You may find it hard to believe, but I have a real, full-time job not as an elite runner and triathlete. I’ll pause for a minute while that sinks in. What I do isn’t really important. I don’t really like my job that much and it also isn’t close to home. The end result is I listen to a lot of podcasts on my lengthy commute. One of my favorites has been the Runner’s World podcast.
David Willey, senior editor at Runner’s World, along with other contributors have been documenting the Nike Sub2 project. If you haven’t heard, Nike has enlisted 3 world class marathon runners (again, not me) to train specifically to break 2 hours for the marathon.
The current marathon world record is 2:02:57 which is a mind-boggling pace of 4:41/mile. Bear in mind most of us mere mortals can’t run that pace for 1 mile let alone 26.2. To beat the elusive 2 hour time a runner would need to knock that pace down to just under a 4:35 pace. So 6 seconds per mile doesn’t seem like much, right? Except at those speeds that is HUGE!
Nike is not foolish. They know to make this happen conditions would need to be perfect. Somewhere along the line they had hoped to make this attempt during a regular, sanctioned world record qualifying event, but were ready to pull the plug on that and make the attempt under more controlled conditions. When the sub-2 attempt occurs, probably May time frame, it will be in as controlled conditions as possible with little or favorable winds, planned pacers, support crew on moped to provide nutrition, etc. They are looking at every microsecond that can be saved to show that a human is capable of doing this. Oh, and there is the remote possibility that Nike may be introducing a new shoe model or two, some new clothes, and possibly some new nutrition products along the way.
Other than looking forward to selling a kidney to buy a fancy new pair of Nikes guaranteed to make us run fast, what has this got to do with us normal people? Happily, Nike and Runner’s World aren’t stupid. David Willey is also part of the team and will also be attempting
a sub-2 hour marathon. Okay, really he will be going after an elusive Boston Qualifying (BQ) time in a marathon, something he has been unable to accomplish until now. Interestingly, David is roughly the same age as myself and many of my running cohorts. Unlike us, during this process he has had full access to the exact same team as the elite runners in the sub-2 project. He is one of the few outsiders to get in to Nike’s labs, he has been through the same battery of tests as Eliud Kipchoge and the other sub-2 athletes, and he has access to the same world-class coaches, trainers, doctors, etc. All of these folks have poked, prodded, tested, and examined David’s physiology, fitness, and psyche to come up with a plan for him to hit his BQ goal. He will be making this attempt at Michigan’s Bayshore Marathon.
I won’t repeat all the details of David’s training so far. I’d strongly suggest listening to the podcasts. They are entertaining and extremely informative. In this past week’s episode, David was dealing with his second injury of his training cycle. He documented his conversations with his coaches (running and strength), and a very informative conversation with a sport psychologist. I want to listen to the whole thing again because there was so much good information in there.
As I listened, the repeated message from the coaches and doctor was that the human body is an amazingly complex thing. It is difficult at best to understand the subtle and sometimes dramatic adaptations the body and mind make around training and injury. The bolded sentence is not a direct quote but rather a culmination of the message of the podcast. So here is poor David Willey, with the ears and eyes of thousands of Runner’s World readers upon him, trying to to accomplish a very public goal, with an almost unlimited team of the very best sports coaches, doctors, and facilities in the world, yet he still gets hurt training for a marathon. Worse, it was pointed out that Lelisa Desisa, one of the sub-2 runners had also sustained an injury.
I need to re-listen to this last episode because my mind started trying to wrap itself around the idea that quite literally all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. (In this case, pretend the King is Nike). How the hell are us normal folk that don’t have access to the King’s horses and men supposed to go out and train to be fast, let alone injury free!? Okay, I can answer the last part of that question. It’s really, really hard to stay injury free. I’m dealing with my second injury in the last month. There was also a bad cold in there.
I think we need to remember for those of us that aren’t elite athletes, it is a small wonder that we ever get to race day fit, healthy and ready to race. We can all read the nearly infinite supply of coaching and training information available, we can all set our own goals, and we can do what we think is right. But since we probably don’t have access to the Nike Test Kitchen and coaching staff, we shouldn’t necessarily expect ourselves to be in top form to PR every event. Since our life isn’t really defined by world-class running (or cycling, or swimming, or tiddlywinks) We need to learn to make training plans, and adjust goals based on what life is handing out. We also need to be prepared to adapt mentally when things change. Additionally, if we don’t have generous and available friends with some degree of coaching background it may not necessarily be a bad idea to fork over a few bucks to hire a trained coach rather than buying the fancy new Garmin or 14th pair of running shoes. Left on our own, we all overtrain. It is not bad to sometimes have a coach to let us know everything is okay, and no, you don’t have to go run every mile at 7:00 pace. If you’ve never had a coach it’s something to consider for at least one training cycle. Also, don’t discount your peers. Our endurance athlete friends tend to have a wealth of collective experience. Talk, listen, and learn from your friends. You know who they are and, typically, what their level of fitness, and experience is. Runners and triathletes are not shy about discussing their training, health, and bodies. There is a lot to be learned there if we listen, especially when dealing with or avoiding injury.
Lastly, you may want to pay attention here. This is going to be perhaps the finest bit of spring marathon training advice you’ll ever receive: When you get a wet, icy, heavy March snow, pay the local kids to shovel it for you. Otherwise you might strain an adductor (groin) muscle a month out from your goal marathon.