San Francisco Marathon Weekend Is Here: Am I Ready?

This Sunday is the 40th anniversary San Francisco Marathon. I’m reading that there will be +27,000 runners and many other spectators and staffs will be at the event.

I picked up my bib after work today at Fort Mason, and I could already feel the energy surrounding Fort Mason. As I was driving by the Crissy Field, I seemed to notice more runners on the trail that thousands of fellow runners and I will be on in two days. I am very much looking forward to exploring San Francisco on my pair of snickers along with many other runners who invested time preparing for the race.

Am I ready?

I’m not too sure how much I am. I built up my miles, but haven’t done too many long runs to date. The longest run that I did was about 15 miles. Far too shorter than what’s recommended. Oh well, I’ll just have to take it easy.

Looking at my running index calculated by Polar, it looks like I’ve made a modest improvement since January.


It looks like I started out at about 56, and moved up to 61 as of my last run. Considering I was at about 58 a few weeks prior to Napa Valley Marathon, I think I’m just about at the same place.

Since I’m not too confident that I’m well prepared, here’s what I plan to do:

  1. Take it easy in the first half: I think the mistake that I made at Napa Valley Marathon was to go out too fast in the first half. I should target my mile split at about 8:30.
  2. Carry water: With 27K runners on the course, I think it will be difficult to stop for water especially in the beginning. I’ll carry water and gels to get hydrated as needed.
  3. Enjoy the scenery: I am really looking forward to taking running tour of San Francisco neighborhoods. I should keep in mind that this is a rare opportunity to enjoy and explore San Francisco.

30 hours to the starting line.

Wish me luck.


11 Weeks of Easy Runs

It’s been 11 weeks since I started training at low intensity. By “low intensity”, I mean running at about 140 heart beat per minute. As I was saying earlier in my blog, I was quite skeptical as to its efficacy. Back when my marathon training partner told me to run at slower pace to build the speed, I thought it did not apply to me because I’ve been running on treadmill for number of years. I somehow thought that running easy meant I was not challenging myself enough. Since I could run faster anyway, I didn’t think I needed slow easy runs.

Only after reading and watching many expert trainers going over their expert training tips, I realized that I may have gotten it all wrong. (If you are interested in reading about why slow easy run is what trainers recommend, you can watch these YouTube videos:

Since April 18th, I’ve dusted off my heart rate monitor, and started doing much more slow easy runs. It’s been about 11 weeks to date. What I thought I would do is to look back, and see how effective the easy running has been to my running performance.

First, it is a lot easier to put in 30 mile every week with easy runs. When I do my easy runs, I don’t get too tired to run the next day. A little stiffness and soreness in my plantar fascia are about all that bug me the next day. Other than that I don’t feel as challenged to put in about 5 miles for 6 days.

Second, I can see my pace improving gradually at lower heart rate.


The above chart shows my past 11 week training records. The red line is showing my average heart rate during the week’s run, and the blue line is showing my average pace in minute per mile. As you can see, my pace has been steadily rising over the weeks, yet my average heart rate is treading down. That means that the easy running is building my stamina to run faster while lowering my average heart rate.

I feel this improvement while running as well. When I am out for an easy 6 mile run, I always have enough energy in reserve to run the second half of the run faster than the first half (negative split). It was difficult to do earlier when I was running without monitoring my heart rate, and just focusing on my pace. I still remember those runs where I had to walk in the end because I simply didn’t have any more in me to run the last home stretch.

After 11 weeks of easy running, I went from 9:30 minute per mile pace easy runs (at about 140 bpm) to 8:45 minute per mile pace easy runs.

I wonder how much I can improve my pace and endurance. Let me keep at it, and see how far I can go.


5 Weeks of Easy Runs

On April 18th, I have started running mostly easy runs at about 140 heart beats per minute. Watching my heart rate kept my pace at 9:40 minute mile. If you ask me earlier to run at that pace, I would have dismissed it thinking that I won’t be getting any training benefit. Compared to the earlier pace of 7:40 minute mile, 9:40 felt like a long warm up without a climax. But that was what my heart rate told me that I needed to train at.

Running easy meant that I could run more days. I used to be happy with getting 3 days of run each week. Running easy allowed me to squeeze in another couple of runs per week without feeling too tired. So by running easy, I could increase my weekly mileage to 30 miles per week over time. Over the last couple of weeks, I was able to log 30+ miles each week. That would not have been possible unless I have gotten most of miles from my easy runs.

It may be little premature to report the progress. But I feel a lot better about doing my 5-6 milers. I am more relaxed, and I do not have to dig in deep to finish the run strong. Even after finishing my runs, I feel as though I can go on for another hour or so. And all of that while increasing my easy running pace to 9 minute mile.

It’s very counter intuitive. I have been training all these time at much higher intensity, and remember running just as much as I have been training. But for whatever reason, easy runs are really allowing me to increase my easy run pace without getting tired as much. I did not see that benefit when I was training for my first marathon earlier in the year.

I can see how easy runs can improve my aerobic capacity and overall running pace. I just have to keep at it.


Dr. Philip Maffetone’s Magic 180 Rule

For the last couple of weeks, I have been training at 135 – 142 heart rate for most of my weekly training runs. With that heart rate range, I can maintain about 9:30 to 10:00 minute per mile pace for 5 – 6 miles. That’s about a minute and 15 seconds slower than my marathon pace. It takes a practice to maintain the speed as I have been accustomed to push myself to do 8 minute miles or into 7:45 minute mile pace on my previous long runs.

The reason was that I recently re-discovered the Dr. Philip Maffetone’s Magic 180 Rule. It’s about how low intensity aerobic workout is the key to increasing aerobic capacity. At about 70% of maximum heart rate, runners can build their aerobic capacity, improve their running mechanics, reduce the chance of injury, and allow for faster recovery time, hence making it possible to put in more miles. And these low intensity easy runs should make up about 80% of training.

The name Magic 180 comes from the fact that runners are to subtract their age from 180 to get their target training heart rate, and adjust it by their running history, illness, and physical readiness.

Dr. Maffetone originally calculated these numbers for individual runners, but eventually saw patterns in them, and created the Magic 180 rule. (You can read more about it here.)

For me, that meant I needed to train at about 135 – 140 heart rate range to optimally increase my aerobic capacity, which I have not been doing much. 90% of my runs were tempo runs at 8 minute mile pace. I haven’t been measuring heart rate on recent runs, but I bet that they were around 150 – 160 range.

So I decided to give the Magic 180 rule a try. I started running most of my runs at 135 – 140 heart rate range. It’s been two weeks since I dusted off my heart rate chest belt, and started wearing them for my runs.

Stay tuned to find out how the Magic 180 rule is working for an average runner.


Hard Lessons from My First Marathon

It took me a few weeks to fully recover from my first marathon. I think I needed the time not only for my physical muscle repair but also mentally as well. I felt lousy that I did not give 100%, and totally missed the mark of 3:40 goal. (I came in at 4:02.) Even going back and analyzing the run took me a while to do.

Past week or two, I finally felt ready to face the result. So I went back to take a look at the my pace chart.


The slowdown really happened around mile 19. That was right around 2:35. That’s when I let go of the race mentally, and started to mix walking and running. And that’s also when I started to get cramps on my calves and toes.

Looking at this chart, it looked really familiar to lot of my previous long runs.

Here are a few for the reference:


For some reason, my pace falters at about 60-70% into the run, and I had to start walking. I remember having muscle cramps on these training runs as well, and that must have been the reason why I decided to slow down.

On all these runs, I maintained about 8:15 pace, which was just about my pace for the marathon as well.

Why am I always falling apart in the mid run?

Here’s my thought:

  1. I was not eating early and regularly enough during the run. During my training runs, I consumed 2 gels during the run. But during my marathon, I ate 2 gels, 1 mini-Clif Bar, 1 banana, and 3 small cups of Gatorade. That must have helped me delay the first onset of muscle cramps. But even that was not enough to replenish my glycogen. Must eat more early on and east more regularly.
  2. I didn’t have enough aerobic running training. I am finding that there are specific reasons why I need easy runs. I need them because I need to increase aerobic efficiency, maintain my optimal running mechanics, reduce my recovery time to get more training miles, and avoid getting injuries. My training runs were too fast to be easy.
  3. I didn’t have mental preparation of running for 3+ hours. Going into the marathon, my longest run was 20 miler, and I had to start walking about 65% into the run. I never had the mental readiness to endure 3+ hour of continuous running.

Let’s see how these lessons can make me a better runner.

It’s time to execute.


Napa Valley Marathon is a week away!

We are just a week away from Napa Valley Marathon. The marathon starts 7am next Sunday, so technically it’s less than 7 days away.

In a way, I feel that I’ve done a reasonable preparation for it. With a couple of 20-mile runs and average weekly mileage of 28 in the past 9 weeks, I have improved my easy pace since I started training for the marathon. My easy pace is now at 8:15 minute/mile pace, and I feel as though I can sustain it comfortably. The big question is for how long I can sustain that easy pace. We’ll have to find out next Sunday. 😉

I decided to drive to Napa Valley on Sunday. That means I’ll have to wake up by 3:00am, do my morning routine, get my breakfast, and get out by 3:45am. Google says that it will take a little more than 1 hour to get to Vintage High School, the finish line, so that means I can be there by 5am to catch the bus ride to the starting line (the bus leaves 5:15am).

After talking to a couple of marathon-veteran co-workers, I don’t plan to carry anything during my run. No water bottle, no camera, no phone, no gel, nothing. I think the best thing is to run as light as possible including clothes. Weather has been pleasant 50’s and 60’s recently, and I’m hoping that it would be nice enough to wear sleeveless running shirt.

This week, I plan to take it easy. I’ve looked at a few marathon training charts, and most of them recommend doing no more than 3 runs prior to the marathon day, so I will stick to easy runs, maybe 3 or 4 miles.

There I have it. My goal is to cross the finish line under 3:45. But I am not going to kill myself for it. Instead I plan to enjoy the community running experience. Hope the weather is nice next Sunday.


Easy Run Does It?

After my failed 20-miler past weekend, I started to take a new look at what I’ve been doing wrong.

A few pieces of advice that I have picked up over the weeks, but yet to put in practice were

  • Negative split: Start slow, and finish faster.
  • Slow runs: 80% of runs should be slow runs at about 60% of your maximum estimated heart rate.
  • Run more miles: Weekly average mileage is a good indicator of how well trained.

When I thought about these, the common thread is to do more easy runs. Start with easy run and finish strong. Do more easy runs during the week, thereby increasing the weekly mileage.

So I started doing more easy runs. This week, I filled up my training with easy 9 min/mile pace runs, and tried to run more miles overall.

Here’s what I found:

  • Doing easy run is definitely less stressful to my legs than interval or tempo runs.
  • Starting slow at 9 min/mile forced me to practice negative splits, and finish strong.
  • Although I did not run high miles (only had 4 days of run), I could see how I could run every day about 5-6 miles, and get to 35-40 mile week. It would take some creative running schedule, but physical readiness-wise, I think I can pull it off.

Not sure whether these easy runs will help me improve my endurance. I think what I need to test is to do a long slow run and see whether I can conserve energy until 15-20 miles to finish strong.

4 weeks until Napa Valley Marathon. I may end up trying the slow run technique at my first marathon.


20 Mile Long Run: FAIL

Yesterday I did my 20 mile long run. Well, it was supposed to be 20 mile long run. But what I ended up doing was more like 15 mile run plus 5 mile recovery walk.

TLDR version: I ended up running the first 15 miles at the slower pace than December 20-miler, and started walking from Mile 16. My legs were not ready to move. Need to rest more, and do more slow runs.

I’ve been watching many training videos recently. Some talking about the need for hill running, some talking about the need for interval training, and yet others touting the need for tempo runs. I watched them all. And more I watched, more I felt that I needed to go out there and do more runs.

So this week, I did about 34.8 miles total. Tuesday was treadmill run, Wednesday was tempo run, Thursday was interval training, and Friday was hill running. And I went out Sunday morning to do my 20 miler.

It was okay until 13 miles. I held my pace at 8:34 mins/mile. A little slower than usual, but still within range. But after 15 mile, I just had no willpower to continue running. I just did not feel like running any more. So I walked.

Once I started walking, my legs were getting used to the walking pace, and there was no more motivation to finish the run. My legs were sending distress signals, and I had no mental fortitude to override the fatigue.

I ended up finishing 20 miles in 9:11 mins/mile pace. It took 3:04:15

Just as a comparison, it took 2:59:25 to do 20 miles back in December 19, 2015. And it was not done in a good condition either. It rained quite heavy at times during the run. Yet yesterday was total failure.

After the run, I felt totally dejected. I trained harder, but my records were getting worse.

Could I have been overtraining?

Now that I look back, I think it’s combination of a few things.

  1. Yes, I think I overtrained. All the training videos that I watched was made by professional runners in their early to mid 20’s. Just about 20 years younger than I am. Let’s see: I’m not professional runner, I am in my 40’s, and I have been doing long runs for about 4 months now. No wonder I cannot keep up with those pros who finish marathon under 3 hrs.
  2. I should have run more easy runs. I’m now starting to see other running coaches talking about the benefits of doing lots of easy runs. In fact there are lots of coaches who advocate 80:20 rules. 80% of all runs should be easy runs, where heart rate is no more than 60% of max heart rate. Only about 20% of the runs should be tempo, interval or hill training. I haven’t done nearly enough easy runs.
  3. I should have eaten way better. When I did my long run in the morning, I didn’t have a gel to start out. Now that I think back to my December 20 miler, I remember taking a gel before heading out. I should remember to eat a gel before starting, and even better, I should take time to eat something before the long run.

So the verdict is to eat better, rest more, and do more easy runs.

Will that be enough to do my 3:40-or-under marathon goal? Not sure.

Soon, we’ll find out. 🙂



17.83-Mile Run

It was yesterday when I realized that I only had 3 weekly long runs left before my first marathon. Why 3 long runs left? Because I do one long run per weekend, and I see from many training schedule that you are supposed to start winding down your long run mileages 4 weeks prior to the race.

That meant, in order to get to 22 miler 2/7, I had to do 18 miles today, and 20 miles next week to increase my run to 22 miles. So I went for a 18-mile run.

I slept in this morning. Got out on the road around 7am. It was a great day to run outside. It was low 50’s, and wind was calm. I took my gloves outside, but ended up leaving them out on the porch.

I paid extra attention not to go too fast initially. Kept my pace at 8:20 – 8:30 minutes per mile, and it seemed to work for me. After about 5 miles in that pace, it felt effortless to bring my pace up to 8:05 – 8:10 mins/mile.

Sun peeked out over the low-rise industrial buildings, and temperature was rising a few degrees. It was great day to be running after several days of raining.


My original plan was to follow Arroyo del Valle Trail until it meets Main street. It was my first time running the trail, and didn’t know what to expect. I just knew from Google Maps that the trail ends around Main street in Pleasanton. If I were to run to Main street, that should give me about 9 miles, which would then be 18 miles if I were to turn around at the intersection.

But at around 8.80 miles or so, the trail started to get narrow and wet. There were leafy puddles of water which were muddy and slippery. I was going around those puddles in the narrow trail, and saw a ditch in the middle of the trail.

When I looked at it, it was no more than 4 feet across. Because I was running, I decided to use my momentum to jump over the ditch. Well, what I did not account for was my tired legs after 8.8 miles of running. When I tried to jump to extend my stride length, I knew that I didn’t have enough power on my right foot.


When I realized I didn’t have enough power to jump over the ditch, it was too late. My body was half way over the ditch, yet I didn’t have good landing spot because I didn’t get to extend my left leg far enough.

I instinctively held out my arms and landed on my arms in a push-up position. Literally I had to push over the ground with my hands to avoid getting scrapes on my legs.

Fortunately I managed to get this emergency maneuver right, and was able to walk away with minor scrapes on my hands.

After the fall, I continued a bit more, but realized that the trail was not maintained well enough to run, so I turned around not quite making to my planned 9-mile turnaround point.

Coming back was lot harder. For some reason even when I had a gel at around Mile 8, I had no willpower to continue running at 13 miles. I started to take walking break inbetween to regain the strength.

But somehow I managed to pick up some speed at the end of the run to keep my average pace at 8:33 mins/mile. I think that must have been the gel working for me.

Looking back at the run and comparing it with earlier ones, I was encouraged to see a bit of improvements.

Following are earlier paces that I had for the first 17.83 miles.

  • 8:52 mins/mile on December 2nd, 2015 (18.65-mile run)
  • 8:45 mins/mile on December 19th, 2015 (20.04-mile run)
  • 8:33 mins/mile on January 24th, 2016 (17.83-mile run)

It looks like I have improved my pace by about 20 seconds over the last couple of months. That’s an encouraging sign that I’m heading the right direction.

6 weeks till the marathon day.



Marathon Is Just 7 Weeks Away!

Today I just realized that Napa Valley Marathon is just 7 weeks away! It’s officially time to panic. 🙂

On one hand I feel that I have been doing what I can to prepare for it gradually. On the other hand I don’t know if I’ll be ready to run the entire course without either getting a cramp or hitting a wall.

How could I know for sure? I have never done it before.

I find myself reading a lot about running and how to prepare for long distance runs. And the more I read and find out how other runners are preparing for the race, the less I feel that I am adequately trained.

Here are several training tips that I found while reading:

  1. Weekly mileage matters. Make sure to put in consistent mileage on week-to-week basis to train the body to endure fatigues from long runs.
  2. Interval training and fartlek are important components of running training program. Make sure to push the heart rate to uncomfortable and challenging zone where the body can increase its lungs’ and cardiovascular capacity.
  3. Running uphill is a good way to build muscular strength. Incorporate hill running so that the legs and cardio can withstand elevation gains during long runs.
  4. Build core strength. Without solid core it is not possible to run efficiently.

I’ve been running about 25 to 27 miles a week. On the weekends I have been doing about 12 to 14 mile long runs. But that’s about it.

Limited interval training on treadmill, occasional fartlek, and I rarely run up a hill as part of my training. As for core strength, I think it’s been pretty much the same since the day I started running.

Given that the Napa Valley Marathon is less than 2 months away, I need to plan out how I’m going to train for it during the remaining time.

Here’s what I plan to do.

  1. Bring the weekly mileage up to 35.
  2. Do a weekly fartlek or hill training outside.
  3. Complete 22 mile run by Feb 7.
  4. Run 8:20 pace half marathon.

Is it going to be enough to complete my first marathon under 3:45?

I don’t know. Only time will tell.