Sunday, May 24, 2015

A comparison of the best marathon training plans

This is a pretty handy comparison of the popular marathon training plans:
  • Jack Daniel's. These plans specify two runs per week, a long run and a speedwork, with the rest let up to the individual.
  • FIRST. Three runs per week; tempo, intervals and long run, plus 2 days of cross training.
  • Galloway. All plans use Walking Breaks and some include training runs longer than the marathon distance.
  • Hanson. Long runs limited to 16 miles but with lots of marathon paced running.
  • Pfitzinger. Plans for experienced runners, including some high mileage plans with multiple runs per day.
  • Higdon. The easier plans are 'vanilla', while the harder ones include back to back long runs.
  • Waitz. Only a single, simple plan for first time marathon runners. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Prague Marathon 2015 Race Report


Prague... When I first visited the city in July of 2012, I was enamored with the beautiful architecture all over. This was a city which never felt the brunt of war and had been successively beautified by empires of the past.

Spring of 2015... I didn't have a qualifying time for Boston. I did intend to run Boston in 2016 and every year thereafter that I had a qualifying time for. So this appeared a unique year to do something different. What could be more unique that a marathon in Prague? Eastern Europe and a flavor of history.

It was clear immediately that this was NOT a PR friendly race. I was OK with that. I intended to focus on a fast race in Fall and try to get my BQ 2017.

On the positive side, Prague appeared to be very well organized, rated as an IAAF Gold label marathon. Additionally, the entry fee was just Euro 50. The negatives included a challenging running surface with several miles of cobblestone and multiple bridges to ascend/descend. There was a definite likelihood of warm temperatures acerbated by a late race start (9 am - which seems to be quite a standard for European races).


After CIM in December 2014, I took the rest of the year off from running. Like the Winter of 2013, I embarked on a hiking trip, this time to Patagonia. However, this time around I came back a little rusty and out of shape. I had gained about five pounds and aggravated my PF. It did take about 3 weeks before I was back into the running routine. Ironically, an aggressive pacing assignment (7 min/mile for the Lake Sammamish half) gave that sense of urgency to my training.

As the rest of the nation was dealing with a very harsh winter, Seattle was enjoying one of the mildest winters in the 9 years I've been here. We were blessed with several dry and sunny days. That made training a lot easier.

I decided to religiously follow the Pfitz 18/70 plan with a couple of modifications
  • I abbreviated the plan to 16 weeks by removing the recovery weeks
  • I ran 7 days and 70 miles every week. At times this meant moving the Pfitz double day to two single days.
  • To facilitate my training for the Big Climb stair race up Columbia tower, I did stair workouts on Sunday after my long run.
  • I also got a 10 class Bikram yoga Groupon. Bikram yoga was immensely helpful as I raked up the miles last summer
  • For the weeks of the Lake Sammamish half and the Big Climb I front loaded my miles to get a semblance of a taper.
My training went as smoothly as I could have hoped for. I hit every single planned workout and I was not fighting any significant injury. 
  • I had run 1061 miles leading up to the race in 2015 and ran for 92 consecutive days before the race.
  • I had paced the Lake Sammamish half in 1:30:11. I ran a 1:30:19 at the Wenachee half. I had not gone all out in either. However, I wonder if running the Wenatchee half two weeks before the marathon was a smart idea in retrospect.
  • I did the Big Climb stair run in less than 12 minutes which put me in the top 200 off a few thousand folks.


Time did not matter as much for me in this race however the following time goals would have been cool to meet:

  • Goal A: sub 3:03: If I could run a marathon PR at Prague I could surely do it in my Fall races
  • Goal B: 3:08: Like-wise if I could BQ at Prague I surely could get BQ 2017 at Fall.

I believed I was well trained and should have gotten goal B comfortably.


I reached Prague the day before the marathon en-route Dusseldorf. I was staying right next to the old town square where there race was to start and finish.

The expo was a subway ride and a ten minute walk away. In hindsight I should have taken a tram instead of walking. I was just following some other runners after coming out of the subway stop :) They seemed lost and were following others too :p

The expo was reasonably sized however unlike US expos there were no freebies :) As I was trying to leave, the local "ESPN" station asked me where I was from and if they could interview me. The proceeded to film me and ask me a bunch of questions :p Some of them were lead on questions like - Why do you like the Prague course? Hint Hint nudge nudge isn't it flat :p

 Once back, I made my way out for my 3 mile pre-race run. It was quite an experience trying to make my way out through the swarms of tourists. I almost looked like a freak. Once I got to the river trail things were more peaceful.

I found a great Italian restaurant right opposite to where I was staying. There were several great food options which I eyeballed for after the race. The World Hockey Championships were going on in Prague. There were big screens set up a couple of blocks from my hotel and revelers out in the night. Apparently, the Czech team is quite good.Of course we've all heard of their star - Jaromir Jagr from the Penguins.

I slept well in spite of the sound of the "night-life" Prague is well known for. The race started at 9 am and staying next to the start meant that I could wake up late at 6 am. I walked down to the race start before anyone was there to experience the race ambiance...

I returned to the race start at 8:30 am. I intended to carry a bottle of Gatorade since the first water stop wasn't going to be until after 6km. It was going to be sunny and into the mid-60s. It could have been worse. It could have been better. Instead of carrying the bottle of Gatorade I drank all of it before the race start. This was a pivotal mistake as I would find out soon...

I was in corral 3. This surely was a fast field given that this is one of the major eastern European marathons. As I waited in my corral I looked around me and admired the beauty around me... This was most definitely one of the most spectacular marathon starts I've seen. The amazing architectural beauty of the old town square and we were facing the medieval astronomical clock.

As the start neared, the corrals compressed. I felt like a midget surrounded by 6 foot plus runners. Czech folks are tall!


0-5K  - 4:14, 4:30, 4:58, 4:25, 4:33
OA: 603, Male: 561, AG: 316, Split: 22:42

The endorphin from the race start kicked me off at a fast clip. After the first of several bridge crossings, we made our way towards the famous Charles Bridge, perhaps the most famous landmark in Prague.

Meanwhile, I discovered that I really had to pee. I hoped this urge would go away but no... Also, my bib was flapping since one of the pins had come undone. This is perhaps the first race bib I've come across that does not have pre-made holes for pins in bibs.

Things hit a head just before the Charles bridge. I saw a runner go on the bridge and followed him. Never in a million years would I have imagined myself desecrating one of the architectural marvels of human kind. Nor did I ever think I would ever take out my stuff in public. I guess when you need to go you need to go! I also pinned my bib again. For better measure my shoe laces also came undone so I stopped and tied them again. Better for all of these "calamities" to happen at the same time :p

6-10K  - 4:23, 8:57, 4:32, 4:35
OA: 589, Male: 551, AG: 317, Split: 22:27

The cobblestone and the general running surface was not playing very well with my legs. My mile 5 my legs were quite trashed specifically my calf and lower leg. I guess these have been areas of weakness for me in the past and thus were just aggravated by the tougher than normal surface.

The thoughts of quitting crossed my mind. Had this been a local race perhaps I would have. However, it was unlikely that I would ever get a chance to finish this marathon again so I labored on. I reminded myself that I never wanted to think about walking today since if I did things would get ugly very soon. The sun was out and with little shade it did kind of feel a little warm. While the elevation map suggests a very flat course the frequent bridge crossings did feel kind of tough.

11-15K  - 4:47, 4:29, 9:10, 4:30
OA: 612, Male: 573, AG: 334, Split: 22:57

Just before the 13th kilometer the course passed by the finish/start again. This was cool in that we had a lot of spectators cheering for you here. Also, the beautiful architecture was a welcome distraction for the mind.

It was interesting to note the languages the spectators were cheering in. After all Prague is a popular international tourist destination!

The race also had a marathon relay. So towards each relay crossing you'd have fresh legs darting off and a plethora of folks cheering you on. As you approached the relay exchange point you'd feel a boast ticking past tired relay runners. During the Philadelphia marathon, I had learnt that anyone showing irrational exuberance in the latter stages of a marathon was likely to be a relay runner...

16-20K  - 9:14, 4:20, 4:25, 4:36
OA: 584, Male: 550, AG: 326, Split: 22:35

As we got away from the old town the running surface became better/"kinder" but there were still tram tracks and concrete to navigate. Around the 14/15km mark we got our only glimpse of the elites powering their way to the finish on the opposite side. This race attracts a strong elite field with the finish time in the 2:05 range!

Between KM 16-19 the course made a loop into "nothingness" to add on distance. Being able to see the runners on the other side of an out and back is always nice! I remember feeling good seeing the 3:30 pacer on the other side - "Good! He's quite far away from me. I should at least nail a 3:30!!"

Half: 1:35:44
OA: 581, Male: 547, AG: 326, Split: 5:00

I wasn't too dissatisfied with my half split considering that this was not the best of days! I wondered if I could get away with a close to even split which would see me to a time of around 3:12.

21-25K  - 4:34, 4:35, 4:38, 4:40, 4:23
OA: 570, Male: 539, AG: 323, Split: 17:48

I have to say water-stops in the races I've run in Europe are kind of "laid back". There were some where you had to help yourself... I had noticed the same in Berlin as well. The sports drink stops were not frequent and the drink did not quite cut it for me. There were stations with natural stuff like oranges and bananas. This is not something I was accustomed to and had trained with. It seems to be a difference in philosophy. Perhaps powering yourself with natural stuff is better than commercial drinks.

26-30K  - 9:24, 4:39, 4:48, 4:41
OA: 537, Male: 506, AG: 305, Split: 23:32

This was another out and back section. While it was now in the 60Fs, I have to be thankful that we now had a cloud cover. It might have gotten more uncomfortable in the sun. This appeared to be a rolling section to me. I tried to convince myself that I was climbing in the out section and I would have a "downhill" on the way back. Just that when I was returning it felt like I was climbing again :-|

31-35K  - 4:36, 4:46, 4:48, 4:53, 4:52
OA: 499, Male: 470, AG: 283, Split: 23:53

A couple more bridge crossings would see us get towards the old town, close to the finish (ugh) and then away from it. The views from the bridges were quite beautiful if I would have cared to appreciate them. A contrast of the lush green trees with breathtaking architecture.

36-40K  - 4:41, 5:00, 4:48, 4:46, 4:53
OA: 451, Male: 422, AG: 253, Split: 22:42

The race bibs had our country flags on them which was kind of cool. I heard someone shout out - "Go India!". This will perhaps be the my last race with this flag since I'll have to give my Indian citizenship up soon because I do want to vote in the 2016 Presidential elections (it's another story that being from Washington State my vote won't really count... But...).

I was kind of on auto-pilot focusing on keeping my legs moving. I have to say while I was fading I was a little impressed that I was not losing more time. Apart from my pee-break I did not run below 8 min/pace at any point.

40-42K  - 4:50, 4:51, 0:59
OA: 442, Male: 413, AG: 247, Split: 10:38

I had read about the finals miles being on desolate regions with minimal support so I was kind of mentally prepared.

As I approached a tunnel towards the end I was feeling a little light headed in the dark. I've never really felt anything like it in a marathon before. I think I was low on electrolytes. I had nuun tablets in my pockets but did not take them during the race.

The finish in old town square...

I was hurting for sure...

I got the medal which was beautiful...

The volunteers then removed my race chip from my bib. It's the first race I've run that has had a non-disposable chip fastened to a bib (with a rubber band).

I walked a few steps and then sat down on the street. A volunteer asked me if i could get a move on. I requested her for 5 more minutes and she was kind enough to agree. I moved on and then found a spot on the street to rest for a bit more. My legs hurt!!

The race packet seemed to just have a couple of bottles of sparkling water so I was thankful to find a stall in the main square serving orange juice and yogurt. Yogurt seems to be a favorite in the region.


Net time: 03:15:44 @ 7:28 min/mile
Chip time: 03:16:15
OA: 442/5873
Male: 413/4796
AG: 247/2130
Bib: 1084


This definitely was a tough day in the office :) I knew it was not a PR course but I had not expected such a struggle. I was well trained. I am not accustomed to running a sub-optimal time in a marathon when well-trained. Or hurting so much ... Looking at the results I think I wasn't the only one "feeling it"... After 5k, I was 613th, moving up after each 5k and finishing at 442nd. So there was something difficult about the process for everyone.

I can't remember a more beautiful race start or a more architecturally stunning course. However, I'd have to say, I think cobblestone is more suitable for horses to run on than human beings :p

Looking back this one will be about the journey rather than the final net result (a 3:15) - a journey taking me though some memorable training runs over 3 months and a unique marathon experience. I have no regrets running this race. If I could roll back time I'd still have done it.

Looking at the big picture, I also note that this is actually my 5th fastest time out of 34. So while I was in shape for better this wasn't too shabby...

Over and onwards!!

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