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Ask Wejo 4: Questions From a High Schoooler Trying to Break Through and 5 Hour Marathoner
by: Weldon Johnson
September 25,  2007

Ask Wejo Archives:
Ask Wejo: Round 1: High Mileage Base Training, Stop Watches, and Ryan Hall and Dean Karnazes March 14, 2007
*Ask Wejo 2: Should I Quit My Job, Move to Flagstaff, and Train Full Time? June 12, 2007
*Ask Wejo 3: Did You Ever Think "Why Am I Doing This?" September 25, 2007
Ask Wejo 4: Questions From a High Schoooler Trying to Break Through and 5 Hour Marathoner September 25, 2007

Have a question for Wejo? Email him at

Ask Wejo 4 has a different demographic than that in the past, as it features questions from an aspiring high school runner and a guy who crashed and burned to 5 hours of misery in his first marathon.

Question1: I am very very fascinated with your breakthrough story, training, etc. I want to share with you my story, which has not ended yet. My freshman year of high school was my first year of running i was not very good. My pr's were 400-63, 800-2:29, 1600-5:32, and for xc on a hilly 5k course i ran 21:13. I was very upset because I was always good at the sports I did and on the playground in grammar school I was always the fastest kid. So my summer going into my sophomore year i basically ran 5-6 miles every morning religously. By the end of that season i ran 19:14 on that same 5k course. During the winter I played basketball, but still managed to run 7 miles about 3 days a week to keep in shape. When the season came along, I was a lot better than the year before, I ended the season with a 5:00 1600 p.r., which could have been faster( like 4:55) but the race i was going to peak in I was knocked down and my shoe came off, and my 3200 p.r. was a 10:56, which was a big improvement from the last year. Summer going into my Junior i trained at 40-50 miles a week throughout the whole summer. In midsummer i ran an 18:30 5k for a flat road race and i knew that good things were going to happen that season. In most of my 5k races i ran in the mid to high 17's and on the state meet hilly course where i ran 19:14 the year before i ran 18:09. THIS IS WHERE I NEED YOUR ADVICE TO FILL IN. During that winter i trained around 40 miles per week very inconsistently i was very paranoid about getting injured, i wanted to be great that outdoor season. A kid my frosh year ran 18:15 on that xc course and ended up running 4:40, i knew in the 1600 i could break 4:40. By the time the season came, i hammered every single run, even the recovery runs. I would do 15 quarters in an average of 72 then do a recovery run at 6:30 pace the next day. I felt monstrous. Then all of the sudden, by the end of march, during a workout medial shin started to hurt towards the knee. I brushed it off and kept training because a scrimmage was a week later and i wanted to see what type of 1600m shape i was in. I trained that week and every day the pain got worse until the day of the meet where i was starting to get worried. I ran the 1600 that day in a limp in 5:00 and the 800 in 2:13, i was dead afterwards and just was in denial that i was seriously hurt. I trained one more week until i knew i was seriously hurt. I took 10 days off, tried to make a come back, but the pain was still there. Two days later I broke my collar bone. It really was irrelevant now what was wrong with my leg. I know i could have been so fast that season definitely way under 4:40 that was my breakthrough or was supposed to be, my training partner who i was beating at that point pr'd in 4:29 that season. Needless to say 6 weeks later i got an mri and found out it was a stress fracture in my tibia. My worst fear. After looking at my running log it seems that the reason it happened was because, 1) i was the worst heel striker ever 2) ran on pavement every day 3) hammered my recovery runs. After ten weeks off i built back slow and now we're in august and my first week of real training i did 35 miles, and this week i am doing 38. I changed my form to a midfoot striker very successfully its naturally how i run now, and i run on trails. WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS how, how can i make the biggest breakthrough possible this outdoor season, I have always thought longterm and i am looking at freshman soph and junior year as preparation for a big senior year. How can i run 4:28 this season and shock everybody. I always floated around 40mpw i think its time to crank that up, maybe run twice a day. I just want to end senior year with a monster season and have everybody say " Where the HELL did he come from." I know i have the ability i just want the breakthrough to happen....

Your email present a few interesting questions and highlights a few points that are important to understand to runners.

First it shows that all of us can get better at running by training a lot. Most high school kids really do not train much at all. You did not have the immediate success like you wanted but your response was to try and stay fit year round and increase your mileage and you saw some good improvement.

Then you got injured. Yes it likely came from hammering your easy runs. The body can only take so much stress. Mileage, intensity, they all add up and sometimes something has to give especially when you are younger and still growing.  

Now you're in a difficult spot. You're coming back from a stress fracture, yet you want short term success. I would try and be cautious coming back from this and not immediately start doing something that I had never done before, double runs in your case, or all time high mileage. When you feel your stress fracture is behind you then you can think of taking your training to where it has never been before. That isn't likely to happen this fall. Use the fall to prove to yourself that you are over the injury and can train consistently.

If you enjoy a healthy fall, you can train more than ever get a big base in the winter.  Running is difficult because we often see the gains over time but we want to see short term success. Mainly I would encourage you to keep doing what you have been doing but be consistent. You said, "During that winter I trained around 40 miles per week very inconsistently" and then it sounds like you tried to make up for it by hammering everything during the track season. Ironically I think you may have not gotten injured last spring if instead of backing off in the winter, you'd run a lot of relaxed mileage to build a base.

I am a firm believe in running relaxed on your easy days. Their #1 purpose is recovery. If I can run six 4:30 miles during a 10k, yet I run 7:30 or 8:00 pace on my easy days, I don't think you need to be running 6:30 pace especially if you are trying to increase your mileage. So I would say if you are trying to run more, run easier. Remember that in my mind intensity and the surface of the runs puts way more stress on you than the actual length of the run. My brother Robert always tells his Cornell incoming freshmen to stay on soft surfaces and "slow down and run more."  

When you work out also realize the point is not to hammer every workout. You actually are trying to teach your body to relax while running fast so you do not want to hammer very often. I think adopting these two things will help you to continue to improve while staying healthy.

When you increase your mileage, you can run a higher week and then a lower week the next. Sometimes you can do this by running just 7 days one week and six the next or making a moderately long run and long run fall in one 7 day stretch, and start back up again 7 days later, which causes the next 7 days to be a lower mileage week without really changing too much. I think you will continue to improve and be surprised with the results. The problem is you can not force anything to happen in distance running. So be patient, keep focused, and always be looking at the big picture and you'll soon hopefully see the results you want.

Question 2: 5 Hours in First Marathon
I ran the Disney Marathon for Team in Training in January of '06, my junior year of college. Hadn't run since high school, just did the 4 months of training and ran 5 hours after my body completely shut down at mile 25 around 4:15.

I've been running off and on since. I can do a 25-30 mile week no problem, 8:15's are pretty comfortable, anything in the 7's I'm pushing.

I need to have a goal ahead of me to fear/respect in order to keep me running otherwise i'll just crash after work. So I'm looking at a marathon in March or April. I started either 3 or 6 weeks of buildup, just 60-75 minute runs, some different stuff, then I found some 20 day training thing for 10K and then I'll start for the marathon.

Basically my question is, am I rushing back into another disappointing
5 hour performance, or will I have enough behind me to give it a more
respectable go?

Thanks for any help you can give. Thanks for the letsrun.com. It's a
godsend when the work day is slow.



I think you're crazy to think you are heading towards another 5 hour performance. In your first marathon off of very little training after not having run for years, you hit the wall completely (45 minutes for the last 1.2 miles) and ran 5 hours.

Almost anything you do this time, assuming you train properly, will cause you to run faster than you did this first time.

You say 8:15s are pretty comfortable. If you run 9:10 for the entire marathon that is 4 hours. 10 minutes a mile is 4:22.

So I think you are just letting hitting the wall cloud your judgment. I don't think a sub 4 hour marathon is out of the realm of possibilities if 8:15 is really comfortable.

The key for the marathon is the long runs. But I think having already run a marathon your body will be able to handle them a bit easier as you increase your training this time and you might be a little more motivated to do them this time. You don't say much about your training the first time around so I have to guess, but even if you put in the long runs and still crashed that means you just ran too fast too early in the marathon. With experience this time I think you'll also be able to gauge your pace a bit better.

Hitting the wall in the marathon sucks. I'll go even further and say the marathon sucks (that is what makes it so damn rewarding as we all want to try and get it "right"). So it is natural for you to have some fear after you totally bombed the last mile your first time out. However, that is the exception, not the rule, and now you'll have a lot more running under your belt. It is hard to fake your way through a marathon and distance running is an aerobic activity where you build on what you've done in the past. I think this time you'll find the training easier than the first time since you had previously had such a break in your training.

Don't force anything but I'd be shocked if you're not much closer to 4 hours than 5 hours and could see you going under 4.  Good luck and don't forget to get in those long runs.

Weldon Johnson, aka Wejo, finished 4th in the country at 10,000m twice and ran for the US at the 2003 Pan American Games.

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