How to run a marathon PB, even when you fly 200,000km, in 45 flights, in economy!

As some of you may know, almost two weeks ago, someone I have coached for 5 months, Scott (aka Dr. Scott), ran a personal best time of 3 hours 41 minutes in the Gold Coast Marathon.  It was his 7th marathon and 4th attempt to PB at the distance after an outstanding first marathon effort back in October 2010.  To say I am stoked is a MASSIVE understatement!

Now, running one marathon is impressive.  Running seven marathons is really impressive.  Running your fastest of all seven, by 73 seconds is super impressive, but none of this comes even close to the real story here….
During the 5 months that Scott and I have been working together on this marathon preparation, Scott has flown over 200,000 kilometers, on 45 separate flights to far flung places like China, Germany, Korea, Brazil, Netherlands, Portugal and more! 
That is more than 5 times around the world!  All in economy!  Whilst marathon training…Craziness!
It is definitely a challenge to coach and create a training plan for someone with that type of schedule.  Allowing for enough recovery and getting enough consistency with so many long haul flights can be tricky.  Really though, I got off lightly. I am not the one doing the running.  I don’t have to get up, still groggy from jet lag and run 20km around the unknown cobbled streets of Lisbon, Rio, Seoul or Amsterdam, before presenting at a conference to hundreds of people, then getting back on a plane that evening.  I had visions of Scott running up and down airport runways and through terminals in order to make sure that he got his run sessions done!
I really do admire Scott for what he has done and how he has gone about it in the face of all that travel.  He admits himself that “After 6 years and 4 serious attempts at beating my PB I was beginning to feel that maybe I wasn't ever going to do it.”  Even so, there was no complaining, when it would have been easy to do so. His attitude was awesome throughout, even when things got a little rocky with a dodgy calf muscle and the travel was ridiculous, he kept running and following our plan.  We adapted his training as we went and made sure that it fitted with his schedule.  I will freely admit to being a little worried at times, particularly with making sure that he had enough recovery, but Scott knew his body and put in place his own tactics to help.  Compression socks on flights, finding water fountains on runs, finding other running groups to train with, the list goes on.  Impressive discipline.
The second fascinating story is told in the graph below.  This is Scott’s entire marathon history in one graph.  7 marathons, all the times and average paces over that 42.2km distance.

I only saw this graph 3 days ago and it tells such a story.  In Scott’s words, “it tells a pretty sorry story and I now think I should have drawn this graph a few years ago. It's very clear that I repeatedly went out too fast and then faded.”   The majority of these lines are classic examples of ‘hitting the wall’ on a grand and repeated scale.
The RED line however, is the Gold Coast Marathon PB two weeks ago.  Look at the difference!!  It is practically straight!  No fading, no wall hitting, no over excited race starts here.  I will let Scott take you through the race day behind the red line, in his own words....
On a perfect day under bright blue skies I finally managed to achieve my goal and finished my run in 3 hours 41 minutes and 53 seconds, a PB by 73 seconds. I was obviously very happy and managed a bit of a fist pump as I ran across the finish line. I could hear my wife as well as Chris and my other friends cheering me on from the stands and everyone involved was very happy for me. I ran the race as well as I could have hoped. I set out with a goal pace of 5.12-5.15 per kilometre and I managed to stick very close to that throughout most of the run. During the run I stayed within sight of the 3 hour 40 minute pace runner and at one point, around 18 kilometres, I actually got within a few metres of that group. Despite the temptation, I eased off a bit and let them keep a little ahead of me. Kilometres 35-38 were pretty hard and I did start to have a few negative thoughts about fading again. However, at 37 kilometres I saw I was only a minute behind the 3.40 pace group and my constant calculations in my head told me that with 5km to go I could average 5.40 per kilometre and still come in with a PB. For those final 4 kilometres I slipped into autopilot and just focused on the 5.25-5.30 pace that I'd relentlessly stuck at in my training runs. With a kilometre to go I knew I'd done it and I did manage to speed up a little, running my last kilometre at 5.07.”

What are the lessons from all of this?  Should we all look to travel relentlessly in order to achieve our next personal best time?  Probably not…

Here’s my FIVE key points on how Scott managed to fly 200,000km, in 45 flights, in economy and STILL run a marathon personal best.

  1. Scott managed to train consistently, even with all of that travelling.  This took a bit of adaptation as we went, but amazing things happen when you are accountable, keep in touch and are able to string together a couple of months of solid training. 
  2. Scott trusted the overall process that we created together and stuck at it, even when he wasn’t necessarily hitting all of the targets in training.  This required discipline and trust.
  3. Scott had what he describes as “crowd-sourced motivation” all over the world.  This kept him motivated and gave him people at parkruns around Australia and awesome groups such as Seoul Flyers to run with.
  4. Scott adapted and learned to run slower in order to run faster.  The 5:20- 5:30min/km pace that we drilled into him in training is nowhere near as fast as he can run, but it ended up being the default pace for the tough sections of the marathon, which his brain and legs were so used to, that it felt natural.
  5. Our ‘fast finishes’ training sessions paid off.  We regularly put in strong, fast finishes to his long training runs, when his legs were tired, to combat the previous pattern of fading late in the race. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey with Scott and to get a PB at the end of it is a great achievement.  If you want to hear the whole story in Scott’s own words, go to his tumblr page and have a read!  It’s well worth it!
P.s  I want to help as many runners as possible have this type of experience. IT FEELS AMAZING!!  If you or a friend are thinking about running a particular event or just want to improve your running, just email me and we can have a chat about how best to help you train consistently, gain accountability and feel awesome whilst doing it!