The Future of The Marathon: Strength Does Matter!!

If you are a follower, supporter and or, even a critic of the Endurance Project, you’ll know that I am a huge proponent and advocate of strength, endurance and, power. I believe these 3 components make up the core of putting together any solid training plan, be it running, or any other sport, especially long distance endurance sports, such as the marathon. I do not shy away from regularly pushing my views, findings and successes from this type of training. The training is unorthodox but, when programmed properly, I believe it can be very, very effective.

The weekend before last, I, like many other runners and running coaches, had several friends and clients that were running the Chicago marathon. By way of social media, I saw several post race photos of friends with this other runner, who I’d later learn was a young runner by the name of Patrick Cutter. Now, what exactly was/is significant about this Patrick kid? Well, on the surface, nothing! When seeing his race photos, he looked like like a fit young man, even maybe Marine Corp-esque. So what stood out with this kid?

2:40:45!!!

Those five digits comprised the accumulated time of the marathon that Patrick had just completed. Two hours, forty minutes, forty five seconds, ran on near even splits, with the half split being 1:20:10.

Ok, so what’s so amazing about that?? I mean sure, there were plenty of other runners in Chicago that morning who had ran 2:40 or faster, right? True, true…in fact, there were 194 other male and female runners who finished ahead of Patrick but, I’d love to see the statistics on how many of them were over 150 pounds or, better yet, how many of them you suppose were over 180 pounds?

That’s right, Patrick ran a very impressive 2:40:45 marathon, doing so with a body that would likely look more suited to see in the finals of the Crossfit Games. Right away, that caught my attention and, so I reached out to Patrick to get a little more insight from Patrick and how he trains, his athletic background and, where he sees his future going with the marathon.

The following Q&A is the verbatim exchange between Patrick and I in the days proceeding his awesome performance in Chicago.

1.) How long have you been involved in distance running and, what is your athletic background?
I’ve been a runner to some capacity since I was a sophomore in high school. I was a sprinter/middle distance and the longest run I did was the 1000 during an indoor meet my senior year. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago did I start running longer distances. My first marathon was less than 3 years ago. I grew up playing football, basketball and baseball. During high school I played 4 years of football, 3 years of outdoor track, 2 years of indoor track, and 2 years of basketball.
2.) So, based on the race photos I’ve seen, you “look like a big dude, for a runner” – At your recent Chicago marathon, how much did you weigh when you toed the starting line?

I guess you could say I have an unusual build for a marathon runner. But it works for me! I actually weighed in at the Doctors office a few days before Chicago and my weight was at 182 lbs.

3.) Rumor is, you’re big into strength training. Could you walk us through what your weekly strength routine looks like and, could you tell us how you believe that supports your running, rather than hinder it?
Just like running, I’m more about quality than quantity. I only run 50-70 miles a week which is a far cry from what most people that run a 2:40 marathon are doing. Same goes for weight lifting. I hit the gym 3-4 times a week and try to keep my workouts no longer than 30-45 mins. Having more muscle on my frame helps me especially with going up hills. I just feel healthier being the size I am. I feel stronger as the race goes on. I don’t feel like my body is breaking down.

4.) So, as we all know, there are two different camps in the marathoning world, the high mileage, run only camp or, the lower mileage camp that also includes plenty of cross training and strength work into their running routine. Which are you and, what does your typical weekly MPW look like when leading up to an A race marathon?
I’ve never been a runner who runs super high mileage. Even when I first started out I was only 35-40 MPW. I see a lot of runners who run 90+ MPW and then burnout in a race and fall way short of their goal. In the past several training cycles I have hovered around 50-67 miles and only one time have I ever hit 70+ MPW..which was my peak week for Chicago. Quality beats quantity every time no matter what it is. Being from New York, training through winters are brutal. Sometimes I’m forced inside and will use the treadmill. If it’s an easy run day possibly the stationary bike or elliptical.

5.) So, you just went 2:40 in Chicago, which was substantial PR. Can you tell us what, if anything, you did differently leading up to Chicago vs. your previous marathons? Also, when was your first marathon and what has been the rate of progression in all your marathons since? In your first marathon, were you the same size and build as you are now, or bigger/smaller?
I surprised myself with the 2:40 in Chicago. I actually had on 2 pace bands, 1 for 2:42 and the other for 2:39:40. If I had any doubts about my ability to break 2:40, I wouldn’t have had the 2:42 pace band. So, I mean I wasn’t sure I could do it to be honest. I mean trimming off almost 5 mins from my previous PR set back in Boston in April is no joke. The biggest thing during this training cycle I did differently than previous ones, was running much more workouts at goal marathon pace and faster than marathon goal pace. I don’t think I was prepared in previous races for the pace I would have to hold for 26.2 miles. Anyone can run a great first 20 and then most hit the wall. I typically do my long run on legs that aren’t fully recovered. It simulates how you will feel in a race. Too many people want to do their long run on fresh, 100% recovered legs. My training has helped me feel strong in miles 1-26.2. Not just the first 20! The first marathon I ran was the Hamilton Marathon in Canada in November 2012. I went in thinking a BQ would be no problem. Boy was I wrong. I pretty much did my training all wrong as I was a rookie to the marathon world. I finished in 3:11! I was so disappointed and seriously questioned if this was something I wanted to continue. Quitting was not an option I figured so I went back to the drawing board. I really wanted that Boston Qualifier! Since my first marathon, I’ve gone 2:59(Buffalo), 2:58(Rochester), 2:55(Disney), 2:58(Boston), 2:51(Wineglass), 2:46(Disney), 2:45(Boston), and 2:40 in Chicago. With the exception of Boston 2014(I passed out at the finish line with a 103° fever) I have ran faster in each marathon I have raced. What’s crazy is I may only be around 3 lbs lighter now than I was 3 years ago. Considering I’ve ran almost 7,000 miles since then, it’s pretty awesome!

6.) In your mind, do you feel that you could be significantly faster in the marathon, IF you were to cut weight and change your body into the more traditional long distance runner build? Do you think your size and build are holding you back from your true potential in long distance running?
I actually get that question a lot and would be lying to you if I didn’t ask myself that same question! Do I think I could be faster if I dropped 50 lbs? Of course. I mean when I look at the people who beat me in races I have yet to see someone who outweighs me. No joke. I’ve had seasoned marathoners who run impressive times tell me I would easily be a 2:32 marathoner if I dropped weight. Quite honestly though, I like being different and showing others out there that you can be a solid marathoner with a muscular build. With the progressions I’ve made over these past 3 years I don’t think it’s holding me back!

7.) Now that you crushed Chicago, what does the future of marathoning look like for you? Do you plan to continue trying to lower your marathon PR and/or plan to move onto ultra marathons, or get faster over shorter distances?
My next Marathon is Disney in January! I have a goal of 2:38 there. I am never satisfied so I will always be looking to improve my time! One day I hope to be running under 2:30! Being only 26, I have youth on my side as well! I’ve had a lot of people tell me I should get into a 50k. At this point, ultras just don’t seem like something I want to tackle. I won’t say never…but at least for right now and the next several years I’ll hold off on those! I would love to improve my other times I have only done 4 halfs, 3 10ks, and 2 5ks. My times are decent, but I would love to get faster! Marathons will always be my #1 favorite distance!

To get an idea of what I am talking about, here are a few pics of Patrick during the race. NOTE: Look at all the other runners surrounding him in the one photo. Most of those guys are giving up at least 25 pounds to Patrick, with none of them looking like they could get through a set of ten push-ups.

Patrick2

Who says you have to be a waif to run?

So, where am I going with all of this? To put it simple, you don’t have to fit a mold or, pigeon hole yourself into following the crowd and believing one type of training is best. For years, many a running coach and or advocate, have kept their runners away from strength work or cross training or, anything else that didn’t revolve around accruing more and more mileage.

The beauty, from what I gathered from Patrick is that, he was never really steered down a “one size fits all” path, had he followed the traditional marathon crowd, who knows where he’d be. Sure, he might be a bit faster but, chances are more likely that he’d have gotten injured as well.

As the current state of the fitness industry hinges on the “all around”, “functional”, “real world” fitness trends, for once I can actually thank Crossfit for something. Though I’ll never really support the typical programming of Crossfit, I will say that their motto of “being prepared for anything” has really peaked my interest. Sure, maybe a guy like Patrick will never be as fast as the “specialists” of the marathon but, for an “Average Joe”, I find it much more impressive to be really good at multiple disciplines and skill sets, than it is just to be a one trick pony. Hell, even one of my most accomplished marathon friends, who is currently seeking the Olympic Marathon Trials standard, has shied away from the super high mileage that they once lived and died by. Even going as far as hiring a new coach who has cut their mileage by over a third, and has added in strength and other cross training, in lieu of the high mileage program that they had been on for years. Currently, that particular runner is also doing just as well or even better than from previous marathon training cycles, all while staying injury free too.

The funny thing about this particular blog post will be, seeing the rebuttal that is going to come from the old school traditional marathoners out there, majority of which have never run a 2:40, mind you. They’ll decry that “there is no such thing as junk miles”. Well, I’ll put it point blank, if anyone ever says that to you, they are the last person you want to listen to about running. Those type of people only say that because, they need to justify most of their useless time spent.

Point is, there are many roads that lead to Rome and, it’s especially easy to get caught up going down the traditional high mileage road, in regards to training for a marathon. I hope whatever you decide to do with your training, you program with an open mind and don’t get caught up in what the old goats out there tell you. Most of them have been too scared to shy away from the crowd, thus, they only tend to get as far as the crowd, sometimes, not even as far.

As we become more knowledgeable in how best to achieve overall fitness, I believe you are going to see far more emphasis on all around strength and conditioning. Sometimes, you have to be the one willing to buck the system and stop following the crowd. It’s easy to say that one modality works best, when it’s the only modality being used on a large scale. That is where high mileage comes from. In my opinion, it’s merely an old wives tale and, because it’s never really been challenged to any degree by any large numbers, of course it is the BEST way. That is until those willing to try something new come along and prove it wrong, or maybe not wrong per se but, less than ideal.

Train smart and, run on!

If you’re looking for anymore detailed information on the training principles of the Endurance Project, please feel free to contact us and find out how we can get you to any PR you’ve envisioned. #DWEP #DWEPfit #DWEPstrong

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