Guest Post: My Journey from Sedentary Car Guy to Marathon Runner

Happy Friday Everybody! Today I would like to share a guest post with you written by Dan Button. He is the author and owner of the blog “My Running Life At Speed” and he is QUITE an impressive runner. After meeting Dan on Marathon Monday and then conversing with him on his blog, I asked him to share a guest post with you all. Dan has come a long way in a short time: From his first marathon at 3:31 allll the way down to a 2:39..amazing! I love reading stories like his! Plus, he has big dreams and is heading towards them one run at a time! Dan has been kind enough to answer my barrage of running questions, and I think his story of success can help runners of all levels!

 

One of the first things that really drew me into the running scene was the sense of comradery among runners. I started small, like many of us did, with a local 5k that I wanted to run out of a desire to do something for others, something bigger than me. A teacher at a local elementary school had passed away suddenly and a 5k to raise money for a scholarship in her name was planned shortly afterwards. The race happened to start right at the school where my church was meeting at the time and the start time was right when church got out. I borrowed some basketball shoes from my dad and signed up to run 3.1 miles on a hot summer day. I finished in 23:30 and almost instantly realized that I wanted to do it again soon and run much faster. Having not run at all to train for the 5k I was pretty happy to just finish without having to walk at any point, though I did want to a couple miles in!

That first race was on 10-10-10 and over the next couple of months I ran many more 5ks, progressively working down to the 20 minute range. I was running 3-5 times a week by the end of the fall, up to 7 miles long. Over the winter of 2011 I read Born to Run and was certain that I wanted to move right up to ultra-marathons, wisely I chose to at least run a standard marathon first. I should mention that along with Born to Run, one of my best friends had just started running and my sister-in-law was also a great encouragement in convincing me to run and train every day. I ran my first 15k and first half marathon in the spring of 2011 as part of my long build up to running my first marathon that fall. My friend was also working towards his first marathon so we were training together occasionally and talking about it a lot. Like I said, running is all about community and making friends through running is only trumped by gaining normal life friends as running friends too! The 15k I ran was quite hilly and my projection of finishing in under an hour ended up way off as I finished in 1:06, I believe. That first half marathon went a bit better as I finished in 1:27:xx and had a smile on my face the whole way. My “A” goal for that first marathon was to BQ (3:05) as I knew by then what a BQ meant and how great it would be to get it, even though I had little intention of running Boston at the time.

I continued to train hard over the spring and summer with a target pace of 7:04ish/mile for the marathon. I ran following a training plan I’d found on Cool Running’s website, which had my peak mileage around 50 a week, if memory serves correct. My long runs were quite long though and I peaked with a full 26.2 run where I simply ran out and back on a stretch of road I assumed was mostly flat. Looking back I still draw strength from that run, I can’t remember how long it took, I think it was around 3:48 or so, which puts it still as one of my longest runs to date. I did it entirely solo with nothing but a fuel belt of water and some Gus, and on a road that I would never run on now (If you’re from central NH, you know Route 28 is a crap road to run on)

In October of 2011 I was set to go in my first marathon, training had gone relatively well with no major setbacks or injuries and I was off to Bristol NH to run the scenic NH Marathon. My dad gave me a ride to the start and I had friends showing up later to cheer me on and give me a ride home. I ran the first 7 miles right at 7 minute pace and then made myself slow down until after the hilly middle miles where I tried to speed back up, to no avail. I ended up hitting the wall, HARD, around 21 miles and jogged/walked/shuffled until 24 where my good friend who had been training with me gave me a Snickers bar that quite literally saved my run. I wobbled in to the finish in 3:31:xx and was 26 minutes over my goal and still thoroughly satisfied with the effort. I couldn’t walk right for a week, but still signed up for another marathon right away, certain that I now knew the way to run it in BQ fashion.

Well, fast forward to February of 2012 and I was towing the line at the Hyannis Marathon with a doozy of a head-cold or possibly the flu and very real fears that I might not even finish. It was a brutal grind from start to finish but I stayed more consistent, albeit slower, than the first one and finished in 3:36:xx. After that race and the subsequent week off from work with a horrible, almost ER worthy flu, I decided to take a slower approach and train until the fall for a real attempt at that BQ. To speed up the story I will simply say that I followed nearly the same training approach as I had the first time, just with faster running the whole way through as my body was getting stronger and stronger. I again sought to run at about 7 minute pace, which was now realistic, given the pace I was running in training leading up to it. I ran the Hartford marathon in October 2012 and two years after I started running I had my BQ, finishing in 3:01:20! Soon after finishing I realized that I didn’t want to run ultras just yet, but genuinely wanted to run Boston and to keep running marathons to see how fast I could get.

I signed up for a spring marathon in 2013 and was seeking to jump right down to 2:40 as my goal, having successfully chopped a half hour off my personal best in my last race, it seemed reasonable. Looking back now, it was far too big a goal, but I upped my training anyway and followed the “competitive plan” on cool running’s website. I had recently read Brad Hudson’s book, Run Faster, and was also starting to mix in his training style. Rather than the same old half mile or mile repeats for speed work and excessively long, long runs found on Cool Running, I started mixing in longer workouts on my weekend long runs and short hill sprints at the end of runs on pre-workout days. My biggest mileage weeks were in the upper 60’s, but I was forced to start my taper early with a couple nagging pains. My longest run to date was ironically in that time though, as I did run a 50k at one point. I had only been doing the occasional track workout and getting most of my speed work in with longer efforts on the road, tempo runs, fartleks and mile repeats mostly. I still didn’t own a GPS watch so most of my training was done by measuring out distances on the road and then timing with a stop watch. For someone so interested in getting faster, I certainly took an interesting approach to get there, in retrospect. Though my training was up and down with not near enough consistency, I was still getting faster and it did pay off. I ended up running a 2:48:26 at Sugarloaf in May of 2013 and it still stands as my best paced marathon. I held back for the first 8 miles running under goal pace and then tried to push to goal pace or under (6:15ish) and though I couldn’t hit it, I did only slow down by 10 seconds in the 2nd half. Thinking I just needed to train harder and run more, I redoubled my efforts over that summer and had every intention of breaking 2:40 in the fall. I peaked at close to 70 miles again and for the first time I was following a solid training plan from a top marathon coach. It was still just a canned plan from the back of Hudson’s book, but it was really challenging my body to adapt in different ways. Cue first real struggle with injuries. I had been nursing hip flexor muscles of varying tightness and soreness for months over the summer before I finally gave in and went to the doctor in September, hoping he’d have some last minute magic cure, weeks before my fall race. I ended up missing two weeks completely, when I was ordered to rest, and then put in two 30 mile leading up to the race. I decided to drop my goal time and run with a friend until mile 24 where we’d race each other to the finish. He ran 2:53 and I came in behind in a hard 2:54, but happy to be feeling healthy again and not too sore after. I signed up for a second race that took place a month later, and used the 2:54 marathon as my peak training workout. I only had a slight recovery period and then went back up to another couple weeks around 60 miles before tapering for my second go at the big PR! I took a vacation out in Bend, Oregon and plotted my move to runner heaven during my taper. Taking it easy is a much better plan, I now know, but I’m still trying to find work out there and madly in love with central Oregon. Anyhow, in November of 2013 I ran the Manchester City Marathon in NH and though I went in feeling great, I was once again let down with my time. I ran a 2:50:28 on the tough, hilly and freezing cold course and was more than ready to erase the fall of 2013 from my memory. I am proud of what I ran then and what it taught me about what to do, and what not to do now, however.

I was beyond excited to be running Boston for the first time in 2014 and tried to really start training smarter and more consistent than I ever had. At the end of 2013 I joined my first club and started doing track workouts with them, it was very intimidating running so fast with much faster runners at first. But, the guys totally changed my view of my own running and with the confidence inspired by them I ran a 5k in December of 2013 in 17:00, which was more than minute under my personal best at the time. Over the winter I followed another training plan from Hudson’s Run Faster book and with the encouragement of my club teammates, my mileage began increasing. I started out in January with my mileage right where the previous year had peaked, meaning 70 miles a week, in my big training weeks in March I was running over 90 miles and finishing every other long run with a fartlek or marathon pace progression. My midweek medium long runs were between 10-13 miles and my speed work went through stages of shorter repeats on the track under marathon pace to working up in length and slowing the pace right to marathon effort and doing what Hudson refers to as specific endurance efforts. I ran a half marathon in New Bedford and finished a minute under my goal time in 1:15:30. Finally my dream of sub 2:40 was a realistic goal! I went into Boston shooting for a 2:37, only slowing by 2 minutes in the second half, I finishing a little slower than I wanted in 2:30. Notice a theme? Always setting big, tough goals! Boston 2014 was an absolute dream and a party from start to finish and rather than re-tell the entire story; I’ll simply link to it here.

Much has changed in the year since then; last fall was my first season with no marathon, as I opted to train exclusively for shorter races and XC. I also had the privilege of getting my first coaching job as the assistant for a local DIII T&F program and was able to run the workouts with the team, while training for my own races.

In 2015 I shifted gears yet again, with running Boston as fast as I could, the major focus. I signed up to be part of the newly formed coaching program offered by my favorite coach, Brad Hudson, and started getting my training from someone besides myself for the first time. The goal for 2015 is to break 2:30, it didn’t happen in Boston this year where the winds and cold got the best of me and I slowed down 7 minutes in the second half, but I’ll take another shot in December at CIM in Sacramento. My training leading up to Boston this year was similar to last year since I was using a training plan from Hudson last year as well. The big difference was no more guess work when training had to be adapted or moved around, simply email my coach and ask what to do! Having someone else doing the planning made the task of training much easier for me, as I would do what I was told as best I could. I worked up to 20 mile runs on the weekends by the first month into marathon training this time around, having come into training with a base of 80-90 mile weeks from most of last fall. I think keeping a solid base year round is another key to my training too, as the up and down periods are when injury seems to strike. Without worrying about bringing mileage back up for each training cycle I can easily transfer from steady base miles back into workouts and long marathon efforts. Speaking of workouts, I should mention what the workout plan over the last year has looked like in a little more detail. I normally run a hard workout of intervals of some type on Tuesday, followed by a medium long run Wednesday and a supplemental workout on Thursday, with a long run on either Saturday or Sunday. The other days are reserved for easy mileage, which was 10-14 a day with a short lunch time run and longer evening run in peak training and is now comprised of a single 7-10 mile run. My highest mileage week this past cycle was close to 130 and my average up through that week from the beginning of the year was 94 a week. I did suffer from some plantar pain and started the taper a little early before Boston, but am now recovering alright after a 4 day break post-race and slowly brining mileage back up.

I realize now, that this is more a story of what I’ve done and less on my specific training during those times, but the training was never anything too special. In the words of John L Parker Jr. the trial of miles and miles of trials is what it’s all about. The more consistent my mileage was and the more I ran my workout days at specific marathon efforts in my peak training, the faster my marathons have been, among other factors of course. I think it’s super important to set short term, achievable goals and long term dreams that will be stepped towards until they become the next short term goal and a new dream needs to be dreamt up. I wanted to break 2:40 for a couple years and as soon as I did, I set my sights on 2:30. After running a 2:36 at Boston this year, my next goal is still to break 2:30. But my dream is to one day run a sub 2:18, the current Olympic Trials ‘B’ Standard in the US.

Thanks for reading my little running tale!

 

You can follow Dan’s journey here! Thanks Dan for sharing your amazing story! Any questions for Dan can be asked in the comments as he said he would do his best to answer!

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3 thoughts on “Guest Post: My Journey from Sedentary Car Guy to Marathon Runner

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