Thursday, April 21, 2011

Marathon Tips From An Expert

My crazy-fast friend Tom Dansie ran the Salt Lake City Marathon five days ago and had an INCREDIBLE PR finishing time of 3 hours and 51 seconds. He was 16th place out of the entire marathon! I had lots of questions for Tom and he was generous enough to write some responses for me to post here. (Although I disagree with his harsh comments about my favorite beverage.)

In your opinion, what is the most critical part of successful marathon training?

For me, “fast finish” long runs (16 to 22 miles with the last five to six miles at marathon pace) are the most important part of training. I find these runs build my endurance and train my body to go fast when it is already fatigued. These runs also teach your body what race pace feels like so running that pace on race day will seem natural and automatic.

In addition to these fast finish long runs I also think tempo runs are very important. They help increase your speed over a moderately long distance.

While training for Salt Lake I did ZERO speed work at the track. So for me speed work was not so important. However, I know for other people speed work is very important. So I guess my best advice is to learn what type of workout benefits your body the most, then concentrate on those workouts. As long as you are also building your endurance with long runs you should be fine.

What recommendations would you give to someone looking to improve their marathon time?

Run faster.

Do lots of race pace running in training so your body gets “tuned” to your race pace.

To help stay on pace during the marathon I like to use a pace wrist band (see here Referring to the pace wrist band every mile will keep you from going out to fast at the start, and will motivate you to keep going fast at the finish.

What do you do to get through the last stretch of a marathon after exhaustion has set in?

I think, “What would Cory do?” This gives me the motivation to keep moving. Seriously.

I think of how I will be able to brag about my performance to my friends and family, and if I just keep pushing through the pain and exhaustion I will be able tell everybody I reached my goal.

I try to break up the last bits of the race into manageable pieces. For example, at mile 20 I think, “Just a 10K left to go. 10k’s are easy.” At mile 23 I think, “Alright, one last 5K. I can do a 5K in my sleep. No problem.”

I try to play fun games with the spectators like counting how many times I hear, “One more mile to go!” before I actually get to mile 25.2. (Note: In Salt Lake this was about 14 times.)

The key is to distract yourself enough so you don’t give into the pain in your legs, but not so much that you forget about your goal and get off pace.

What role does diet play in marathon training? (And can I keep drinking my occasional Diet Mountain Dew?)

I try to eat healthy, but I am not obsessive about it. Fortunately for me, I have the greatest wife in world who also happens to be a gourmet chef. She keeps me well fed with reasonably nutritious and incredibly delicious food.

Unfortunately for you, you cannot keep drinking Diet Mountain Dew, but not because of your marathon training. Stop drinking it now because, next to anti-freeze, there can’t be anything less appealing to drink (from both a visual and taste perspective).

What is going through your mind during those 26.2 miles? Explain the mental aspect of racing.

The mental side of racing is huge. It is important to have a positive mental outlook during training as well as during the race. One trick is to tell your friends and family early on in your training what your goal time is. You will be surprised at how much they will want to support you in achieving your goal during your training. It will also help motivate you during the race knowing that you will be accountable to everyone you told your goal time to. This will help you when you hit the wall during the race. You can say to yourself, “I can’t slow down now. Everyone is expecting me to run sub 4 hours and I don’t want to let them down.”

Another recommendation is to avoid mental barriers to going fast. For example, I might be tempted to say to myself at some point, “There is no way I can break X time. That is just way too fast for me.” I know I did that to myself with a sub 1:25 half marathon. I kept telling myself that I just couldn’t do 1:25. Because I had created a mental barrier it was difficult for me to break that time, regardless of what my training and fitness would have allowed me to run. Once I finally did break 1:25 last year my next two half marathons were also fairly easily under 1:25 because I knew I could hit that time. So prepare yourself mentally to reach whatever goals you set with positive thinking and visualization.

What were your thoughts and feelings as you crossed the finish line with a PR?

Unless you are from Kenya you have very little chance of actually winning a marathon. So the real competition is with yourself. This is the great thing about the sport of running and what makes it so different from other sports. Pushing yourself to the limit of your ability and improving your personal performance is what running is all about. Setting a new PR is a huge sense of accomplishment. It gives you a supreme sense of satisfaction to know that you just ran faster than you ever have before. I was not close to “winning” anything in Salt Lake, but knowing that I ran my best marathon ever gave me a lasting sense of accomplishment regardless of what my official place was.


  1. What awesome insight. I still can't imagine the pain of a marathon, but I absolutely loved what he said about themental barrier and not telling yourself that something is too hard or too fast or too long. Just work hard and do your best and you'll get there!

    I expect Fast Cory to get a Sub 4 this year! Don't let me down!!!!

  2. Good info. I like the stuff about the 16-22 mile runs. I've found the more times I complete these runs, the better I get at them. Which makes sense!

  3. Great interview. That's freaking awesome he came in 16th. My girl friend from HS ran SLC as her first ever, and came in 6th over all the women. This makes me want to interview her for my blog. She is one tough chic. I ran SLC with my twin sister, it was her first full ever. She struggled and hit the wall really early. I felt terrible for her. I am now thinking I should go blog about it... geesh, it has been 5 days.

  4. Thanks for the interview! It's great to hear from other runners (especially those that are so fast!)

  5. Great story! I want Janice to interview her friend! I liked that Tom heard 14 1-milers left. lol