I am writing this after having my top female marathoner run 3:09 at the San Diego Rock n Roll. Keryn Thorvaldsen is 23 years old and she just completed her second marathon. Keryn is a former runner of mine. She came to Lesley University having only run a 800m race in 2:37 in 2007. You cannot find a faster time online.
She currently is a 5:27 miler (2012), 18:46 for 5k (XC), and a 3:23 (2012) and 3:09 (2013) marathoner. I imagine her XC 5k time will come down in the fall and hopefully her mile time will be significantly better in the winter.
So how did she go from a mediocre 5k runner in her freshman year 22:41 (7:18 pace for 3 miles) to a 3:09 marathon (7:13 pace for 26.2 miles) four years later. First, it has to be hard work. Keryn is the hardest working female runner I have trained. Second, she is obsessed with running. She reads every blog, watches every video, and asks a lot of questions. Third, she has a stubbornness that makes her competitive and gives her the will to never quit.
Notice I never wrote about genetics. It is clear that she comes from an athletic family. Big sis is a fantastic triathlete. But somehow I think genetics or Keryn’s genes are not at play here. She has been injured 5 times since I have known her. Her times when she began were good but not mindblowing. I feel like Keryn is not a genetic freak and calling her one would overshadow her work ethic. Also, Olympic athletes are genetic freaks and she is not an olympic athlete, yet.
I know a track nerd would say that 3:09 is not an impressive time in the grand scheme of female distance running. BUT her improvement and positive progression is impressive and I think most coaches would love to see this amount of improvement in their athletes. Keryn’s results have only led me to one question: How far can she go with this?
Is this blog bragging? Yes. I am here to say that Keryn’s training program and her ability to carry out every last detail is: me bragging.
But this blog is also about education. I think we created a good plan that many people can learn from. Below is a break down of our plan. It is “our plan” because my coaching philosophy takes into account the athlete’s feedback. Keryn’s feedback was just as valuable as the weekly tempo run. So here it is.
#1- Aerobic development- I think she may throw up if she hears that term again. During the marathon, the human body is utilizing the aerobic energy system 98% of the time. So we work on this a lot. It equates into running miles with some pool work. But there is one inherit problem with running miles. Long slow runs cause overuse issues and injuries. Keryn did run two 20+ mile long runs, but we were paranoid about injuries the whole time. We prevented injuries with strength training. Her weekly mileage ranged from 60-75 miles per week.
#2- Strength Training- Keryn has gone thru a progression of strength training workouts over the years. Starting with hip mobility work from Jay Johnson to core workouts from Mark Versteen. Lots of Body weight stuff to help with over rotational issues in her hip. We dabbled with lifting weights with her legs a few years ago, but she focused most of her weight lifting on her upper body until this past year.
Here is where controversy can come into play. Keryn and I dead lifted, squatted, and did step ups for the last four months. We did HIGH WEIGHT and LOW REPS. This did wonders for Keryn. I believe this is why she PR’d by 14 minutes in one year. This is why she was injury-free. Keryn did a steady progression in the dead lift from 100 lbs at the beginning of the cycle to 185lbs on her last lift. In the single leg squat, Keryn can squat 100lbs ON ONE LEG! For a marathoner, this is pretty bad ass.
At the very least, this training block provided Keryn with stimuli and lots of familiar work as well.
For example, we scheduled a 20 miler on the same day as the year before and almost during a similar place in her training. In May 13th, 2012, she ran 20 miles in 8:42 pace. On May 5th, 2013, she ran 21 miles in 8:09 pace. I loved this comparison because it was apples and apples. All it did was boost Keryn’s confidence because her perceived effort was so easy and her notes indicated that she struggled thru the run the year before. This was a huge indicator!
We also did similar quality workouts where she experienced huge improvements.
#3- Quality Workouts- One of my cornerstone workouts is to run a chunk of miles prior to a 5k or 10k race. Keryn ran 10 miles then ran a 5k in 19:24 and won the race. Another huge boost and a mental challenge.
#4- Nutrition and Hydration- She was excellent in both but tried to cut out sweets in the last two weeks of training. This lead to a weight loss which was good for her “racing weight” but also a drop in blood sugar which led to a “sad Keryn”. I picked her up one day and she was so sad and down. We immediately got her back on sweets and she pepped up almost instantly. Are sweets good or bad? Who cares? It got her back to a good place before her performance. I was fine with it. I always use Nancy Clarke as a reference for sports nutrition and what to eat before a marathon.
Keryn clearly has some food allergies that need to be addressed and I think that may be the next step in her next training cycle.
#5- Tapering- Not sure if this is scientifically right but whatever. Her last huge run was two weeks away from the marathon. Shoot me, but I have been taught that the marathon is a 98% aerobic event, so why take away the aerobic stimulus? God, I wish I could have two simultaneous worlds where I can compare the 3 week taper to the 2 week taper, but I don’t. So I went with more aerobic vs. less. Also, I hate doing something because every marathon training plan says so. In her words, “I honestly didnt think about my body being lethargic once. It was good to go.” This was after experiencing dead legs for days prior to the marathon.
#6- Foam Rolling- The girl can foam roll. She rolls slow and often. I wish every one of my athletes dedicated time to the foam roll. Keryn swears by it and does a great job.
Our plan from here. I would like Keryn to take a 2-3 week break. Maybe she runs and maybe she doesn’t. I really do not care. She is 23. I want to train her when she is 33. Take some significant time off.
This summer will be about building mileage and hitting some personal goals she set for herself. She wants to run 100 miles in one week. I think she can do it and I think it will be beneficial, but it will be watched like a hawk and I will pull her out of it if I see anything scary.
This fall will be 5k work on the XC circuit and then eventually moving towards the indoor mile. Then we will ramp up for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Her goal is to break 3 hours in the marathon. There is nothing that I have seen that leads me to believe that she will fail. Her intelligence, passion, genes (i guess), and more importantly her hard work will lead her to success.
As her coach, I so interested in knowing how far she can go. Will she plateau? Will she burn out? Will she drop another 10 minutes off of her marathon time?
This is what is so cool about coaching runners. There is always the question of can I go faster? For me, can I train this person effectively enough to run faster? With Keryn, so far so good.