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Boston Marathon GFA - An Antipodean parkrun Journey!

It was early November 2023 when Gary reached out after a mutual friend suggested he contacted me. After an initial video call, we met and discussed Gary’s Good For Age (GFA) goal. 


We commenced training on 1st January 2024 and on Sunday 28th April Gary completed Boston Marathon UK, in quite horrendous conditions, in a time on 3h30m04s, exceeding Boston (US) GFA time (60-64 age group) by 25mins. Gary’s previous Marathon PB was set in 1992, at London, with a time of 3h48mins. Although this does not guarantee entry, he is in a great place to get one.


Congratulations Gary, an awesome run and a result that you deserve.


Session planning was not quite what I expected, and time zone changes made for interesting scheduling and catchup video calls.  Continue reading for more information on Gary’s intercontinental journey.


Marathon Runner
Gary looking as strong as the weather at mile 22.

First Steps

Referrals turn out to be some of the best coach/athlete relationships, as you can ask someone else what they are really like!  However, this time our mutual friend just said to me “he likes running, he likes parkrun and he’s chatty”, not too much to go on!


After an initial video call, we agreed to meet face to face, and a week later we discussed all things running and Gary’s goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon 2025. By this time Gary had already been building his weekly volume across several months, and we agreed what training to do between now and the beginning of the year when formal training would commence.


Before we wrapped up the meeting, there was one final point Gary had to mention “I’ll be on holiday for 3 months in New Zealand for most of the time”.  Knowing how hard it can be to train consistently whilst on holiday, I almost decided to not take Gary on (what a mistake that would have been), and after further discussion it was clear that it was more of a case of living in NZ for 3 months and training in their summer. We agreed to proceed, and after completing the athlete onboarding process, we commenced formal training on 1st January, 2024.


January

Well actually 30th December, when the first workout was uploaded into TrainingPeaks, and my surprise it was not in New Zealand, but a parkrun in Brisbane, Australia. This was followed on Sunday by a relaxed accidental Half Marathon and then it was back to Brisbane on the Monday for the New Year’s Day parkrun. parkruns are one of Gary’s passions and were a requirement to be scheduled into his training plan.


A few days later it was off to New Zealand and Northern Pathway parkrun, on the North Shore, an area I knew well having lived there for a year.  The following week it was Waitangi  parkrun in Wellington and Gary’s base for a while.


We settled into a great routine with key weekly sessions being a midweek long endurance run, Saturday parkrun, a tempo or race pace run and an interval session. Around these were easy and recovery runs with options to cross train if that felt the right, to manage fatigue.


Gary continued to eat up the miles until a pre-existing groin issue flared up. After a visit to the physio we understood how to manage the issue and took a few weeks holding the weekly long run around Half Marathon distance, whilst it settled. 


Before the end of January, a couple more surprises popped up in TrainingPeaks. A parkrun in Sydney (Aus), I did not feel any pity for the comment about it being 'a little warm'! The second surprise, a week later, received the same reaction from me when I read ‘long flight and feeling stiff’ as this parkrun was in Darwin (Aus).  We agreed to talk a little more about future expeditions, so that travel time and related stress could be factored into the plan.


February

The new month saw a change in basecamp for Gary to Tauranga (NZ) and with the groin issue under control we started to extend the weekly long runs.  Additional weekly volume was gradually introduced with second run sessions planned some days.


This month’s parkrun travels saw Gary get bored of Tauranga after one week, as he was back to Melbourne the following week.  He then decided to give Tauranga another go before flying over to Adelaide (Aus) for the final parkrun of the month.


March

It was now time to move on from NZ and spend time in Tasmania for a couple of weeks and despite Gary trying, the lack of regular flights meant he stayed put for two whole weeks!


It was then off to Singapore on the first leg of his return trip to the UK. I’m not sure why I was surprised when Singapore parkrun popped up.  Who wouldn’t time their layover around a parkrun!!


Having only been back in the UK for six days, it was off to Poland for a parkrun, followed by Irchester Country parkrun in Wellingborough and finally Kew Gardens Half Marathon, as a test event, and it was pleasing to see the expected lower heart rate in the cooler UK weather.


It was also great to see how far Gary's fitness had developed. At the end of December Gary ran a Half Marathon at a pace of 5m22s/km (8m38/mile) with an average heart rate of 131bpm and at Kew he ran at a comfortable pace, whilst testing his nutrition plan, at a pace of 5m14/km (8m25/mile) with an average heart rate of 123bpm.  His theoretical threshold heart rate and pace had improved throughout the months.


April

With only four weeks to Boston (UK) we agreed to reduce travel and the risk of catching a bug. The compromise was just one more international parkrun at the beginning of the month, in Sicily! Gary then stayed in the UK, but never once ran at his home parkrun!


The final few weeks I knew would always be a challenge. Tapering was new to Gary and along with his passion for running was going to be a fine balancing act between physical and mental preparedness. We closely monitored fatigue levels, primarily through subjective feedback and agreed an additional long run just 1.5 weeks out from the event. Running frequency did not change much, but intensity and volume were reduced to remove fatigue and gain form.


The week before Boston, Gary was in London supporting friends and runners at the London Marathon. Just over a Half Marathon was walked that day.  Monday’s run was impacted by a sharp pain down the lateral side of Gary’s left calf. On Tuesday Gary cut short (quite rightly and for the first time) a session due to the pain and saw his osteopath for a planned visit.


Only cross training was completed on the Wednesday and Gary was seriously concerned that Sunday’s race would not happen. A planned visit to the physio provided some well needed confidence and a short test run was completed on the Thursday, with no calf pain. 


Saturday’s parkrun went to plan, as did the Boston Marathon. Was it a severe case of Maranoia, we will never know.  Apart from the weather, the Marathon went to plan and Gary’s goal was achieved. Despite instructions not to run on Monday, a 5k was completed with the notes “social group run, more of a walk”.  I guess he’s recovered!


When I first met Gary I was not sure that needed a coach. At our post race debriefing we touched on this subject once again. Gary mentioned the accountability he felt meant he completed the sessions he may have skipped if self coaching, and that I provided confidence that not every session needed to feel hard.


What next? Fingers crossed for a Boston 2025 place, oh and RideLondon 100-mile bike event in 3 weeks’ time! 


Age is just a number and not a limiter.  Keep dreaming and keep chasing your dreams.


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