge to strip), feeling motivated passing older looking runners wearing uniforms from distant countries, feeling a genuine sense of brotherhood with my fellow athletes, signs saying: “It’s a long way to go for a banana”, “Run like your mom just signed you up for Tinder”, and “Go, unknown stranger, Go”. Most notable was coming back into downtown and feeling surprisingly good. Most of my marathons, meaning Grandma’s, I have a death march last mile about 1 minute slower than my average. It has always been a psychological trying 7 plus minutes of barely holding on and trying to avoid complete collapse. This was the opposite. I felt a gradual build of energy and focus to run down anyone ahead of me. The last 800 meters was a corridor of cheering spectators I used to full advantage. Surely they were all cheering for me and me alone to run faster and pass people. The finish left me spent and fully satisfied. I left everything out on the course, what anyone could hope for, and completely surprised myself with a 2:44:43.
Now the post-race analysis. What really did help me run so fast and by how much? The training was where it needed to be but not much more than the last three marathons when I was a lot slower. The weather was certainly cooler than usual which must have helped. Perhaps the biggest difference was the shoes. I hate to give a material item so much credit but I have to admit that my new pair of Nike Zoom Flys felt incredibly efficient. I couldn’t find the Vaporfly 4% but these were the next best thing. Unlike the On Cloudflows that I ran in at Grandma’s that had an irritating squeak on every footstep and plenty of cushion without energy recovery, these had me rolling through my stride and zero footfall noise. The smoothness was almost eerie, especially for someone that years ago had a reputation of terrible form, i.e., “I can spot Alan running from a mile away by his form.”
One of the other things that seemed to be a burning question from Dave when he asked me to do this write up is “how the heck did I start wearing those darn shorts anyway?” As I look back, it all started with Jim Dalberth’s on Genesee Street when I was going to school at the University of Rochester in the mid-1980s. I haven’t been there in years so I don’t know if you’d experience the same kind of eclectic, step-back-in-time, vintage shoes and clothes that was the hallmark of his store back then. Well let’s just say who could resist the bright pink with black splotches, turquoise with checkered-flags, or classic black with yellow and orange flames! It became a life-long challenge to find the most outrageous, yet somehow tasteful, attire. After a few years in Rochester I had amassed such an impressive collection that my wife and good friend at the time schemed to have a surprise birthday party for me complete with the most colorful running shorts banner strung across the dining room as decoration. Through the years it became harder to find new shorts to add to my collection and I coveting my old shorts. Fortunately these days, there are a few good entrepreneurs on the network that have brought back the patterns of old.
As I’ve gotten older, my goals have changed. They certainly can’t be about PRs, at least in the absolute sense. That’s apparent from the fact that I’m the proudest I’ve been about this race time which is 15 minutes slower than my best. It’s about setting realistic expectations and the great feeling of surprising myself when things go better than planned. There are several things that made this race so surprising and special: having my lovely wife of 28 years there watching and being supportive, running a nearly perfectly even pace – something that has eluded me for all these years, running 8 minutes faster than the last three years of Grandma’s marathon where I thought I had run as fast as I’d ever be able to again, kicking in the last kilometer and passing several other runners – something that I’ve never been able to do in the past. It just goes to show that old dogs can learn new tricks.

Weeks remaining to race

10

12

55 min. including 15 min. @ MP, plus another 5 min. @ MP

 

13

0

14

1:03 min. including 4X5 min. @ I

15

Easy

16

0

17

1:14 min. including 2×20 min @ T

18

36 min. @ E on trails

Three runs at or over 2 hours prior to this week
9 19

2:29 min. on trails

20

0

21

46 min. including 4X3:30 min @ I

22

0

23

44 min. faster than easy

24

11 min @ E

25

Time to Speer 10 miler

Excellent race in new shoes I’ll run the marathon in
 

8

26

30 min. @ E

27

49 min. @ E

28

1:03 min. including 3:30, 4:30, 5:30, 5:30, 4:30, 3:30 min.@ I

29

0

30

44 mins. on dirt roads including 10 min. @ MP, 10 min. @ T, 5 min. @ MP, 5 min. @ T

31

0

 Sept 1

0

Start of week in Algonquin – no running but lots of exercise
7 2

0

3

0

4

0

5

0

6

44 min. @ E

7

25 min. @ E

8

15 min @E

Just trying to remind legs what running is
6  9

Pete Glavin CC @ Newark, 5K

10

37 min. @ E

11

1:24 min. including 18 min. @ MP, 12 min. @ T, 13 min. @ MP, 12 min. @ T

12

0

13

1:10 min. @ E on trails

14

1:15 min. on trails including 6, 4, 2, 2, 4, 6, 6, 4, 2 min. @ I

 15

0

Back to two hard days of speed
5 16

2:58 min. on trails

17

0

18

54 min. including 36 min. @ MP

19

1:02 min. including 3 X 6 min. @ T

20

0

21

34 min. @ E

22

2 miles @ E

 

Backed off a little to be ready for USATF

4 23

USATF

Masters  National XC 5K Buffalo

24

28 min. @ E

25

1:11 min. including 3X15 mins. @ T on trails

26

0

27

2:30 mins on trails

28

0

29

10 min. @ E

Added the long run instead of another speed
3 30

23.5 miles of Wineglass – 12 @ 3:15 marathon pace, 9 @ 6:45 pace, 2.5 @ E

Oct 1

44 min @ E on trails

2

15 min @ E, stretched and rolled

3

40 min @ E on trails

4

0

5

34 min including 20 min @ T on dirt roads

6

0

Wineglass was key workout to simulate race
 2 7

1:15 min. on trails pushed last part

8

40 min @ E on trails

plus 4 strides

9

33 min including 17 min @ T

 

10

36 min@ Easy

11

0

12

42 min including 2 miles @ MP, 2 min recover, 3 miles @ MP

13

0

Marathon pace training was all over the place (6:52 to 6:13), oh well
 

1   Final Taper

14

1.5 hours @ E on trails

15

50 min.@ E on trails including 10 min @ T

16

20 minutes @ E

 

17

0

18

32 min on trails including 16 min @ MP

19

10 min very easy with dynamic stretches

20

10 min from hotel to stretch legs

Felt strong enough to go on a bit longer last long run than usual (with Adam Angst)
21

Masters World Marathon

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