Breaking the Wall

December 08, 2019

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Orem,UT,United States

Member Since:

Jan 27, 1986



Goal Type:

Olympic Trials Qualifier

Running Accomplishments:

Best marathon: 2:23:57 (2007, St. George). Won the Top of Utah Marathon twice (2003,2004). Won the USATF LDR circuit in Utah in 2006.

Draper Days 5 K 15:37 (2004)

Did not know this until June 2012, but it turned out that I've been running with spina bifida occulta in L-4 vertebra my entire life, which explains the odd looking form, struggles with the top end speed, and the poor running economy (cannot break 16:00 in 5 K without pushing the VO2 max past 75).  


Short-Term Running Goals:

Qualify for the US Olympic Trials. With the standard of 2:19 on courses with the elevation drop not exceeding 450 feet this is impossible unless I find an uncanny way to compensate for the L-4 defect with my muscles. But I believe in miracles.

Long-Term Running Goals:

2:08 in the marathon. Become a world-class marathoner. This is impossible unless I find a way to fill the hole in L-4 and make it act healthy either by growing the bone or by inserting something artificial that is as good as the bone without breaking anything important around it. Science does not know how to do that yet, so it will take a miracle. But I believe in miracles.


I was born in 1973. Grew up in Moscow, Russia. Started running in 1984 and so far have never missed more than 3 consecutive days. Joined the LDS Church in 1992, and came to Provo, Utah in 1993 to attend BYU. Served an LDS mission from 1994-96 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Got married soon after I got back. My wife Sarah and I are parents of eleven children: Benjamin, Jenny, Julia, Joseph, Jacob, William, Stephen, Matthew,  Mary,  Bella.  and Leigha. We home school our children.

I am a software engineer/computer programmer/hacker whatever you want to call it, and I am currently working for RedX. Aside from the Fast Running Blog, I have another project to create a device that is a good friend for a fast runner. I called it Fast Running Friend.

Favorite Quote:

...if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie


Favorite Blogs:

Miles:This week: 0.00 Month: 0.00 Year: 3555.51
Saucony Type A Lifetime Miles: 627.15
Bare Feet Lifetime Miles: 446.12
Nike Double Stroller Lifetime Miles: 124.59
Navy Crocs 2 Lifetime Miles: 1576.28
Neon Crocs 1 Lifetime Miles: 33.72
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. 5 with Daniel, Mary Ann, and little James (Ted's son), then on the second loop we picked up Angela Wagner about 0.3 into it, and James turned around at 5.5. So I finished the 10 with Mary Ann and Angela. Total time for 10 was 1:23:11. Did quick bursts of speed (30 meters or so) throughout the run on dry stretches.

Decided to try an experiment. Some background. From my training and performances I am suspecting that my limiting factor is the failure of the brain to recruit an adequate percentage of the muscle fibers. Some evidence for that - strong evidence: improvements in 400 and 200 workouts  coincide with improvements in the 10+ mile tempo runs, frequent failure to increase speed above pace at the end of a tempo run for as little as 50 meters,  esoteric workouts required to get muscle soreness in any degree, no soreness or fatigue after a perceived all-out race effort. Weaker evidence - poor performance in sprints - best 100 meters 13.9. A frequent argument I hear about my poor performance in sprints is that it is because of the lack of the slow twitch fibers. That is correct, and it does explain the failure to run 11.0 in 100 meters. But it does not explain the failure to break 13.0. Numerous examples of world class and even collegiate distance runners suggest that when the fibers recruit properly, a slow-twitch dominant male should be able to run 100 meters under 13.0.

 As a side note, I wish we had more published science dedicated to the matter above. We tell a guy - you are slow in a sprint because you are slow-twitch, that's OK, you can be good in the marathon, because that's where you need slow-twitch. So he starts running mega-mileage hoping to be good in a marathon. And he is OK, he runs 2:40, 2:30, maybe even 2:20. But he is still not that good. He cannot even break the womens world record. Why? Because we forgot to tell him that slow-twitch fibers are no good in any race unless you can recruit them. And in all honesty we do not have a clue how to improve recruitment by more than a small margin. But not many people care to find out because few people appreciate the significance of muscle fiber recruitment in a long race.

So in this search of better fiber recruitment the goal is to find something I can do daily to advance the cause. What the science does know is that exercises that recruit the maximum percentage of fibers can help improve the ability of the brain to recruit the fibers. I have tried some of that before. The challenge is what I've tried before cannot be done daily. I know that doing 4x100 all out two days in a row gives me neural fatigue. So here is a thought. Perhaps 15 seconds at maximum effort is too much for my weak brain. What about 3-5 seconds instead? Random sprints of 20-30 meters focusing on maximum acceleration during daily runs. Good time to do it because now it is about the only kind of speed you can do on the trail. We'll see what happens.

P.M. 2 with Benjamin in 17:49, Jenny ran 1.5 with us in 13:22. Julia was sick, did not run.

Brooks T4 Racing Flat Miles: 10.00
Night Sleep Time: 8.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 8.00
From tarzan on Fri, Jan 02, 2009 at 15:34:49

Is this that concept you were talking about when I was at your house that one day? Good luck in your experimentation. Hope you get the results you want.

From Phoenix on Sat, Jan 03, 2009 at 15:37:21

You can't do it (top end work) everyday in any format and expect to benefit from it. For any sustainable period of time, once a week at maximum, for most people once every other week. Read the literature on periodization with weight training. The basic principles are transferable. Apparently the Russian research is the best if you can find it--if anyone around here can it would be you.

I think you might do better with more light speedwork (ala Frank Shorter)and less tempo runs. You are as consistent and resilient as anyone I know. You have years of big mileage in your body. Accordingly, I really don't think a steady diet of tempo runs is going to do much for you. Tempo runs have their place but they are very, very overated except in specific training phases, the same goes for the long run. I know that stating so is anathema to some.

I was very fortunate to talk for quite a while with Paul Cummings before he passed away in a boating accident (who, as I'm sure you know, set the world best in the half marathon running 1:01:xx). He essentially told me that by his experience, ideal training is to run twice a day for 40-60 minutes, with 3 speed workouts per week, 2 light and 1 hard, and no long run except for the 2 months before a marathon. I have my own take on this, but I think he generally he has it right on. Since speaking with him I've seen the same principles in hundreds of training logs of top runners.

From Cheryl on Sat, Jan 03, 2009 at 15:50:21

Phoenix: I like Cummings' ideas. Could you clarify a little: if you run 40 to 60 minutes twice a day, where do the speed workouts come in? Do they replace one of those 40-60 minute runs? Should you only run 40-60 minutes twice a day on the days you aren't doing speed? What kind of speed workouts should you do (training for a marathon)? Short, fast stuff or longer and somewhat slower workouts? Thanks.

From Phoenix on Mon, Jan 05, 2009 at 20:29:39


The speed workouts replace a 40-60 minute run. Paul advocated a 3-2-1 system. Monday was 3 miles of interval work at 70% effort (could be 3 x 1 mile, could be 25 x 200), Wednesday was 2 miles at 80% effort, and Friday was 1 mile at 90% effort (optional in his opinion for those training exclusively for a marathon). On the week of a race, the 90% workout would be dropped.

With his system you should aim for a high frequency of training sessions but none of them so extreme they wipe you out. He was very succesful as a coach. Debbie Hansen started running with him as a masters athlete and got the OTQ in the marathon at age 43ish running ~2:38. I coached her son for a while.

As another example of the high frequency but in control system, look at the university of Oregon track team under Bill Dellinger in the 70s and 80s. They were absolutely dominant, having up to 8 sub-four minute milers at the same time. Here is the summary statistics of Alberto Salazar's training for the 1978 cross country season. Keep in mind that easy for him was 6 minute pace, so an 8 mile run would be 50 minutes or less:


70 days, 130 sessions

60 doubles

10 singles

21.5% = percentage of individual runs 10 miles or longer (28 out of 130 efforts averaging 11.85 miles, range 10-15 miles)

14.2 miles = avg daily mileage

2.7 miles = stdev

15 miles = mode (28x), 14(11x), 16(7x), 13(5x), 12(5x), 18(4x)

69 = number of AM runs (including Sunday long run)

7.1 miles = avg AM run

6.2 miles = avg AM run (not including long run)

61 = number of PM runs

8.3 miles = avg PM run

9 long runs (13,11,13,14,14,13,15,12,12)

13.0 miles = avg long run

15 miles = longest run. One occurrence.

Long runs = 91% of the avg daily mileage

Long runs = 13.1% of the avg weekly mileage.

If you saw the workouts those guys were doing you could easily make the mistake of thinking that they were hammering them. (People run into all kinds of problem when they copy others workouts. Learn a system and run by feel). The were generally easy for runners of their caliber except for 1/week that was a little harder. Very similar to Cumming's sytem.

The longer I run the more I think the basic principle of his system are right. As backround, I've been running for 20 years and coaching on and off for the last 15. I've completed a PhD and postdoctoral training in two of the best exercise biochemistry labs in the country. This is only relevant here because when I say I think he was right, I'm not just shooting off the cuff. In the end I think running is a skill sport, ultimately limited by the nervous system. The nervous system is best stimulated to adapt by variation and high frequency of practice. It becomes hard of hearing when it hears the same thing all the time and hears it too long.

From Cheryl on Mon, Jan 05, 2009 at 20:50:43

Thanks, Phoenix, that was interesting. I hope I understand you correctly. Is it better to run lots but keep it easy and somewhat short, and avoid too many long runs because they are taxing on the nervous system? Also, it's best to vary the pace of the runs? Is that a basic summary of what you are saying?

From Phoenix on Mon, Jan 05, 2009 at 21:46:24

Your summary is more or less right. Having a high frequency of workouts is important, but they can't be too short. If you are going to run, I'd make it at least 30 minutes--30 minutes is great for an easier run on a day when the primary run was 50-60 minutes. Don't set specific paces for your easy runs, just make sure they feel easy. Generally start them a little slower and finish them just a little faster. Cumming's said they should be at a 50% effort (which is different than 50% max heart rate etc--its about perception). Just run at pace that is not strenuous for you. If most of your easy runs are near the same pace, that's fine because your variation comes with the 3 speed workouts/week.

The long run won't help your 5k-half marathon IF your overall mileage is high enough. It is essential for the marathon, but wait until about 2 months out to start and keep the pace easier. Some half marathon races in the build-up are great too. Debbie Hansen ran ~70 miles per week most of the year but then would jump it up to 100 6-8 weeks out from the marathon.

The overall goal for this type of system is to settle into a great day-in and day-out training rhythm where you generally feel pretty good all the time. This system is set up to allow high mileage and to make it work optimally you need to run 2x/day at least 3 times/week, 4-5 would probably be optimal.

From Cheryl on Mon, Jan 05, 2009 at 23:47:59

Thanks for that. It's always been my basic intuition that long runs year round aren't necessary. They always seem to wear me down, not build me up. I like the way you say you should feel pretty good all the time. That makes a lot of sense to me.

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