Coaching Costa Rica: Pre-Olympic Training Camp

Cesar Lizano warms up for a track workout two weeks ago in San Diego. Photo: Sam Wells for

Mario Fraioli shares some insight from Costa Rican Olympic Marathoner Cesar Lizano’s recent two-week training camp in San Diego.

With nine weeks to go until the men’s Olympic Marathon on August 12, nearly every one of the few dozen athletes who will stand on the starting line at The Mall in London are beginning their most intense period of preparation — that is, if they haven’t gotten started already.

Cesar Lizano, Costa Rica’s lone male representative in the marathon at this summer’s Games, was in San Diego recently for a two-week training camp to kick off the marathon-specific phase of his Olympic training cycle. Lizano, who I’ve been coaching since February, spends most of his time training alone in his native country, so we both thought it would be to his advantage to spend a couple weeks with me in San Diego, where he could take advantage of the favorable climate, train with some of the top runners in the area, and race against a competitive field at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon.

RELATED PHOTOS: Cesar Lizano’s Pre-Olympic Training Camp

In short, the camp and the race were both a huge success. While Cesar and I communicate daily via e-mail and iMessage, it’s invaluable for me as a coach to watch one of my athletes in action, and likewise for that athlete to have realtime feedback during a training session. For Cesar, having the opportunity to race against runners who are at or above his ability level is a situation he doesn’t often find himself in back in Costa Rica, so it was huge for him to get in a solid effort 10 weeks out from the Games. He made the most of the opportunity, finishing third behind American Olympians Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall, running 1:07:28 on a challenging course, which would have been a personal best if he hadn’t run 1:06:42 in London six weeks beforehand.

Over the course of his 14-day stay Cesar and I met twice daily for workouts, I supervised his track sessions and rode alongside him on a long tempo workout. With the exception of two short shakeout runs, Cesar had someone to run with for nearly every training session, which helped him push just a little bit harder than if he were out there by himself. More impressive than the quality of Cesar’s workouts, however, was the support and hospitality that the San Diego running community showed him during his visit. From training with top locals such as Paul Wellman, Marco Anzures, Fernando Blanco and Derek Bradley, to getting massage from Luis De La Vega, and sharing meals with many a folk in town, the running community in San Diego embraced Cesar with open arms. Aside from competing against each other, the welcoming spirit and camaraderie amongst runners — even complete strangers — is one of the most beautiful aspects of our sport.

Training-wise, we kicked off the marathon-specific phase of Cesar’s Olympic preparation with two weeks of higher-than-usual mileage, hitting around 105 miles for the first week and a hair less than that in the seven days leading up to the half marathon. Over the next two months, these weekly totals will get up into the 120 mile-per-week range, with long runs getting longer, tempo runs getting tougher and track sessions being completed on very tired legs as we get closer to the big day on August 12.

While the rigorous twice-daily physical training over the next two months is certainly an integral part of Cesar’s buildup for the Games, hammering away on the mental training day in and day out is perhaps of even greater importance. We spent a lot of time discussing this element of his preparation over the two weeks he was with me in San Diego. “Mente fuerte,” which translates to “strong mind,” has become our mantra.

For someone like Cesar, who has a marathon personal best that is more than 10 minutes slower than some of the top runners in the field, it can be easy to feel intimated at the Olympics, where there are less than 100 men in the race and the entire world is watching you. The Olympic Marathon, perhaps the most competitive road race on the planet, has to just be another race for him from a mental standpoint. He can’t worry about what Abel Kirui, Moses Mosop, Ayele Abshero or any of the other medal contenders are doing at the front of the race. At the end of the day, Cesar can only control the things he can control. If he can stay focused on running his own race, responding to moves within the pack he’s a part of, nailing down his nutrition and performing to his potential on the day, he’ll put himself in a great position to have the race of his life on the world’s biggest stage.

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