As you all know, over the past several months, The Endurance Project has been choosing an athlete of the month. The chosen individual is one who has exemplified all the things that go into making a great athlete. These chosen individuals are being noticed and recognized for their hard work, commitment, improvement, motivation, adherence to the core values of the group and their unselfishness to the sport.
Typically, we only choose one athlete each month, however, this month we were a bit torn and decided that we would have two Athletes of The Month!
With that said, let me introduce to you, Michael Leech
Michael and I have been working together since around June 2011, prior to the Endurance Project being created, when it was still just a vision. Because Mike lives up on the Peninsula and we usually only get to see him on races, his improvements always seem so drastic, be it by lowering his time, or dropping weight and getting more fit.
As mentioned above, Mike started running again in 2011 and was “serious” but, was still getting back into it after 10+ years of layoff. Improvements came and then plateaued for several months. Mike was running, but without much purpose. In fact, it was Mike who became somewhat of an Endurance Project “test subject”. I myself had been working on some theories and ideas I had for training and was putting them into practice on myself, however, I didn’t really have anyone else who were regularly running the workouts yet. Mike, being the analytical and science driven guy that he is, was onboard with and supported a good majority of my “unorthodoxed” methods.
During 2012, Mike continued to improve at a steady rate, dropping 2+ minutes off his 5k times, going from 1:40 down to 1:27 in the half marathon and also running his first marathon, finishing in a great debut time of 3:29.
With an excellent 2012 behind him and with a bit more hunger, Mike came out swinging for the fences in 2013. With several months of structured training under his belt and a cleaned up diet/lifestyle, Mike became easily the most improved athlete in the group. Granted, he was running well before but now, Mike was starting to put the pressure on many local runners who never considered him a threat before. Before, he was “decent” but now, he was starting to work his way up the ranks and was consistently starting to hang with and or beat some of the top local runners of the 757.
His big debut race of 2013 was the Shamrock marathon in March. With a PR of 3:29 coming in, Mike was aiming for a 3:05 or better, in hopes of securing a Boston Qualifier spot for 2014. Running a great first half, Mike had some stomach issues over the second half, costing him some valuable time. But, rather than give in, Mike got tough and pushed through, finishing in 3:04:54 and getting that BQ spot.
After Shamrock, Mike started focusing more on “speed” and shorter distances over the summer, so that he’d have the power and strength going into the fall marathon season. During this time, Mike lowered his PR’s in the 5k, 8k and 10k, setting himself up nicely for a great fall half marathon and marathon season.
Fast forward to the months of October/November and you will see that THIS is why Mike was chosen as an athlete of the month. Mike had chosen the Marine Corp Marathon as his “A” race of the year. Being a former Marine, this was a very important race for him for many reasons and he was aiming for a sub 3 hour marathon.
As anyone who knows that marathon, they know that it is the most unforgiving race, one that will have you feeling awesome one minute and then feeling like death the very next minute. From the gun, Mike just couldn’t really find his rythm and on a hilly and tough course, had to settle for a 3:02. Granted, this was a new PR of over 2 minutes for Mike but, it was off of his goal and he was not satisfied. Though he made no excuses, Mike had been taking on a full plate of work, school, home renovations, being a father, having a pregnant wife, etc. I told him that his marathon was not indicative of his current fitness and that he was ready to go faster and could still use some of his peaking, if done right.
So, with a two week reverse taper coming off the marathon, Mike jumps in a local half marathon to “see how he felt”. Mike promised me that if he didn’t feel right, he’d back off and just make it a casual run. Well, apparently he felt good and even managed the WIN!! Finishing in 1:22 and lowering his previous half PR by another 2 minutes. But, was he finished yet?? Of course not!! LOL
By way of getting a free race entry into the Richmond marathon, Mike says “I want redemption”. We talked about the rigors of running another marathon, just 3 weeks removed from his previous marathon. Again, Mike said that he would not “push it” at any point in the race and would just run based on what his body gave him for the day. Well, running relaxed and nearly identical splits, Mike got his sub first sub 3 hour marathon, finishing in 2:58 and dropping 4 minutes off his previous PR.
So, over the course of a month, Mike runs two marathons and a half, PRing them both and in the process, becoming part of the sub 3 hour marathon club. But, of course he isn’t quite finished yet for the year. To round out his breakout year of 2013, Mike will be running the Seashore 50k at First Landing State Park, before finally taking off a bit of down time over the holidays and then gearing back up for the 2014 seasons.
Aside from being an accomplished runner, Mike is also a great father, husband (soon to be welcoming a new member to the Leech clan) and friend. Being the unselfish runner that he is, Mike is often seen at local races, pacing youth runners and or other runners who are hoping for a PR. The past 18 months or so, it has been a pleasure to work with Mike and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this guy 🙂
Our co-athlete of the month is, Laura Burkett, who has been putting up some impressive training and racing these past couple months. Laura started working with the Endurance Project in May 2013. Laura is one of our “out of town” athletes, who does not live in the 757. Though Laura is a former ODU student, who frequently comes down and races many of the J&A races, she actually lives up in Fredricksburg, VA.
When Laura joined the Endurance Project, she was your typical runner. She had done lots of half marathon and below distances, had done her first marathon earlier in the year but, was starting to grow stale and not seeing much in the way of further improvement. She was running a good amount of mileage throughout the week but, none of it was with much purpose.
Immediately, I cut back her mileage by prescribing nothing but “time based runs”…Never giving her an exact mileage and never actually increasing the mileage on any particular run. At first, it was hard for her to wrap her head around time vs. mileage but after several weeks and unbeknownst to her, she was adding more mileage, without purposely doing so. Over the course of 12 weeks and without increasing the amount of weekly time spent running, Laura increased her total weekly mileage by 16 miles per week, without intentionally increasing the mileage. Meaning, she got faster as she progressed and by default, increased mileage when her body was ready to do so.
Luara’s first big race to see how her summer of training had been paying off, was the Crawling Crab half marathon. Going into the race, she had a previous best time of 1:45 for the half marathon. At Crawling Crab, on a day of unexpected heat and humidity, Laura kept it together and finished with a time of 1:41:05 (a PR of over 4 minutes). On a day that most runners wilted in the conditions, Laura ran strong and was among just a few runners who managed to PR that day.
Based on that performance, we knew that she was now ready to go after her “long shot” goal of getting a Boston Qualifying time at her “A” race, the Richmond Marathon, later the next month. In my mind, there was no doubt that she had the fitness to get that BQ but, it was a matter of convincing her own mind that she could do it.
3 weeks out from the marathon, I had one more planned long run for her. Because she had been getting nervous about not running any of the traditional length long runs that most training plans call for, particularly the magical 20 miler, I wanted to create something that would prove to her that her fitness was there and the workout was designed in a way to keep her mind from thinking about the overall pace. The workout was broken up into intervals and she was given instruction to stop at either the 2 hour and 45 minute mark or 20 miles, whichever came first.
On the morning of that particular run, she was supposed to eat and fuel as she would on race day. This was the last gauging and simulation run. Well, needless to say, it worked. She got to 20 miles right at 2 hours and 40 minutes, with an average pace that worked out to be nearly just slightly faster than her goal marathon pace of 8:10 per mile.
Race morning at the Richmond marathon, it was chilly and raining. In the hotel lobby, Laura was a bit nervous and still seemed a bit unsure about the pace she needed to run. My advice to her was, treat it like any other long run. Go out with the 3:35 pace group and stay there until mile 18. If you still feel good at mile 18, pick it up and pad the clock a bit.
Laura executed the plan perfectly, running a negative split marathon and finishing in 3:33:32, good enough for a 22 minute PR (her previous was 3:55) and a Boston Qualifying time!!
Aside from being a very disciplined and talented runner, Laura is also going to nursing school and pursuing her other passion beyond running. Keep an eye out for Laura as she continues to achieve and improve upon her goals, running and otherwise. Next weekend, Laura will be capping off her 2013 year of racing with the Surf n Santa ten miler in Virginia Beach.
So there you have it, two awesome athletes, sharing November’s athlete of the month. What hard working athlete will receive the award for December?