Updated: Jan 26, 2019
It's the time of year where self reflection and possibility meet. What do you want to do this year? Finish your first Sprint? Qualify for Boston?
It's no secret: There is a singular path to success. Look no further than Coach Mike Dunlap. On his way to a 2:18 Boston Marathon in 1983, his training log shows that he logged an astonishing 1,949 miles in the 20 week lead-in period in the middle of the South Dakota winter. How did he do it? With single-minded determination to be the best.
Not only did he want to be the best, he had the knowledge to get him there. Mike ran at South Dakota State University in the early 1980's (some consider this team similar to the Alabama football dynasty) and has his Masters in Exercise Physiology. He knows the importance of structured training using HR zones. During week 5 of his 20-week program, he totaled 106 miles, with 101 miles in HR zone 1-2. Why did he run an astonishing 95% of his miles in zone 1-2?
Mike lived and trained in South Dakota. "I would get up and have to shovel the road so that I could run my intervals", Mike said. "On some days, I simply couldn't do intervals." Mike clearly broke the 80/20 rule of 80 aerobic/20 anerobic. Elites, like Mike, skew the ratio towards 90/10, whereas most AG'ers are happy with a pedestrian 70/30 mix. This "gray" training, where you're running too fast for endurance, or too slow for VO2/Threshold, leads to increased injury rates and decreased performance. "Running in the gray zone is the number one problem I see with age-group athletes," Mike says.
Mike also loved to race. He raced locally, and he raced often. In 1982, he ran 17 races and won 10, competing against the likes of his friend, Dick Beardsley (who famously came in second to Alberto Salzar in Boston 1982) . As a marathoner, Mike raced a 3 miler in 13.46 (4:48 min/mile), and completed 3 marathons of 2:21 (5:21 min/mile.)
How can you be like Mike? We all can't run 106 miles in a week, but we can learn from his race plan.
First, Trust the process. Slow and steady won't win a race, but it's the right mindset when doing the majority of your miles. Mike ran his easy miles easy and his hard miles hard. Keep your target heart rate or watts. Sure, you can finish a base, endurance run in zone 3 and feel fine, but if the goal of the workout was to build your aerobic endurance, then punching through the workout didn't help.
Second, Have a Plan. Yes, Mike's 20-week build-up to Boston is impressive and shows the importance of having a plan and sticking to it. But it also shows how he adapted to his environment when he couldn't run intervals outside. It also shows how daily core work, either by shoveling snow, throwing hay bales in the barn or daily strength and mobility training will work for you in the long run.
Third, Have Fun! Like Mike, race often and race local. Use your races to build upon your fitness with high intensity work and hone the racing edge.
What do you think? Let me know.