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Hamilton 2015 – Time to Fire the Coach

Hamilton Marathon 2015 – Time to Fire the Coach
Race: Hamilton Marathon
When: November 1, 2015
Goal: 2:40
Result: 13th overall, 1st age M50-54, 2:56:45

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Front page

After this result, I am definitely firing my coach. He has been with me from the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, we have had a very good relationship together over the years. Our successes and failures were shared intimately. It has been a win-win partnership, each of us improving our knowledge, training strategy, fitness and race tactics. But after more than 12 years of working together, mistakes like today should not have occurred. He should have known better.

It has taken me some time to ponder just exactly went wrong. My coach had me follow the same training plan that earned a huge 2:41:59 PB at this race, back in 2013. It seemed like the right strategy. If I could handle the training volume of 150k peak weeks I was good to go! And handle it I did. In fact, I trained more consistently and kept away from injury. Mainly by listening to my body, and adjusting the pace of my recovery runs to suit. But maybe too easy?

For a breakdown of went wrong, check out Optimizing Training Load

As my training progressed, some of the simulation runs and test races yielded confusing results. Training paces were tuned for a 2:40 attempt yet many of my endurance runs predicted marathon fitness of 2:45 to 2:47. The speed work on the other hand indicated POTENTIAL for a 2:37 result. The big question: Was I ready to deliver my potential? The answer, as my coach should have known, was no. And I should have known too. The hard numbers were there all along, shouting at the both of us.

The thing is, my coach got it so right for Boston 2015. Based on recent races, coming back from an injury, the best I could hope for was around 2:52, and he strongly advised to take Boston easy. He pushed me back two corrals to start with slower runners, thus ensuring I would not start off too fast. That race was the easiest 2:55 marathon I will likely ever run, with a 3 minute negative split. No taper. No carb loading. A full out 5k race just two days before. Yet I was running again two days later. And all that on little more than 100k per week training!

Looking back at my history of successes and failures, one aspect does repeat itself. My best marathon results take TWO YEARS of development. Call that, if you wish, a pre-requisite. With that in mind, I was not ready for a marathon PB attempt. I had shut down the end of of 2014 due to an Achilles flare up. Since then it has only been one year of progress. I was not ready. I put my life on hold when I had no real need to. Ouch. Fire the coach I say!

The ill-advised PB attempt resulted in unrealistic race day expectations. And, regardless of game day strategy and training completed, this is where it gets turned over to the athlete for execution.

As the athlete, decisions have to be made to account for race day conditions, with one overriding objective: Keep the first 25k in check. Unfortunately, as much as my coach hung me out to dry, I failed race execution 101 all on my own. I have the experience to know when I am pushing my legs beyond lactic threshold. In fact, it is so automatic that I have to deliberately override it to go faster. I don’t need a GPS heart rate monitor to tell me that – I just simply know.

There were strong winds and I needed to stay with and inside a pack of runners to shed some effort. But even as we turned into the gusting west winds, there was not much interest working together. We had six with us. One or two would surge and the rest, yours truly among the stragglers, would fall off as the pack broke apart. As the wind started to take its toll, we would dig deeper, regroup and gather in the leaders. Only to see another pair push off into the distance. Such was this curious game we played. And it started to hurt. Regardless of pace, 150 bpm is about my lactic limit. I was running between 153 and 160 bpm. By 21k my quads were on fire.

Did I learn something today? Absolutely. Marathon PB attempts have to be properly positioned in a long term plan. And incredibly important: Any marathon, no matter how well you trained for it, can be undone by poor race day tactics. If you are not planning to negative split your next marathon, you are just doing it wrong. It has taken me far too long to learn this basic fact.

Let’s examine that long 10k battle into the head winds. Would it have hurt me that much to back off 15 seconds per km? That is just 2.5 minutes. I could be crowing about a sub 2:50 result when so many crashed and burned. Instead, my legs are fried. I can barely walk. Memories of Boston 2012. The same mistakes yet again. But the lessons I have finally learned will send me on. They always have, no matter who my next coach will be.

So it is time to cut him loose. Coach Daniel MacKinnon: thanks for everything, but you’re fired!

Some details of my race:

1st half split – 1:24:30
2nd half split – 1:32:15
Average Heart Rate: 146 bpm (Target Marathon HR for my age = 151 bpm)
Pacing Strategy: Stay with the pack
Gels: Gu Roctane, total of 6, at race start and then every 7 km.
Shorts or Tights: Shorts. It was surprisingly warm.
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider 18
Some details of my training:

Duration: Approx 18 weeks, starting July 10.
Training Plan: Daniel’s Running Formula (Coach Jack Daniels), Marathon Training Plan A. VDOT = 61, Points per Week = 150 (not enough!)
Off Weeks: 2 (less than 80k).
Peak Weeks: 3 (160 k, about 13 hours per week).
Schedule: 7 days, one run per day.
Longest Training Run: 42k (done twice). Many more 34k to 39k.
Average Weekly Pace: Usually around 4:48 to 5:00/k (too slow!)
Easy Pace: No faster than 4:20/k, as slow as 5:00/k on full recovery days.
Target Marathon Pace (M-Pace): 3:48/k to 3:50/k.
Tempo Training Pace (T-Pace): 3:36/k to 3:40/k
Interval Training Pace (I-Pace): 3:20/k


Moral Support: My Family!

Chiro and A.R.T: Dynamic Balance Chiropractic, Ajax. Dr. Jeremy Barchman. (905) 686-0960.

Massage and Physio: The Urban Athlete, Toronto. (416) 481-8880.

Foot Treatment: Carlos at The Foot Clinic, Toronto. (416) 638-3338.

Most Awesome Dudes: Steve and Garth at Ajax Running Free. (905) 426-2200.


Born and raised in Hamilton & Stoney Creek. Ran X-Country in high school, but not really special at it - a middle of the pack finisher. But then again, really didn't know how to train. Didn't run after Gr 12 due to nasty shin splints. Really never ran in proper shoes back then. Didn't try to run again until age 30. Then tried. And tried. And tried. Shin splints every time. Finally got it going for good at 38 in proper shoes and I have vowed never, ever, to stop running again.

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