The Tilden Tough Ten (Better Late than Never?)

I know I already said in a previous post how running fast kind of hurts, and the faster you try to run the more it hurts, and the shorter the race it’s probably going to end up hurting the whole time. I’ve learned that I’m not the type of guy that can easily go out and run anything near 6:20 pace and be remotely comfortable; I’m way happier running at least a minute per mile slower, and in actuality I really prefer running closer to 8:20 pace, where I can comfortably plug in and bang away at a (flat road) 50k and not be all that beat up after. I guess I’m lucky like that.

So in the build up to the Santa Rosa Marathon I’ve decided to run a lot of shorter races and really try to hone my leg speed- it’s been said that sprinters are born, not made- so I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle trying to get faster, and eventually I’ll hit my ceiling. But it’s still a lot of fun, the “trying” to get faster.


I also decided to get really serious about training and went and got the Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald book “Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach”, Hudson might be best known for coaching Dathan Ritzenhein when he dropped out of Colorado to run pro, he helped coach Ritz to his first (and only) Olympic marathon in ’08. I also like the title because I’m totally un-coachable; mostly because I am poor, and a $10 book appeals to my sensibilities rather than a $150/month coach. I also might not benefit from having a coach because I’m already highly motivated- I am completely in love with the simple, pure act of just running and for right now I don’t need someone to motivate me. I like the idea of coaching, however- part of me wishes I had one when I started out. Maybe one day I’ll hire a coach, if I plateau and nothing I try works or (gasp) wake up one day and the fire has gone out…

But today I’m really attracted to the idea of sticking with a training program and being lucky enough to have the self-discipline to get out there every day (running seven days a week now), doing the scheduled workouts (or the alternative workout since Hudson’s plan is “adaptive” in that I can change the workout or flip-flop days if I’m not feeling 100% fresh), hitting the track (I really love going to the track now, never thought that would happen) and really cherish the long run (I’ve always loved going long but now I feel like it has a point to it). I’ve seen some promising results and feel like I’m only barely scratching the surface of becoming a solid runner. Plus, there’s the collateral effect of becoming a better human in all of the aforementioned process.

If you’re wondering what it means to have an “adaptive” approach to training, it’s basically the same as all the other training programs except it’s not as cookie-cutter as the free online ones. It follows two basic rules, and both are really the same rule- having an understanding how the human body adapts to different types of training and to train accordingly AND then understanding how your body adapts to various types of training and to train accordingly. The main components to every marathon training program are: you build endurance by doing a weekly long run and the rest of your runs should be a mix of faster running and slower recovery runs; they all work in conjunction with each other reflexively- the long run improves your endurance, the shorter, faster stuff improves your speed, which you can then use to run your long runs faster, building up to race day when it all comes together.

Since I want to run a “fast” marathon, it would make more sense for me to run my long runs at a faster pace- it makes absolutely no sense to go run an “easy” 18 miles, especially if I’m trying to target a 6:52 pace for a 26.2, I should be running at a pace much closer to what I’m trying to race at. Long, slow slogs are kind of fun and will definitely help you finish, but I want to race.

I made the mistake of using a Hal Higdon training plan for my first attempt at running a fast road marathon, and looking back with a skeptical eye I can see that a lot of the workouts were pointless for me- it was also very “one size fits all” and I definitely needed something that was heavier on both the speed and specific endurance, and after the fact- comparing the Higdon plan to the Hudson plan, Hal’s plan felt very “general”.

Yasso 800’s are a cool thing to talk about, but doing (only) 8 or 10 repeats of 800 meters isn’t going to increase your marathon specific endurance because it’s a VO2max workout- and an increase in VO2max does not improve fuel efficiency (VO2max runs improve aerobic capacity, but all the aerobic capacity in the world isn’t going to stop you from hitting the wall). Yes, VO2max is one important determinant of endurance during prolonged, sub-maximal exercise- but it’s not the only one; hence my mention of fuel efficiency. To put it bluntly, in the book Jack Daniels’ Running Formula, Daniels only prescribes one session of 800-meter repeats, and it’s only five repeats with 2-minute rests between each. This workout is given five days before the goal marathon and is only included in the 40 miles per week Novice plan.

If Jack doesn’t like them, they can’t be that good for you- he does however agree with Hal on the idea of taking in a lot of carbs (in general) in order to teach the body to conserve stored muscle glycogen and running long runs without taking in too much carbs, forcing you to rely a little bit more on fat metabolism. After listening to a recent Jay Johnson podcast with his guest Nate Jenkins (a 2:14 marathoner), who talks at length on doing depleted long runs- starting your run in a semi-fasted state to trigger the burning of fat to extend your body’s fuel efficiency. So, for the marathon it would appear that you’re better off doing a long run at closer to marathon pace with nothing in your stomach; it resembles the marathon way more than short, fast bursts of speed.

Going to the track on fresh legs and hammering 800 meter repeats at a pace you’ll never come close to during your goal race is counter-intuitive. It’s a great workout for improving overall fitness and running at VO2max pace will make running at marathon pace feel easier, but why waste a perfectly good chance at trying a run that more closely mimics what you might encounter during a marathon? Let’s try a run that has you start at three miles at an easy pace then doing 6 x 1 mile repeats at five seconds off of 10k race pace with three minutes of active recovery jogs between? I’m in the school of thought that says running pretty hard on tired legs is a much better prep than running really hard on fresh legs and having an adequate recovery between repeats. For comparison, I can do 800 repeats in about 2:45, which is a 5:30/mile pace, which is one minute and 22 seconds faster than my intended goal marathon pace.

This leads me to the next set of ideas of Hudson’s training program: the four principles of adaptive running. Principle #1 states that “the goal of training is to stimulate the precise set of physiological adaptations that are needed to achieve maximum performance in a peak race” with the idea that your goal during each training period is to raise and sustain your fastest pace for your chosen distance. Let’s use my Kaiser Half Marathon race as an example; I wanted to run sub-1:30, which is 6:52 per mile (1:29:59). It’s convenient because I also wanted to run that same pace for the LA Marathon, so I trained according to that pace (running a 1:29:03) using Jack Daniels’ Running Formula.

Daniels has a handy chart that gives you your velocity at VO2max or VDOT “number” and then all the paces you should be training at; for this example I’m at 52, and that says my “easy” and “long run” pace per mile should be between 7:42-8:41 and “tempo” pace is at 6:38 per. He says that a peaking and rested runner should be able to run at or close to that tempo pace for a 10k or even half marathon (21 km).

Principle #2 of the Hudson program: your training must be adapted to your individual strengths, weaknesses, needs and goals. So in my case, having spent the last four “seasons” training for and running 22 ultras, my body is used to higher mileage. My body is not used to running 2-3 “workouts” a week, however; I maybe did one every two weeks, but really I was just out meandering around town or through the woods to a bunch of podcasts for two to six hours most of the time and that the idea of “speed” was more or less a foreign concept.

Considering any and all factors like recent training (see above), age (I’m going to be 40 in a year and a half), my overall running experience (coming up on both 5 years and 10,000 miles), goals (short term: would love to BQ vs. long term: run many mountainous 100-milers), strengths (I like high mileage), weaknesses (I’m not very fast) and then the final factor; me and my wife are expecting a baby in about four months. So let’s add all that up and come up with: I’m targeting a fast road marathon before the baby comes, must add some fast-twitch muscle fibers to get me in around 3:00 because a BQ is 3:10 which is really 3:09:59 which is really like 3:05 just to be safe. I have pretty decent general endurance to go out and slog a 50-miler in around nine hours but need to add more specific endurance which is defined as my ability to resist fatigue at race pace (race-specific fitness requires race pace training). Which brings me to what I like to call “The Summer of Speed”.

Principles #3 and #4 are really the same concept; my training schedule must be adapted daily based on my response to recent training and any other factor that may affect my readiness for planned training AND I must adapt my training seasonally (mesocycle) and yearly (macrocycle), in response to the effects of the most recently completed training cycle to stimulate positive adaptations. So what is working for me now might not necessarily work next year or five years down the road. I’ve also tweaked my diet ever so slightly to include just a bit more carbohydrates; I’ve added a little bit more fruit and whole grains, still hitting the fat big time but probably closer to a 50-30-20 fats-carbs-protein ratio.

All those core principles equal a training program that has…
– Consistent, moderately high running volume
– Nonlinear periodization
– Progression from general training to specific training
– Three-period training cycles
– Lots of hill running
– Extreme intensity and workload modulation
– Multi-pace workouts
– Non-weekly workout cycles
– Multiple threshold paces
– Constant variation
– One rest day per week
– Selective cross-training

Here’s a sample week from the Marathon Level 3 plan (the one I’m using):

Week 15

Monday – Easy: 6 miles + 10 x 10 sec hill sprints

Tuesday – Moderate pace: 10 miles

Wednesday – Specific Endurance Intervals: 3 miles easy, 6 x 1 mile @ 10k pace (+ 5 sec/mi) with 3 mins active recoveries, 3 miles easy

Thursday – Easy: 10 miles

Friday – Easy: 14 miles

Saturday – Easy: 10 miles

Sunday – Half Marathon Race OR Time Trial

So I’m signed up for four races this summer with distances between 10-and-30k- in addition to really wanting to run Western States I also really want to run Boston. To earn a spot at the world’s most storied marathon would be pretty huge, because for me the actual BQ is the prize, not so much the race itself.


This brings us to the first race in this here report, the 28th annual Tilden Tough Ten, a ten mile “trail” race put on by local Oakland running club the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders (LMJS). This race was started as the alternative to the Bay to Breakers over in San Francisco, which is a gigantic 7.5-mile race where only the front runners are looking to go hard, and they’re chased by 10,000 folks trying to party, and they’re looking to drink hard. After the LA Marathon I’m kind of turned off on the big city racing experience- yes, I realize Boston is a huge race, as is New York and those are two huge races I’d love to do someday, but those races are known for their great performances from legends like Grete Waitz, Bill Rodgers, Clarence DeMar, Alberto Salazar and Meb Keflezighi rather than the race that features the “naked guy from El Cerrito” and Marina frat bros looking to hook up.

The TTT bills itself as a low-key, old-school, down-home affair and is considered a great way to dip your toes into the world of trail running. It starts at Inspiration Point, a scenic overlook nestled in a notch above the San Pablo Reservoir, with views looking east for miles and miles.

My goal for the race was go sub-65 (or one hour and five minutes for the uninitiated), which is a solid 6:30 pace. I played around with my Hudson schedule, on the Sunday in question it called for an 18-mile fartlek run with 12 repeats of 30 second pickups (or intervals, or bursts, whatever) with a cool down between each repeat that you want, as long as you feel fully refreshed before starting the next one. I flip-flopped Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s runs with the next week’s (I was at week 6 of the training cycle) which called for either a 10-or-15k race, which was close enough (10 miles = 16.1 km). The runs were all pretty similar so I felt confident that it wouldn’t affect my long-term goals- except that I went ahead and signed up for the Marin 10k which fell on a Monday, forcing me to switch my long run to the next Saturday, with a short recovery jog on Sunday so I can race on mildly tapered legs (although a 70-mile week isn’t much of a taper, eh?)

Back to the TTT- I felt anxious as usual going into the race and what better way to get your mind off of yourself than hosting a pre-race pasta feed for your buds you’re racing with the next day? So Saturday’s prep kept my mind off of the pain I’d feel Sunday, and a decent night’s sleep got me feeling really fresh for it. I did an easy 15-minute warm up (really just wanted to pee and not wait in that line) and lined up right towards the front of the pack, eagerly awaiting the starter’s pistol (was just a hearty “go” from the RD). I was pretty confident that I could go out around 6:15 pace and try to hold on to that for at least the first 5 miles, maybe be somewhere in the top 10 and really allow myself to race in the last five miles. I was giving myself complete permission to go really deep in the pain cave, because every race this summer is more or less an “A” race; they’re all short enough to where they’re not going to beat me up like an ultra or a road marathon but test my fitness enough to where I could hurt in a more acute way. Running really hard for anywhere from 6 to 20 miles hurts, but it’s like getting a shot from the doctor- as soon as you realize what’s happening it’s basically over.

So I tried to hang with my speedy friend Lucas and that worked for about the first maybe half mile, he was moving really well and dropped me on a short little climb. The leaders were all still in sight, strung out a few yards from each other as I could see everyone before me, I was sitting somewhere outside the top 10, not really sure of my placing. I hit the first mile in 6:17 and felt pretty good, wasn’t breathing too hard yet, felt like my stride and cadence were really nice and steady, everything felt great.

Everything continued to feel great until the turnaround- I really hammered the down as I was counting runners coming back towards me; I hit the five-mile turn in 15th place and was looking to do some hunting in the second half- that climb out put me all the way to max heart rate and I knew if I could hit mile six at or around 38 minutes I’d be in really good shape to hit my goal, I came through mile six at around 40 minutes though and was only able to catch two more runners and went pretty deep into the pain cave for the last two miles. I tried to get them to go with me but they looked to be in pretty bad shape- I wondered if a more conservative start would’ve done me well in the back half but felt confident that 10 miles was just short enough that I could go out super hard and maintain it- not like a half marathon where I feel like I need some semblance of reserve in the first eight miles or so to really hammer it in. I kept repeating the mantra “breathe, focus on your form, land on your mid-foot” that my buddy Carl kept saying when he paced me to my first 50-mile finish.

I missed my goal by a scant 2:45 and felt pretty good about the race- I like that it was short enough to not have to really taper but just long enough to be a really solid tempo run while still forcing me to respect the distance. The after party was really chill, I brought my cowbell and hung out at the finish line hollering people in.

Strava stats

Next up… The Marin Memorial Day 10k & Lake Chabot Trail Challenge

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