Austin Marathon & Half: Going the Distance

By Rogue Coaches: James Dodds & Chris McClung

My name is James Dodds. I work for Rogue Cedar Park, coach between both locations and have coached athletes of varying levels. I truly love coaching and truly love running. Running came to me at a time when I most wanted results for my efforts. I was at an age when I most needed a tangible sense of improvement. I could not control all being right in the world, but I knew if I got up out of bed I could run three miles, which would be come five miles, which would become a half marathon, which would become a marathon, which would become a faster marathon. Running gave me a tangible sense of improvement. That tangible sense of improvement makes us feel important. It makes us feel special

Whether you signed up for 13.1 or 26.2 and whether you signed up to finish or PR, what you are doing is important. In fact, I think that is why we do it in the first place. Ruth England, our founder and owner, has said, “As adults it is rare that we have the opportunity to do something that makes us feel special” We often see professionals on TV doing things our culture defines as “epic” and “successful.” We can quote rebound percentages for LeBron James, we can quote miles splits for Meb Keflezighi, and we just watched Joe Flacco win his first super bowl. We see such feats often and admire them from our couches or stadium seats. We see them and recognize them as special. Rarely do we have that feeling or that sensation about ourselves. We rarely have a moment where we stop and think, “Wow, I just did that! I really did that!” Marathons deliver us that opportunity. But it isn’t JUST about the distance.


Yes, the distance matters. However, the strides we make to conquer the distance, and the person we become in the taking those strides is what gives the event its sustenance … it’s what makes it special … its what makes it important. The training is what makes it so special. I commend you for your training … This is not me being cheesy or blowing smoke up your ass. I truly commend you for your training. Your training season requires much. It requires physical and mental bouts. Physically you log miles and sprint hills. Psychologically you face doubts. You wrestle with self. You have moments where you want to skip workouts but pull yourself though. You have moments where you skip a workout and you have to wrestle with that disgusting feeling of letting yourself down.  With every step you took this season of training you have bolstered this race’s significance.

It separates you from the Lunchboxes of the world.  If you didn’t hear about it, he is the guy who ridiculed marathoners last year and then ran one just to prove his “prowess.” Technically, Lunchbox covered the distance we all have or hope to cover this coming weekend.  However, I don’t identify with his story. He hasn’t poured out his spirit and tested his soul. He didn’t sacrifice Friday nights or time with friends for a goal he set out to conquer month’s prior. He didn’t ask, “What is my current potential and how do I improve upon that state?” Lunchbox’s attitude towards his effort would be like Scotty Mac walking into Rogue and belittling all of us after running a 2:30 marathon.

A 2:30 marathon is out of reach for 90% of all runners who have ever trained with Rogue. However, for Scotty, it would simply be a tough long run. If Scotty hung his hat on running 2:30, he wouldn’t have my respect. His drive, devotion, the willingness to push himself consistently in workouts … and his big ole, smiley personality is what makes us love and respect him. It is the training and the fight to yield something better and to become someone better that makes us all identify with each other … fast as Scotty or not. It is the training and development that makes this coming race so special.


Dr. George Sheehan said it another way:

  • “The person we presume to be seems unsatisfactory and inadequate. Sooner or later, it becomes important that we feel important and have the feeling that what we are doing is important … In the creative action of running, I became convinced of my own importance, certain hat my life had significance.” – Dr. George Sheehan

I find it difficult to consistently train for a marathon and not experience this type of introspection. So I commend you for your training. I commend you for the result you are fighting for and the person you are becoming in that fight. But don’t get me wrong. The fight is not over. The Training didn’t prepare you for a gift … it prepared you for a fight. Training wont make the race easy. It makes you ready to endure the difficulty that is to come. I think we operate under the misconception that training will somehow make the race easy but this race was designed to make you suffer.

On the racecourse, at least once, you are likely to hear the Rocky theme song. I know! I know! Cliché! Overplayed! I know how the cynic will read this as I choose to quote Rocky. BUT, since I know you are likely to hear the song, I figure I might as well use that to my advantage. Go back to the first Rocky. Try to remember the story. Most of the time you only remember that the movie was good enough to make like 10 versions of it and that at some point Rocky cries out, “AAAADDDRRRIIIIAAAANNNN!” But there is more to the story. I promise.

For example, do you remember that in the original Rocky, Rocky does not win the fight? He knocks down Apollo Creed a few times and prides himself in the ability to stay in the ring. At the fight’s end, they bring both men to the center and raise the hand of Creed announcing him winner. I should have remembered that but I didn’t. And that is the point. Rocky walked out of the ring with swollen eyes, a loss in the books, an exhausted and fatigued stature, and yet some strange sense of pride. That pride in Rocky’s story was written so that millions could watch and identify.


The story of Rocky is one of an underdog. The story of Rocky is one of a marathoner. You are putting yourself against a race that is designed to beat you. If you have heard Steve Sisson give this speech, you know he says, “The marathon always wins!” He doesn’t say that to add doubt to your plate. He simply wants to paint a realistic portrait of what you have signed up for. Your training has not yielded you a gift. Your training has yielded you ready for a fight. Reach your goal time or not, this race will fatigue and exhaust your body.  These were Rocky’s words the night before the fight.

  • “I can’t beat him … all I wanna do is go the distance … Aint nobody ever gone the distance with Creed. If that bell rings and I’m still standing then I will know for the first time in my life you see … that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

He went the distance and inspired millions. You will go the distance but NOT inspire millions. You will likely inspire others and yourself. But know that it will hurt and know that the marathon will win. The hardest part is yet to come. I don’t say this to scare you but if you are scared then that’s normal. It is normal to want out & doubts are understandable

In the coming days, the anxiety concerning the race will only build. If your goal is to finish then don’t be surprised if your brain starts creating escape routes. If you are shooting for a goal time, then don’t be surprised if your brain reminds you that mom will love you no matter the outcome.  You are not allowed to think that way this week!

On January 5th I paced the Jackson, Mississippi marathon. I committed to pacing this race last summer, 4-5 months prior to the race date. At the time my fitness was at a peak. I was fresh off a 10K PR and training for a big PR in the marathon.  2012 was supposed to be my year. So the commitment seemed sound at the time. However, I did not have the fall season I had planned for. I ran a few practice marathons that yielded sub par times and all of the sudden I no longer trusted myself. I remember the pace captain sending an email about 10 days out saying, “If anyone cannot make it then we could use the spots so don’t feel bad.” This was my chance. This was my chance to back out. I had only told a few people about my plan to pace and I figured I would just wait for them to ask and then I would say, “Ah they needed the spots and I had work” and then quickly change the subject.  But 2012 had been spiraling and I knew if I started 2013 with an act of cowardice then I wouldn’t shake it off for another 12 months. So I convinced myself to simply make the drive out. I figured even if I embarrassed myself and never got invited back, then at least it was in Mississippi and no Rogues would know about it.

The night before the race the anxiety was at its greatest. I was in my cheap hotel room watching Johnny Football run all over the Sooners. I looked above the TV and saw this huge disgusting yellowish, brown stain on the roof above me.  My brain instantly drifted into daydreaming of escape routes. I pictured some big leak exploding through the roof like a torrential down pour, interrupting my sleep and most importantly, mental well being … once again yielding a perfect excuse for not having to pace … I mean who could blame me for calling in having had an experience like that? But in that moment I looked back at the screen and watched a 20-year-old kid dance across it. He was no longer the underdog dethroning Saban and the Roll Tide. Now he was the hyped up Heisman who had to defend a legacy. He knew critics and skeptics would be watching. He knew Stoops would be studying his style and plotting to pick him apart. And I knew there was no way he would ever want out of that moment. This is the kind of kid that wanted his shot. He wanted the world to watch and he wanted to live up to that moment. He wanted to go the distance and then some! And I knew it that moment no excuse could ever be great enough.

Once we buy into going the distance, the only route to satisfaction is actually going the distance. It is there we find that feeling of importance. It is there we feel special. You want this. You signed up for this. So camping out on doubts, fears, and anxiety will do you no good.  The only thing you can do against an opponent so great is: Strip it down. Build a plan. Execute the plan!

The Plan

By Coach Chris McClung:


For those reading this blog in preparation for the Austin Marathon on Sunday, I applaud your bravery. Since the course was changed from a downhill screamer to the loop course we have today, most locals avoid their local marathon out of fear of those deadly Austin hills. While other locals are running scared to out of town races, you are facing this beast head-on with thousands of poor, naïve out-of-towners, who have no idea what they are getting into.

I have good news for you, though. I think this course, run correctly, can be nearly as fast as a flat course. It’s just damn tricky and requires near perfect execution in your race plan. There are two potential outcomes for you on Sunday. 1.Run smart, following a plan like the below, and you will crush the finish. Or, 2.Start too fast, falling into the booby traps of this race, and you will find yourself at the top of Duval around mile 22 curled up in the fetal position wishing you could roll downhill instead of walk or run. Which outcome will you choose?

If you choose outcome #1, then I suggest following a plan like the one below. It requires supreme patience early, but it’s the only way to take advantage of the generous downhills in the closing 6 miles of the race.

Instead of a mile-by-mile plan, I break the course into 6 sections, each section with its specific mission and pace guidance. Don’t worry so much about hitting a certain pace in each mile, but rather focus on executing an average pace within each section. Here is how I break it down:

Section 1: The Warm-up


Start to Mile 2.6 on Congress. The goal for this section is to “shorten the race.” By starting slowly, you turn a 26.2-mile race into a 23.6-mile race. Now, this is easier said than done because all of your normal physical and mental cues about pace will fail you in these opening miles.  Adrenaline and the frenetic energy of your fellow racers will tempt you into getting sucked out too fast. Plus, booby trap #1 on the race course – the Guadalupe downhill from Mile 1 to 2 – will make it easy to run faster than you planned.

Don’t. Relax. Start slow and easier than you think you need to, and if you hit your target marathon pace in this stretch, then slow the f**k down.

[One side note on pacers: The Austin Marathon has some of the finest pacers of any marathon in the land. And, it’s no coincidence that most of them are Rogues. They, however, are instructed to run even paces throughout the race, regardless of the hills. They can do that because they are all trained to run marathons 30 minutes or more faster than their selected pace on marathon day. If you want to blow up on the course, start with your target pace group. If you want to run smart, I would suggest that you use them as a tool or reference point, but DO NOT plan to run with your target pace group. Instead, start at least 2 or 3 pace groups back of your target group and plan to progress throughout the race. If all goes according to the plan below, then you won’t reach or pass your target pace group until the final miles of the race. I submit to you that there is no other way to run this course and be successful.]

Section 2: Crushed on Congress?


Mile 2.6 to Mile 6. Many overlook this section of the course, but do so at their peril. This section of the course has the highest elevation gain per mile than any other section of the course. Those whose goal is to run the last 6 miles of the race at a snail’s pace will take this section too fast. The temptation is to hit your target marathon pace and hold it in spite of the uphill climb. Do so, and your race is done before you even hit mile 6. Instead, stay relaxed, progress to marathon EFFORT, not pace. Let the hills slow you down naturally, holding energy/power in reserve for later. If you do that, then you should be running no faster than 10 to 15 secs/mile slower than marathon pace.

Section 3: Slammin’ South First

Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 10.02.17 PM

Mile 6 to Mile 9.5. In this section, you drop ~250 feet as you scream down South First back to the river. Most people will run this either too aggressively going too fast, way too early in the race. Or, they will brake the whole way down with their quads, destroying them for later. You should do neither. Instead, stay relaxed, let gravity increase your pace to slightly faster than marathon pace, but do it with proper downhill running form – body over your feet, so that you aren’t braking and destroying your legs.

Section 4: The End of the Beginning

Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 10.07.55 PM

Mile 9.5 to 13.1. This is the Winsted-Enfield-Exposition section of the course which many of you fear the most. It has rolling hills the whole way and some of the toughest hills on the course. Essentially, you take the challenges of sections 2 and 3 and combine into one section. You have steep ups and downs and no single will be the same pace in this section. The main goal here is to conserve energy on the ups and relax on the downhills, so that you save your energy for later. Treat the hills as a gift reminding you to be conservative. Don’t fight them. Embrace them all the way to the half way point.

Section 5: Still Climbing?

Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 10.10.50 PM

Mile 13.1 to 19.75. Most people want to breathe a deep sigh of relief at mile 13.1, thinking the hills are behind them. But, they aren’t. These 6+ miles feel like a long, gradual climb, and essentially that’s what it is. Those who make mistakes here will force the pace/effort too early rather than staying in control and relaxed. Your pace should be +/- MGP but you should again let the slight ups and downs adjust your pace accordingly. Stay patient as long as you can, b/c the last 6 will be screaming fast for you, if you play your cards right.

In this section, you will also begin to face your biggest mental demons of the race, potentially on the long, annoying straight-away that is Great Northern. Be prepared for that – have power words or phrases and other mental strategies ready to maintain your focus.

Section 6: Road to Glory

Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 10.12.25 PM

Mile 19.75-26.2. Road to glory. You reach the northern most part of the course at the same time you reach the highest point on the course. It is literally all downhill from here, including the screaming fast section on Duval. Now, the biggest challenge is getting to this point with cards left to play. If you can avoid the early booby traps or at least outsmart them, then the last 6.45 miles will truly be the road to glory. If you can’t avoid those traps, then you will find yourself on a miserable slog to the finish. Those are the two extremes, and this course allows for very little in the middle.

The last 6 miles should be a progression run to the finish, picking it up each mile as you go and letting the downhills carry you where they can. There is an annoying climb in the final half mile up San Jacinto to the finish, but if you are running progression to that point, then it will be no big deal b/c it’s so close to the line. Your job is to execute the first 5 sections well, so you can close the deal when it counts.

If you’ve done everything right, then your plan should be to run the second half of the course 2-4 minutes faster than the first. Believe that this is possible, and then execute the plan one section at a time. The outcome will then take care of itself.

You are ready to go the distance! What you are doing is important! Remember your training! Be ready to fight! Study the plan! Execute the plan! 


4 thoughts on “Austin Marathon & Half: Going the Distance

  1. I’m 49yrs old and this was my first marathon. I followed your plan to the T. I went out for a 3:45 pace, which I decided upon after a conversation with Steve Sisson at the Livestrong VIP dinner on Friday. At mile twenty I was right on pace for 3:45 but felt I had a lot left in the tank. I started easing ahead over the next three miles and still felt strong at mile 23. That’s when I really started to pick it up and was in all out full stride for the last 200 meters on the course. I ended up finishing at 3:39:08 and felt fantastic! Steve told us at dinner – “Go out and run a beautiful race”. Thank you for this excellent post. You helped me run a beautiful race on a beautiful and inspiring Austin day! Regards, Sean Maguire – TEAM KATE

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