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.


Post-Marathon Recovery

It’s been a week since my first marathon. But it already feels like a distant memory. The pain and struggle of mile 19 is fading away, and all that’s remaining clear is how much it was exciting to be part of the event. Especially starting out the run with thousands of runners in the early Sunday morning on a wet pavement was something that I won’t be able to forget easily. I can still hear the sound of hundreds of footsteps hitting the pavements.

My body has recovered well. I was able to run a couple of miles of easy run last Friday, and I was able to put in 4 miles of easy run today.

I’m already looking around for the next event to participate. My running mentor tells me that San Francisco Marathon is something that I should try. It’s happening in late July. Just about 4+ months away. That should be enough time to attempt a couple of long runs.

A couple of things that I learned from my first marathon:

  1. Eat more early on and often during the run.
  2. There is no substitute for long run training.

For my next marathon, I should increase my mileage, and experiment with my diet before and during the run.


Napa Valley Marathon

7am this morning was Napa Valley Marathon. As planned I got up at 3am. I must have woken up a couple of times before 3am. I must have not slept well, but I couldn’t really feel it. I got up and ate a fried egg and turkey burger with cheese. By the time I was done, clock was already at 3:45am.

I picked up my pre-packed bag, and headed out. Thankfully rain had stopped. When I got in my car, and got on the empty freeway, I started to think about what I was about to do: Running my first marathon. I’ve never ran beyond 20 miles. Will I be able to hold up?

On 680 north, there were barely any cars. At one point I was the only one on the freeway cruising toward Napa. It felt quite peaceful.

By the time I got to the Trinity High School, there were lots of cars getting into the parking lot already. It was around 5am. Good. Everything was working out as planned. So far so good.

I followed the crowd, and got on the next available bus. There must have been a dozen school buses. Once I got on the bus, I could feel the energy. Runners from different parts of Bay Area, all of whom were committed enough to get up extra early on Sunday to get on this bus, were all anticipating the 26.2 mile run. And I was one of them. How did I end up here?

Light came on. I must have dozed off. All of sudden the school bus lights felt blinding as if late night airplane had just docked to a gate, and turned on its lights. It was still dark outside. My watch was showing about 5:50am. Still more than an hour to go until the marathon starts.

I got out to use portapotty. I’d learned the hard way that it’s essential to empty yourself before starting a long run. Any discomfort in the bowel would ultimately stop the running no matter how determined the runner is. Plus it’s not fun having to look for portapotty while under pressure. Fortunately there were many portapotties available in the back of the start line.

As Sun came up and day had gotten brighter, it felt much nicer. Still there were no rain, wind was calm, and temperature was at around 50. Perfect day for running.

Race started 7am sharp. I began running. It felt great. My opening pace was right on my target at 8:15. In fact, my pace has been great all the way up to mile 18. But starting mile 19, I started feeling cramps on my both calves. It started as muscle twitches on my calves, toes, and soles. And I could soon feel that my legs were getting wobbly, and started to lose power.

That was practically the end of my race. Once I felt my calves were twitching, I started to resort to slowing down to walking pace, then running a few minutes, then walking again. My pace dropped to 10 or 11 minutes.

When I struggled through the last 7 miles, I had spent more than an hour just to complete the last 7 miles. Every mile was taking me 10+ minutes to complete.

By the time I got in, race clock was at 4:02. It’s a total far cry from my personal target, which was 3:40. Had I kept up my pace, I would have been able to come close to my target. But by mile 19, my legs were not moving as I desired.

Maybe it’s time to try salt pills to avoid muscle cramps.

For now, I have to recover. My muscles and energy have been totally exhausted by 26.2 miles of pounding. Yet my mind is fresh with all the runners that I saw on the road. It’s time to reflect on what I learned.



Night Before the Marathon

It’s now 10 hours and 50 minutes until the start of Napa Valley Marathon. Weather forecast says it will stop raining tomorrow morning, but outside it’s raining pretty hard with gust of wind. I’ll have to trust the forecast. I hope it’s right.

I had such a hard time running 20 miles last time I did my long run. I ran the first 15, but ended up walking the remaining 5. Will I be able to persist beyond 20 miles? My marathon training schedule says I’ll be okay, but I don’t know. I’ll have to trust myself.

I have to wake up 3am to make it out to Napa Valley in time tomorrow. Race starts 7am. I should pack some layers of clothes to get ready for waiting out in the cold before the race.

Will keep you posted on how things turn out. Time to get some sleep.


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.


Marathon Logistics

Napa Valley Marathon is now 3 weeks away. It’s time to start thinking about logistics. Napa Valley Marathon starts from Calistoga 7am Sunday March 6th, 2016.

The website says that they provide bus ride from the finish line to the starting line at 5:15am. That means I should plan to be there by 5am, and if I were to start from home, I should leave around 3:45am. (It’s about 62-mile drive.)

But I should use bathroom and eat something before I head out. That means I need to be up by 3am at the latest. Wow, that’s early.

Should I get a room? I like the idea of shorter drive and one more hour of sleep, but not sure if I can get a good night rest and a hot breakfast 4:30am in the morning.

When I checked for the availability, I found out that all close-by and reasonably priced lodgings were all booked on the marathon weekend.

Oh, another thing. I need to show up the day before and pick up my bib and welcome packet. That means I have to make the drive twice, if I don’t stay near by.

I don’t know which would work out better. Sleep at home and drive, or stay somewhere near and sleep a bit more?

Newbie questions don’t end there.

What kind of clothes should I wear? Do I need a layer when starting out? What do I do with jacket when I take it off? What about water? I’ve been practicing with hydration belt, but not sure if I want to carry my own water when there are aid stations every 2 miles. I need all the weight saving that I can get…

What about photos? Should I run with my iPhone, just to snap a few photos along the way? Do I need to get a belt for iPhone 6 Plus?

What about deodorant? Do I need it, or it is inconsequential after 26.2 miles of sweating outdoor?

Full of questions.

I wonder what other runners are doing.


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. 🙂