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August 18, 2015

One thing I think about a lot: Shaving time off the marathon. Specifically, I think about training and execution on race day. Other factors such as weather, pacers, competitors and courses are on my mind, but I don’t have the same control over them as I do my training.

Two things I believe with training (they may not be true). One is that over time you need to change up the stimulus to attain significant physiological adaptations, the exact same training will become less effective. The other is that more time spent at a certain pace and your body will become more efficient at that pace. These two ideas seem contradictory but I believe there is merit in both and ways to see improvement while incorporating both theories.

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

When you look at my top four marathon times (2:10:55, 2:11:23, 2:11:24, 2:11:24) it looks as though I have a specific recipe I keep whipping up. Truth be told, my training program has been pretty consistent through each build-up. Perhaps I need to switch things around to break the trend. Does that mean running more volume, or more speed-work, or more hills, or more time at race pace? It’s near impossible to say as every athlete reacts/adapts differently. Plus, it’s not so simple as doing more of everything, that would invite injury.

My first three marathons in the 2:10-2:11 range came after sea-level training. To switch it up I tried altitude training this Spring before Rotterdam. I spent 10 of 15 weeks, including the last 5 weeks, in Iten, Kenya (2400m). I came down to sea-level within 72 hours and it still netted me a similar result.

Training in Iten also meant that I incorporated more hills into my program (I didn’t have a choice with the terrain). This build-up I’m going to include a few specific hill sessions to change things up a bit. On Monday I ran more elevation in a workout than I ever have before.

As far as race plans go, my top four marathons have had two different pacing strategies: ‘Go out hard’ and ‘shoot for an even split.’ My halfway splits in those four marathons have a larger variance than the final times (65 second variance at 21.1km and 29 second variance @ 42.2km) . I’ve also tried different race courses.

2:10:55 (1:03:58 @ 21.1km) – STWM 2011
2:11:23 (1:05:04 @ 21.1km) – STWM 2010
2:11:24 (1:04:11 @ 21.1km) – Fukuoka 2013
2:11:24 (1:05:03 @ 21.1km) – Rotterdam 2015
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

On the other hand, I know how to train for a decent result. Perhaps just hitting it perfect on the day, on a fast course (Berlin) with training I know works will get me a PB. It’s possible I’m already maximizing my training and adding anything more will burn me out. Or, varying away from a proven formula will not prepare me as well.

My running volume has been fairly consistent throughout my four marathons. In the past I’ve hit some weeks around 240km and could tell from the way I felt (compared to 210km or 220km per week) that I don’t need to go that high.  I ran a little less before the last marathon as I was training at altitude (and travelling a bit more too). This build-up I’ve been in the same wheelhouse. One difference is that I plan to cut back a little more in the last month to be sharper for specific sessions.

I used to run 12 times per week and now I only run 10 times per week. I try to run a little more on some of the other runs but I don’t quite make up the difference. Running two less times allows me to recover better.

Mind over matter

We all know that the mind plays an important role on race day. Once the training is complete and you’re at a given fitness level the mental side is what will make or break a race. I know I perform better when running in a pack. That is why I will change up my pace (within a reasonable amount) on race day to run with a pack. Berlin will have a good pack up front with plenty of pace makers but I don’t need to go out at World Record pace.

Being motivated when things get tough is what helps me stay on pace. I have to ‘really want it’ to run through the pain. In the past I’ve put lots of pressure on myself and at other times I’ve been relatively nonchalant. There is a sweet spot in the middle where I need to operate.

I can’t be afraid of excellence. I know that might sound strange but sometimes when you want something so bad and you put that end result on a pedestal it can be overwhelming. I felt that a bit in Fukuoka. I remember coming through halfway in 64:11, feeling pretty good and thinking even if I slow down a bit I’ll still hit my goal. The goal became so achievable that I was scared. In Rotterdam I wasn’t scared to take that next step.

Every time I race I learn more about myself and it always surprises me when I figure out more to the mental side. I know it’s important, I’ve always known it’s important but there is so much more to be learned in that department.

Next Step

One of the reasons I keep thinking about all these things is that I don’t have tons more opportunities to run a personal best. I don’t want to finish my career and wonder if I could have done things differently to run faster. Had I never trained at altitude going into a marathon I know I would have questioned what I could have done with such training.

So while I try and become more efficient at marathon race pace I’m also tweaking other aspects of my training to see if I can become stronger.

My next race is the Edmonton half marathon on August 23. Surprise surprise, a half marathon 5-6 weeks before a marathon (same thing as all the 2:10-2:11 races). Although I did try a half 4 weeks out before the London marathon in 2013. I didn’t like the way I felt, ran 2:13:40 so decided not to try that again.


  1. August 18, 2015 3:04 pm

    I’m amazed you’ve been able to be so consistent in your marathon times even though you’ve had non negligible set backs for each of these marathons (bike fracture, ankle, groin tear…) or the way the races happened with non optimal pacing. I’m confident that with a year of uneventful training and race buildup, you have better times in you and for sure more years to go, just like the way Meb has been consistent and reached his goals. Keep up the good work and inspiring us!

    • reidcoolsaet permalink*
      August 19, 2015 11:54 am

      Yep Richard. Hoping one year of consistent training will pay dividends this go around.

  2. August 19, 2015 1:40 pm

    Really great post, Reid. I think this kind of introspection in terms of what it might take to break through to the next level is only natural once we reach a certain point. I can certainly relate although for me it is in the 5k, at nowhere near your level. You certainly seem to have the formula down for consistent 2:10, 2:11 performances. I’ll throw a couple of thoughts out there:
    – Running a bit less weekly volume. I know you discussed this in your post. I wonder about peaking at 200 km per week? With the years of volume in your legs and as you age, I wonder if you need as much volume now – perhaps the decreased volume would enable you to get even more out of your hard sessions.
    – Incorporating some 5 and 10k training and racing as part of your periodization. I believe it was focussing on some of the shorter distances which was key for Ryan Hall when he was running fast marathons. It sounds like hill sessions like the one you described will help maintain your strength and running economy, things which seems to be more elusive with age.
    Good luck in this period of your training Reid and in your upcoming hm, and looking forward to see what you can accomplish in Berlin this fall.

    • reidcoolsaet permalink*
      August 19, 2015 6:46 pm

      Jason, congrats on your successful Para Pan Ams 1500/5000 double.
      I agree with not needing such high volume anymore. I’ve been capping myself at 205km the last couple of weeks and lowering from here on out.
      If there was a decent 10km nearby I would do that. Otherwise I will try and touch on more speed in the final month to sharpen up.

  3. August 19, 2015 4:54 pm

    such a thoughtful blog, reid, a great read. there are no easy answers, but you’re showing experience and ultimately faith that one of these days (hopefully soon!) it will all click. i’m sure it will for you. i noted: and not one ounce of “if only” in your comments – like that 2:10:55 day, when the weather was horrible (big headwind over last 5K). never mind: your perfect day will come.

    • reidcoolsaet permalink*
      August 19, 2015 6:46 pm

      Thanks Art!

  4. August 20, 2015 6:16 am

    Your introspective posts are the best. Some days I feel like the exact same person as yesterday, and other times just the opposite. A weird but worth internal battle. Have you ever run a full without a half in the buildup?
    Looking up that Einstein quote led me to this psychology article on the ‘definition’ of insanity (and a mystery who actually said it!)

    • reidcoolsaet permalink*
      August 20, 2015 11:21 am

      I didn’t run a half before my first two marathons. I like doing them because it breaks up the monotony of training. It’s easier to run a little faster in a race set-up and I get to do the exact same morning routine. I also try and run them in control, otherwise I think it would take too long to recover.

  5. christrack permalink
    August 22, 2015 12:46 am

    Great little blog post.

  6. August 22, 2015 11:06 am

    Some people do the big miles, ie. 180 easy @ 7,000 feet, some people do the hard 40k one month out. Probably the Japanese are clean, but some of the Kenyan hard runs were helped with chemicals.
    At least you know what your body will take. Best luck tweeking it.

  7. September 4, 2015 9:21 am

    Reid, NEW HAVEN 20K is September 7th. Always a stacked field and 3 weeks out from BERLIN. Khalid Khannouchi went 57:37 in 1998. Last year the race was won in 1:01:26. If you went 28:50 thru 10K chances are since your Canadian you would be left to roll. You can then cruise and still be in the mix. Good PR since the race is live on

    • reidcoolsaet permalink*
      September 4, 2015 12:46 pm

      New Haven 20km would be a sweet race. But with the half I did and another 10km coming up I think that would be a lot racing.

      Date: Fri, 4 Sep 2015 14:21:21 +0000 To:


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