Thursday, March 6, 2014

A 50K National Road Championship Victory: A Coach's View

Emily Harrison wins the 2014 USATF 50K National Road Championships.

On March 2, 2014, on Long Island, New York, Emily Harrison crushed the Caumsett State Park 50K course record by running 3:15:00.07.  In doing so she won a USATF National Championship and ran the second fastest 50K in North American history.

Many folks have inquired about her training and tactics going in to the event.  When asked about her training Emily quietly states that her "coach" might be more apt to shed light on the "nitty gritty" of her training.  Here's my attempt to do that.

Let's first define what constitutes coach and athlete for the purposes of this article and this particular training cycle.  Not once did I don my sweat pants and whistle and stand at the side of the road or track yelling out encouragement or splits.  I built the training plan, altered a few workouts depending on how she was feeling, and offered encouragement during the non-running hours.  I "ran" water for her once on a long run in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  She joined the Northern Arizona Elite group less than a half-dozen times for workouts.  90% of Emily's miles were done solo.  A testament to her dedication to the end goal.

The Impetus:  Why the 50K Road Championship? 

This event didn't enter the picture until the 2013 JFK 50 Mile was completed.  Emily won the race, but with a time that was slower than the year before when she went head-to-head with Ellie Greenwood.  The training prep for her 2013 JFK was abbreviated as she struggled for months, post-2013 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, with a nagging knee injury.

Emily desires an Olympic Marathon Trails qualifying time.  The idea of attempting this task this spring was batted about, but we agreed that the timing between JFK, proper recovery, and her next goal, the 2014 Western States, was not optimal.

Building confidence was paramount.  I suggested the 50K at Caumsett as a way for Emily to do this without necessarily instituting tough marathon training.  Race pace would be slower.  Endurance and strength would overshadow the need for speed.  The idea of a national title and a shot at an American record was also enticing.

The Training:  "The Nitty Gritty"

We had this knowledge:

Emily at 2013 Gaspin' in the Aspen 15K.

  • Emily had a stout running background.  Lots of high school, collegiate, and post-collegiate success.  While running for Team McMillan Elite, under the tutelage of coach Greg McMillan, she posted a 2:32:55 at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2011.  She had already forayed into the ultra-world with 6:17 and 6:35 finishes at the JFK 50 Mile and a 7th place finish at Western States.  
  • She was already fit and fast.  The only thing her coach had to do was keep her confident and injury-free.
  • The injury-free component was easy to achieve.  Strength work, flexibility, and weekly visits (or more when needed) to Dr. AJ Gregg at HYPO2 was needed to keep the worst niggles at bay.
Long training run in Fountain Hills, Arizona
  • Building Emily's confidence was a tougher cookie to crack.  Like most runners, Emily compares her present day workouts and race performances to Emily's of the past.  In order to mitigate this factor we did workouts that weren't involved in training cycles of the past (a half-marathon race, 1200-meter repeats on grass, long runs with mid-run pace changes).  We still threw in her favorite workouts and those she usually excelled at (Buffalo Park hill circuits, Lake Mary steady state runs, and tempo intervals).  And to remember she's training at altitude.
Buffalo Park hill circuits with Kellyn Taylor and Amy Van Alstine.

The Training & Racing Highlights

The plan

  • January 2nd - Emily's first workout after six weeks of doing nothing more than 40-60 minute easy runs:  6 miles at steady state on paved Lake Mary Road averaging 6:04 pace at 7,000'.
  • January 11th - "An epic fail," says Emily.  16 miles at 7:43 pace on forest roads.
  • January 12th - But she volleyed the following day with 14 miles at 7:15 pace on forest roads.
  • January 15th - Speed Intervals (4 x mile): 5:23, 5:22, 5:20, 5:19. solo
  • January 18th - 8-mile steady state on Lake Mary (total time 47:43)  splits:  6:09, 6:04, 5:54, 5:52, 5:54, 5:56, 5:58, 5:56 with NAZ
  • January 22nd - Buffalo Park hill circuits with NAZ (4 x 2 mile circuit in 52:36)
  • January 25th - 20 miles averaging 6:43/mile on Lake Mary Road solo
  • January 28th - 15 miles total with 3 mile fast finish (sub-5:50/mile pace) with NAZ
  • February 9th - 20 mile pace-changing (between marathon & half-marathon effort) long run in Fountain Hills, AZ, averaging 6:34/mile on pavement
  • Feb 11th - Grass 6 x 1200m with NAZ:  4:14, 4:06, 4:09, 4:07, 4:07, 4:05
  • Feb 16th - IMS Half Marathon on roads in Phoenix in 1:15:45.  HM PR, 1st!
  • Feb 19th - Tempo Intervals:  "I was going backwards, so I pulled the plug on this workout," says Emily. 6 x mile: 5:47, 5:51, 5:53, 5:56, 6:03, 6:12  Too much too soon after the half.
  • Feb 22nd - 14 miles with 6 mile fast finish, averaging 6:02/mile on the final 6 miles.
  • Feb 26 - Cruise intervals on "Trina's Loop" road. 4 x 1000m: 3:26, 3:31, 3:24, 3:33
  • March 2nd - Caumsett USATF 50K National Road Championships: 3:15:00, 1st!

Race Day Strategy

Making fast loops at Caumsett.

The goals in order of priority:

  • National Championship victory
  • American Record:  6:12/mile pace.  Simply hold the pace until you can no longer.
  • Course Record: 6:26/mile pace
  • Run even splits and fuel with a combination of gels and maltodextrin/water mix.

Payday with race director Carl Grossbard.

Emily accomplished big things, however the big goal still alluded her.  She says trying again in 2015 isn't out of the question.  See Emily's splits here.

In closing, it is interesting to note that on our race morning warm-up Emily uttered, "I really don't feel like doing this today."  Coach's response, "Mmmm, let's get back.  They'll be starting soon."

Congratulations on winning huge Emily!

Special Thanks
To Caumsett State Park 50K race management, Cheryl & David Harrison, Pat Burba, Phil & Sandra Morris, Northern Arizona Elite, Team Run Flagstaff Pro, Dr. AJ Gregg & HYPO2, adidas, Nathan Performance Gear, Injinji, and New Belgium Brewing.

4 comments:

Pat said...

It's always a pleasure and GREAT FUN! Emily(and Coach) do all the hard work

Pat Burba

Erin Gentzel said...

She is amazing! I hope she can accomplish all of her goals and enjoy each step along the way! Good work to her coach as well ensuring all her talent is maximized while also building up her mental strength. I wish her an injury free future of running!

Brent Hollowell said...

Love it... Great athlete, smart plan, hard work, awesome result! Can't wait to see what this team does next.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing all these details! For the sake of readers, though, maybe you could switch to black on white text. White on black is painful to read. Cheers.