Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


3 World Class Runners and Coaches Share Their 6 Secrets to Success

Getting fit and fast is what most runners aim for and one thing that can really help is gleaning advice from those who are fitter and faster.

If your goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon, why not discuss what training and lifestyle choices it takes with someone who has already qualified?

Surrounding yourself with those who have reached the level you hope to accomplish can be both motivating and intimidating, but asking questions and taking the advice to heart can make a huge difference in your training.

Below is advice from three people who have accomplished what many runners can aspire to.

Learning from a 2:32 Marathon Woman, a national class Steeplechaser and a 7 x World Championships Coach


petePete Rea

Head coach of ZAP Fitness, a training group for professional runners.

Accomplishments: Has sent 7 athletes to World Championship events, several to the Olympic Trials and falls back on his career as an elite athlete as he defines his coaching philosophy.


PezzStephanie Pezzullo

Professional athlete for ZAP Fitness, background as a professional soccer player.

Accomplishments: 2:32 Marathon Debut, 1:13 Half Marathon, 15:52 5k.


maryMary Ballinger

Professional athlete for ZAP Fitness.

Accomplishments: 4:20.7 (1,500), 9:51.33 (Steeplechase)


On Nutrition


pete Pete Rea: (Fueling during a marathon) “You never want to try anything new on race day. If you didn’t use fueling during training, don’t begin to use fuel on race day. Having said that, fuel and the ability to take in calories more easily with Gu and gel packs and what we’ve seen over the past 15-20 years, it is a tool that can aid in delaying the depletion of glycogen and also help in terms of recovery from your long runs and marathons. Dr. Michael Saunders out of James Madison University did some great research in the past decade on the idea of glycogen depletion and you’re looking at roughly 2,700-3,300 calories burned during a marathon for a typical 150-160lb person and your body stores 1,800-2,000 calories so you are going to deplete what you have available to you and putting some calories in during the race can and will benefit you if you do it the right way. Taking 150 calorie gel at the start rather than beginning fueling at 5 or 6 miles can help delay glycogen depletion. After that we typically go every 30-40 minutes, taking in 100-150 calories with water.”


PezzPezzulo: “I like to have smaller meals throughout the day to keep my energy levels steady, and I like to make sure I’m getting in calories immediately following a run. “


maryBallinger: “Making sure I’m eating enough and drinking enough before a race is important. I make sure I get in a solid dinner the night before the race. If I’m racing at 5pm I’ll have an enormous breakfast and then a snack, like a power bar, around like 300 calories a few hours before the race. And even though I’m nervous and sometimes don’t want to eat, I know that it is important to get those calories in.”

On Racing

pete Rea: (Boston Marathon specific) “Targeting a race like Boston, when you have a marathon that is downhill for the first several miles, you have to practice for that and expect your tempo for the first 16 to be a little faster than your overall pace. Simple hilly runs, and hill cycles, running the downhill hard as well as the uphill, will help get your legs ready for the first 16 of Boston.”


Pezz Pezzulo: “It’s important to have a base (of mileage) no matter what distance you are racing from the steeplechase to the marathon. There are a lot of mental similarities from the two drastically different distances I’ve specialized in. It is a mental barrier to get over the hurdles of a Steeplechase and a mental barrier to get through the miles of the marathon.”


maryBallinger: “I try not to overthink the race the day before. I don’t want to just sit still in a hotel room. I like to walk around otherwise I feel like a caged animal. I start warming up about 50-55 minutes before the race starts and for my event, I do several drills to prepare for the race. For my warm up run I generally do about 18-20 minutes starting very, very slowly and for the last 3 minutes I push it into a sort of tempo pace to wake up my legs. After doing a few long strides before the start, I am ready to go.”

On Challenges


pete Rea: Getting athletes to think long term is difficult in a society that presses instant gratification. Distance running is simply not that kind of sport. Being patient and having long term goals leads to long term success. Also, I would rather have an athlete that sets lofty goals and lands one peg below than an athlete that aims for the middle and is happy succeeding all the time.


PezzPezzulo: “I had two great years at ZAP, and had qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials, but in my second race, I had a pretty traumatic accident where I landed in the water pit (the steeplechase event features 5 hurdles per lap and a water jump) and broke my ankle and had to have a major surgery. It took a while to learn to walk again and a very long time to learn to run again and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to run competitively again. It was a two and a half year battle trying to get back to the sport. I did some cycling and pool running to try and keep up my fitness, but only time heals and I’m so glad I stuck with it.”


maryBallinger: “Growing up in the Midwest can be really challenging in terms of weather. Buying YaxTrax to help with ice, as well as avoiding busy roads is necessary for the winter. For me, -5 degrees F is the point where I leave the outdoors and get on the treadmill. In the summer time, when it is n the 90s and very humid, always run in a shaded area and run in the early morning or evening. Evening is my prime time, I run at 8:30 or 9:00 in the summer. And always make sure you have water with you all day.”

On Improvement


pete Rea: “I’m a big believer in the idea of ‘running age’. From the time you start training somewhat seriously, generally you have about ten to fourteen years to see your best running, whether you start running at 30 or whether you start at 50. The athletes who are really hitting it hard when they are a freshman in high school see their best running when they are 24, 25, 26.”


PezzPezzulo: “As a soccer player (outside midfielder), I was running 6-7 miles each game on grass, and soccer players put in a lot of anaerobic work, and from there I was able to make a successful transition into running. Using other types of exercise besides running can push you to be a better runner. “


maryBallinger: “I never pushed my mileage through college. I was at about 35-40mpw my freshman year and my senior year was not much more, about 50-60mpw and playing it on the safe side and being cautious as well as making sure I was never over-trained, led to improvement. “

On Becoming a Marathoner


pete Rea: “Make sure you are not just racing marathons. To become a better marathoner, you’ve got to work on economy and power and races like 3k and 5k which seem somewhat foreign to road runners. Have sequences where you run shorter races too.


PezzPezzulo: “I started to try some longer distances and really loved it. I love the shorter distances and the track, but I started to really love road racing as well. It’s really useful to have racing experience as the shorter races as you attempt to target your first marathon.”

On The Secret to Successful Training


pete Rea: “It’s an old cliché… but the secret is ‘there is no secret’. It’s easy to package articles and say, ‘The 8 Best Ways to Your Best 10k’ or ‘The 10 Secrets to the Marathon’, but really there’s no 8 or 10, it’s really hundreds, it’s consistency, not just day-in, day-out, but week, month and year-in, year-out consistency and planned rest. That is ultimately the ‘secret’”.


PezzPezzulo: “Don’t expect too much too soon, just make sure you aren’t building up mileage too quickly and don’t be afraid to take a step back if you are tired or sore. Because running is so demanding on your body you have to have easy days in between the hard days.”


maryBallinger: “Professional runners still get nervous for workouts. Everyone does. I struggle with the longer runs, but it is something I’m working on. I love the short workouts on the track, but I know that the longer 6-8 mile tempo runs are really important too.”

On Mistakes that are made in Training


pete Rea: The most common mistake is athletes not giving themselves enough rest after hard days. Taking easy days easier is the biggest mistake that athletes make and frankly, ramping up into hard intense training after a break especially if you’ve had an injury and are slowly coming back. I always encourage athletes to take an extra few weeks of controlled running before introducing intensity.”


PezzPezzulo: “As a coach, it can be difficult to stay in communication with athletes because of my lifestyle as a runner and the fact that I travel a lot. Communication with the coach is really important when I can’t be around to see the workouts or races. “


maryBallinger: “In the past few months I’ve had issues with an overuse injury. Continuing to run on something that is tight somewhere in the kinetic chain can lead to an injury.”

On Taking Care of Your Body


pete Rea: “One thing we’ve learned as coaches and as a running community is that things like non-running exercise legitimately can make you a better runner. Nothing replaces running like running, but things like pool running and stationary bike and elliptical machines can help to supplement mileage. You can still increase your capillary bed production through non-running exercise. Additionally, in terms of supplementation, we like athletes to have their Ferratin levels at a minimum of the 40-50’s and higher and hemoglobin at about 14.5 or higher.”


PezzPezzulo: “One year after a successful marathon, I was building up for my second one and I started to feel not like myself, but I thought that it was the heat and humidity of Charlotte, but it turns out that I had a Ferratin level of 7 about 5 weeks before the marathon. I went on supplements to try and make up some ground but it was a far tougher marathon than my first and I sacrificed my body to finish. Iron is really important both in food and supplements.”


maryBallinger: “Making sure you come prepared, even for your travel to a race, is really important. Make sure you stay hydrated on the plane. When I get to the hotel, even if it is 9:00pm, I still make sure I get in a shake out run to get the blood flowing through my legs after sitting for a long time.”


A special thanks to the athletes and coaches at Zap Fitness for sharing their wisdom and experience. For those that may not be aware, ZAP Fitness was founded 2001 as a non-profit training center for post-collegiate, Olympic hopeful distance runners. They also host adult running camps and vacations. If you’ve ever wanted to truly immerse yourself and fall in love with running, I can’t recommend their camps enough. Here is a list of their 2014 schedule

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