1. When and why did you decide to make the transition into racing marathons?
It wasn't until my fifth marathon attempt at Chicago that I truly 'raced' a marathon. My first marathon was at 18 years old and I successfully achieved my goal of breaking 3 hrs. My second was more of a late season addition (2:51), after which I injured my knee and opted to cross train via triathlons for a while. After those first marathons, I felt as if running sub-2:40 was NOT an unattainable goal. However, returning to road racing with a 1:13 half marathon at the 2011 Martinsville Half gave me inspiration to train harder and see what I could actually accomplish! My next marathon, the Wine Glass Marathon that following fall, was a 2:33.
2. Tell us about your experience at the 2013 New York City Marathon, how it went and your thoughts afterwards?
I enjoyed the race with my family though the logistics of navigating NYC during such an event were a bit insane. After seeing the pre-race forecast (cloudy, cold, very windy), I dropped my initial time goal and decided to just raced with the competition. I got sick and faded some around mile 15, at which point I stopped looking at my watch and just focused on catching on other runners. Most notable about racing the NYC marathon, however, was whole experience of being at the race and interacting with elites such as Joan Benoit Samuelson, Meb Keflezighi (who signed his bib) and getting a picture with the 2012 Olympic Marathon Gold winner, Stephen Kiprotich (pictured below).
3. Tell me about your training leading up to the NYCM and a little about how you fuel for longer workouts?
I averaged 90 miles/week for the first time over an extensive building period of 3 months (a first for me). As a taller male, I went through a lot of food during that time! Oatmeal, PB, banana and coffee are my main staples for breakfast and pre-long run. I don't like starting a long run on a full stomach so I time my pre-workout meal appropriately. Typically, I use 1 gel max for longer runs and 2-3 gels for the actual marathon. Half of a PB honey sandwich is another go-to fuel (but not during races).
4. You've improved quite dramatically over the past several years. What do you attribute your success to?
Being a little older helps, having a more mature muscle structure and attitude towards the sport. A year-long season of triathlon taught me to put into the hours, drop the excuses and develop the mental toughness it takes to make that improvement. Weather doesn't affect me anymore and off days are rare. But most notably, a solid year of a lot of triathlon work really build a solid endurance base and left me stronger, leaner and more mentally tough.
5. Big goals for you in Spring 2014 include the Holiday Lake 50k (mid-Feb) and the Boston Marathon (April). What do you think you might change in your training and/or diet b/w now and then to optimize your performance?
Preparing for Holiday Lake will serve as a build-up, base training period and I'll pick up with marathon specific workouts afterwards. I would like to incorporate more hill workouts and drill-form exercises in this next training cycle. Diet-wise, I could eat a better diet, but I'm unwilling to give up my love of beer (it's a quality of life thing!)
6. What's the toughest obstacle you've ever had to overcome to achieve your goals?
Balancing life (work, long distance relationship, maintaining a social life) and a high level of training is often the biggest challenge. Most weeks I work 45-50 hours and some leisure time is essential for me and important for long-term sustainability as well.
7. Who inspires you as an athlete?
The guys that work full time, train 120 miles a week and run a 2:10 marathon in the process. This includes Bill Rogers, Yuki Kawauchi (a Japanese marathoner with a 2:08 personal best) and Mike Wardian (has worked a full time job while putting up world class 50k - 50 mile times for the past 15 years). It's a huge balancing act for these individuals and admirable to see what the everyday working individual can accomplish athletically.
8. How do you fuel on a day to day basis to support your training? What are some of your favorite foods?
I tend to eat a standard lunch but during peak training periods, I will add on an extra half or full sandwich. I can't recall any significant dietary changes, but instead, I rely on small tweaks to make up for the calorie difference. Snacking throughout the day at work on baggies of veggies, etc keeps me satisfied and post-workout I especially like to eat kale and spinach. Sunflower seeds are probably my favorite food. And if people think you can't get full on sunflower seeds, you should see the pile of shells I leave at my seat at Oriole games. I'm a machine.
9. Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
One go to recipe that my girlfriend and I make often is a quesadilla with blacks beans, sweet potato, chicken and mozzarella. Simple, fast fuels are key to time management and I try to cook large batches of foods at once to make things easier.
10. Any other thoughts, tips or words of wisdom ?
First, people generally try way too hard on days that are supposed to be easy. Most runners get their hard days and easy days muddled up which results in every day being close to the same effort. I'm not perfect by any means but on my easy days, I'll run anywhere between 6:45/mile and 7:30/mile. These are often un-timed. At the end of a hard long run, I might be under 6:00/mile, considerably faster than my easy trots. Many African elite runners will run 7:00/mile on their easy morning runs and they are capable of running 13.1 miles well under 5:00/mile. That's more than 50% slower! Whether your 4 or 5 easy days/week are 90 minutes easy with strides or just walking a few miles, keep it easy.
Second, working on getting a more efficient stride is much more time efficient than doing tough workouts. It takes A LOT of work on the track to gain 15 seconds/mile on your racing times. Bettering your running economy through drills and/or strides might only take 2- 15 minute sessions every week and many of us never take the time to do this. You're more likely to get injured slamming out 400m repeats on the track, too. There's a time and a place for doing timed workouts but I really only do timed workouts for 4 months out of 12. And that's assuming I'm healthy.
I'll leave you with this final picture, Graham on the front of the NY Times just a few weeks ago!
Great job buddy!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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