Back On The Bus: Training For the NYC Marathon, Terrence Mahon Style

Former 2:38 marathoner, and Inside Triathlon editor-in-chief, TJ Murphy will document his road up to the 2009 ING New York City Marathon with weekly updates here on Competitor.com. TJ will be guided along the way by Terrence Mahon, coach to such distance stars as Olympians Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. Terrence has joined up with Asics to create the 2009 Asics Editor’s Run NYC Marathon, a program designed for journalists to get engaged directly in the sport and complete the 2009 NYC Marathon with Terrence as their coach. Follow along as TJ gets “back on the bus” and experiences the ups and downs of returning to marathon training.

This past weekend I received my 16-week training plan leading up to my first time running the NYC Marathon. The plan was written by Terrence Mahon, the coach of two of America’s finest distance runners, Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall. In addition to the elite group Mahon coaches in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., he operates a coaching business

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through RunMammoth.com.

I have a checkered past over the last 15 years when it comes to running. In the early 1990s, while in my late 20s, I managed to run a 2:38 marathon at Cal International (1991) and then go on to post some decent times in distances from the mile through the 10,000. But then a few years of being taken down by injuries just about drove me nuts, so although I trained here and there over the last decade, even finishing a number of Ironman triathlons (“finishing” is the right way to put it, not “racing”), it’s been a long time since I’ve been serious about following a dedicated running schedule. I had filled out questionnaires and PR information, and answered several specific questions from Terrence, and the training plan was, indeed, written with all of this information in mind. Seeing the complete and tailored schedule was a powerful experience. Reading through it I could feel gears in the back of my mind start grinding into action. I had forgotten about the jolt of conviction (and nervousness) that accompanies working with a coach. The training plan is a challenge, and the underlying accountability in committing to report back to a coach who has a stake in your progress is undeniably energizing. I felt myself crowbarred out of a mental rut I’ve been stuck in for a long time.

One of the reasons I’m excited to be coached by Terrence Mahon is that he is a disciple of Joe Vigil, the storied and much-accomplished coach who starting carving his legend in the years he coached at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo. Vigil’s success in churning out great cross country teams was why I first became interested in his training philosophy, and in those years when I was running well I sought out everything I could find written by him. In San Francisco, where I lived and worked at a running shoe store, Vigil gave at talk at the Koret Center at the University of San Francisco. His speech was equal parts motivational fire and science, and I found myself regretting that I hadn’t been prescient enough in high school to seek out Alamosa.

Looking through Coach Mahon’s website I was glad to see his emphasis on ancillary work-which translates as injury prevention to me. Heather Spears, a spokeswoman for Asics running shoes-who sponsors both Ryan and Deena-told me about the grind the elites go through when they’re in full-bore training for a marathon. In addition to two runs per day, they spend ample time in the gym working on flexibility, core strength and power.

I’m happy to report the plan Terrence wrote for me is not a watered-down program. The mileage is solid-starting off with 60 miles a week and building to a max of 80-with plenty of tempo and speed work. One of my goals, as I described to Terrence, was to come out of the 16-week plan and race in a strong state of fitness, with a base that will allow me to revamp my running career and start enjoying some of the opportunities masters runners have these days (I’m now 45). I started this past Monday and I’m excited to be in it again.

The name for this blog, as a matter of fact, is a literary reference to John L. Parker Jr.’s novel Again to Carthage, sequel to his cult classic Once a Runner. In it one of Parker’s characters, Bruce Denton, a gold medalist who was forced to retire because of injuries, talks reflectively with some athletes he coaches. Asked if he wishes he could be back in the world of elite-level training and racing, Denton responds, “Back on the bus, always.”

Of course, I’ve never been an elite runner and never will, but for me this program certainly qualifies as getting back on the bus.

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