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.

If so, please join over 2,500 runners who receive exclusive running tips, and get a FREE COPY of my Marathon Training eBook! Just enter your name and email
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