Monday, November 25, 2019

All In to Marathon Majors Age Group Gold!

Article by Joost De Raeymaeker

Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to bring you Joost’s recounting of his fall marathon campaign, the preparation in Angola and his races which led him to two Major Marathon victories in his M50 age group at Berlin and New York along with a new all time PR of 2:26:10.

My Fall Campaign

Convinced by a running friend I was good enough, I set out to run the six marathon majors, two every year, for a podium finish in the 50-54 age group. I would do one of them as a “warm up” before hitting 50. The project was good enough on paper to convince a small Angolan bank, Banco Valor, to sponsor me for the expenses. 
I live in Luanda, Angola, close enough to the equator on the Southern hemisphere in Africa to be hot and muggy most of the year. 
The city is chaotic and definitely not the ideal place for training, except for the benefits of heat training year around. 
A group of running friends who call themselves the Luanda Runners were planning on going to Berlin in 2017, so I went with them for my “warm up” race. The result of my first real training block was a 2:29:03 for a second place in the 45-49 age group. All set to go.


The year started off great, with a 2:27:32 PB, age group win and course record in Tokyo on a cold windy day at the end of February. I picked up training shortly after the race with a big base period and upped my peak mileage a little bit to just over 170km (106 miles) per week. Professionally, it was a busy period, since I was traveling around Angola photographing art. I tried to get my training in wherever I was and whenever I had the time. After an easy 35km (22 miles) long run on the last day of July, I went for a 60 minute run on the treadmill the next day, and after around 9km (5,5 miles) I felt some pain at the top of my left glute, near the hip bone. Instead of stopping right away, I completed the 60 minutes and after 5 minutes off the treadmill and some stretches, I had to limp home. It only felt worse the next day and my fears materialized: a major SI joint injury on the left in the important part of my preparation.

With 6 weeks to go, I had to cancel Berlin and try to get healthy. After around a month and a half, I was able to run again, although still with some pain. Boston 2019 would be next, and the organization was even kind enough to give me a sub-elite bib. Ramping up mileage, I decided to help some of my Luanda Runner friends and paced them for a sub-3 hour marathon in Valencia early December.


My basic training schedule consists of some base training, followed by 4 weeks of some speed work (basically 200m and 400m repeats and some 1 mile tempos), after which I do the 12 week Daniels plan with a few adjustments as needed. After Valencia, we spent Christmas in Cape Town with the family, and I did some wonderful trail running around Lion’s Head. There are near to no races where I live, but a classic is the “Fuga para a resistência” (The flight to resistance, marking the start of the armed resistance for independence from Portugal on February 4th, a brutal half marathon on what’s usually one of the hottest days of the year. Being in the early stages of my training, I ran it in a relaxed 1h15 and continued my training. A week later, disaster struck again, and a small niggle I felt after a very easy pace recovery run turned into another major SI joint injury, on the right side this time. I knew I had to cancel Boston and start rehab straight away. With all the miles I was putting in, I had neglected strength and flexibility work and my nutrition, not getting enough protein in. Cycling, rowing, pilates, strength work and eating better got me back to running after 2 ½ months. It took me another month to start feeling like a runner again. I also decided to not go over 160km per week and do all my runs outside, even if that meant working out under a midday sun on the track.

Berlin 2019

Training went well for Berlin. The slightly cooler months between June and September in Angola make training a lot easier. Noon temperatures in August are around 27C (80F), with humidity between 70 and 80%. Mornings are a little cooler, but humidity is around 90%. This time, I made sure I had enough protein. I even bought one of those humongous whey jars for post-workout shakes.

My weekdays would look something like this: Get up around 6AM, help to get the children ready and walk one of them to school at 7:20. Get back and start working (I’m lucky enough to work mostly from home) until around 11AM. Walk to the gym and go for a training run outside. Twice a week after running, do some leg strength work. Nothing fancy, two 30 minute sessions, one on the machines and the other one with weights, boxes and some plyometrics thrown in. Once a week, get a Pilates session to work on my core strength, flexibility and stability. Get a quick sauna, go home, have said protein shake and lunch. Get a power nap, work some more, get both girls from school on foot, feed hungry mouths, give them a bath and wait for my wife to come home from work to take over. Work some more and/or go for a second run. Crash early and repeat the next day. Needless to say, I have my family to thank for the patience of putting up with my training schedule during these training blocks.
On the weekends, I would usually pace the Luanda Runners who were training for New York during their Saturday fartlek session (usually followed by a couple of dark beers and steak sandwiches with the whole gang), which was not too hard for me to still be able to do my hard long runs on Sundays.
I traveled to Europe 10 days before the marathon to spend some time with my family and especially my eldest daughter who is studying and living there. This is one of my favorite parts of marathon preparation. The hay is in the barn, you start to feel rested and you feel all the power in your legs just waiting to be released. 
Then there’s the wonderful countryside where my mother lives for the final couple of runs before flying to Berlin. I arrived there late Thursday night, went to the expo to pick up my bib number early Friday morning and basically just rested and made sure I was well hydrated and fed before Sunday.

On race day, I arrived around an hour before the start of the race. I usually just have a banana for breakfast and not too much to drink, because I’m prone to a nervous bladder before the start. I then have another banana about 30 minutes before the gun goes off and during the race I try to get energy drinks at all the drinking tables. The only time I ever had a gel before a marathon, I bonked badly at 32km (20 miles), so I’m a bit weary to try gels again, although I’ve toyed with the idea, and sometimes even take one with me just in case I feel I need it. In Berlin, after missing one of the drinking tables, I even picked one up at 27km, opened it and just put a little bit in my mouth to fool my brain into thinking there were carbs on the way. I kept it in my hand for reassurance up till 40km.
Back to the race. The weather wasn’t ideal this year. It was quite windy (my Stryd showed 10% of my power went to battling the wind on a big part of the course) and it rained a little bit at the start, but luckily it only started again as soon as I finished. 
I wanted to beat the PB I’d set in Tokyo (2:27:32), where I’d lost a minute or so zig-zagging in the first couple of km because of a bad starting position, so I’d set out a pace of 3:28min/km (5:34~35min/mile). As usual, I ended up running most of the race alone. My strategy is usually to chase down anyone with grey hair or who looks like they might be in my age group. In the process, I mostly hop from little group to little group of runners, hang in there for a little while, look at my watch, notice that the pace is not what I want and move on to the next group.
I passed the half marathon mark in 1:13:11 (net time) and after fighting the wind for another 7km or so, I was able to accelerate a bit between 30 and 35km, and make that my fastest 5km split (17:07) of the race. After that, fatigue started to hit a little, but I managed to maintain a decent pace and finish in a new PB of 2:26:10 (net time) at age 51, with a negative split (second half in 1:12:59) and win in my age group. I was ecstatic. Mission accomplished!

New York 2019

After Berlin, I was in unknown territory. I’d signed up for New York very late, to join the Luanda Runners, who were going as a group. Since I’d lost two races due to injury in the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019, I wanted to play catch up. My original deal with the sponsor was to try and get podium finishes at all the majors in the 50-55 age group and after looking at the results of the New York marathon for the last couple of years, I knew that should be possible.

But what to do training-wise in the five weeks separating the two marathons? I had to rest enough after Berlin, but I couldn’t rest too much either, or risk feeling flat for New York. In the end, I decided to do an inverse taper, followed by another taper, with at least one or two nice workouts and a long run somewhere in the middle.

One of the workouts took care of itself. Two weeks after Berlin, a local oil company decided to organize a 10k. I signed up, felt good and won the race, although in all fairness, there were hardly any professional club athletes running. In the middle weekend, I paced the usual fartlek with the Luanda Runners and did a 30km long run at a moderate pace (3:55 min/km, 6:18min/mile). In the middle of the week, I went to the track and ran 3x8 laps at tempo pace (some heat adjustment - 3:19 min/km – 5:20 min/mile). The final weekend was another Luanda Runners fartlek on Saturday and a 90 minute run on Sunday. Before flying out to New York, I did a last 4x1200m session at tempo pace on the track, just to keep the engine humming.

Most of us arrived in New York late Friday night, which is not ideal. Saturday morning, we had a 30 minutes group run with a couple of strides at the end, went to the expo, had a nice lunch, and basically rested the rest of the day. 
I’m lucky enough not to be too affected by jet lag and come race day, even my bowels were operating in the right time zone. Saturday afternoon, we had our last pre-race get together/technical briefing done by Carlos Reis, an ex-professional athlete who has run the course a couple of times before. One of the Luanda Runners present was Domingos Castro, who finished second in New York in 1999. Domingos won Rotterdam (2:07:51 PB) and Paris in his marathon career. This time, he was just running for fun with the gang.

I had my usual banana when I got up around 5AM. A small rental bus picked us up at the hotel at 6AM and after a long drive and a traffic jam at the drop off point we headed to our starting areas and tried to stay in an area with some sun. Once inside the A corral, I went to the bathroom a couple of times and did some warming up. When we went down to the starting line, I was about 50-60 meters back.

I wasn’t really sure how I would feel, but I decided to give it a go and aim for 3:30 min/km (5:38 min/mile) average pace throughout the race and try and go for an age group victory. Going up the Verrazano bridge, I got caught in another session of zig-zagging and lost a bit of time, but once we crested it, the field was less crowded, and I could just settle into a nice rhythm and do my usual grey hair chasing and group hopping.
People had told me about the crowd support, but I wasn’t expecting this level of support this early in the race. As soon as we got off the Verrazano bridge, the crowds were incredible, almost deafening at some points. It definitely made the time pass very quickly during the first half marathon (1:13:36).
I had also been warned numerous times about the Queensboro bridge, so I knew what was coming, and it ended up not feeling that hard. The cheering crowd at the bottom as we got into Manhattan was amazing. What I hadn’t been warned about is that the whole second part of the New York marathon is very hard. 
All the little ups and downs and the bridges eat away at your energy and by the time you hit the climb before getting into Central Park, it’s a matter of grinding your teeth, ignoring fatigue and running as fast as your legs will still carry you to the finish. 
I got there in 2:28:16 (second half 1:14:40 – overall pace 3:31 min/km – 5:40 min/mile) and won my age group. I got my wonderful New York marathon poncho and limped back to the hotel with a huge grin on my face. Slightly confused post-race I went West on 50th street instead of East and ended up walking all the way back from 11th to 3rd, but I didn’t care too much, because I got a lot more “congratulations” out of my walk from the amazing people of New York. I don’t think I’ve ever said this many thank yous on a walk. Mission accomplished

A typical training week in for my marathon specific block

Every single run in my preparation for Berlin was done outside. No treadmill work as I did for Tokyo of the start of my cycle for Boston.
This is a part of the google sheet I maintain as a log before every marathon. You can see my training on Strava on

Shoes and hardware

Timing and Distance Hardware
You probably noticed from the text I use a Stryd. Apart from being one of the hardware items I wouldn’t go without, the people at Stryd are fantastic. After my unit broke down, I got a super special discount from one of the founders of the company because I’d been a customer since the start. I now use and monitor my power, but when I bought the Stryd, it was mostly because of its consistency in pace and distance, as opposed to the GPS in the Fenix 3 I was using at the time. After getting the Stryd, I ditched the Garmin and got myself an Apple Watch instead. I’m not running ultras, so the battery life is more than enough for me and as a smartwatch, the Garmins don’t even come close, with their 1980s style menus and buttons. If you’re out running 100k or 100 miles or so, a Garmin is probably the tool to get, but I’m now seriously hooked on closing rings.

It’s hard to try out shoes where I live (the second country up from South Africa on the West side of the continent), so I usually read some reviews, ask Sam for advice and then order them either from the US to be delivered here (the expensive option) or order them in Europe to be delivered at my mom’s place for when I travel there on my way to a marathon or to a friend’s place who might be coming over to Luanda. That doesn’t stop me from having a lot of shoes in my rotation. 

For this cycle I used the following shoes:
Nike Vaporfly 4% (Obsidian): for my long hard workouts, because after an injury two years ago, my feet hurt when I run very long hard distances in other shoes. I race in the Vaporfly and then use them in my next cycle for training.
Adidas Boston 6: I’ve had these for a while, and I keep going back to them. They just keep on going, with no obvious signs of wear. A fantastic shoe for anything.
Skechers Go Run 7: Recovery runs. Marshmallow soft.
Nike Epic React Flyknit 2: Recovery runs. Nice and easy. Not for faster work.
Skechers Razor 3 Hyper: A fantastic shoe for going fast without noticing it. I could be tempted to actually run a marathon in these.
Nike Zoom Fly Flyknit 2: Not one of my favorite ones. I find it a bit unstable, but usable for easy to long runs. I used it on some of the Saturday Luanda Runners fartleks.
Reebok Floatride Run Fast: One of my favorite shoes. I’m on my 4th pair. Good for easy and fast.
Nike Zoom Vomero 14: A friend offered me a pair, but I’ve since given it away. This shoe really doesn’t work for me. It feels weird on my feet, even for walking.
Reebok Floatride Run Fast Pro: I ran some faster track work with these. Trying to save them. Fantastic shoe.
Nike Zoom Streak Flyknit: Once in a while I grab one of my pairs of Streaks for fun. I really enjoy this shoe. It’s fast, snappy, everything you want in a good racing flat, but I can’t use it for too many runs in a row nowadays because of the foot injury I mentioned.
Nike Vaporfly Next%: These were waiting for me at my mom’s place before going to Berlin. I ran my last 90 minute workout in them a week before the marathon to make sure they were ok. I had to stop mid-run to take off my right shoe, loosen the laces a bit and put it back on before they felt ok. I much prefer the OG 4%.

While in New York I got myself another pair of Skechers Razor 3 (the special NYC edition), a pair of New Balance Fuelcell Rebel, which I’m really enjoying and a pair of Adidas Adios 4, which I’m also in love with.
Purchased Race Photos: Berlin-Sportograf, NYC-Marathonfoto

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Iolanda Weber said...

Extremely focused and determined, always sharing his enthusiastic way living, that’s how I know Joost. Go for it!

slope game said...

This is a great little post with some valuable tips. I totally agree. The way you bring passion and engagement into the things you do can really change your outlook on live.

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