How to structure your training for long-term improvement

Blake Boldon coachingHow do you design your training to race well at a variety of distances throughout the year and deal with the delicate balance between normal training fatigue and being injured?

In this interview, we’re going to get inside the head of Blake Boldon, the Head Cross Country Coach at the University of Pennslvania. Coach Blake has coached multiple Olympic-caliber runners as well as worked with famed coach Jack Daniels and he’s on our show today to teach you what he’s learned.

Blake is going to tell you exactly how he approaches the balance between injuries and general fatigue, how to structure your training for yearly improvements, and how to properly integrate tune-up races into your training blocks.

Here are the actionable highlights from the interview:

1. Balancing recovery to stay injury-free

Staying injury-free and having long cycles of training without getting hurt is essential to long-term improvement. To stay injury-free you need to learn how to properly recover and listen to your body.

Take Action:
“It’s better to be 100% healthy and 80% prepared than 80% healthy and 100% prepared.” Blake discusses the importance of keeping your easy days easy and not pushing yourself when the purpose of the session is to recover. Blake also mentions that you should take care of potential injuries right away, before they become a bigger problem.

2. Structuring your training for year-round success

Each race distances places a specific demand on structural and metabolic processes in the body. To race well, you need to design your training to improve these specific demands while balancing the need for recovery and complimentary energy systems.

Take Action:
Blake outlines the ideal one year training cycle (Marathon, followed by 5k or 10k training, then half marathon training, a short speed segment, and back to the marathon again). To demonstrate, Blake outlines Kara Goucher’s training under Alberto Salazar in which her marathon training block begins with a speed development segment.

3. Set expectations for tune-up races

Very few runners have the patience to sign up for one big race and schedule all their tune-up races and training to coincide with peaking for one race. Often, runners have multiple races in one training segment, some of which may or may not fit into the overall race build-up. Therefore, it’s critical you manage expectations and find creative ways to fit in your less important races.

Take Action:
Manage your expectations and remember that every race doesn’t have to be a PR. Blake says you should ask yourself this question after a tune-up race: “could I have done this in training, by myself?” The answer is almost resoundingly yes, and indicative that the tune-up race was a great workout for you.

4. Don’t run through injuries

All runners are scared to take time off for an injury, especially when we think we can run through it. In the end, trying to run through an injury leads to poor performances, a general disdain for training, and a longer amount of time off than would have been needed originally.

Take Action:
Blake shares the story of how he tried to train through a groin injury, which ultimately lead to the end of his professional running career. Blakes advice: get injuries taken care of right away.

This is an awesome interview, especially if you have questions about how to structure your training for long-term progress. Get ready for some specific and actionable lessons you can apply to your training today!

Watch this week’s show now

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Read the Transcript

Jeff Gaudette: Hi everybody, welcome to RunnersConnect. Thanks for

joining us again for our program.Today we’re really exciting to bring in a guest, Blake

Boldon. Blake is actually a fantastic runner, he’s the head

coach at the University of Pennsylvania, cross country and

men’s and women’s track and field for distance events.

He’s also the Director of Coaching at RunnersConnect here

so he’s a great visitor to have and I think he’s going to

share a lot of great information for you guys about how you

can train and make drastic changes to your training to get

the results that you’re looking for.

Just a brief intro about Blake, Blake has been top ten at

the US championships four times, and in 2007 he was the

first Iowa-born native to run a sub-four-minute mile when

he ran 3:59:18, so he’s a sub-four-minute-miler.

Coaching-wise, Blake has definitely learned from some of

the best in the sport. Blake’s resume includes coaching the

2005 US Junior Cross-Country Championship champion Lisa

Koll, who is also the American Collegiate record-holder for

10,000 meters.

While he was an assistant at Florida State University,

three of the distance runners that Blake helped coach went

on to represent Great Britain at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In 2009, Blake began coaching recreational runners under

the tutelage of legendary coach Jack Daniels and he has

been working with athletes of all ability levels since. So

we’re excited to bring him on and welcome to the show,

Blake.

Blake Boldon: Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff Gaudette: I hope I got everything right in the intro. I’m sure there

were a couple of details that might have been a little off,

but you can help correct us.

Blake Boldon: That’s fine. It was Kiel Uhl that was the US Cross-Country

Champion.

Jeff Gaudette: Okay.

Blake Boldon: He’s married to Lisa Koll. They were both coached by Corey

Ihmels but I trained with them both and it was all part of

one big group, and another big crew of people who ran

really well. So for the most part that was pretty close.

Jeff Gaudette: It’s tough, especially when you’re coaching and training

at the same time, it’s sometimes a little difficult to

figure out who you were working with directly or who you

were running with. But definitely you’ve been around some

really great mentors and athletes.

Blake Boldon: That’s right. Both at Iowa State with Corey Ihmels and at

Florida State with Bob Braman, they both coached me and

allowed me to kind of get involved in the coaching and help

out with their athletes as well, so it was a lot of fun and

a good opportunity to learn from some of the most

accomplished coaches in the NCAA.

Jeff Gaudette: Awesome. Speaking of that, take us through your history of

running in chronological order. Starting from kind of in

high school: were you a great high school runner and

decided you were going to go to a big Division 1 school and

keep going, or how did things start out for you?

Blake Boldon: It was kind of the exact opposite of that actually. I was

un-recruited really aside from the small Iowa Division 3

schools and for some reason, and I’m sure there’s a lot of

kids out there that can recognize this, but Division 1 is

the biggest stage, so I knew I wanted to go to a Division 1

school. I knew if there was a place that I could maximize

my talent and just compete with the best in the country and

the world, Division 1 was the place to go.

It came down to two Division 1 schools, Drake University in

Des Moines, which is very near my house in Iowa, and then

Southwest Missouri State, which is now Missouri State. But

really, not that it came down to just athletics, but from

the athletics of perspective the tipping point was that I

would be able to contribute, or at least had the potential

contribute sooner.

There are guys, Matt Gabrielson and Jason Lehmkuhle who

have both made their names known as some of the top

distance runners in the country. Well, they were both at

Drake at that time. And then there are a few other guys. It

was a really good group at Drake, but they were all

sophomores and juniors and seniors and I’d would have had

to wait my turn a little bit more to contribute, or at

least so I thought.

So to put it in perspective, I chose the spot where I’d fit

in the best. When I graduated high school, or right around

the Memorial Day weekend of my senior year, my bests were

only 4:34 for the 1600 and 9:54 for the 3200. I mean, I won

a lot of races but it’s kind of a different era now.

Everybody runs a lot faster in high school now than they

did in the ’90s, but on the other hand, there were a lot of

good kids.

I didn’t win everything, and the only big time race I ever

won was the State title, and that was my last race. I’d

already made my decision to go Division 1 in walk on at

Southwest Missouri. I remember my freshman year showing up

and it was just like Christmas Day when I got my first pair

of shoes, just one pair of shoes. Oh, my God, I actually

made it as a runner, that somebody was going to give me a

pair of shoes to run for their team. I’m sure you have a

similar story when you first went to college. You feel like

you’re a pro for just one pair of $70 Adidas.

Jeff Gaudette: Right. It’s a fun feeling.

Blake Boldon: Yeah. Before that I’d wondered if I could even make it at

a Division 1 level.

Jeff Gaudette: Right. Definitely feel you there. So tell me a little bit

about going into your collegiate career and then post-

collegiately in terms of running. Talk about some of the

success that you had, whether it be in college or post-

collegiately. It seems like you continued to progress each

year?

Blake Boldon: Yeah, I think the biggest key for me was, to kind of get

where I went, to the end of my career, every year for maybe

10 or 12 years straight from the time I started running

until the time I was an adult, 23, 24 years old, every year

I ran a personal best.

Jeff Gaudette: Wow. I’m sure a lot of our listeners would love to

replicate those results, for 10 years straight have good

results.

Blake Boldon: The biggest key, the biggest secret if there are secrets,

the biggest thing is just to be healthy the whole time. You

miss months at a time for an injury, or a lack of

motivation or whatever. If you’re taking time off, you’re

obviously not keeping getting better. So for me that was a

big, through that whole time, through high school, through

college, and even then for most of my post-collegiate

career until the end of 2009, I probably had only missed

maybe a grand total of two months of running over 15 years

or something like that.

Once in high school I missed a few weeks my senior year of

cross-country with a plantar fascia and then I missed maybe

a month or a month and a half with Achilles tendonitis when

I was in college. But I was always healthy, and that’s the

big difference. When you run progressively, not only

progressive in volume but progression in intensity and the

amount of load you can handle, if you do it and you’re

healthy, you’re body’s going to respond. Even if you’re not

the most natural runner, your running economy improves,

your weight comes down, all the good things that lead to

being faster happen. So I think it’s just a matter of being

patient and taking the time to do it healthfully.

Jeff Gaudette: Let’s talk about that for a second. How do you attribute

staying healthy? I know there’s a lot of runners out there

who just can’t seem to string together even a few months of

training. What do you attribute some of that success to?

Were you doing any type of ancillary work, did you ice a

lot, what are some of the things that you feel you did to

keep yourself healthy?

Blake Boldon: I think a lot of it is just good genetics maybe. I wasn’t

born genetically with the ability to run fast, I wasn’t a

4:15 high school miler. You know all the stories about the

very top-end guys. A former training partner of mine and a

two-time Olympian, Jason Pyrah played football in high

school and didn’t even run cross-country, and he was a 4:07

high school miler running 20 to 30 miles a week.

Those people exist and I wasn’t one of them, but the talent

I had over others was I’d never had a stress fracture,

maybe it’s good biomechanics or good bone density. Whatever

it is, I don’t know what you might call it, but I was

injury resilient. But beyond that, I think this is one

thing that every runner learns at some point that you just

run hurt. There’s a difference between hurt and injury.

You’re always sore, you’re always tired, because you’re

really trying to push to find that potential and to

maximize your fitness. You’re always up against it at some

level.

The day after a workout you should be tired, you should be

sore. So there were lots of times, maybe times when I

really was hurt, but I just kept running anyway and

[inaudible 09:02] you have that experience in your career

as well, where down the road you realize, well, that really

was an injury that I should address.

Jeff Gaudette: So when you coach athletes now, how do you identify when

something is an injury and when something’s just got to gut

through it and run through something?

Blake Boldon: I think that this is something I learned from Corey Ihmels

[blog]. He mentored me while I was at Iowa State and

[inaudible 09:28] to see how he did it, worked with

athletes. And something he said, and it’s not always easy

to follow up and really implement with your athletes, but

it’s definitely a lesson I’ve taken with me and brought to

my coaching philosophy, it’s better to be 100% healthy and

80% fit, rather than 100% fit and 80% healthy.

That’s great, and I’m sure he got that from another of his

mentors, [inaudible 09:55], [Herb Ray], or another coach in

the business. I’m not sure, but it’s a tremendous quote and

it’s something that if you live by that as an athlete and

then as a coach working with athletes, and to help them

realize that aerobic runs don’t need to be near-marathon

pace. The quote “easy days” are the aerobic threshold, but

those days don’t need to be intense. Those are just to

enjoy running at a conversational pace and not to push.

I feel like that’s where a lot of injuries come from, when

you work out hard on a Tuesday, but Wednesday and Thursday

you still work hard. You can do mile repeats on Tuesday or

some threshold work or a tempo run, if you don’t allow

yourself to recover for the next 48 hours, by Friday you’re

pretty worn out but you still have a workout and you go do

that. And then Saturday or Sunday you have a long run, and

there’s never time to regenerate. So I think that’s a real

balance, to be sure that the recovery days and the aerobic

days aren’t an additional stress on the body.

As a coach I think that’s a big part of it, just reminding

the athletes that I work with that they’re human. The body

is, there are certain very scientific principles that exist

whether we acknowledge them or not. If we discard those

principles and stop listening to our bodies, it ends up,

potentially, honestly, and maybe this isn’t the best thing

to say for a lot of viewers, but potential big

breakthroughs. I mean really, if you just ignore your body

and stop listening, there’s a potential that you have huge

PRs.

Jeff Gaudette: Correct.

Blake Boldon: But more likely, you’re going to end up with one of two

places, either an injury or an illness. You’re going to end

up iron deficient. In the college ranks, young athletes,

it’s when you’re more susceptible to mono and the flu and

some chronic fatigue issues. At the adult level, it may be

iron deficiency, it may be a stress fracture, plantar

fascia, as those connective tissues tend to age, and with

age bone density doesn’t increase, so you become more

injury-prone with time.

The young kids, it’s more like sleep deprivation, they’re

burning the candle on both ends. [inaudible 12:12] in the

Ivy League, it’s not, at least the students I work with

now, it’s not because they’re partying, it’s because

they’re studying and not sleeping and not taking care of

their body. So it’s always just a real battle to make sure

that athletes of whatever level are taking care of

themselves and aiming for 100% healthy before they aim for

100% fit.

Jeff Gaudette: I think that’s a great point, and relating to our

audience, they’re probably not in school although I’m sure

some of them wish they were again. I know I do. But it

could be work or work stress, or family, staying up until

midnight, getting up at five o’clock, six o’clock to get in

a run, definitely minimizing the recovery there. I know

personally one of the questions I get on a consistent,

pretty much daily basis, is “can I run faster on my easy

day?”, “what should my easy pace be?”, you know?

And one thing I really try to drill into the runners that I

work with is that your easy pace should be easy. Running

faster isn’t better, and a lot of times it’s worse. So I

tell people, if you’re feeling good and you run faster,

that’s okay, but just remember that there’s probably no

benefit to it, there’s only risk. I’m sure you probably go

through a lot of the same things with the athletes that you

coach.

Blake Boldon: That’s right, yeah. I guess maybe I’ll ask you, what rule

of thumb do you give people?

Jeff Gaudette: In terms of what?

Blake Boldon: “How fast should my easy run pace be?”

Jeff Gaudette: Usually I’ll give them a specific pace range to be in, but

if they’re either not following that or having a tough

time, then I just tell them to go by conversational pace.

They should be able to say almost a paragraph and still be

able to run fine. If they can’t get out three or four

sentences, then they’re probably running too hard. So it’s

kind of like the self-talk test.

Blake Boldon: Okay, let me ask you this, the self-talk test is really

good. I think potentially you can be a little too easy

then.

Jeff Gaudette: Correct.

Blake Boldon: But very rarely are people actually really running too

easy. Not if you have a serious goal.

Jeff Gaudette: Yeah, and again I think it goes back to the rather be 100%

healthy, 80% fit. I’d rather somebody be running a little

bit too slow than a little bit too fast, because they’re

not going to get injured running too slow. They’re not

going to recover slower, and aerobically they’re not

missing out on much, if anything at all. So I see what

you’re saying.

Blake Boldon: I mean, physiologically they may not be getting the same

mitochondrial development, some muscular, some of the

things there, but from a metabolic perspective they’re

actually metabolizing more fat and becoming more efficient,

and that’s what’s slowing their running. So there’s give

and take, but I wanted to get your opinion. What I usually

use, and I don’t know if this is right but it definitely

works at a college level, and like based on my own times

when I ran I say take your by KPR base and add about two

minutes to it, and that’s roughly your easy running pace.

That’s a very loose rule, but what’s your thoughts on that?

Say someone is, maybe it’s a man who has an 18:45 5K, an 18

minute 5K, so then that person you think, eight minutes

about right for their easy runs?

Jeff Gaudette: Yeah, I think that’s pretty close, but again I always tell

people, I’m always very cautious with the easy runs,

because at least for the way that I coach, the rest of the

week is pretty intense. They usually have a hard long run,

usually two other workouts during the week. So for me, the

aerobic-building side of things, I would rather them slow

down. So I’m actually probably a little bit more cautious

than that. I’m probably more along the lines of, probably

2:30, two minutes and thirty seconds slower than 5k pace.

Again, just on the cautious side because one of the things

I try to look at when I’m creating training or when I’m

talking about training, is saying every run needs to have a

purpose. And so for me, easy days, any time that a schedule

is easy, that’s a recovery day. And so, the only purpose of

that run is to really recover. The other days are when we

can do aerobic building, running where we’ll do kind of a

steady state, a little bit slower than marathon pace, where

we’ll do threshold, we’ll do speed. And those are the days

that have a specific purpose to build aerobic capabilities,

whereas the easy days, it’s completely focused on

regeneration.

Blake Boldon: Do you feel that’s the same for 5K training and marathon

training?

Jeff Gaudette: No, I think it’s a little bit different, you’re right.

Only because I think it’s a little bit easier to recover

from, the recovery is different for specific workouts. For

example, a marathon workout that may be longer and slower

is a little bit easier to recover from than a really hard,

all-out twelve by 400 meter session. So it’s a little bit

different, whereas the 5K runner may need to run a little

bit slower because their legs are a hurting so much,

whereas a marathon runner may be able to run quicker.

Blake Boldon: Yeah, I also think too that sometimes, with 5K and 10K and

down, so a mile, 3K, 8Kk, you really want to focus on the

specificity of the race. So it’s 5K with the volume. If the

race is 5K, say, you want to do more than race volume at

greater than race pace, or better than race pace, and less

than complete rest. That’s the formula to get better. It’s

hard to find a coach who doesn’t agree with that. So that’s

the importance. Unfortunately in one single training

session we can’t simulate a marathon, it’s not possible.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: So the cumulative fatigue that we want to avoid in 5K and

10K training because we want to really value the

specificity of those workouts, so we want to avoid that

cumulative fatigue or volume by [taking it], but marathon

training, we can’t be that specific to a marathon, so part

of the specificity is the cumulative fatigue. So our

recovery runs are more aerobic, we really want to focus on

aerobic development, so I don’t really go into this detail

with the marathoners I coach. But at deep level, whereas I

say the recovery in aerobic threshold may happen at two

minutes plus 5K pace, for a marathoner who’s well-trained,

a veteran marathoner, part of the competitiveness for

someone who’s run a lot of marathons and really aiming to

improve, their recovery runs maybe slide down from 2

minutes to 1:45 or 1:30.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: And maybe for you it’s like, okay, depending on the

workouts, depending on the part of the training, it goes

from 2:30 to 2:00, and then I don’t know how you look at

it, but that’s certainly how I look at it in some of the

age divisions and post-collegiate divisions that I work

with preparing for marathon.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: Their whole long run needs to be pretty good.

Jeff Gaudette: Yeah.

Blake Boldon: We already mentioned that, but even midweek long runs,

they need to be pretty good, and anything over an hour

needs to be “Okay, we’re not just recovering, we’re trying

to build that aerobic development in every step out the

door.”

Jeff Gaudette: Yeah, absolutely, I agree with you there. One of the ways

that I do that is usually putting the long run against a

steady sedate run, so something that’s right around

marathon pace, either a little bit faster or a little bit

slower depending on how the athlete feels that day, and

then doing the long run the next day. That’s how I simulate

cumulative fatigue, so I agree with you there in terms of

needing to simulate the race somehow without running 26

miles, just because that’s too hard on the body to do more

than once probably every 10 or 12 weeks.

But yes, I definitely agree with you there. Going along the

same lines, it sounds like your training philosophy comes

from doing a lot of race-specific work, or at least working

towards that. If I’m correct, how does that translate from

different race distances, how do you work in race-specific

work, when do you do it in the training cycle? Kind of talk

a little bit about race-specific stuff.

Blake Boldon: Yeah, that’s maybe the challenge, because anyone,

particularly the road racers that race year round, if

you’re racing year round, I think that’s going to imply

that you need to do race-specific work year round, but I

also think that’s also pretty tough to maintain. If not

from a physiological perspective, like physically, but from

a psychological perspective, to have to go to the track in

January, or to have to go in the middle of July when it’s

scorching hot. Whatever it might be there’s unique

challenges everywhere, but to actually do, say 4 times or 6

times a mile, whatever it might be with some race-specific

work, 50 weeks a year, that’s challenging. But I do think,

whatever the training goals or races are, I think it’s

important to have some part of that present through the

whole macro cycle, so through the whole training year.

Jeff Gaudette: So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how you set up

a year or two training cycle. I think that’s a question a

lot of our audience has is, a lot of them can look at

something and say I have 16 weeks to train for a marathon,

I’ve got a plan, whether it be that a coach wrote them or

something online or whatever, but then when that marathon’s

over they don’t really have a plan of action, it’s “well

how does this fit into the year?”, and not even just the

year, but to two years, “how do I continue to improve and

race well, two, three years down the road, and how does

that fit into the training cycle that I’m doing right now?”

Blake Boldon: That’s a good question. I think for most athletes I work

with, we’ll look at it in a one-year perspective, but I

think it’s realistic. When you talk about high school

athletes or college athletes, you’re looking at it from a

four-year perspective. And you plan even what number of

races they run freshman year versus junior year as they’ve

progressed through. For example, very rarely do a run a

freshman in a 10K. But, maybe a sophomore one time, junior

year twice, and by the senior year the 10K can be their

primary event where they run it three times.

So for a road runner, I think really it just depends on the

athlete’s goals and what race they want to focus on.

Typically, pretty commonly at least, it’s a fall marathon,

maybe some spring road races and into the summer, we all

know the Fourth of July is a big weekend, and kind of

lengthening back the distance up to half marathons, 20Ks

and longer races through early fall, culminating in an

October, November or December marathon.

I think that’s the most common. And I think the natural

time is after the marathon to take a little bit of

downtime, two weeks off, cross-train, start being back on

the treadmill depending on where you’re at in the country,

just get back out and enjoy some running. Put in a block of

ten weeks of just running through January, February, March,

and then you’re back through the spring racing season.

So really the structure would be just vaguely work through

a year without many details, but it depends on the runner,

what their goals are. But let’s say in a two year cycle,

you may pick out the same races, so a fall marathon, and

the same thing I just said, the hypothetical scenario. Some

spring races, maybe a local track series, some summer 5Ks,

10Ks, maybe in the fall a half-marathon and a marathon. The

idea would be the next year to keep the schedule relatively

similar, assuming you [inaudible 24:24], assuming you’re

healthy.

And one of the big things you can progress from year to

year is the volume of training. Bottom line from year to

year if you increase your volume, any coach that would say-

, I think every coach would agree that the best way to

become a better runner is to run more.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: To a point, I should say. I guess that if you get to more

than 100 miles a week or 80 miles a week depending on the

level, and someone who has kids and a marriage and a full-

time job, that might be 50, that might be 60, beyond the

boiling point of the recovery that they have in their day.

So whatever it might be, maybe it’s 40 for some folks,

whatever. If you can progress that from year to year, it’s

not necessarily running the training faster, but running

the training close to the same, or maybe faster, but doing

it more consistently over time, because you’ll have the

previous year to build on. I think when I look at two

years, the idea is, let’s try to keep the racing schedule

as similar as possible, so there’s some basis for

comparison.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: That plan typically works. Where [a kid] people run into

trouble, without that guidance, they find races that are

all over the map. A mile the week before a marathon. A road

mile, or they find a 5K seven days, very frequently I coach

people who are just overly ambitious about racing. I see it

even now after some experienced runners, they want to run a

5K, a mile and a half-marathon in the span of eight days.

Well, we have to make sure we’re balancing this, and let’s

find a more, like a schedule and a routine from year to

year, that then we can kind of chart our progress and we

know, okay well this time of year last year, at least

roughly, not to the day, but we did this workout. How can

we compare ourselves to this workout, and I think that’s

key, if not from the physiological, but from the

psychological. To gain confidence and really get a footing

on your running, like, okay, this training methodology is

working.

Jeff Gaudette: So how do you work with athletes who want to do, kind of

two marathons a year, or even three? I know that’s kind of

crazy, but there are people who want to do that.

Blake Boldon: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic. I think it’s

just a measure of scaling goals and being sure the goals

match with what you want to accomplish. I think it’s

realistic to say, well you can probably run six marathons,

that’s not too much. Well, it’s less than ideal, but if you

look at someone like Dean Karnazes and some of the people

that run every other weekend, seemingly they’re running a

quality marathon, it’s definitely possible. I don’t think

that’s something that happens in your first year or two of

running, that’s something that you build toward.

And the first time you do a marathon, one, their first

year’s pretty good. Two, I think let’s definitely do it in

the spring and the fall, or even late spring, early summer,

and a mid to late fall or early winter, six months apart,

five months apart, that’s plenty of time to gain your

recovery. I guess I really didn’t go into detail, but one

thing I really like and I saw with how Bruce Salazar

prepared Kara Goucherr for her marathon debut. It was a

very fast track season, so four to six weeks of racing the

mile, racing the 3K, some really good speed development.

Because that’s a very good way to improve running economy

and [inaudible 28:16], how you handle oxygen, a lot of good

physiological measures.

And that ends, so ten weeks before the marathon you go and

do a ten-week block, it’s how a lot of the guys at Team USA

Minnesota have done, and a lot of the [elites] I’ve seen.

So I think in that, implement it with love, anyone, a

mother of three who was trying to break four hours for the

first time, she ran a 25 minute PR. It can happen, because

so few times do marathoners, particularly mid-pack

marathoners, really think about how their speed for a mile

translates to the marathon. But the faster you run a mile,

the easier your marathon, the more economic you become.

Jeff Gaudette: Correct.

Blake Boldon: So the more economic you become, the easier your marathon

pace is.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: And then of course, marathon pace can become easy running

pace. Marathon pace improves by 20 seconds per mile, maybe.

Or more, potentially, if you’ve never done it [for] speed.

If you’ve run high school and you’ve run college, you may

not see that immediate response to speed work, but I still

think it’s an important factor. That’s where like, for

example, if someone’s doing the Boston marathon which I

know is a big one, of course it’s a world major. If you’re

doing the Boston Marathon, I think it’s worth looking at,

count back ten weeks from now. You need a ten-week build,

that’s a good time, that’s enough time. So I’m not sure

where that puts you, maybe it’s January?

Jeff Gaudette: Somewhere around there, end of January.

Blake Boldon: Maybe February 1. Well, I think the great time would be

indoor track races in December and January, small [comers

meets] or at least some indoor track workouts or at least

those kinds of things to really prepare to really improve

that running economy. And this could be whether you’re in

an [elite] trying to run 2:10, a men’s elite, or a first-

time marathoner trying to run, just trying to finish or

trying to run five hours. I think that speed work’s

important so that’s something I always talk about with

anyone going toward a marathon. Well, don’t just think it’s

long, slow distance, because if that’s what you do, then

you’ll be good at being slow. Being fast is preferred.

Jeff Gaudette: So you’re a big proponent of having a speed development

block sometime before really the real marathon-specific

training starts, is what you’re trying to say?

Blake Boldon: And then potentially even through the marathon block, I’ve

seen this work really well. Halfway through, run a 10K.

Typically I prefer like a half-marathon maybe four weeks

out, but somewhere in that first six weeks, a 10K and I’ve

seen some really good results from that, where you come off

some good mile works and 3K, 5K stuff. 10K PR, well when

you run a 10K PR, any of the people at the 10K PR six weeks

in front of a marathon and they’re doing marathon training,

it’s like confidence through the roof, then the half-

marathon comes, it goes well, and then you’re straight into

your marathon and that’s where you can really see big jumps

in performances.

Jeff Gaudette: So another question along the same lines, you know with

athletes that are racing during a marathon training segment

or racing during any training segment, what do you feel the

expectations are? Because I know from my own experience, is

that especially when you’re training for a marathon, the

training is so specific to that one race, and so un-

specific to 5K, 10K, half-marathons. A lot of times, and

especially because the training load is so high, sometimes

the shorter races don’t go as well. And that’s okay for

athletes that understand that and understand that there’s a

process behind it, but sometimes, whether it be because

they’re beginning runners and they don’t understand the

training concept that running long runs, 18 mile long runs

isn’t the best way to train for a 5K, so they may not be in

their best 5K shape, but making sure that they don’t lose

that confidence from not running the 5K PR in their

training segment, thinking “I’m not getting any better.”

Have you dealt with that, and if so, how do you work

through that, whether it be through talking it through with

an athlete, or is it just a matter of trying to let them

know, or is there something that you deal with in training

to help them more?

Blake Boldon: Yeah, it’s really tough but I think the idea is that

wherever those races may be, to have the expectation level,

to have it set, and I think most of the time, if the

objective going into it is to specifically target a certain

pace, if there’s [inaudible 33:12] working with an athlete,

and of course it depends on the experience level of the

athlete, and this isn’t the exact right word, but maturity.

I really mean like training maturity [inaudible 33:24]

Jeff Gaudette: Training age.

Blake Boldon: Not from a physical perspective, but do they know running,

do they understand that it’s okay not to get a PR every

time out, and how that response is going to be. Sometimes

if they have a race that they want to do, because it’s the

Race for the Cure, or something that they’re compelled to

run, do we fit in the training?

We’ll do a bit of a workout the morning of. Instead of just

warming up a mile or two miles, we’re going to do an eight

mile run and then a 5K, and then amazingly that’s when

people really can get huge confidence.

They won’t run a PR but they’ll be surprised at how close

they can get to it, or near, or they’ll compete well in

their age division even though the circumstances were less

than ideal.

So if it’s a matter of, I think lots of times those races

that are in the training block. It’s just managing the

expectation level in advance, so that then, finishing or

reaching a training objective. If that’s a measure of

success, then those races are they only build.

But if it’s measured against the best performance of your

life every single time, then in the middle of a training

cycle, unless you’re really going to sacrifice training for

that week to allow your body to adjust and absorb the

training, I guess, and be healthy and ready and fit, you’re

going to tow the line tired, so it’s now a matter of, okay,

I’m in the middle of this marathon training block. I

understand that I’m not my best. How close to my best can I

be?

And even though, what I will say to athletes when they have

that tinge of disappointment afterwards, it’s a quick

reminder. When was the last time you ran that in training?

If you’d done a workout, could you have ran that? So it’s

almost constantly no, don’t just tie on your shoes, step

out the door and go run a 5K, oh wow, and compete, and

[dig] and putting the bib number on your chest and really

participating in that event just draws more out of you,

more adrenaline, and there’s the crowd and all the extra

factors.

When you just take it in the context of, could you have

done that training on your own on a track in the middle of

the afternoon in the middle of the week, the answer is

almost always no. And in that context and with those

objectives in mind, it’s certainly a success. The risk is

low, because there is a possibility that you do put in a

PR, it really is. Depending on the person and how our

training has progressed, but I think that’s an unfair

standard to measure yourself by when you’re-, even though a

long run may be good overall physiologically, it’s not

specific.

Like we talked about, you’re not preparing, the training is

not specific, and the specificity is key. [inaudible

36:24]. Anyone who’s taken an introductory physical

education class at any school in the country will learn the

SAID Principle, specific adaptations to impose domains.

Your body, whatever you do, your body will specifically

adapt to it. So if you’re not doing 5K training, your body

won’t be specifically prepared to race a 5K.

If you’re doing marathon training, you may be overall fit,

and that’s what my college coach would say to me, fit is

fit. And that is true, but it doesn’t always translate,

especially when you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum.

So as a coach, and for anyone listening, my biggest

frustration is someone who picks races on the opposite ends

of the spectrum and expects to run PRs within a week or two

of each other, because physiologically, success isn’t by

definition mutually exclusive, but preparedness probably

is. Can be equally prepared for a marathon and a road mile,

or a half marathon and even a 5K.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: A 10K and a half marathon, maybe. A half-marathon,

marathon. Yeah. A mile and 5K, maybe, yeah. Because they’re

from the same end of the spectrum, the duration. Like a

race that’s over two hours long and a race that’s under six

minutes long don’t have a lot of physiological [inaudible

37:45]. They’re both primarily aerobic, but the velocity’s

so different, the speed. What you’re going to have to do to

prepare is not the same.

Jeff Gaudette: I think those are great points and I think for a lot of

people, they just don’t understand that or realize how

different it is to be training. For them, running is

running, and so to understand that there’s a different set

of metabolic principles that are going in to running a good

5K compared to a good marathon, for a lot of people running

is running so that’s hard to understand.

So I think the two point that you brought up, setting

expectations and also using the tune-up races as workouts,

whether they be doing a half-marathon to just work on

pacing and having a specific goal to either negative split

or to run marathon-pace to practice., for example if you’re

training for a marathon.

Or what you brought up is something that I like to do a lot

for people who race, especially if it’s not like an

important race is to say, we’re going to do an eight mile

warm-up and then you’re going to race the 5K, and try to

put those as close together as you can, and people run

really well off that. Not only does it build their

confidence but it didn’t distract from the training. I

think that’s the hardest thing sometimes, if you have a

bunch of 5Ks and 10Ks scheduled during a marathon training

segment, then you look at the training cycle and you say,

where do we put the long runs? Because every second weekend

you want to do a race, you need to recover from the race,

you need to recover from the long run, where do they fit?

So I think those are some great points that you kind of put

together.

Blake Boldon: Exactly, and even I’ll take it a step further too, with

the eight mile warm-up and then a 5K, I’ve done that with a

half-marathon. A six mile warm-up, a seven mile warm-up,

and have them build in. Okay, the first five miles are

easy, the next five are at marathon pace and the next three

are racing, race the last 5K. You can cool down a mile and

if you do a six mile warm-up, there’s a 20 mile run, pretty

easily, and that fits in with the marathon training block,

and it still allows people the opportunity to run the races

that they’ve run for the past five years. But then it’s a

measure, it’s a matter of just tweaking those goals, so

that at the end of that workout you finish that half-

marathon, it’s not as fast as you did the year before, they

will understand why. They’re different objectives.

Jeff Gaudette: That’s awesome. So here’s a question that I’m going to

throw out there for you that I didn’t really prepare you

for, but so, looking back at your own training as an elite,

even in college, what do you feel was the biggest mistake

that you made? If you could change something or tell your

18 year old self something in terms of training, what would

it be?

Blake Boldon: If I could tell my own college-age self, that’s different.

I was a different person then. That kid didn’t have much

sense. I may not have a whole lot now, but that was bad. I

would tell myself just to take care of my body better.

Going out on a Friday or Saturday night, and I’m not

talking about the movies, but going out with friends to be

out late, have a drink or go dancing and that stuff. When

you’re young, you can get away with that, but even then

that’s what took away from what I was doing as an athlete.

Actually it was a big part of my breakthrough, as I got

older I just took it out of my life, the late nights and

the drink, partying. Maybe not entirely, but at least while

I was training, it would be months between late nights,

literally months. I saw a huge response to that. My body

sleeping and [inaudible 41:30]. So probably in retrospect

I’d give myself that advice, I probably could have had

bigger breakthroughs and really made a quicker jump if I’d

taken better care of myself.

Then really, I think toward the end of my career, if I were

to look and talk to myself as a 28 or 26 year old or

whatever it was, is knowing what I know now about the

injury that, it wasn’t a career-ending injury but it was an

injury that made me stop running. I think it’s something I

could have rehabbed pretty quickly. It was a groin injury

where I had a hernia repair and an adductor release done.

I was just flipping through my logs this spring, and I was

just reading and thinking, why in the world did I do these

things? It was when you and I were training together or at

least I was staying at your house, and you were coaching

and I was training. It’s like, I mean I’m looking and it’s

December or January and I’m writing in my book, I know I

need surgery. I’m writing this and knowing, and the next

ten weeks were all over 108 miles, 105 miles might have

been my lowest mileage week over those next ten, including

like massive big workouts.

Each of them it’s like by the time I finish, I can hardly

cool down because that injury that needed surgery was so

bad. So obviously it’s a matter where if I’d really

addressed that beforehand, instead of suffering for five

months, maybe I would have actually enjoyed running and

stayed in it indefinitely, whether it’s at the elite level

or not.

That time for me personally was really draining and made it

so I didn’t enjoy going out the door for an easy run,

because that’s what I did every day and it was so painful,

and I did it three times a day. I was in need of surgery

before I even went into that block of training, so in

retrospect, that’s a big mistake.

If I’d done something to address that and really fix it

from the beginning and rehab it, then get, be hungry and

develop that training routine healthfully, who knows where

it would take me? Because you have a sense of it, you know

what I did down at Reedy River Run. I went to the US indoor

championships and I was sixth on the 3K in a good field,

beat a former NCA champion, beat some other really good

guys, and then 12 800s, two minutes rest on Tuesday. Maybe

Wednesday I’d have to look back, and then Saturday I ran

30:11 down in Greenville, South Carolina on a tough course,

the wind, in the 12 800s, that workout about killed me.

I remember that’s the last race I ever run was that Speedy

River Run 10K, I remember putting my shorts on that

morning, I pulled them over my legs and it was painful to

put shorts on, to lift my legs to step into them, I was

that sore and tired. I had to walk the first half mile of

my shakeout run that morning because it was so painful and

I was so tired. What in the hell was I doing? Because it

didn’t lead to anything.

All it led to was draining my passion for the one thing I’d

known and loved my whole life. As a kid, I didn’t take it

seriously enough and then by the time I was toward the end

of my running career, I probably took it too seriously and

was never really was focused. That mantra that I’d already

learned, I learned years before from Corey Ihmels. I was

50% healthy, training for more fitness and more fitness and

more fitness. That idiot never really listened.

Jeff Gaudette: I feel you. For people who don’t know my story, it was

kind of similar in terms of how my running career ended.

Same thing. I mean running the Penn Relays, running the 5K,

and the next day I had a six or eight mile shakeout run,

and I literally had to limp. I couldn’t put any weight on

my foot, my plantar fascia was about to be torn. I remember

running down the [Schoolcal] River bike path or whatever

and I couldn’t put any weight on one of my legs, but I

“ran” four miles, and I think about, why would I.

Looking back on it now, why would I do something like that?

Then later that summer I got a cortisone shot and then

tried to ride the race I think four or five days later and

then that was the last race I really ever ran, because it

tore my plantar fascia. I know what you mean. It kind of

took the fun out of running, because every day I was

running and it hurt a lot to run.

And I always tell people that when I coach them, let’s just

get this taken care of, because yeah, it’s not fun to take

X amount of weeks or months off to fix something, but it’s

much better to fix it and get rid of it than to run and not

train healthy for a long period of time, because I’ve never

met a runner who’s done it that way and said I’m going to

train through this for whatever reason..

I’ve never met a runner where it’s worked out and they’ve

come back and said that was the right way to do things and

I’m glad I did it that way. It always comes back as, I

should have just got this taken care of right away, and

that’s always a tough thing to look back on.

Blake Boldon: Yeah. It almost makes it so you never want to, it takes

the joy out of it. I don’t think there’s a single running

injury, whether plantar fascia, Achilles tendonitis, a

stress fracture, a groin injury, whatever it might be, a

back injury, those are probably the most common – running

cannot possibly make it better. That’s the basic premise,

that no-one’s willing to take the time off because we’re

more worried about what we’re missing, that obsession of

counting the miles to make sure we’re doing it right.

I know you probably remember this, the time we were in

[northern] Charlotte, we went to the trails, I was with

Mike and the rest of the Queens guys, we went for a run and

I was going to do some strides on that baseball field. It’s

[McCalpine] but across the way, but-

Jeff Gaudette: Yeah.

Blake Boldon: You know what I’m talking about?

Jeff Gaudette: Yeah.

Blake Boldon: And you started making fun of me for how I was doing

strides, like what’s wrong with you? You were like “can you

run?” You look like an old man. Physically I was in that

much pain [inaudible 47:59] hard after an eight mile run or

a ten mile run like I couldn’t do it. So in my recovery

days I’d have to stop and walk midway because the pain was

so much. It was miserable.

Jeff Gaudette: So let’s end this interview on a good note or a funny

note. Well, maybe not funny, but I think someone might be

interested in is, living the life of an elite athlete, and

I know you won’t take offense to this, a fringe elite

athlete. You and I were both ran at the level where we

weren’t sponsored by Nike or in the sense of getting a

$50,000 a year contract. Talk about kind of some of the fun

things that you did in terms of where you lived, what you

were doing.

I know for example, I know Blake came and basically lived

on my couch for a couple of weeks while he was training

really hard and was living in Colorado at the same time,

kind of going through some things. So kind of talk about

the lifestyle of that. For me, it’s one of those things I

would never want to do again because I’m older now, but I

look back and think that was kind of fun to do when I was

in my early to mid-twenties.

Blake Boldon: Yeah, for me that was kind of the end of my twenties. But

I’d some good times where like I was working hard, in

school, or working in decent jobs or coaching collegiately,

doing some stuff, and I was still seeing progress, you

know, running 3:28 for 8K and 3:59 for the mile in the span

of a week, and 7:57 for fourth in the US Indoors. Some

really good performances that were leading somewhere, and

finally like the light bulb’s going off, this is working.

I signed a small contract for Saucony but then I had a full-

time job coaching at Iowa State. Cory was really good to

me, let me balance things pretty well, but I just worked a

lot. I ended up missing the Olympic trials. It was a

devastating frustration because I’d run at every US

championship going forward, indoors and outdoors. I’d

qualified for three years since ’04 basically, since ’05.

So just boom, boom, boom, things going so well so

consistently and then miss the trials, so then I quit the

job and moved to Colorado, and basically didn’t have any

prospects of a job, no plans, but just I’d saved some money

while I was at Iowa State.

Jeff Gaudette: So basically you just said, I’m going to give it all to

see what I can do.

Blake Boldon: Yeah, exactly. I moved to Colorado and just put all my

chips on the table, said I’m going to do this, and if it

works, great, because I think it could be really good. I

thought about wanting it, even that time, like 2006, I kind

of hit the ceiling like ’03 and ’04, ’03 was my first US

Championship. Between that time and 2009, the US changed.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: 3:42 for a 1500 was a top 25 kind of mark. If you ran

13:45 for a 5K, you’d be a top 10 to top 20 guy at least

[C] time at championship. Now it’s just, to be a top 10

kind of person, you have to be 13:15, it’s just a different

world.

Jeff Gaudette: It is.

Blake Boldon: So I decided, I’m going to put it all in, I still think to

this day I could have probably run 13:30, how much faster

than that I don’t know. But when I was in Colorado, I

didn’t have all the money, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t

have much money at all. So as it develops that there ended

up being three of us living in a two bedroom apartment, me

in one room and another guy in another room and then one

guy just living in the living room.

By that point, I think we might have had some furniture,

but when I first moved in the only furniture I had in the

whole apartment were some folding lawn chairs that I’d got

for free somewhere online. And then I could move across the

country pretty easily because I just had my lawn chairs and

then some cardboard boxes in which had been some books that

I brought with my when I moved. So then [inaudible 52:18]

my books onto some crates or onto the floor and used empty

boxes with a blanket over them as a table, and put the

computer on the boxes, eat, and use my computer, and run

three times a day. That was normal to me.

Then sleep on an air mattress, I didn’t buy a bed, I

couldn’t afford a bet. I was just getting by and basically

I was reading two or three books a week and just training.

No TV, nothing aside from Internet to connect with anyone

aside from when I went running and that was when I would

come, after I got settled and had been there two or three

months, that’s when I started flying down to Charlotte. So

I was balancing time between sleeping on your couch and

sleeping on my air mattress, and training.

Like I said, but that was also when I knew I needed

surgery, so I decided to go all in. I didn’t have health

insurance, and I was kind of like living hand to mouth by

running. And then also during that time Saucony did me the

favor of discontinuing my contract so it was [inaudible

53:22].

And yeah, so it was a tough time financially but it was one

of those times that now, when I talk with college kids, I’d

probably have been better suited if I’d have done something

like that [inaudible 53:35]. I think it’s more normal for

people to do that at 22, 23. But having worked full time

and kind of started a professional career, I stepped away

from that because I wanted to see how far I could take it.

I didn’t want to end thinking that I didn’t maximize, or I

didn’t know how far I could go.

I found out [inaudible 53:59] pretty good, I know I’m not

that great to be honest. Just good, I was good enough to be

in the races with the big guys and if they overlooked the

race or if they trained through, I could beat them. But it

would have to be a good day for me, just to be in the mix

with the top, the Olympic level guys.

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: But I wouldn’t trade it. So now when I say I guess this is

the advice I have for young people, but I guess for anybody

of all ages if they haven’t done it, to take some time away

from-. I think in our society we only define ourselves by

our profession. You meet someone, oh, I’m a lawyer, oh,

hello I’m a doctor, or I’m in sales. That’s who you become,

but that’s just what you do, that’s not really who you are.

So running, I got to know myself because there wasn’t the

distraction of the profession, there wasn’t the distraction

of the TV, there wasn’t the distraction of enough money to

go eat at restaurants. I’m going to wake up today I’m going

to go run, and aside from that, I’m going to do what

interests me. I’m going to listen to the music I like, I’m

going to read the books I want, or I’m going to go for a

hike and spend time.

It’s very simple living but I feel like as a [product], I

feel like I got to know myself in a way I’d never have

otherwise been exposed to.

Jeff Gaudette: That’s cool, I’m glad you shared that story. Like I said,

it doesn’t really involve training wise or anything but I

think it’s interesting to hear about how elite athletes

live and how they go about making those sacrifices, and

doing those things, so I appreciate you sharing the story.

Blake Boldon: Yeah. It was good. I don’t know if I’d like to do it

again. Of course, it would be a lot better story if I’d

actually turned the corner and run, gone to the Olympics,

or been [inaudible 55:52]

Jeff Gaudette: Right.

Blake Boldon: Really by that point in my career, I don’t know. Like you

said, I could have made a jump, but not something that

would have been tremendous. Genetically, I just don’t know

if I have that talent to run 13:10. I just don’t think

that’s in my body.

Jeff Gaudette: But I think there’s a good lesson there, for a lot of

people. Genetically, they may never qualify for Boston, or

they’re never going to be Olympic trials qualifiers,

they’re never going to be anything. But for you, from what

I’m hearing it was great for you to take that jump and to

try, because at least you know that you pushed your limits

and at least you know you gave it a shot.

For a lot of people I think that translates over. Yeah.

They may never have qualified for Boston, but at least they

gave it a shot and they did their best and they got

everything they could out of themselves. In running, that’s

probably the greatest part about the sport of running, and

I know you probably understand this is that it doesn’t

matter if you’re running four minutes, sub four minutes for

the mile, or if you’re running eight minutes for the mile.

When you set a new PR and you physically do something that

you never thought you could do before, it’s an amazing

experience and it’s the same thing across the spectrum, no

matter what your time reference is.

Blake Boldon: Right. And it doesn’t matter at the level you do it, but I

think there’s still value in the process. Not only like,

you’re extending your life expectancy and being healthy. I

mean that’s never why I did it but I feel like I learned a

lot just about myself. It’s 20 degrees outside and raining

[sideways] somehow. Weather that you didn’t even know could

exist, and [inaudible 57:28] 18 mile long run today.

My whole running career I only ran on a treadmill once and

that was just for a physiological tests. I did some black

tape threshold testing in Florida. If you do that, you

learn a little bit more about what you’re willing to do,

how you learn more about the human condition of suffering,

and there’s some value to that.

I think that’s the same for whether you’re like elite, or

if you’re just someone who wants to do something to be

proud of, just to have an accomplishment. You have your

kids, and you have your job, and you have your spouse. That

18 miles of misery may be the only time you get that leap

for yourself, so there’s some value to it no matter what.

Jeff Gaudette: Right. Very good points. So Blake, I want to thank you for

coming on the show and for sharing your wisdom and your

experiences. It’s been great and I really appreciate it. We

look forward to hearing more from you on the site and

getting to know all the athletes, and again, thanks for

coming on the show.

Blake Boldon: Yeah, Jeff. It’s been my pleasure, man. We should do it

more often.

Jeff Gaudette: All right, thanks.

Blake Boldon: All right buddy, I’ll talk to you soon.

Our Mission

If you were learning to play golf, would you want to learn from Tiger Woods or some guy who played in high school? Running isn’t any different from golf – you deserve to learn from the best.

And that’s our mission with these in-depth interviews:

We want to introduce you to the doers and thinkers in the running world, whose training concepts, depth of knowledge, and stories are so powerful that just hearing them will change the way you approach your running and training.

We want to give you an alternative to the “know-it-all gurus” and marketing hype. Heck, no single person knows it all. The best way to grow is to learn from a mix of smart, energetic and talented people who are willing to share their expertise and experiences.

If you have ideas on how we can make these interviews better or you want to see a specific guest appear on our show, please shoot us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Like What You've Read?

If so, join our newsletter and get access to our FREE Marathon Training eBook , which is a step-by-step guide to help you achieve a new PR at your next race and where we reveal the secrets of marathon training and nutrition, including:
  • 140 pages broken into 4 specific sections with specific marathon workouts, guidance on marathon nutrition, and how to master the taper.
  • Training tips, anecdotes, and lessons learned directly from the world's top marathon runners.
  • A detailed 16-week marathon training schedule so you can see the plan in action
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