Dennis Longboat’s Secrets to Marathon Success

This is a combination post – one part film review, one part observations on a not-so-great long run this weekend.

Since the film review will explain the title, let’s start there. I recently watched another running movie: “Saint Ralph.” It is the fictional tale of a 14 year old boy who trains for and ultimately runs in the Boston Marathon. His motivation is non-traditional. With no prior interest in running, he joins his school’s cross country team after deciding that winning the Boston Marathon is the miracle necessary to bring his sick mother out of a coma.

I enjoyed this movie on several levels. As a former Catholic, there was a lot there to hold my interest with the parochial school, good priest/bad priest motif, and themes of adolescent angst/guilt and superstitiousness.

As a running movie – I will say it is ultimately unrealistic, but with just enough authenticity to hold the interest of a runner and provide amusement — if not credibility. Set chiefly in Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada some 50+ years ago, Ralph’s cross-country coach is a young priest who was formerly the best marathoner in Canada and an Olympic hopeful. He gives up running entirely upon entering the priesthood. Since the movie was made recently, it’s hard to say how many modern training methods are confounded with outdated thinking. The title of this post comes from a book Ralph checks out from the library. While some of the initial quotes (with an accented voiceover from the “author” of this apparently fictional work) seem wise enough – albeit primarily and ironically mental outlook on the distance, Ralph is informed by his mentor that Longboat was a crackpot who was later institutionalized. That makes sense as we see Ralph consuming a 6000 calorie lunch and looking forward to a full moon workout. On the unrealistic end of the spectrum, Ralph is unable to finish a 10 mile race with less than 4 months to go to the Boston Marathon. An unspecified period of time later, he WINS a local tune-up race. His training is sufficiently documented to keep it from being a 5 minute “Rocky” sequel montage, but it’s just crammed into such a short period of time that you can’t believe that Ralph goes from couch to Boston contender. In the “Rocky” spirit, there is one particularly grueling training session Ralph passes with flying colors – 20 one mile intervals in the dark, up and down over varied terrain including steps, in the rain. I seem to recall he’s running 4-5 minute splits.

I won’t spoil the ending. I rate the movie 4 out of 5 stars.

So, turning to part two, that crackpot Dennis Longboat came to mind as I conducted an experiment of sorts on my Saturday long run. I ran the first 15 miles of the KC Marathon course. I dropped my bike in Waldo/Brookside, parked at the start, ran to my bike, then rode back to my car. I decided to do it as a depletion run – zero calories before (that morning) and during. Confession – I did have a double espresso with a tsp. of sugar before heading out the door, but that’s it. My target pace for this run was 7:32 to 8:13. I was fine through mile 6 – all sub 8’s. I stopped at QT and opted for water – things were going fine – so I stuck with the program. I started to fall off over the next few miles slowly – but still 3 more in the target range. It wasn’t until I was leaving the Plaza that I felt a bit funny. By the Sunset Hills my pace was dropping. I was 30s to 1m slow by the time I limped down Ward Parkway to 75th. I was practically shouting at myself to keep moving at that point. Unfortunately there were no aid stations (convenience stores) in sight, so I gutted it out through the last few and made it to my target distance of 15 miles, plus a little extra to get to 75th Street. From there it was a short walk to a convenience store for a sports drink and some Sweet Tarts. I hit the Sweet Tarts first since I was already well hydrated. First two ingredients: dextrose and maltodextrin. Dextrose is glucose – a naturally occurring sugar. Maltodextrin is a processed carbohydrate. Not exactly an all-natural foodstuff, especially considering the rest of the ingredient list, but it was the quickest way to get out of zombie mode. I felt 1000 times better after eating half the roll. The 10 mile bike ride back to the car was no big deal at that point.

So, the depletion run went from “teaching my body to burn fat” to feeling more like “teaching my body to hate itself.” The moral of the story was that I’ll take some fuel for an “emergency” the next time I try this. I regularly do 8-10 mile runs totally unfueled. I wonder if I had too few carbs the day before and ran through my glycogen stores quicker than usual. Ah well, that’s what training is for. I would never race depleted. I’m just trying to simulate and/or avoid the wall come 26.2 race day.

Who Fartleked?

I did! This morning! Ten times! The training program I am on right now uses “strides” aka fartleks as a primary speed component. Generally speaking there are no track-based speed workouts in the Advanced Marathoning plan. Rather, strides and longer speedwork (e.g. 800 and up) are incorporated into medium and even recovery runs.

In the “laughing at myself” category, I knew I wasn’t going to measure the 100m strides on my Garmin, so I decided to count off 10 seconds by one-one-thousand etc. After completing the first stride, I sheepishly realized that I wasn’t Usain Bolt on an off day, and did the next 9 for 15s instead. Probably a little more realistic.

77 degrees as I headed out the door this morning at 5:30. At least I’m not doing it now – as I write it’s 98 with a heat index of 106.

Saw and was greeted by Nelson headed the other way on his bike – with a brand-spanking new helmet! Your noggin is an important commodity. You can’t be protecting it with a helmet you bought 20 years ago – a fact I realized last year myself. Spreadin’ the word.

Inaugural Black Hoof Half

I put together a new training loop I’d been meaning to try for a while on my Saturday long run this weekend. This is no dissertation on the relative benefits of loops vs. out-and-backs, but they both have their merits from a psychological standpoint. I was getting bored of the OAB, so I figured up this loop ahead of time.

If I’m not able to train on the course I’m next racing on (my preference) I usually do an out and back on the Mill Creek trail – there’s a trailhead 1m from my front door. Other recently developed trails link up to this, and I’ve been meaning to put them together into a loop.

Saturday I headed at the door at 5:15 with the temp at 63. It doesn’t get any better than that for a summer run. I headed north on the sidewalk for a mile and came to a paved trail that runs West along K-10. Bonus: first heard, then saw two owls. One took off, the other held his ground on top of a utility pole. After about a mile, that trail becomes more of a sidewalk as it turns north, but I kept heading west for a bit further before turning north – these roads had a rural feel you still find in parts of Olathe. At the 3 mile mark I got to turn back onto a trail that went down into some wetlands and worked its way over to Black Hoof Park, which frames Lake Lenexa. I took the north loop over to the dam and stayed on the trail below the dam past mile 5. Just before mile 6 there was a big uphill as the trail became 91st Street, which then heads straight back down to the Mill Creek trail. I had to turn north and run a short out and back of about a mile to get the distance I wanted, otherwise I came back on the MC trail as usual after the turnaround.

I didn’t push the pace as much as I probably should have on this run. I wasn’t quite hitting marathon goal pace, but I did get 8 quality miles in a range from the low to mid 7s. Even with warmup and cooldown it was nice to see this training run clock in at less than the first half I ran as a race in 2011. Total distance 13.18 miles.