Everything about pacing – for a race and for training – We connect with Geoffrey about his sub-3 marathon aspirations

Everything about pacing – for a race and for training – We connect with Geoffrey about his sub-3 marathon aspirations

On today's episode of RUN with CoachParry we chat to Geoffrey Abrams, a lifetime member of our CoachParry Online Training Platform. Geoffrey has a sub-3 marathon goal and with that; silver Comrades medal aspirations. Markus and Geoffrey chat all things pacing - within a race as well as how to approach your ideal training pace. They also chat about strength training and when the best time is to fit strength work into your weekly schedule. Be sure to listen to see how Geoffrey did at his most recent sub-3 marathon attempt this last weekend at Johnson Crane.

If you're wanting to share your story with us, you could win 3 months access to the CoachParry Online Training Platform. Just use #BiogenJourney on social media and you could be one of our winners. This week's winner is Siphiwe (Instagram handle: @kataztrofy) Welcome to the team Siphiwe!

If you're interested in the concept of "training slow to become fast" (polarized training) - the concept Markus was referring to in this chat - be sure to check out this lecture from one of the world leading sport scientists in endurance sports and polarized training in particular - Dr Stephen Seiler. Members of the CoachParry coaching team have had the privilege of being able to spend some time with Dr Seiler on 2 of his trips to SA. This is a lecture* he gave at Oxford Brookes university and really sums up the science and benefits of this type of training so well! 

(*shared with permission from Dr Seiler)


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 Detailed descriptions of each exercise so you know how to do them

 Number of repetitions for each exercise so that you avoid overtraining & injury

 Short videos showing you EXACTLY what to do (Number 6 will turn you into the "Marathon Slayer" so that you don't hit the wall and implode later in the race)

What are you training for?

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  Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Run with Coach Parry, I’m Brad Brown and we’ve got one of our running coaches Markus van Niekerk with us, Markus, welcome.  

Markus van Niekerk: Howzit Brad, thanks for having me.


BB: No worries, nice to catch up again and we head to the North West to Klerksdorp to catch up with one of the members of the Coach Parry online community, Geoffrey Abrahams, Geoffrey, welcome onto the podcast, thanks for joining us.

Geoffrey Abrahams: Thank you Brad and Markus.

MVN: Howzit Geoffrey.

BB: Geoffrey, it’s awesome to have you on because you are one of the, probably the most active member on our community. You ask incredible questions, you challenge the coaches, which I absolutely love and to boot, you’re a pretty good runner as well. How did you get into the sport of running, how long have you been running?

GA: I started running in 2015 and it so happened that I started running by sheer default. I took my wife out on her birthday, I was walking down a hill and then I started running which as you’d guess,

I think the bug bit from that time on. I actually fell in love with trail running and there’s not much trails in Klerksdorp that you can do and I was doing Park Run, I think I’d done about 20 of them and when I was told I’m pretty good at it, I started running. I started running in August 2015.

BB: Geoffrey, I’m amazed, like I said, you’re a good runner, you are a blimming good runner and you haven’t been running that long. Were you sporty growing up? Did you do anything else? Obviously this has come later on, but did you play any other sports as a kid?

GA: In my teens, when I was 16 until I was like 20 I was doing karate, about three different styles of martial arts. In say about 2008 I started cycling, until 2014. I’ve been pretty active, I always tease that in 1992, I think I was 19 or so, I weighted 53kg. it’s a couple of decades later, as from this past Monday, I actually weighed 53.5kg. I guess it’s the genes.

BB: I love it, that’s fantastic. Obviously coming into running, having that cycling background, you’ve got quite a big base which helps a lot, but for you, what’s made you fall in love with running? What do you love about it and what’s kept pushing you?

GA: I guess it’s the camaraderie between fellow runners. The dedication that I see in some of the guys and the added benefit, it keeps you young. I have a phobia that most people don’t know about, a ‘boepie,’ I don’t like a tummy. When I saw that my trousers were not fitting, running gives you the best cardio ever. I guess that’s the reason.

Whats the main goal?

BB: Running definitely helps with that and as far as goals and that, what are you working towards? You haven’t just stuck to Park Run, you’ve run some longer stuff as well, what are you working towards?

GA: Ultimate goal is the Comrades, to be able to run silver. I started with a couple of 10km, when I started running in 2015; I thought I was blimming fast. My starting pace was roughly 5:15 per km and I had a running mate who did a 4:40 that I could struggle to pace with him. Then in 2015 I did two 21’s which the best in that year was 1:34 and then in 2016 I had done about two or one 21’s. I effectively started running seriously in July 2017, five days a week, that’s about it.

BB: You’ve run Comrades before; you’ve run Bill Rowan in Comrades and not just sneaking in either. I think your Comrades PB is 8:30 odd, which is pretty good but like you say, silver is the goal.

GA: Silver is the goal, yes. The start to achieve that goal is to be able to run a marathon in sub three, which I’m aiming for this coming weekend in Johnson Crane. If I get that right, I think my eye will be definitely on the silver without any compromise

BB: You come in pretty close. You ran Soweto last year which is tough. Soweto, you can’t beat around the bush, Soweto is hard, it’s at altitude, it’s in November and in November in Soweto, it’s hot and dusty and it’s tough and you’ve had a pretty good performance in Soweto.

You didn’t get the sub three, I don’t know if you were going for the sub three, but running very los three hour marathon at a Soweto is nothing to scoff at.

GA: I ran a 3:12, in comparison with my first Soweto in 2017, which was at 3:32. I went to Soweto just to give it a test. I wasn’t pushing it, I held back a lot because I didn’t want to get injured. Up hills, if you’re not up there, it could be heavy on your hammies.

I came back from Comrades with sore knees that lasted for five weeks, so I didn’t want to jinx that in Soweto. I had it in the back of my mind; I wanted to run Tough One as well, so I held back in Soweto.


BB: Brilliant, I’m going to hand you over to Markus now because you’ve got some great questions around your training and how to get better. Before I do that, how are you feeling ahead of Johnson Crane?

We’re recording this a week before, we’re actually going to publish it the week after, so I make sure that we put in the show notes how you went, but how are you feeling with a few days to go now, how are you feeling ahead of Johnson Crane?

GA: I started to get sleepless nights, I dream about the race. I’m now doing some calculations in terms, which pace do I want to run. Do I want to run at 3:59 per km or 4:05, I’m just planning ahead, but the nerves are hitting it, I must say.

BB: Nerves are good and I think with any sort of big race that you’re targeting, I think it’s good to have nerves because that’s what keeps you to stick to the game plan, that you don’t go out and blow it early on. Markus, before we get into Geoffrey’s questions, going sub three at Johnson Crane this weekend, what’s Geoffrey got to do?


3:12 at the Soweto Marathon! Say what?!


MVN: Thanks Brad, my first question would be Geoffrey, your 3:12 at the Soweto Marathon, was that as hard as you could go or was it just a let’s see what I can do today?

GA: I think I held back. There was still about 25% of capacity in the tank. When I looked at my zones I wasn’t even at, I was running at tempered zone three, it’s only about 12% of which I was running at zone four. I wasn’t using zone six at all, I never went there in Soweto. I had about 25% capacity that I could have utilised.

MVN: Just as a cross reference, what was your most recent 5km or 10km PB or even a 4km or 8km time trial, whatever short distance all-out effort you gave recently?

GA: My best 8km time trial is 29 minutes. My 10km, it’s 39:25.

MVN: Recently, what’s your most recent one?

GA: My most recent one which was last week Saturday, was at 39:40 on a 10km and I just finished the 21.1 [** 0.08.26] of which I finished in 1:23.

MVN: Okay, perfect, 100%, so it was part of… You said it was part of a 21km?

GA: Yes, I crossed that 10km at 39 on a 21 course.

MVN: Perfect, that was the first 10km, am I right?

GA: Yes.

MVN: Okay, perfect. A few interesting things, firstly if your 3:12 at Soweto wasn’t all out, that’s really good to hear. If you want to go, let’s say you’re aiming at a 2:58, you’re looking at about an average speed of 4:13 per km. For me, in order for you to achieve that, please don’t go anywhere sub four because it’s not necessary.

You will just eliminate your chances or you’ll just make your chances to achieve your goal super scarce just because you might burn too much in the beginning stages of the race.

In fact, if I were you, I’d start out around 4:13 to 4:15, just to get the blood going, even slower than that, maybe 4:18, not slower than that and then do that for the first 14km.

After that you should be able to bring it back down to a 4:10, 4:13 for the next 14km and then with 14km left to go, if you want to put the hammer down, obviously it’s your call and depending how you feel on the day, you’ll be able to take it home and if you can still maintain that pace, you should be able to take it home at a sub three.

If you feel great with 6km to go, that’s my philosophy, then just empty the tank, go crazy. As long as your average speed for the day per km equates to about 4:13, that will take you to a 2:58 flat.

I couldn’t agree with you more when it comes to running a silver at Comrades, you will need to do a sub three marathon, it’s one of those things.

The one thing that stands out for me a bit is if your best 10km effort was a 39, that’s about one minute off what you should be doing. In other words, you should be doing about a 38 minute 10km in order to do a 2:58 marathon. If we work on a 2:59, because you don’t really want to go… It’s only about a 10 second difference, so it’s 38:10, so your current 10km PB, if we calculate it from your 10km going up, you said it was a 49?

GA: It was a 39.25.

MVN: Sorry, let me do my calculations here. If we base on that, you’re looking at about a sub 3:05 marathon. I don’t know what the route was like in the first 10km that you did the other day, but I also don’t know what the route is like for the marathon coming up. Because it’s very borderline, I would suggest that if you want to follow the advice I gave in terms of, do not go faster than what is really necessary.

As you would know as well as I do, it’s from 36km onwards where the real fight club starts, as they put it. That would be my advice for your specific attempt at going sub three at JC this weekend.


Holding back at the start


BB: If I can just add something in there as well Geoffrey, before you respond to Markus, this is just a general comment and we see it so often, where runners will be going for a certain goal and whether it’s a sub three hour marathon, whether it’s a sub four hour marathon or a sub five hour marathon, you almost get lured into, okay, I’m going to go 10 seconds a km faster in the first half than I should be going so that I can bank that time, so that I’ve got some time in the second half.

Lindsey and I did a video and I think it’s coming out in a week or two where we spoke exactly about that. You’re never going to make up enough time for what you lose in the second half by going out too fast.

So by going out at the pace you should be going out, like Markus recommends, if you go out slightly more conservative, you feel so much better in that second half that you can then go and run and even split possibly a negative split which then sets you up for success as opposed to going out maybe two minutes faster than you should in that first half, you’re going to lose way more than two minutes in the second half.

That then blows your goal out the water. I don’t want to say it’s a risk, but it’s a decision that you need to make as a runner that that’s the way you’re going to approach this thing.

You trust the system, you’ve done the training, you’ve done the hard work and now it’s a case of just execute and don’t blow that execution by going out too hard.

GA: I think the advice Markus just gave me, I appreciate it, it’s well conservative. My method has been run faster in the first 3km, you burn your muscle, they get used to it and then you drop the pace to a more comfortable pace and then I just run that pace in two-thirds of the race, which I consider as a warm-up, especially in a marathon.

If you take your running up to 37 as a nice warm-up and if you feel good at 37, as you put it Markus, empty that tank, because you know the paramedics are going to be waiting for you at the finish line! The 4:18, 4:16 pace, currently it is the comfortable pace, I must say, even -

MVN: I can almost guarantee you, if you follow the start easy, finish hard approach, I can almost guarantee you, you’ll have a great result. I don’t know if I should mention on this episode but I have an athlete, she’s based in Cape Town and she did Oceans last year. She’s got training buddies and to cut a long story short, my advice to her was, we also basically divided it up into thirds because it’s just something that I like to do.

My advice to her was, start easy, build it up to a certain pace and then with the last third of the race see what you can do. One of her running buddies, the response and I think it was the running buddies coaches response was, ‘No one runs a negative split at Oceans.’

The cherry on top was the fact that this athlete of mine, she ran so well she actually caught up with the friend who is way better, in her opinion is a way better and stronger runner than her and she actually, I think she beat him by half an hour at the end of the day. If you start conservatively, I can guarantee you, you’re going to have an awesome day out and not just that, if you think of something, looking at a graph, if I can describe it like that.

If you start that graph a bit too high and slowly but surely you’re going to run out of energy and as soon as that starts dipping, that’s when I like to describe it as that’s when the process starts to control you because that’s when you run out of energy.

If you drop that graph a bit and you keep it consistent and you gradually pick it up, I can guarantee you, the time lost, if I can call it that, based on a slower start or a more conservative start is much less damage than you starting too hard and then the process taking control of yourself.

GA: Back to our 100%, I saw that with me on Two Oceans last year. I started too fast. I mean when I crossed the 42.2, my time was 3:06 and I ran all PB’s except the five, I ran the best 10, the best 21, the best 42, since I started running, but after 46km I was battling. The only fastest time that I could manage was the last 3km when I finished. I had to go to the loo and there was no loo next to the road, so I ran fast just to get to the loo!

I lost about 23 minutes because I aimed to run a silver Two Oceans but the philosophy or starting too fast, I couldn’t run the negative splits after halfway point because I had nothing left in the tank.

MVN: Trust me, if you start at a 4:15 to 4:18 or 4:14 to 4:18, I can guarantee you, your muscles will have more than enough time in those 14km to one, get used to the pace and two, to warm up very, very well and then from there start handing out the damage, obviously in the middle third of the race, then obviously pick the pace up ever so slightly, like I said and I’m very confident in the fact that you’ll have some more to give in the last third.

BB: I can’t wait to see what the result is, we’re going to definitely be in touch with you on Monday Geoffrey, but you had a question that you sent through about training pacing, what was the question that you wanted to ask Markus about the paces you run in training?


Lets talk training pace...


GA: Markus on easy runs and as well as on long runs, on the Coach Parry forum you have your pace ranges. For example, say on an easy run, between a pace of 4:10 to 5:10. Conservatively, what should one be choosing which pace to run with? Obviously the faster pace you choose, the more km you log, based on the time you’ll be running, the slower, the lesser the km, that is the philosophy I’m following.

One can’t run a 4:10 week in and week out; you’re bound to invite injuries. In your experience, what would be the ideal pace to train with?

MVN: Let’s go back to the marathon and say for arguments sake, you are training for a 2:58 marathon. Let me do my calculations again. Let’s say we’re training for that sub three marathon. Based on that your easy runs should be 4:30 to 5:00 minutes a km. Your long runs should be 4:30 to 5:10 per km and your recovery run should be about 5:05 to 5:30 per km.

There’s a very big risk, as so many people make the mistake by starting a race too fast, I cannot stress how important it is to train in the right zones. I’ll never forget, Lindsey and myself and some of the other coaches on the Coach Parry platform, we had a lunch one day with a very, very clever guy. He’s the coach of the, I think it’s the Norwegian cross country skiing team.

In order for you to be coached by him, you need to have an Olympic gold, so he’s got pretty high standards. He always uses the one example of one of his most successful, in fact one of the country’s most successful, the sport’s most successful, elite cross country skiers and she had a 10 year career with 14,000 hours of logged training and 80% of that was in zone one and the lower end of zone two.

I mean that is ridiculously slow. It just goes to show you, I cannot stress how important it is to train at the right zone. If you train at a too high intensity, we’re just missing the boat entirely. I always say, engine first, speed second.

If you keep on training at the right intensities, consistently, those intensities will in any way be improved because you’re running at the maximum aerobic capacity or intensity that you should, if I can call it that. It’s just super important because if you train too fast, you’re using different energy systems, your muscles go into oxygen debt, so you take longer to recover from sessions.

It’s not just training at the wrong intensity, it comes with a whole list of other issues that one doesn’t necessarily take into account and nine times out of ten you’re only going to realise it come race day.

You’re going to pitch up there and you’re not going to be as fit and as fresh as you should be.

GA: Basically to summarise it, train at a slow pace so that you’ll be able to run fast at the race pace.

MVN: A hundred percent. If you want to write it down, I can give it to you again. Based on a sub three marathon, your easy run should be 4:28 to about 5:05 if you go conservatively. Your long run should be about 4:31 to 5:10 and your recovery run should be about 5:05 to 5:35. Once again, just because the bottom of that bracket is 4:30 doesn’t mean you need to run at 4:30. If 4:30 is not comfortable for you, don’t go there. That’s why we give ranges.

Once again, it’s really important to know your body and know what your body is comfortable at. If you do run at let’s say the mid to the lower end of that pace bracket and you see your heart rate is slightly higher than what it should be, then back off. I can guarantee you, it’s not going to have an effect. When you do your speed work, that’s when you need to hit the right numbers. This is just a form of maintenance.

BB: What I’ll do as well though Markus and this applies to all the ranges, it’s not just if you’re running for a sub three hour marathon, it’s across the board on all the training programmes on our platform, those are the ranges and like Markus says, if it doesn’t feel comfortable at the bottom of that range then slow it down.

That lecture that you were talking about, I’m going to pop a link into the show notes as well. It’s about an hour long and it gets quite technical, but I tell you what, it’ll blow your mind just watching that thing.

If you’re listening to this and you’re fascinated by this philosophy of training and a lot of it, it’s what we do at Coach Parry, do yourself a favour and watch that lecture because it just makes so much sense. I’ll pop that in as well, so that’s brilliant. Geoffrey, you were also asking about strength training and when is the best time of the day to do it, should you be doing it in the morning if you’re running in the afternoon or in the afternoon if you’re running in the morning, I think I’ve got that correct, is that what you’re asking?


When do I fit in my strength training?


GA: Yes, it is and the other thing, for example, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday I’m running in the afternoon. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday I’m doing my running in the morning. When is the best time to do your strength training? Some of the days should I do it following the running or should I just dedicate a morning or an afternoon for strength training?

MVN: Geoffrey, I’m just going to ask you to repeat that for me, when exactly do you train in the week, which days in the morning and which days in the afternoon?

GA: Monday, Tuesday -

MVN: Sorry, you’ve got it here, Tuesday and Thursday in the afternoon and then Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday in the morning and Monday also in the afternoon. Your question is when is it best to do strength training?

GA: Yes.

MVN: I’m going to give you a totally different answer here. For me it’s about when are your speed sessions because those are the sessions that like I said, that’s when you need to be really specific. That’s when you need to run at a really specific pace. I’d say maybe do your gym sessions, if you want to do it the day before, make sure it doesn’t interfere with your speed sessions.

If you want to do it the day after, that’s fine by me. I’d rather let you take a bit of strain in the strength and conditioning sessions as opposed to the actual running sessions.

Same if you’re doing, let’s say for arguments sake, you want to do a strength session on a Thursday. Let me look at your programme. You do your time trials on a Wednesday usually, am I right?

GA: That’s right.

MVN: Wednesday you train in the morning, if I were you, I’d do my strength session on a Tuesday morning, that means you still get to run in the afternoon and it’s not a massive run you’re going to put in. That should give you at last 24 hours to freshen up before your hard run on a Wednesday.

BB: Cool, Geoffrey, unfortunately we’re out of time. Like I said, I’m looking forward to see what you do this weekend at Johnson Crane and I know Markus is as well. Best of luck and I’m going to reach out to you on Monday and I said we’ll put the results in the show notes, but I’ll make sure that I record the intro for this podcast after the weekend. It’s going to be coming up, this is a bit of time travel, it’s a bit weird. Geoffrey’s result is coming up after this, so keep listening.

Geoffrey, it’s been awesome, thanks for your time. You’re also one of our lifetime members on the Coach Parry online training platform, tell me a little bit about your experience, you’ve been with us pretty much from the start, what do you enjoy about it?

GA: They’re interactive. Sometimes Coach Parry goes to sleep and I give him banter about it and thank you Markus for standing in when he couldn’t answer on time because it’s very good. At least now I know that all my stats are in one place and I’m a sucker for stats. I log every km, I log how I feel after the training, so having the forum really helps.

Also to read other people’s stories, one has some niggling injuries that I’m blessed that in the last 14 weeks that I’ve started with a sub three training programme, I haven’t experienced any serious injuries, but to be cautious, the last three weeks I’ve been attending a biokineticist, just to keep my muscles fresh.

I’m having my last session tomorrow just before the marathon, just to make sure that everything is in the right place. I’m enjoying the forum a lot.

BB: Brilliant, best of luck Geoffrey, go and smash it and fingers crossed, let’s send positive vibes and hope you get that sub three.

GA: Thank you Brad, thank you Markus.

MVN: All the best, I really hope you achieve your goal.

GA: Thank you guys.

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