PF Chang’s Rock’n’Roll Marathon – A View from the Front

Coach Joe and I had a real treat riding in the lead media truck for the women’s race. It was dominated by Adenech Zekirios from Ethiopia who broke her own course record in 2:31:33. Joe did a great job passing along the play-by-play of the race. But, I want to share other observations.

From the start the three Ethiopians broke clearly and confidently from the rest of the pack. The American women were focused on Olympic trails A & B standard qualifying times. The three ran in perfect unison. Through more than 10 miles, we all remarked about even their footstrikes were perfectly synchronized. Though their upper bodies varied in movement – arms were swinging comfortably and with little effort even at paces in the high 5:30s and low 5:40s. When Zekiros made a break around 14 miles the effort increase was imperceptible. Yet, she dropped several of the miles down into the high 5:20s. Remember, this is a marathon not a 5k!

We dropped back a few times to catch the “race for the trials”. Observing a group of 16 of America’s finest distance women in a pack ws exciting. They were lead by a group of 4-5 elite men from the Hanson’s Racing team. These men were capable of far faster paces. They cruised pacing the women at 6:15 per mile while they are more accustomed to perhaps 5:15 per mile or better. A study in contrast of effort. The women, though relaxed at their race pace, were for the most part in total concentration. The men actually appeared to have to chop their strides and hold back.

The observation of effort in the human form even at the same pace is interesting. Arm swings – totally relaxed to the bit of tension and effort with each swing. Strides – slightly chopped to long and fluid. Upper bodies – some solid-strong and motionless, some with slight wobble. Breathing appeared very controlled and relaxed in most everyone and only later would I notice any labor at all. But vividly noticeable was the sound of their footstrikes. No, the lack of sound of their footstrikes. They glided over the ground. Strides as unique as they all were, were almost silent as they touched down. It was power and grace. Almost without exception these women came from track backgrounds and moved up to the marathon over time. And it is apparent in their running.

So often I hear from non-runners (even many runners) who think that watching running races is boring. Funny, the small group of us on that truck were enthralled. We watched and amazed at the athleticism, grace and power of these runners. It was like an illusion though. From the vehicle, watching, it appeared that we could have just jumped out and kept pace because they made it look effortless. Only when the reality of their splits were announced with each passing mile you realize the amazing feat that we were witnessing.

As the stress of the miles grew, there were changes in running forms. Some were subtle like a slight increase in arm movement or head wagging. Others, strides became more abbreviated. You could feel the tightness in the quads and hamstrings even from the truck. It was a observation study in human effort. But, even in slowing in the late miles, there was a contrast to the runners who were to follow in the hours to come.

At the finish, as all the runners came streaming in hour after hour, it was still a study in effort and form. These elite runners who spend many more miles on the track and doing high quality workouts (in conjunciton with longer runs of course) take that strength to the marathon. Most age-group runners (non-elite) spend far too little time doing quality work that makes them stronger, lighter on their feet and more efficient. The takeaway for me is as we get stronger and accustomed to running at faster paces, the slower paces (longer races) are dramatically improved.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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4 Responses to PF Chang’s Rock’n’Roll Marathon – A View from the Front

  1. Karen says:

    Last year I volunteered at a PF Chang water station. Seeing the elite runners go by was amazing! They didn’t look like they were running that fast even though I knew they were keeping a pace I couldn’t imagine holding for one mile.

  2. Joe Garland says:


    Very nice report. A couple of personal observations. A friend’s daughter was going for the A (she had the B) in NY 2007 and was right behind Paula at the start. She was amazed at how muscular and strong Paula is and vowed to work towards that physique for the trials themselves.

    Years ago I was running a Trevira Twosome — a 10-miler, one of the major road races of the day — and found myself running next to Grete at about 7. I was surprised at how heavily she was breathing. She was running relaxed, but breathing hard. I always figured she would be silent on that front, but she was like the rest of us when we’re under strain. (And I did beat her, although she got me in the marathon.)

    Finally, couldn’t agree more about the value of speedwork even for marathons, no matter what one’s speed. Among the purposes is that strength, lightness, and efficiency one gets from lots of repeats on the track and up hills. It’s when things otherwise start falling apart that at least you can count on your form holding.

  3. genej330 says:

    Coach Dean

    I enjoyed reading your observations of the view from the front. That must have been some experience for you. Awesome!

    Your assessment of the first few miles was right on as I was able to get on the ‘caboose’ of the Hanson pacers and women olympic hopefuls for the first 3 miles. They were holding a comfortable (for them) 6:13-6:15 mile pace. I figured it to be about a 2:50 pace which was slower than I knew they needed or could do. The entire group made it seem almost effortless and there was even some light chatter from a few of the women. Maybe the Hanson men knew that as they finally picked up the pace. And subsequently dropped me.

    I did keep the slower (relative to the rest) group in my sights for about 10 miles. I was so impressed by how well they were all running and keeping pace. They looked incredibly strong and poised.

    The final few miles did wear on several of the women as I was able to catch and pass 2 or 3 that were struggling. Hey, its a long way to run for anyone. But that was about it. I knew most were in that 2:45 – 2:50 range. Outstanding!

    On a personal note, I ran a new PR of 2:56:47. Everything came together for me once again in Arizona and this is my favorite marathon to run. And it’s always a pleasure training with you, Claudia and the Rx Running club when I visit the valley.

    Gene Jochen


  4. Gene,
    That is a great effort. Congratulations on the PR. My experience running with the elite women is that they are so finely tuned in to what they are doing that they are incredible pacers and most (of course not all) are ideal to run with. At that level for women, they tend to be far better pacers than men at that speed. These very good but not elite age-group men at that level tend to go out way to fast.

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