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Fastest I’ve been in 16 years || Boston Marathon: One week out

Van Cortland Park, September 2000. Right now I think I could run stride-for-stride with this 20-year-old.

The 121st Boston Marathon is now just a week out, on #MarathonMonday, April 17!

Live tracking

The Elite Men and Wave One (mine) start at 10 AM. You won’t see me on TV in Galen Rupp’s slipstream, but if you want to track my progress you can sign up for text or email updates. I’m bib #703.


When I began Boston-specific training five months ago, during November’s dark days, I was thinking sub-2:36:53, or 6:00 minute/mile pace. It’s a clean number, and it would have represented a significant drop from my 2:44:42 qualifying time at the Colorado Marathon last spring.

But then David Roche happened.

At 36-years-old I’m nearing the end of my physical prime. So I hired David in mid-December to coach me, to avoid squandering the few years left in which I can set worthy lifetime bests.

Quickly I began to see steady and dramatic drops in my times. Of course, it wasn’t all David: I had to do the work. But I’ve endured similar (and even greater) loads before, and my pre-Roche results don’t measure up. Great coaching + dedication = peak performance.

So long as race day conditions are favorable (e.g. average weather, and continued good health), I’m confident that I can break 2:30, or 5:43 per mile pace.

If this were not my first marathon with post-Roche fitness, I suspect I’d be looking even lower. But I’d rather run an even or negative split, feel great about my finish, and have a little bit left in the tank, than to overestimate my fitness, get out over my skis, and hemorrhage minutes of time between Heartbreak Hill and Copley Square.

Faster than I’ve been in 16 years

Last week David scheduled a 10k tempo, intended to be run at 10-mile race pace. I ran a 33:23 (5:23 pace) on a loop course at 5300 feet with 100 vertical feet of gain. Per Jack Daniels’ Running Calculator, the sea level conversion is 32:12, or 5:11 pace; and an equivalent 5K is 15:30, or 4:59 pace.

These conversions are within striking distance of my collegiate PR’s from spring 2001. I ran 31:45 in the 10K at the ACC Outdoor T&F Championships, and 15:01 a few weeks earlier at the Duke Invite. Between injuries and a time-consuming side interest (hiking), I never regained this level of running form until now, sixteen years later.

Yeah, I know that 30 seconds in a 10k or 5k is huge. But that gap can be easily explained away by the circumstances: sub-max workout vs peak race, solo effort vs competition, and 100 ft of climbing vs a flat track.

I also realize that it was just one workout. But I’ve done others that I think would have been a challenge for my 20-year-old self, like the 25-miler in mid-March with 16 miles at 5:49 pace (5:37 sea level conversion).

Faster but not fitter

Interestingly, I don’t think I’m necessarily “fitter” than I have been at any point in the last 16 years. At the end of the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop, during which I averaged 33 miles per day for 208 days, I must have been crazy fit. More recently, I followed the classic but misguided ultrarunner training regimen of huge volume, thinking that consecutive weeks of 100+ miles and 20k vertical feet of climbing was the ticket.

But “fit” does not mean “fast.” During the aforementioned periods, I was extremely fit, but had poor running economy:

  • I had to work excessively hard to run at various paces, and
  • I could not maintain those paces for long, because I was working so hard.

A good analogy is a hypothetical running race between Michael Phelps and Galen Rupp. Both are extremely fit, with off-the-charts VO2 scores. But Rupp would run circles around Phelps because of vastly superior running economy, due to intense running-specific training. In my old state, I was Michael Phelps. Now, I’m Galen Rupp.

Or, next Monday I’m at least going to try to be.

Posted in on April 9, 2017
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  1. Dan on April 9, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Good Luck Andrew! I’ll be following along and cheering.

  2. Dan Springborn on April 10, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Best of Luck on Monday. I have just started to follow your running story, although I have followed you for a while for hiking. I ran the Colorado Marathon with you last spring so I am very anxious to see what you throw down at Boston! I’m running Colfax then headed to Leadville for Leadman this summer so our journey’s will be similar. I even hit up David too!! Hope you have good weather!

  3. Shar on April 10, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Good luck at the marathon! I am training for my first hundo, and my mindset is very similar to:

    “More recently, I followed the classic but misguided ultrarunner training regimen of huge volume, thinking that consecutive weeks of 100+ miles and 20k vertical feet of climbing was the ticket”

    except the slightly lower mileage and vert per week! I am not quite sure why this approach is misguided.

    • Andrew Skurka on April 10, 2017 at 4:29 pm

      It’s misguided because it’s not how you will achieve your peak performance, assuming that’s your goal. If you just want to run, by all means. But if you’re looking to improve your race times, you need to do something different.

      You should read this post,, along with the two linked articles. They are long and in-depth, but they explain exactly why more methodical training leads to better results. The classic ultra approach (volume, volume, volume) simply leads to sub-potential results and a high risk of injury and over-training. It has been followed by athletes who performed well, even the best, but those days are numbered, and those athletes could have accomplished much more with smarter training.

      • Shar on April 10, 2017 at 6:33 pm

        Awesome, thanks!

  4. Neal on April 10, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    At the moment the forecast is for a decent northwest breeze all day long – hope that holds and helps you along!

    I’ve participated in the past and a sea breeze kicked in – its seems so insignificant but it does not help morale during the hills 🙂

    Good luck!

  5. Caryn on April 11, 2017 at 10:59 am

    I’ll be rooting for you! I love following what you’re up to. Sounds like great work and considerable improvement…Virtual fist bump!

    • Andrew Skurka on April 11, 2017 at 12:55 pm


  6. David on April 12, 2017 at 6:28 am

    Can you explain the “minute pace” terminology? It feels like shorthand for something but I can’t figure out what.

    • Andrew Skurka on April 12, 2017 at 7:02 am

      Runners normally refer to their pace in “minutes per mile,” rather than speed, e.g. MPH. I don’t know the historical routes of this, but it’s been the case at least as long as I’ve been running (1994) and I’m sure much longer than that. I suppose it is simply more relevant. If I want to know how long it will take me to run 6 miles, 6 x 7 min/mi pace is easier to calculate than knowing I’m running at 8.57 MPH.

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