I have been running for little less than 3 years now. My goal was to run 1 marathon a year at least, and bring the time below 4 hour. I gave up on Half Marathon in 2010, when I ran my 2nd Half Marathon at 1:47 (8:09 min/mile pace). Main reason, was that I did not see myself improving that pace by much. I was running 3 days a week, one interval (1 mile warm up, 3-4 miles of interval at V02 max, followed by 1 mile of cool down), one tempo interval of 4-5 mile, with warm up and cool down; and Saturday or Sunday was for long runs. My strategy was to increase my long runs, as the Marathon approaches, so I was doing 12-18 miles on long runs. After Marathon in May, my long runs were 12 miles only. So in short, I was running 24-30 miles/week.
My tempo runs were at 8 minute/mile pace and I could not imagine that I could even do 1:45 minutes Half Marathon, as 8 minute pace was challenging. Goal was to try for sub-4 marathon next year. I was 4:22 in 2011 and 4:11 for 2012 for marathon. Hard runs were not making running much fun either. I was cross training in swimming so I was more or less injury free and recovering fine from my runs. This was before I met Jim.
In October 2012, Dave, my running buddy, organized a 5 K run on track at PHHS. This was where I saw Jim first, he was his usual self, complaining about his recent 5 K times, as his worst, at somewhere under 22 minutes. My 5 K times were in 23:41. Jim was 66 year old, and seemed like barely able to lift his feet above the ground; and seemed to be wobbling up and down a bit, when jogging. He told me that his one leg may be shorter, trying to explain. Vimal and I asked him at what pace he is going to run, as none of us had run that much faster before. He was generous and said that he would run around 22:30 (and he did exactly that). As expected, I could barely follow him, with the kick in the end, I was only few seconds behind him at the end of run.
After learning that his marathon time in 60s were 3:09 and HM in 1:21; I asked for his advice. He did not hold back, flat out told me that he would not even think about running a 5 K race with 25 miles per week, forget about marathon. What I liked about his answer, and he had examples, that there were few talented runners who could run a good race with that less mileage, but this did not work with majority. He further compared my approach with the advertisements for weight loss creams where you rub it in night, sleep and lose weight. Yes, it was lot of fun listening to him.
Well, 'Run Fast with Running Less' approach, I was able to run 2 good Half Marathons and 2 Marathons; however, it was beyond imagination for me to even think what Jim did in his 60s. As a rationalization, I tried to justify that he was naturally talented (he has been winning his age category in most races and at one time ranked top 10 runner in US in his 60s); or I would say to myself, he had been running for 33 years now, and he was conditioned now, and for me there was no hope as I did not have any sports background in high school or college.
Since he was recovering from recent injury, and I was just fast enough to latch on to him for shorter distances; I asked him if I could do next weekend long run with him. And that is where my education started. Though I read over 10 books on running; there were lot of things which I did not know. Running was physically and mentally demanding. I could see that it was easy to stuck in the rut, without much improvement. Long runs were specially challenging mentally. He introduced me to tempo intervals, and breaking long runs into warm up, tempo intervals and cool down. This single aspect made long run fun. 85% of my mileage now is easy and fun run, compare to 15-20% earlier. This training is very counter intuitive; I used to think if I run slow most of the time, I am training to be slow runner.
I kept at it for 4 weeks, and ran Turkey Trot 5 K with Jim; and followed him all the way to have a PR of 21:25 (6:54 min/mile pace). My intervals in training were slower than my 5 K pace. It was working for me. The start of the 2013 has been a dream so far. January, I was surprised to see my own improvement 5K PR of 20:45 (6:41 min/mile pace) on track and Cal-10 mile at 72:38 (7:16 pace). Jim next goal was to run Half Marathon in Davis. We were doing only long runs together, and I could barely keep up with him on those.
I am very bad at pacing myself in the race, so I thought it would be perfect to follow Jim. Couple of days ago, he got down with flu and told me that he would not be able to make it. He knew about my pacing issue, so he had specific instructions on pacing for me. And I was glad that there were pacer in this race for 1:40, 1:45 and 1:35. My last 5 K was telling me that in ideal race, I would be able to break down 1:40.
With car breakdown on eve of the race, I had to call Dave in night that I would not be able to make it and if he could pick me up. With no response from him till morning, I thought it might be better to let it go. Luckily he checked the message before leaving, and came to pick me up. Ken and Dave chatted away, and I tried to catch some sleep, as I was awake since 2 AM.
After registration, Ken and I warmed up for 3 miles. Ken, on top of his age group, for most distances, was another person who got benefited from Jim's coaching. He was second in CIM marathon in December 2012, finishing well under 3 hours. After warm up, I decided to follow 1:35 pacer. It was difficult to see him, as he was keeping the stick down which displays the pace group. I did not bring my iPhone for splits as I thought of following him.
After two miles, couple of other runners caught up to him, and told him that some other runners were trying to find him, and he was running faster than required. He told them that it happened in beginning, he got suck out with other runners, and probably 15 seconds faster. I followed him closely for 7 mile and then he started gaining on me. I was surprised as it was getting harder for me to keep up with him, even though I was running harder, however ensuring that I was not breathing hard. After 9 mile, he was around 400 meters ahead of me; barely one person keeping with him.
I was having serious doubts by now, that he was already two minutes ahead of me, 1:40 pacer would be coming soon. There was something wrong. I thought I had a proper training. I was thinking may be I should have listened to Ken, when he told me to reduce my mileage in race week, and now my legs were all tired and could not keep up. May be Indian buffet yesterday was not a good idea ! By mile 10, I could not even see the pacer, and my feet were cramping. Bad memories from my first marathon were back.
At this time, I knew when I was cramping, and it had nothing to do with salt in my body, as concentration of salt in sweat was less than in body. So either I gained weight from buffet or course was hard (concrete at some places) or I ran too hard already. With pacer no where to be seen, last one did not seem like an good explanation. My toes were curling and twisting over each other.
Now I just wanted to survive, so I just started jogging, last couple of miles, took a walk break on water table; a lot more runners passed me. Whenever, I thought of increasing the pace, my toes curled up. I was glad that I was able to jog and thought this would be a good experience to learn how to run/jog through cramps. After those last two long miles, when I reached the finish line, I was surprised to see 1:35 on the clock. I thought there was something wrong with clock. So I went in and checked result on computer, and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was 1:35:00 for whole Half Marathon (7:15 min/mile pace). This was 12 minutes improvement from my previous PR. At the end of the day, another good race, very sore right ankle, and another PR. Thanks Jim.