Category Archives: Training & Racing

Knoxville Marathon 2016 Race Report

As a coach, husband, and runner, I had a great day at the Knoxville Marathon.


As a coach, I had several athletes running the half marathon and one running the full marathon yesterday.  Since I was running, I did not get to see my runners on the course and cheer for them.  That does not mean they were not on my mind!  As soon as I could, I found the ones still around and tracked down the times of those that had already gone home.

becky sequoyah hills 2016In the half marathon, Hilary met her goal pace by using those downhills.  Smart!  Julie kicked butt with a personal best time of 1:48:41. YES!!  Kim made a strong comeback from her time off due to illness.

In the marathon, David met his goal of running the entire marathon!  David had a health setback and surgery early this year. Instead of a personal record, he set the goal of running the entire marathon instead of doing a run/walk.  This is a huge mental barrier.  My advice to him was to do a micro-jog instead of walking.  It is okay to slow down as much as you need, just keep that running form.  He was making manly grunting noises at the finish line… sort of a triumphant growl.  His wife was in tears.  His coach did a little jump on sore legs and shouted, “YES!”  Well, done, David.  Way to tough it out.


My wife Muna kicks butt on a regular basis.  She doesn’t just have a can-do attitude; she gets itmuna mark marathon 2016 done.  The 2016 Knoxville Marathon was no different.  As a runner, she powered her way up the hills to a personal best time for the Knoxville Marathon course at 3:53:19.  Muna is also a running coach.  Her runners did very well in the half marathon and marathon relay.  Muna had an awesome day and I was happy to be able to celebrate that success with her.  :)


As a runner, I had some issues.  I had injured my heel at another race a month earlier and I was hoping that it was healed enough.  The first half of the race went as planned, but the heel was giving me issues soon after the halfway mark.  I tried to push through, but by mile 20 I realized that I had been compensating to avoid pain in my heal.  That can lead to additional injuries.  Not smart.  I decided to let go of my goal of 3:24:59 and just do the best I could without doing any additional damage.  My pace slowed.  The heel pain was especially difficult on the downhills.  I still managed to hobble across the finish line at 3:39:03.  That is thirty minutes slower than my personal best marathon time, but still represents a personal best time on this marathon course.  I will take it and call it a win!

sequoyah hills 2016In additional to a course personal best, I also won in another huge way.  I enjoyed the run.  There were friends at the start, friends all along the course, and friends at the finish.  Beyond my friends, there were innumerable friendly faces everywhere.  The beginning had friends and family of runners cheering for us all.  The great folks in the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood must have spent a few thousands dollars on signs and costumes to keep us smiling and happy.  More importantly, they lined the course for several miles with loud, smiling, cheering fans.  You can’t ask for anything better on a marathon course.  There were people in every neighborhood along the way.  Encouragement.  Energy.  I can’t thank them enough.

Eat well, train wisely, and enjoy the run!


Reflection on my 2015 Racing Year and Planning for 2016

2015 represents the second half of a comeback. I had a stellar year in 2013. I ran many excellent races and scored several personal records (PRs). At the end of 2013, however I had a knee issue that caused me to take a month off. In February of 2014, I suffered a concussion after being hit by a car as I rode my bike. My head healed, but I had a long way to go to regain my fitness. I finished the year by qualifying for Boston (BQ) one more time, this time in Savannah. It was 10 minutes slower than my marathon PR, but I was back in BQ shape.

That sets the stage for 2015. I had 4 goal races this year. As always, I had a few surprises along the way, but the year turned out to be very productive.

Goal Race 1: Boston MarathonBoston 2015

I ran my first Boston in 2014 and it was a disaster. With this in mind, my “A Goal” was to run fast enough to qualify for Boston 2016. All I really wanted out of the 2015 race, however, was to have a solid run of which I could be proud. Both of those goals were met! I felt strong early. I struggled with Heartbreak Hill, but I knew I was strong enough to meet my A goal. That made the pain of the hills much easier to take. I finished strong and qualified for 2016 with a 3:23:39. That is 1 minute and 21 seconds faster than the qualifying time for my age group.

Goal Race 2: USA Track & Field Master Outdoor Championship

One of my long-term goals is to move towards a 2:00 performance in the 800 meter run. I had run a 2:23 in 2014 and I was hoping to take 10 seconds off at this track meet. I did not succeed. In fact, I started exactly on target pace but I ran out of steam in the second lap. Looking back, I know I did not do enough training specifically for this race. Lesson learned. The experience was worth it. I’ll be back.

Goal race 3: Challenge Cedar Point Full Iron Distance Triathlon

This was my first full Ironman-distance event. That is 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles on the bike, and a full 26.2 mile marathon. Inspired by my wife’s Ironman performance in 2014, my goal was to finish with 26.2 miles of smiles. I survived the swim even though Lake Erie was getting pretty choppy towards the end. The bike is my biggest weakness. I am still new to cycling and it showed. Still, my goal was to end with a smile. So I took it easy and stopped a lot. By the time I finally got to the run, I was tired, but happy. I met my goal by smiling, talking, laughing, and showing my gratitude to volunteers along the way. 13:59:43. I will do it again, but not in 2016.

Goal Race 4: Savannah Marathon (and Sequoyah Marathon)

I believed that I had done the right training to be prepared to set a new personal record in the marathon in Savannah if the weather was just right. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. It was extremely humid and very warm. I had shed my shirt at the second mile marker. I had given up on a PR before mile 5. I pushed hard and was beginning to fade when the race was cut short. They did not allow me or anyone left on the course to complete the full race. It was hot. Two runners eventually died from the effects of heat.

So… my wife, Muna, and I decide that we would take advantage of our training by running the Seqouyah Marathon at Pinson Mounds three weeks later. The Sequoyah is a 9-loop course and that loop has very little elevation. More importantly, the weather was perfect during my run. It was cool and there was only a very light mist of rain during my race. I was right about being in PR shape. Finishing in 3:08:32, I had beaten my previous PR by over 4 minutes. A great end to a productive year.

Tentative Plans for 2016

I will run many races in 2016, but I will have only 4 key events around which my year is planned:

  • Knoxville Marathon (April)
  • USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championship (July)
  • Richmond Olympic Triathlon (October)
  • Savannah Half Marathon (November)

My training plan for the year will have 8 distinct phases, each with a slightly different purpose and training focus:

  • Light Triathlon Cycle 1
  • Run Cycle 1 (ends with Knoxville Marathon)
  • Light Triathlon Cycle 2
  • Medium Triathlon Cycle1 (Ends with USATF Masters Outdoor Championship)
  • Medium Triathon Cycle 2
  • Peak Triathlon Cycle (Ends with Richmond Olympic Triathlon)
  • Peak Run Cycle (Ends with Savannah Half Marathon)
  • Off-season Recover and Rebuild

The plan has balance. Yes, I am running during every phase. What is changing is the number of miles I will run, the number of days I run each week, and the specific purpose and intensity of the running. The plan includes strategically timed strength training and cross-training. It includes periodic tapering and recovery to stay healthy. It gradually builds my fitness level over the entire year before easing up in the off season.

Enjoy the run!
P. Mark


Reflection on Winning a Marathon

I won a marathon last week: The Sequoyah Marathon at Pinson Mounds 2015. Marathon 2015 with plaque and medal

On one hand, I want to say it is no big deal. After all, it is a very small marathon (20 finishers) and the course is not certified. On the other hand, the course was still 26.2 miles long and I was first across the finish line.

On one hand, my finishing time of 3:08:32 would not even put me in the top 100 in my age group at a huge marathon like New York or Chicago. On the other hand, it was a big PR (personal record) for me by over 4 minutes.

Does this make the victory smaller? On the one hand, it is a very small win because I could have jogged it in and still won. I had no top-end competition. On the other hand, however, that might be taken as an insult by the other marathon finishers. Each gave what they had on that day. They certainly deserve my respect.

How do I celebrate this? Believe it or not, I have wrestled with this question quite a bit.

The final decision: I won a marathon. Everyone out there was competing with themselves. Blood, sweat, and tears. We gave it our all and I finished first. No dilemma. Congratulations to all who toed the start line. You rock!

In the end, I chose to officially make the claim on Facebook and Twitter: “I won a marathon.” Then I posted the results to let people see that the number of runners was small. Let them wrestle with it. We all gave are all. We deserve what we earned.

Special shout-out to two runners near and dear to my heart:

  • My wife Muna was third overall female!  Woohoo!
  • My friend Jennifer ran over 23 miles that day, her farthest run by a long shot. Great progress!

I will write another post about how I made such a big PR. For now, here are the final results of The Sequoyah Marathon:

1 P Mark Taylor 48 M 1 3:08:32
2 Francesca Muccini 48 F 1 3:49:42
3 Mike Samuelson 50 M 2 3:52:17
4 Nathan Wilson 42 M 3 3:53:00
5 Amy Frederick 30 F 2 3:54:13
6 Muna Rodriguez-Taylor 38 F 3 3:57:05
7 Kevin Gerteisen 47 M 4 4:06:46
8 Marylou Corino 37 F 4 4:30:44
9 David Nichols 54 M 5 4:30:44
10 Halbert Walston 41 M 6 4:53:02
11 Marjorie Mitchell 54 F 5 4:56:07
12 Leanne Goodwin 35 F 6 4:59:48
13 Erin Goetz 28 F 7 5:09:40
14 Joseph Montgomery 56 M 7 5:10:17
15 Kendra Schoffstall 52 F 8 5:15:52
16 David Essary 34 M 8 5:25:18
17 John Leighton 55 M 9 5:31:31
18 Amanda Staggs 30 F 9 5:39:11
19 Wesley Hardacre 35 M 10 5:53:17
20 Mark Parrotte 58 M 11 5:59:15



Becoming an Ironman: Race Report from Challenge Cedar Point 2015

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This story started two years ago as I was playing the role of sherpa (gopher, waterboy, …) for Muna as she did a few triathlons. She finished the 2013 triathlon season with her first Half-Iron triathlon at Atomic Man in Lenoir City, TN. I saw how much effort it took. I had to admit that it looked fun. I bought my first triaironthlon bike in November of 2013 and began to ride. I intended to try my hand at this triathlon thing. I was already an established runner, having qualified for Boston 3 times. I knew that I was a competent swimmer. Cycling was going to be my challenge.

I rode a little bit in December as I took a break from running. I did my first few 20-mile rides and then got hit by a car in February 2014. Hit and run. A concussion was the worst part physically. I was in training for my first Boston Marathon and lost a little more than a week of training. I was thankful that it was not worse.

I picked up a used road bike and started riding again. I did not ride regularly, but I was riding. Boston did not go well, which is not too surprising since I had taken the entire month of December off from running and then dealt with the bike wreck. After that, I rode a bit more consistently. In 2014, I completed my first three triathlons. I started with a half-iron, then a sprint triathlon, and another half-triathlon. I really never had interest in the shorter races. I was interested in triathlon mainly to get better at marathon fueling and hydration. Hence, it makes sense that I wanted to do longer races.

While I added my first triathlons, Muna worked towards her first Ironman. She completed Ironman Louisville 2014. She did it with style. Once she got through the swim, she couldn’t stop smiling. She didn’t try to race; Muna just wanted to enjoy the ride and run. And she did. It was fun just to watch her go by with a big smile and words of encouragement for everyone around her. I decided right then and there to follow that example. I would do an Ironman triathlon in 2015, but I would not race. I would train enough to enjoy the ride and then follow through on race day with a relaxed attitude.

2015 Race Season

I began 2015 training for the Boston Marathon, my first goal race of the year. This year, my health and luck were a lot better. I added swimming and cycling as small parts of my overall training plan for Boston. This served as cross-training, but also served as an initial foundation of my triathlon training. I had a very good race at Boston this time, finishing in 3:23:39. This was fast enough to qualify for Boston again, so I was happy with it.

As soon as I recovered from Boston, the running goals took a back seat for a while. I had a half-ironman triathlon to complete in just 8 weeks. I had done some cycling and swimming, but not nearly enough to prepare for a half. I had a long way to go in that 8 weeks. I was not only ramping up my speed and endurance in those, but I was also laying the foundation for a short summer track season. I was a busy guy. I had a few lackluster local running races before I reached the Challenge Atlantic City Half-Iron Triathlon. My main goal for this event was to have a good ride. Although my overall time was about the same as my previous half-iron races, my bike ride was definitely faster. Since that was my goal for the race, I was happy with it.

My second goal race for 2015 was the 800 meter run at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Track Championship. I was gradually increasing my cycling and swim bases while I ran a lot of speed work. In hindsight, I was trying to accomplish too many things at once. I did not have a good day at that track meet. I was close to my personal record, but I fell very far short of my goal. I learned what to do for next year. I will spread my speed training throughout the year rather than trying to cram it into one little chunk of the year.

And on to the Ironman…

With that fiasco behind me, I was now free to focus my training on my next goal: complete an iron-distance triathlon with a smile. I had 51 days between the track meet and the Ironman. I did a lot of careful mathematical analysis. I used to analyze my current fitness level (CTL). My aim was to double my fitness CTL score from the time I completed the half-iron in Atlantic City. At Atlantic City, my CTL was about 30. That score peaked at 62.7 just ten days before the ironman. All of my distances for Swims, Rides, and Runs increased gradually over a 6 week period. I completed my first century ride (100 miles) 5 weeks before the race. I did a 2.5 mile swim 4 weeks before the race. I was already solid in running. I had the foundation. I had the fitness. I knew I could go all of the distances. What I had left to work out was nutrition and hydration. I had a very careful plan. I had electrolytes, fast and slow carbohydrates, protein, and amino acids all in my custom-made sports drink (Inifinit). I had Honey Stinger chews for when I wanted something “solid” to chew. I had a Base salt stick as a backup in case I started cramping.

I was incredibly nervous for about three days before the race. I was scared to death I might forget something. I was so glad to have Muna there to remind me of what I needed. She helped calm me down. I needed that greatly. This was especially true since there was talk of possibly cancelling the swim. The weather was rough the day before the race. The winds had blown the race equipment around and even capsized the boat that was setting buoys for the race. I was almost in tears. I had worked so incredibly hard to have the fitness level peaked enough to be ready. If the swim was cancelled, I would not be an ironman this year. The thought made me sick.

Thankfully, the bad weather had also cleared out the algae that had plagued the marina at Cedar Point. As a result, the race was allowed to use the marina area for the swim. The weather finally settled. On race morning, the weather was cool, but relatively calm. There was lots of wind, but half of the swim course was protected by the breaker wall for the marina. We got to swim!!

The Swim

The course was a simple loop around the breaker wall for the marina. The full iron-distance athletes would swim two loops. We entered the water two at a time. I was thankful for this because the original plan called for a mass start with everyone entering at the same time. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like the beating you get when swimming in a tight crowd. The time trial start (two at a time) went smoothly. We started on the smooth, protected side of the breaker, so the first part was relatively easy. It took me some extra time to get my goggles settled in properly, but it was calm and the wetsuit helped keep me floating even when I stopped to adjust the goggles.

After turning the corner to the unprotected side of the breaker wall, I felt the waves of Lake Erie. On the first lap, the waves were not a big issue. The wind picked up significantly by the time I got around to that point on the second loop. I could no longer define my own timing. I had to time my strokes and breathing with the waves to make sure I was making progress and getting the air I needed. I remembered that I was not in a hurry. That helped. I cooperated with the waves instead of forcing the pace. Despite the difficulties and a little extra distance, I still completed the swim about 10 minutes faster than I had anticipated. I stepped out of the water just in time to hug Muna, who was waiting to enter the water with her wave of the half-iron triathletes. Good finish to the swim. :)

The Bike

It was about half a mile from the swim finish to the transition area and the bikes. I had flip-flops on instead of shoes because the original plan had a much shorter jaunt between events. I walked a little and jogged a little. I reminded myself to smile and wave at the crowd. This was not a race, this was an experience. I was supposed to enjoy the ride; so I did. I grabbed my bag, put on the bike gear and rode away. Only 112 miles to go on the bike before running a marathon. The thought was so absurd that it made me giggle a little.

The course was cool and windy. I think it slowed me down about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour on the average and extended my ride significantly. Some to the roads were rough. That being said, however, I enjoyed the ride. I refused to hurry. I stopped at the porta-potties frequently. I smiled and waved at the volunteers and police lining the route. I thanked them for being there. I had little conversations at the aid stations. I met lots of nice people.

There were hills, but I am from East Tennessee. These were nothing. The wind was the tough part. I drank a lot and stopped more than I intended to, but I was relaxed. I could have gone faster on the bike, but it would have hurt my run. I did not train to race. I had trained just enough to finish with a smile. The only part of the bike that sucked was those last miles on an incredibly rough road leading back to Cedar Point. I had to slow down because those bumps hurt. Every few seconds I stopped pedaling and braced for the next impact. My average speed for the entire ride dropped by 0.3 mph on that last stretch. But I finished.

The Run

Muna was waiting for me in the transition area. I got my hug and went to change into my running clothes. One more hug and I was off for my 26.2 miles victory lap. Okay, it was really two 13.1 mile laps, but you get the idea. My entire plan revolved around getting my pacing and nutrition right on the first two parts so that I could enjoy the run. I did. It was not without aches and pains, but the run was full of joy. I got to talk with people all along the way, not just the water stops. I also ate and drank quite a bit. I had my Infinite drink, but also ate bananas, chicken broth, and Honey stinger chews.

I started out a little too fast, but I slowed it back down to even out my pace. I gradually slowed as the run went on, but it did not matter. I was meeting my goal and I did keep my cadence around 170-180 steps per minute. I was healthy and happy, especially considering the challenges of the swim and bike.  Just like the swim and bike, Muna was waiting for me at the end of the run with a smile and a hug.  I am blessed.

Pure Iron

Any remaining self-doubt had been washed away in the swim. I knew I would finish. The only question was how long it would take. Based on my training, I had estimated that it could take anywhere between 13 and 15 hours, depending mostly on weather conditions. The weather was a little tough on the first two parts, so I finished in just under 14 hours. I did not track my time during the bike or run. I knew I was following my plan and that the time would be okay. My time landed me in 10th place out of 16 in my age group that completed the entire race. 13:59:43.123.

But I met my goal. I have had three goal races in 2015 and I met my goal in two of them.

Not bad.

Oh yeah… and one more thing…

I am an Ironman.


Next Level Running: Hip Drive and Running Form [post 3 of 10]

Good running form is about spending the least amount of energy to move the fastest speed possible in the forward direction.  The way to go faster in the forward direction is to put most of your effort in that direction.  It seems like a simple concept that should go without saying.  The average runner, however, spends about as much energy pushing up and/or sideways as the amount of energy she spends pushing forward.

Key to Form # 1: Foot Landing

There are many sources out there telling you how your foot should strike or not strike the ground.  Is heel-striking always bad?  Is mid-foot striking better than forefoot striking?  I believe mid-foot is more natural and helpful, but as a coach this is not my focus.  “Striking” refers to which part of your foot touches the ground first.

Remember This:

The part of your foot that touches the ground first is not as important
as where your foot is compared to the position of your knee.

Your foot should touch the ground lightly when your knee is directly above the center of the foot.  Too many runners land with their foot in front of their knee.  This is how to put the brakes on!  This is how you slow or stop!  It is also how you get pain under the front of your knee after a while or the next day.

No matter which section of your foot touches the ground first, the bulk of your weight should be carried on the middle of your foot.  Your heel may be touching the ground, your toes may be touching, but it is the middle of your foot that should feel the burden of the weight of your body.  As you make contact and accept all of that weight, gently shift so that you feel the weight there as you push forward.

Remember This:

We do not hit the ground with our feet.  We lightly touch the ground
and then accept our weight, gently balancing it on the mid-section of our feet.

This takes a coordinated effort of all of the muscles from your hips to your toes to keep this action as gentle as possible.  This avoids injury.  Think light!  Move like a ninja!

Key to Form #2:  Point All Effort Forward

The keys to good running form are all based on this forward moving concept.  Your arms should move straight forward and backwards, not swiveling one side to the other. Up and down movement is wasteful too.  When comedians make fun of joggers, they run in place bouncing up and down like a yo-yo.  The better the running form, the less bounce you have.  This is one of my personal weaknesses on which I must focus and correct periodically.

Focus on moving your feet backwards.  As soon as you make contact with the ground, you can:

  • use your hamstring muscles (on the back of your upper legs) to PULL your body forward &
  • use your quadricep muscles (on the front of your upper legs) to PUSH your body forward.

Once your foot is directly under your body, you can:

  • begin to let your heel lift off of the ground while you continue to PUSH your body forwards using the other parts for leverage &
  • use your calf muscles on your lower legs to PUSH forward.

Key to Form # 3: Core Strength and Hip Steadiness

Your hips should remain steady, keeping your belly button facing directly forward at all times.  Zatopek hip extensionEven while you drive your leg all of the way back as far as it can reach to push you forward, your hips should remain square, holding that belly button forward.  If the hips are rocking forward and backwards or side to side, you are wasting energy.  If you held them still, you would go a little faster with the same amount of energy.  This is the role of a strong core.  All of your abs and stabilizing muscles around your waistline help your hips remain strong while you body twists above them.  The hips are the anchors that provide leverage for your legs to pull and push backward on the ground.  This is what propels you forward.

Key to Form # : Hip Drive and Extension

Look at the photo above.  That is Emil Zatopek winning the 10,000 meters in the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952.  He also won the 5,000 meters and the marathon.  Zatopek is a great example of the power generated from the hips.  Yes, the hips are remaining steady, but the power is created there just below and above the hips.  Above the hips, muscles are holding the hips steady.  Below the hips, the muscles are pushing backwards to propel the body forward.

Look at that photo one more time.  Do you see how far back he is pushing?  As his stride finished, Zatopek remained in contact with the ground while his leg straightens out behind him. That last push is call leg extension.  The whole motion of straightening the leg is called hip drive.  Hip drive can be powerful.  It is the most powerful force when you do squats and dead-lifts.  It also holds the potential of being the most powerful part of your running form.

Most runners, however, do not use their full leg extension.  Hence, they are missing out on the extra power created in that last piece of hip drive.  That is like owning an 8 cylinder car, but only activating 6 cylinders.  If your car was not running on all cylinders, you would take it to get it fixed!  Most runners, however, do not know they have an extra gear.

Learn about hip drive and hip extension to take your running to the next level!

Next Steps

In post 4 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • A full range of strength training exercises to enhance your health and running performance
  • How to decide which exercises to do and how much to do

In post 5 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • The fundamental workouts that will make you a better runner
  • The role of consistency

Until then…

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

Next Level Running: Activate & Strengthen Your Glutes [post 2 of 10]

In post one of this series, I pointed out that glute activation and hip drive are the keys to getting to the next level of running performance.  If you have been running long enough to hit a plateau, however, you might be wondering, “How have I managed to avoid using my glutes all of this time?”  Good question.  You have used your glutes at least a little, but most runners do not use them as the powerful motor that they were intended to be.

Your glutes are the muscles that form that spot that you sit on… your backside, bum, or ass.  When activated, they straighten out the angle formed by your upper body and lower body.  When most people think about glute strength, they think squats and dead-lifts.  These are the big compound exercises that have the potential to build your glutes.  The problem is that too many people use nearby muscles, the hamstrings and lower back, to compensate for weak glutes.  Hence, even if you squat and dead-lift frequently, you may still have under-active and weak glutes.

Activate Your Glutes

In order to avoid this compensation and really decide whether or not we have been activating our glutes, we use isolation exercises.  The go-to exercises for isolating the glutes are the the glute bridge, the hip thrust, and a specific variation of the single leg squat.

I will let this video do most of the talking for me about glute bridges and hip thrusts.  I will just add this: when I first started this process, I kept one hand on my hamstring while I did one-leg glute bridges.  I made sure that my hamstring stayed relaxed, doing little or no work.  This ensured that I really was activating and building my glutes!

Build Your Glutes with Single-Leg Squats

After you have been doing glute bridges for a while, it is probably safe to move on to the single-leg squat.  The key here again is isolation.  There are many variation of the single-leg squat.  You must choose one that you know isolates the glute rather than allowing the hamstring to do most of the work!  Here is one good variation designed for that purpose:

What About Squats and Dead-lifts?

Squats and dead-lifts will always be the main exercises for leg strength, including the glutes.  Return to these after you have become strong at glute bridges, hip thrusts, and this version of the single-leg squat.

Next Steps

In post 3 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • How to coordinate your muscles to create hip drive
  • Full and proper running form

In post 4 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • A full range of strength training exercises to enhance your health and running performance
  • How to decide which exercises to do and how much to do

Until then…

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor




Next Level Running: Adding Power to Each Stride [post 1 of 10]

form sprinting playingOnce you have become a strong runner, you may be looking for new ways to improve. You may have learned to keep a cadence of 180 steps per minute. You may have done hill repeats, intervals, repeats, and all kinds of other things to get faster. These are all great and important. Each time you add one of these to your arsenal of workouts, you probably found improvement. After a while, however, those improvements get smaller and smaller. As you read this, you are probably nodding your head because you understand. You have lived this scenario and you are looking to break that pattern.

How do you get to the next level?

  • Do effective workouts you have never done.
  • Increase your power supply through a change in form.
  • Increase your power supply through strength training.

I will blog about the 1 and 3 in future blog posts. For this blog post, I will begin a discussion of #2.

Increase Power through Form

Almost all runners do a good job activating and building our quadriceps. These are the muscles on the front of your upper legs. They are huge and very visible. They are strong. The quadriceps activate to straighten out your legs. They are used in running by landing with bent legs and using the quads to straighten the legs. If you are leaning forward, then this propels you forward.

If you’re a bit more advanced, you may be using your hamstrings. Hamstrings are the muscles on the back side of your upper legs. They are not just on the opposite side from the quadriceps, but they also serve the opposite purpose. They bend your leg. Since the quads propel you by pushing, the hamstrings propel you by pulling.

If you coordinate the quads and the hamstring just right, they can work together to propel you forward. What is missing from this scenario? The glutes, calves, and core. The calves activate to push your foot down. If your foot is behind you on the ground, activating this movement means being propelled forward with a bit more power.

The core includes all of the muscles between your ribcage and your legs, all the way around your body. This includes your lower back, your abdominals, and all of the stabilizing muscles all the way around your midsection. The core muscles hold your position. They allow you to align your body to get the biggest push from your quads, the biggest pull from your hamstrings, and the added push-off from your calves.

Hip Drive: The Key to Next-Level Power

The highest level of coordination that leads to the greatest power, however, does not stop there. The gluteus maximus and minimus can combine to be your number one source of power, exceeding even the mighty quadriceps. When activated, they serve to straighten out the bend at the waist which pulls the upper leg backwards. In this way, they can coordinate with the action of the quads and hamstrings to propel you forward. The motion created by the glutes and stabilizing core is called hip drive. Hip drive requires all of the aforementioned muscles to be coordinated AND the added power of the glutes and nearby hip stabilizing muscles.

Alas, many runners barely activate their glutes. That means minimal hip drive. That means that almost all of us are missing out on reaching our full potential.

 Remember This:
Glute activation and proper hip drive are the key to attaining
the next level of performance for the vast majority of runners.

In post 2 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • How to activate your glutes
  • How to strengthen your glutes

In post 3 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:

  • How to coordinate your muscles to create hip drive
  • Full and proper running form

Until then…

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

Getting to the Next Level: The Role of Patience in Your Training Plan

I am guilty as charged.  The crime?  Lack of patience.  The evidence?  My training plans from the past.  They are riddled with inconsistency.  Why?  Because I am a tinker.  I like to tinker with plans and try to perfect them.  Why is this a problem?  Because it takes months for a plan to fully unfold.  A balanced plan will have stages.  It will allow for the development of new speed as well as moving your lactate threshold, running economy, and much more.  You can’t do all of that at the same time.  Bottom line: It takes months to improve the variables that impact running performance enough to see a measurable difference.

What have I done wrong?  I have continuously tweaked programs based on how I was feeling rather than sticking to the original design of the training program.

Remember This!

You should stick to your training plan without major changes for at least 3 months.

It takes ten days to get the full extent of adaptations from a workout.  If your plan is ideal, then four weeks of work could possibly show a measurable difference.  That means that it takes about 1.3 months to see a perfect plan work.  Now throw in the idea that we have good and bad days.  If you have a bad day in the race where you expect to see the results of 1.3 months of work, you might reach the wrong conclusion that it did not work.  It is only after about 3 months of steady progress that you will see a significant change even if you have a bad day.  That is why I say 3 months is the standard.  Follow a plan with multiple stages and complete 3 months as it was designed before you draw a conclusion on whether it worked or not.

Looking back at my own running over the past 5 years, it becomes clear that the times I made the most progress were the times that I stayed with a program most consistently.  That is true regardless of the program I was following.  When I first started, I followed programs from Hal Higdon.  When I wanted to get faster, I followed the plan of Dr. Jack Daniels.  Then I heard about the innovative work of the Hanson Brothers.  I followed their program and got another big improvement.

Since that time, I have been tinkering with different types of workouts.  I have found several workouts that work well on changing some of the variables of running performance.  I have gone through several and been frustrated by my lack of overall improvement.  I just keep changing things.  When I was on a coordinated program for at least 3 months, I made progress.

training program picWhile I was tinkering with my own programs, I have developed training programs for many athletes during the same time.  When they have stayed true to the program I developed for at least 3 months, they have seen the improvements they sought.  Now I need to practice what I preach.  I have developed my Next-Level Training Program and personalized it for many runners, including myself.  I know that if we stick to the program, we will get the results and move on to the next level.  I just have to stop tinkering.  I have to wait for the program to develop.  I have to wait for all of the changes that come with all three stages of the program.  I have to stop evaluating the program in the moment and wait until for my next training schedule to make any changes.

I know that my Next-Level Training Program is a balanced approach that will get me where I want to go.  The components and stages are all first-class, trustworthy workouts.  The stages are in the right order.  I just have enough trust and patience to stick to the program.

 “Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor


 UPDATE: 9_24_2015

The training plan worked for me as well as it did for many others.  I ran the 2015 Boston Marathon fast enough to qualify again.  Boston is a tough course, so I was thrilled to BQ there!

10 Days Before the Marathon

wise running logo 7_25_12The hay is in the barn.  It is October 28 and I just ran the last key workout for the Savannah Marathon.  That leaves 10 days between today and race day.  It takes a full 10 days to see the full benefit of any particular workout, so this is a logical stopping point.  I will not get any faster.  Through rest and easy running, however, I will keep my speed and increase my health.  The little bumps and bruises, the sore parts, the cramps, strains and all of that, those things need time to heal.  They need to be gone by race day.  Fresh legs with no soreness but all of the speed I have earned through a thoughtful and hard-fought process of training.  Yes, 10 days ought to do the trick.

Getting to This Point

Much of my summer was focused on track meets and developing raw speed.  It was in mid-July that I first started sprinkling in some marathon-specific workouts.  I still had a few track meets left as well as a half-iron distance triathlon, so I was not fully devoted to marathon until later.  My long runs began to get longer and I sprinkled in some tempo runs here and there.

In August, my monthly mileage gradually went from somewhere in the twenties to somewhere in the thirties.  Throughout September, I averaged 41 miles per week.  Through experience, I have learned this is the sweet spot for my marathon training.  I make the most progress at about 40-44 miles per week.  Some people can handle a lot more.  This is me.  I have stayed right around there through the first 3 weeks of October, too.

My longest runs are every other week.  At first I was measuring by miles, but after 16 miles I start measuring by time.  My long runs went from two hours and twenty minutes, to two hours and forty minutes.  I completed two 3-hour long runs.  The Sundays between these very long runs were in the 10 to 12 mile range.

My training paces have changed over the months as well.  In July and part of August, I was doing a lot of short (200 meters to 800 meters) intervals at 5:40 pace or faster.  I gradually decreased time at those ridiculously fast paces while increasing time and distances at paces ranging from 6:30 15257355495_c5aa8f7266_oto 6:50.  These are the paces that I want to run during the marathon, so I have run a lot of mile repeats and tempo runs in this pace range.  No, I do not plan to average 6:30 miles in the marathon.  I would like to average in the 6:50 range.  I have to plan for time to walk through water stations and take a potty break.  Hence, I practiced 6:30’s and 6:40’s to aim for an average in the 6:50’s.  :)

I have done races along the way, but I considered them all to be training runs for the marathon.  I wanted to maintain two to three key workouts per week.  That meant that I could not afford to rest up to really kill any races along the way.  So, they were just training at a good pace.

The 10 Days of Taper

So here we are, 3.5 months after the first marathon-specific workout.  The hay is in the barn.  I will take it easy.  All runs will be at 8:00 pace or slower except for a few strides now and then.  This is enough effort to maintain my speed but easy enough to heal completely in 10 days. My scheduled miles for this week add up to 26.  Next week, I will run 9 to 12 miles before race day on Saturday.

Not only am I going for a personal record (PR) at the Savannah Marathon, but it also the one year anniversary of our wedding.  Muna and I got married on the way to the race last year.  It will be a great day no matter how the race turns out.  Gotta keep things in perspective.


“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor


Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup


Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life




Wise Running Shirts & More

Find yours HERE:

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Running in Cold and Icy Weather

What adjustments do you need to make for running when the cold weather appears?


According to a formula worked out by Tom “Tinman” Schwartz, our running paces are not only slowed by heat, but also by cold temperatures as well.  Schwartz found that 53 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for the runners in his study.  The farther the temperature moves away from 53 (hotter or colder), the slower the pace they would achieve with the same effort.

For example, you can expect a time increase of 1.66 percent when the temperature drops to 30 degrees, a 3 percent increase at 20 degrees, a 5.33 percent increase at 10 degrees and an 8.33 percent increase in time when the temperature hits 0 degrees.  The formula may vary slightly for runners of different body types, but the trend will still hold true for all.

My point is that you need to give yourself a break and not expect to run your best pace in freezing temperatures.  Thankfully, however, training through these cold weather months will pay off.  Persevere!


Personally, I am quite comfortable running in 40 degree weather if I have the proper attire.  Below 30 degrees begins to become uncomfortable.  Thankfully, there are ways to get more comfortable in cold weather.  You can adjust to cold weather by adding layers of clothing.  This gives it a big advantage over running in the summer.  After all, there is a limit of how much clothing you can remove to adjust for heat.   :)

For the cold temperatures, dress in light layers.  A huge coat or heavy pants will weigh you down.  Light layers can hold your body heat effectively but have the added advantage that you can take them off if you get a little hot.  Light layers also have the advantage of allowing you to maintain good running form.  Cover your head and neck.  Mittens are often better than gloves, but wear whatever you are comfortable wearing.

Barefoot & minimalist shoes might not be the best choice on the coldest days.  I believe it is possible to get frostbite on your feet even if the rest of you is toasty-warm.

Ice & Snow

Please be careful when it comes to slippery conditions.  One slip is all it takes to injure yourself.  It is better to take an extra rest day than it is to risk your health.  Moreover, that little slip can lead to a much longer rest if you have to wear a cast!  I’m aware that those that live in the north probably see snow and ice is just a way of life, but you at least have to be careful.  Take extra care and slow your pace down in these conditions so you can live to run another day.

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!” — P. Mark Taylor


Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners Wise Running Book COVER mockup


Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life