The Marathon - Choices

©Great Strides 2006 Shelly Glover




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Choices - by Shelly Glover ©2007

Prologue: Gotta Break Four Hours

Breaking barriers is about making choices. Ultimately, the pick of training pace and distance have less impact on race time then our jobs, family and general life. Brunhilda's running is a classic example of the conflicts between ideal training schedules and real life.

Bruni wanted to break four hours in the New York City Marathon, towing along two kids, a work-at-home job, a tennis habit, commuting and all the baggage and bragging rights of a typical marathoner.

She was facing a lot of choices. The right choice is always a challenge. When making any choice, as my Dad says, “You have to have a plan.” So, we devised the “Gotta Break Four Hours Plan.”

Bruni and I worked one-on-one, via email and at NYRR Running Classes. Here’s our story. Her emails are bold-faced type – mine are in italic. Most of this story is true. I smoothed a few edges for flow and privacy. Thanks for sharing Bruni.

Our Story
Hi Shelly,
Thanks for the schedule. I’m very excited about it. It looks great. I should be able to run one more race before I leave for Montauk. I’ve been unable to make it to class. Between the Ice Hockey Playoffs and Baseball my Tuesday and Thursday running classes came to a halt.

I have been able to run. This week if I run tomorrow I will have run 24 miles. My longest run being 6 miles twice and the other runs 4 miles each. I’m feeling better since I’m not playing as much tennis and my running is improving. I took myself all the way to The City and got two new pair of sneakers. I'm so excited. Warm regards, Bruni

Hey, Bruni,
Leave a little time for yourself! That family of yours really keeps you hopping. I’ll give you some speed sessions to work at on your own.

Maybe the kids can pay you back for all those Mom duties by riding along on their bikes when you run long runs. They could, you know, carry a water bottle or something.

Glad to hear you’ve cut back on the tennis. Although it helps your running, six hours a week on the court is a whole lot of time. I’d rather see you running more. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.– Coach Shelly

p.s. remember to change those shoes every 300-500 miles and it’s a good idea to have two pairs going in case something happens to one of them.

The Barriers

Here were our first two big barriers to a sub-four hour marathon: tennis and family.

Tennis helps Bruni’s speed, but it isn’t exactly running. Just like a good runner doesn’t automatically make a good tennis player, a really fit tennis player doesn’t always make for a great marathoner.

The second issue—family – s a priority call. I don't coach runners on family life, unless I think things are getting obsessive on the running end. But hey, that's a judgment call. Bruni is a former nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital's Intensive Care Unit. She knows all about triage and priorities.

Her family is important. Losing her father as a youngster, Bruni is careful of running and family balance. Caring runs in the genes. Her Uncle John, a Sloan-Kettering volunteer, traveled from his 106 Street and Broadway home in Manhattan to watch her two young sons in New Jersey, while Bruni tackled long runs.

Breaking four hours is an entirely manageable goal, depending on what else one has going on in life. For sure, Bruni had other commitments, but her advantages included the all-important family support and a year lead-time to train.

Compound her gumption with a New Year’s resolution or two and marathon ambitions are in hyper drive– then it starts to snow. Bruni lives in the New Jersey outback and quickly got the drift of what competitive winter training is about.

Hi Shelly:
Were they able to have the race today? I tried calling the New York Road Runners Club but could not get through. We did not get plowed until late. I have a treadmill and don’t like it at all. However I did go on it today and ran seven miles in one hour and one minute. I like the fact that I'm running at a consistent pace.

I ran a total of 21 miles for the week. I also played tennis on Tues. for one hour and on Thurs. for one hour. I took the boys sleigh riding today (walked up this very steep hill about four times) and shoveled snow for two hours. I think that is why I couldn't put in more mileage this week. I'm a little tired. Talk to you soon. Hope you’re well. Bruni

Hey Bruni!
Tired! Yeah, I would be tired too with that avalanche of winter workouts.

But it’s not only the snow that sets marathon preparation drifting. Ski season precipitates a steep fall in available running time. While some runners rationalize it as cross-training, down-hill skiing has little fitness value for marathoners. To further frost training, runners often get hurt skiing. Torn knee ligaments, soreness, bumps and bruises from the down hill thrills can stall your training in a snow bank.

Hi Shelly:
I hope you are well. I'm still recuperating from that ski vacation. My shins (the backs of them) are still sore from the snow boarding. I really feel it when I’m running and after. I'm icing them. Last week was not great. I was so sore.

I ran Tuesday (speed workout) and then on Wed. 4 miles. I then played tennis on Thursday and Friday and took the weekend off. This week I’m looking to get back. I ran four miles today and plan to attend running class tomorrow. Thanks for all. Bruni

“Snow boarding”?! That’s not on the training schedule! You are 46– years old. Get off the snow board! Geezzz – the last client that did that broke his leg. Break four hours, not your leg! – Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours. Coach Shelly


Cross Training

Generally cross training is equal minute for minute to running of the same effort level. So a hard game of tennis for 45 minutes would be about 45 minutes of hard running. For Bruni that’s maybe 8-minute pace or about 5 1/2 miles. On the other hand 45 minutes of easy lobbing the ball around would be about her easy run effort or 10 minutes per mile for 4.5 miles. Get it?

List cross-training in your training diary as running equivalents or R.E. for RE 5 miles.

Be A Runner First, then...

If you’ve raced 5– 10k distances, a year is plenty of time to prepare for a quality marathon. In November anyone can get fired up after watching the New York City Marathon. An event of this magnitude spawns an equal magnitude of good intentions to train for next year’s run.


The seasons moved along to summer and Bruni switched to early morning runs before work, meals, chauffeuring and childcare swamped her day. Oh yeah, tennis was still eating a big hole in her free time too. But I digress.

Running alone can get boring and slow. Bruni used the heart rate monitor to stay on pace. If she slowed down, it beeped her back into the zone.

The monitor comes in handy on trips where measured courses are hard to find. While visiting Florence, Italy she was due for a 20-miler. Now, wherever you go, they have 20 miles, it’s just a matter of measuring it. Got roads? Got running shoes? Get running. Check Run The Planet for international running routes.

Bruni knew her 18– 20 milers should take about 3:00 -3:15 hours at 9:45 pace minutes. When traveling, she ran three hour runs and used the heart rate monitor to keep her pace even. Go Bruni. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.

Back in the U.S. the training was tough – not the 40– 50 miles per week part, but the solitude factor. She traipsed solo through the hills of Montauk during the summer moving back to New Jersey in the September. Occasionally she sojourned to Central Park for a half– marathon or group run.

Hi Shelly:

I ran the 18-mile race in Central Park today as a training run.

I was very lucky. I ran it with Diane and Barbara. They were also doing it as a training run and went real slow just for me. They were great! It helped me so much. I wore my heart monitor and did not get ahead of myself.

My heart rate was between 141 and 153. What do you think? I was afraid to go over the 150 for fear of not finishing. My time according to my chip was in the 2:56 range. I was happy with that. My feet are not well. Blisters are still a problem. I am going to see the podiatrist hopefully this week. Thanks, Bruni

 Regarding Long Runs

Bruni’s pace was about 9:42 pace for an 18 miler. Not bad. Most long runs for competitive in-shape runners should be about 1 minute per mile slower than what they want to run in the marathon. Folks that are going to run the marathon slower than the pace of their long runs should keep runs at conversational speed or 1.5 to 2 minutes slower than 10K race pace.

Bruni – I liked the sounds of your training. I like the sounds of having your Mom come out and cook family dinners on weekends too. Yeah, her rice and beans will really replenish your glycogen stores and get you ready to train next week. Go a little easy on the pork sausage.

Uncle John was a doll to watch your kids while you ran. Between God’s Love We Deliver and volunteering at Gay Men’s Health Crisis he’s a busy man. Since he’s already doing the AIDS walk, maybe we can turn him into a runner. :-) Keep to your training schedule best as you can. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.– Coach Shelly

After a long run it’s important to replenish your body. Bruni did it with Mom’s classic Puerto Rican rice and beans, but pancakes, potatoes and pasta will work fine too.

Come September, the kids went back to school. Bruni’s choices of when and where to train got easier. She picked up the training tempo, driving into Manhattan twice a week for running classes and speedwork.

Hi Shelly:
What a beautiful day. I ran for fun and did another loop of Central Park . Monday and Tuesday of last week I did not run. I ran on Wed-4; Thurs-class tempo: 4-mile run with 1/2mile warm-up and 1/2 mile cool down.; Fri-tennis; Sat-12 and Sun-5. Total for the week - 25-26 plus tennis.

This week we are leaving for Washington DC on Friday AM so I'm trying to figure out when I'll get my long run in. Probably on Thurs. and do speedwork tomorrow. See you then. Warm regards, Bruni

Dear Bruni– Kakuzo Okakiwa writes, “The art of life lies in constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Adjust and get that long run in. Check Cool Running for running links in Washington D.C.– Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours. Coach Shelly

But even the best-planned marathon training is a drain by October.

Hi Shelly:

Hope you are having a nice weekend. I ran 40 miles this week. I can’t believe it. I ran 5 on Monday and Wednesday, went to class on Tuesday and Thursday, did my long run on Friday morning (15 miles in two hours and thirty minutes), took off Saturday and ran 5 today. I'm feeling pretty good. I felt the groin pull the next day. ’m doing the ice.

My blister problems are so much less. This week is pretty tough too. I used Grete’s Great Gallop as part of my 20 miler. I'll be happy when I start to taper although I feel pretty good. See you on Tuesday. Warmly, Bruni

The Predictions

Bruni’s months of good training choices started paying off. The first reward was a 1:54 Staten Island Half Marathon. S.I. Half is traditionally the last hard race for many marathon hopefuls leading up to the NYCM. Some use it to predict marathon pace.

Here are two methods to determine marathon pace from a half marathon time.

The World Association of Veteran Athletes or the World Masters Association calculators are automated.

Bruni’s Staten Island Half Marathon start was a little crowded so we’ll say she ran a 1:53:00 which the WAVA tables predict a marathon time of 3:59:24. The prediction charts are available in the back of The Runner’s Training Diary by Bob and Shelly Glover.

The other standard predictor, doubles the half marathon time and adds 10 to 15 minutes. We add 10 minutes if the marathon course is similar to the relatively flat Staten Island Half Marathon such as Marine Corp Marathon or 15 minutes if the course is hillier as in New York City Marathon. Double the half marathon would be 3:46 add 15 minutes for the New York course giving Bruni a 4:01. It was gonna be a close race.

Dear Bruni –Hang in there! Training is almost done. “If there is no dull and determined effort, there will be no brilliant achievement. ” – Hsun-tzu. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours. – Coach Shelly


How Bruni handled the Taper – the last two to three weeks to the marathon ­could mean breaking or not breaking her four – hour barrier. The Gotta Break Four Hour Plan reduced weekly mileage by 30 percent one week then 60 percent the following week. It’s a great time for the runner to heal minor injuries, catch up on sleep and laundry. We both felt the rest would peak Bruni for her marathon and that she was really getting in shape.

There is one way to know for sure if you are fit, it’s Mom. When your Mom starts saying things like, “Aren’t you doing too much? You look thin. Do you think you are overdoing it?” Yes folks, this is usually a good sign and Bruni's Mom was no exception. As Bruni slimmed down to that Gotta Break Four Hours marathon body, her Mom started lacing the rice and beans with slabs of pork sausage to put weight back on her daughter. Uncle John didn’t really notice, he just chatted up a storm about how proud he was of Bruni’s running.

The Marathon

Big family gatherings with glorious food are the weekend happenings for her clan. The emphasis is food and family. In November the weekend gathering was on the New York City Marathon course—to watch Bruni. With the throngs of spectators, her brood, husband, kids, cousins—braved wind, rains and chills to watch the Marathon.

Meanwhile, Bruni was doing some battling of her own to get to them. The start in New York City Marathon - or any marathon - is rough. Even with the chip, crowds slow a runner’s progress considerably. The weather wasn't helping. But somehow, months of training and planning were coming together.

Bruni was on pace to break four hours running her first 10K in 54:29, an 8:45 pace – a 3:49 marathon pace—through the relatively flat Brooklyn. She was trying to build up a few minutes of buffer against the slower second half the marathon course with its turns and hills in Central Park.

At the half marathon she was still at her 10K pace of 8:45 turning in a 1:54 - just about the same time as her Staten Island Half Marathon. Could she cruise the rest of the marathon at the same pace?

She battled through Brooklyn and Queens rocketing toward Manhattan where her family waited with cameras, banners, cold hands and feet. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.

At 20 miles the hysterical crowds of First Avenue melted away and the long slow grind of an uphill was starting to wear on her. She slowed hitting 3:01 at 20 miles an average pace of 9:05 heading for a 3:58 marathon. But the last 6.9 miles had taken her 1:07 to cover or about 9:42 pace, a 4:16 marathon.

Mile 23 - The Choice

Bruni has what it takes to make a runner good. She has heart. You can’t coach that. You have it or you don’t. She rallied and picked up the pace. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.

She was making up for lost time. She caught site of her Uncle John and his partner waiting at 23 miles as she first entered Central Park. It’s a nasty hill that's been since axed from the course. Her hair caught drops of rain and sweat. Her family cheered and snapped pictures.

Suddenly, her 80–year old Uncle John stepped out on the course and reached for a hug. He pulled her close while the family snapped pictures. Precious seconds slid away, but Bruni smiled. What can you do? Push away your 80–year old uncle? After all Family is Family. Bruni smiled for the camera, hugged her uncle, while her mind sung away, Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.

“What are you doing?” she laughed. I’m not finished yet!”

As any marathoner knows, the only thing harder than keeping going, is starting again after you’ve stopped. With the flashbulb stars still popping in her eyes, Bruni tried to grind her tired legs back into the four-hour rhythm. But the muscles quivered, stalled and faltered. It was a half mile before the blood was pumping right again, and she fought to be back on pace. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.

She got to the 25–mile mark and heard the announcer at the finish line on the other side of the park– “ If you are within the sound of my voice you can break four hours.” She hammered. She struggled. The crowds roared for every runner as she turned onto Central Park South, “You can do it,”they called. “Go! Go ! Go!” She made the turn into Central Park – only a few minutes to go. “Go! Go! Go!” she thought. Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.

She pushed lead legs up the last hill of the park – 3:58 tick tick tick the clock tocked ( yes, a digital race clock does make a ticking sound as the numbers change –), Gotta break four hours. When she looked again just before the finish line, there is was – 4:02:00. Her chip time was 4:01:17.


Icing Injuries

Icing should begin immediately after an injury. Apply for 10 to 20 minutes –longer than this recommendation increases circulation in the area. The purpose of icing is slow circulation and swelling. The area should become red and numb, not white. Alternate 10 to 20 minutes on and off for the first 3 to 4 hours after an injury. Later, ice for 10 to 20 minutes, three times a day for up to a week. Ice after each run until there is no further pain or tenderness.

For large areas, try soaking a towel in ice water. and placing it on the injured area. As it warms, re-soak and reapply. Continue this process for 15 to 20 minutes. An ice towel is good for lower back and hamstrings.

A bag of frozen peas –is another option. It molds to the body allowing you to ice both sides of the shin, Achilles tendon, or the entire knee. Frozen peas don’t melt like ice, and stay cold longer than frozen gels.

Ice massage is recommended by Physical Therapist Ted Corbitt, a 1952 U.S. Olympic marathoner and former NYRRC president. He suggests freezing water in a paper cup for easy application; using a rubber glove or towel to protect hands while applying; and peeling back the paper cup and gently massaging the area on and around the injury for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep the ice moving to provide a massaging effect. Don’t allow the ice to touch bare skin for too long or you could give yourself frost nip. Oh geez– how embarrassing!

Try various types of ice packs:

  • Crushed ice between two towels
  • A plastic bag filled with ice
  • Reusable frozen commercial gel packs
  • Chemical bags that mix to produce cold.
  • Be careful not to apply chemical packs directly to the skin

  • Blisters

    Now about those blisters. The best way to avoid blister pain is not to get them. Try putting powder or petroleum jelly on your feet for protection. That’ll give your sock something to slide against besides your skin.

    The late great Murray Weisenfeld– foot doctor to the dancers, runners, movers and shakers – gave us four rules for avoiding blisters. In his book The Runner’s Repair Manual he wrote

  • Shoes that fit
  • Non-abrasive socks
  • Cushioned shoes
  • Rub out friction with lubricants

    Daughter and heir to the practice – Lori Weisenfeld – suggests if you get a painful blister that’s interfering with training –pop it. Boil your tools – razor blade or nail clipper – for at least 15 minutes and wash the blister with alcohol first. Make a small slit in the blister and milk the fluid out. The cut is usually painless as the blistered skin in not attached to nerves. Clean the cut with antiseptic and cover with gauze and fabric tape so the wound can breathe and drain. At night take the bandage off and let the air get to it. Of course you could just go to the podiatrist…

    Soreness (DOMS)

    Oh those first few long runs can be so exhilarating! Moving, sweating, a huff here, a puff there and at last you are finished with the workout and basking in the athlete’s afterglow! Oh, but there's a price to pay! It’s soreness!

    Sore thighs and lower legs are especially common. This discomfort doesn't necessarily mean you’re injured, but it can make running--even walking-- uncomfortable, slow you down, and may increase the risk of injury. DOMS often makes walking down stairs or sitting difficult.

    DOMS usually appears 2-24 hours after your workout and lasts from 4-10 days after a marathon. Peak discomfort is usually 48 hours after your run. Cut back mileage and pace while sore, allowing damaged muscles heal.

    Causes: Activity to which you are unaccustomed, improper warm up or cool down, inflexibility, improper recovery after hard runs, sudden increases in mileage, speed or hills.

    Treatment: Try light exercise to flush away waste products out of muscles. Walking or non weight-bearing activity such as swimming or biking help recovery. Don’t try to run if pain alters your form. Experiment with icing, massage, running on soft surfaces and stretching for relief. Warm baths or showers before workouts passively warm and loosen muscles.


    Intervals and formwork are an important weekly workout. Runners should get in 3-5 miles of fast paced-running with intervals generally ranging from 800 meters to 3,000 meters (about 2 miles). A common training flaw is that runners in marathon training do their interval workouts too fast and do not fully recover for their other workouts during the week. The pace of the intervals should usually fall between your current 10K and 5K race pace. Speed training should include form work on hills and some marathon paced work which especially benefits first-timers.

    Speed work improves the body’s economy of movement, ability to handle a fast pace, and boosts confidence. Join NYRRC Running Classes for organized marathon speed and form sessions.

    Races As Long Runs

    By adding a few miles before and a few miles after an event you can turn a half marathon into a long run. Remember , donor get caught up in the race excitement and run too fast. Stay at a nice steady pace you can maintain during the whole run. It sure is a pleasure having water stations and company. Remember to register for all races that you participate in whether you are running your hardest or just training through for the camaraderie.



  • Epilogue

    Bruni came to the running classes Tuesday after the marathon. She handed me a gift – even though we didn’t break four hours. “We’ll get that four next time,” I rallied her.

    She said softly, “I didn't break four hours because I had to stop and have my picture taken with my uncle.”

    “Oh,” I said, in as flat a voice as I could manage. In my head I was thinking “Geeezzz, we worked together so hard to get this. Why? Why? Why did you stop for a stupid picture? Take it later at one of those big family shindigs or something. Anytime but on the way to breaking four hours!”

    “Was it worth it?” I asked.

    She blinked, “He’s my uncle. He was 80. He died this week.”

    “Bruni, I'm sorry.” I said. In my head I rumbled "The race belongs to the runner.” and little voice countered, “Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.”

    A week later I got this email regarding that infamous picture-taking break.

    "I received photos from my Uncle John and they were worth every minute of my time. Warmly, Bruni"

    But THIS year we are on track – for 3:54. And Bruni’s family will be waiting at the finish line instead of on the course. And, maybe this year a certain Uncle up above will send us a blessed tail wind with his hug.

    Gotta break four hours. Gotta break four hours.


    Running Coach Shelly Glover is has a master's degree in exercise physiology from Columbia University. She co-authored The Runner's Handbook and The Competitive Runner’s Handbook is a veteran road runner and marathoner. She also coaches The Greater New York Racing Team is available for private coaching. Coaching Services


    Text © Shelly Glover Great Strides