Secret Thirty Eight Run Society

I feel like I opened someone else's mail and stole their invitation to a secret society.  William and Mary College has a not so secret society called the "Seven Society."  This club only allows seven new members a year.  What they do is uber secret but it no doubt has some skull and bones ritual kind of stuff with outward appearances of philanthropy.  The identity of members are not revealed until they die.

As I wrote at the onset of my latest marathon training plan (By the Book, Club, or Coach,) I had decided that I needed more one-on-one coaching that could help me realize my potential.  I thought while I've trained hard before, I didn't necessarily train smart or edumakated (sic.)  Iknow what you're thinking at this point, Ty is kookier than Willy Wonka (the Gene Wilder version)...where's he going with this secret society stuff?  No.  I didn't sneak into the secret Seven Society, but I feel like I snuck into something that's just as unique.  Just no robes, hazing, and skull & crossbones.

Colorado rivals Mammoth Lakes, California as a mecca for runners and run coaches.  Just like there are many plans to chose from (Higdon, FIRST, Pfitzinger, Galloway,) there are an equal number of confusing options for coaches.  After sifting through many of the coaching options available, I sat down with one of my run buddies from New Jersey that was working remotely with James Carney out of Boulder, Colorado.  My friend raved about the support and results he was seeing, so I "pulled the trigger" and signed up with James and his counterpart, Benita Willis out of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.  Not exactly a sexy name for a t-shirt, but a pair of elites training other elites.  Willis and Carney both have elite credentials with Olympic trials, Olympic competitions, and World Cross Country championships to their credit.
Saturday Tempo Run with me running (highlighted) behind
Mike Kraus (Photo courtesy Boulder Daily Camera)

Locally, Heather Utrata and Todd Straka are two members of the small 38 member team, and notable Colorado runners who have several podiums to their credit.  At this month's Boston, BCSM had a number of sub-three hour marathon athletes participating.

In a recent article in Boulder's Daily Camera Newspaper, aptly titled "Boulder running coaches treat amateurs like pros" they described the group and their training.  "Willis and Carney's program isn't meant for elites or professionals, but rather for every day Boulder and Denver residents who are working to achieve a personal running goal," said member Kevin Groves in the article.

Yes...I snuck into the "Justice League" school of running as a mere mortal.  The slow guy snuck into the fast kids club.

There are a number as aspects to the program that "stick out" compared to other training plans I've used;

1)  Individual coaching.  This is probably the biggest difference.  Benita sat down with me for over an hour before training began to understand my run history, goals, and (busy) lifestyle.  She attended my fuel and VO2Max testing, and was insistent on being in Boston for all her runners in the race.  This is not a "read a book" or a "one size fits all" plan.
2)  Focus on two quality workouts a week.  Overall theme is increasing speed through typically one weekday interval run and a Saturday tempo interval run.
3)  Slowing down the miles on other days of the week.  My tendency in the past was to run everything fast and go faster than I should have on recovery days. Both were bad ideas.  With a sub-3:20 goal in mind, Benita had me running many of my miles at a 9:00 minute per mile pace.  While that may seem fast to some, I've never ran so many nine minute miles before.
4) Mo miles.  The two quality runs were combined with a fair amount of mileage the other five days of the week.  I peaked out at over 70 miles in a week (which was a first.)  It was not uncommon to have a ten-twelve mile "recovery run" or Sunday "long run" after a ten-twelve tempo training session the day before.  Not for the timid.
5)  Very few rest days.  Most of my plans always had 1-2 rest days.  The Furman FIRST plan had at least two rest days a week.  I had very few rest days, or would still have a short run as a rest day and perhaps one day a week that was a crosstraining day (bike or swim.)
6)  Strength training.  In addition to the daily miles, there was typically 3-4 days a week of strength training.  Another first for me.  I've spent time in the gym but it was always somewhat intermittent or during off-season (whatever that is.)  If it wasn't weights, I was doing a lot of planks.  I'm a big believer in planks now as I felt strong during the 16-20 mile mark at Boston and more importantly after mile 20.
7)  Negative splits and progressive splits.  One of my last training runs was a 20 miler that had to have been the best training run I ever had.  After a warm-up, I ran four mile intervals starting at an 8:05 pace and ending at a 7:25 pace.  I didn't think I could do it when I saw the plan for the day, and couldn't believe I'd done it afterwards.  Obviously, all the above put me in the position to run that one.
8) Ongoing tracking.  I would meet up with Benita typically once a week and she'd monitor all my runs (through Training Peaks,) pace, and progress each week.  She had an overall plan, but would adjust week-to-week especially as my crazy work and travel schedule threw curves at me.  This goes back to the individual coaching aspect.
9)  Run without stopping.  It sounds obvious, but previous run clubs I ran with had water barrels every two miles.  Convenient, but I found we would stop (albiet briefly) and chat which didn't resemble marathon race day at all.  My current run group has marathon specific training runs without stopping.  Our coaches would drive to hand off water as needed or I'd carry.  I had to "learn" this, but felt it benefited me greatly in Boston.
10)  Raceday plans (see below.)

As I pointed out in my Boston Marathon race recap, I sat down with coach Benita the day before my race.  She told me I'd trained to run a 3:10 the next day.  I wondered what kind of booze she had in her latte or which athlete she had me confused with.  Sharing concern that I was still coming off a chest cold, we mapped out a 3:20 plan. The plan included how to run the first half, strategy over the fast first six miles at Boston, and how to run at the 16 and 20 mile mark.

I finished at Boston with a 3:22, and couldn't have been happier.  It was not an overall PR, but a Boston course PR for me.  Eight minutes (or seven minutes "and change" based on new requirements) under my BQ time, but most importantly, "bonk free."  This was another first.  In fact, I ran my last mile faster than my first mile and felt stronger from 20-26 than I did from 16-20.  Without the chest cold, and on a faster course, my goal of 3:20 seems quite doable at this point.

This is not a paid endorsement (I have none of those outside of "Chico's Bail Bonds) but a passionate testimony around finding the right training plan. Others swear by what's worked for them and this isn't intended to have you question your plan or bail on what's working for you.  While part of me likes the small size of our group (38 athletes,) it's almost too good a secret not to share.  Boulder's "Secret 38 Run Society."


  1. This is a great post about finding what works for you. In the fall I really embraced training for negative splits/progressive runs. It's something that I started to learn the last 2 years or so and it finally started clicking. This past fall I made a point to focus on the "progressive" aspect. All of my runs were finished faster than they started. Even easy runs, my last mile was my fastest, even if only by a second and still at a slow pace. Eventually it got easier and easier and now it's second nature. Clearly it works for me (and you!), I ran the second half of my last marathon (November) 7 minutes faster the the first, with my fastest mile being 26. I have friends that cant run negative splits to save their lives, but they stick with even paces and can run faster than me, it is all about what works for you.

    Congrats again on a great race in Boston, you trained hard and earned every second. Can't beat feeling strong in the spot where many have "bonked" (I've done it)

  2. Great post. So many plans out there would just kill me. Especially as I age.

  3. that looks like an excellent program! Love the one on one, that is so important!

  4. I need to look into suck a program IT sounds amazing!! Good job on your Boston performance!!

  5. Glad to see it worked for you! I suspected you were doing tempo work the day before the long run from the tweets you've sent out. Curious how those work for you, not overly tired I suspect? Did she keep the long run at a relatively easy pace or did you put a progression in to finish fast? We'll see how I do on this next race (Colorado Marathon)may just access their services for the next one. Thanks for posting.

    1. Good luck with Colorado Neil. Yes, Saturday tempo work was followed by a Sunday long run which was new to me as I was used to typically a Saturday long run with rest or cross-training on Sunday. My long runs with Benita were run much slower. Nearing the end of training, we would have marathon long training runs on Saturday with the progressives I described.


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