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 Since the movie was made recently, it’s hard to say how many modern training methods are confounded with outdated thinking.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.

One comment on “Dennis Longboat’s Secrets to Marathon Success

  1. […] Saint Ralph – I reviewed this recently in its own post: […]

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