Inspired by Refinery29’s Money Diaries and The Cut’s Sex Diaries, welcome to The Runner Diaries, where we’re sharing a behind-the-scenes look into a week of training with runners of varying ages, paces and GPS coordinates.
This week, we have 42-year-old Joe O’Leary — a writer, musician, stage performer, and runner chasing PRs in every distance, from the marathon, to the 10k, in New York City.
The Run Down
Name: Joe O’Leary
Location: New York City
Training For: Summer speed stuff (Queens 10K, July 6th 5K) and fall distance (Bronx 10mi, Staten Island Half, NYC marathon)
Occupation: Sales Ops Office Guy
Goal race? relevant to this essay, Queens 10K
Following a training plan? Coach prescribed
Part of any running communities, clubs or training programs? CPTC
How long you’ve been ‘a runner:’ 3.5 years
Goal weekly mileage: 50 miles/week
Things are going pretty good for me, running-wise, this last year. I had some big PRs in the mile (5:21), 5k (18:48) and 10 mile (1:05:05) leading up to my marathon debut at the New York Marathon. In February I hit another sub-1:30 half marathon on my way to a 10-minute PR at the New Jersey Marathon. Just last Monday, I went sub-40 in the 10K for the first time (39:30), something that’s been on my list for a year.
I talk to a coach here, read an article or internet forum there, talk shop with other runners, listen to advice, try new things, be consistent with form — to me it’s all part of keeping on top of it. In lieu of having the discipline or schedule flexibility to adhere to a strict plan, I’ve substituted the willingness to assume that something I’m doing isn’t working, and to implement self-corrective behavior. And it’s been working, for the most part.
Next week I’ll be running the Queens 10K and then only a handful of smaller races until the fall season starts. I’ll be doing the Bronx 10 mile, Staten Island Half, and the NYC full. This summer, though, the plan is to cut back the miles and work on speed and tempos mainly until the long runs begin again in earnest. We’ll see how that plan goes. For now, eyes are on the 10k on the 17th. Looking to get a hard week of work in before a mini taper next week. I did 50 miles last week, looking to do something similar this week.
MONDAY — Day One
7:45am — Getting out of bed brings good news. For the first time since Friday, my quads do not shriek as my legs hit the floor. That means that eating close to my bodyweight in protein combined with a solid eight hours of sleep has done the trick. I know correlation does not equal causation, but I believe my (food + rest = recovery) equation to be true, at least in part. Either way, my legs are not as wobbly today as they have been,* and for that I am grateful.
*I reintroduced barbell squats to my cross-training routine as a way to deal with a series of nagging lower leg issues that persisted despite general lower body mobility and bodyweight training. Chiefly ankle tendonitis, but there’s been some non-localized aching and soreness as well. These issues don’t really affect me when running, but off the roads it’s been annoying, though intermittent. I moved away from heavy weights as a way to “bulk down” for my spring marathon (New Jersey, 4/30/2017, 3:15:45) but have been thinking of getting back into it as these non-muscle issues have been popping up. I have no hard science to back this up, but I feel like stronger muscles take the pressure off tendons and joints by acting as shock absorbers and doing more of the work. When I was lifting heavy I didn’t have any of these kinds of problems.More correlation based arguments, which I know only go so far, but you can’t argue with results right?
On my new training schedule, Monday’s an “off” day from running, but I’ll be in the gym later. As usual it starts with walking to work (approximately 1 mile) with a cup of coffee and a simple breakfast.
- 1 cup Trader Joe’s cheerios
- ½ cup uncooked oats
- 1 container (150g) Dannon Light & Fit yogurt
10am — Mid Morning Snack: Orange, small.
1pm — Lunch: Sweetgreen Custom Salad
3pm — Snack: Apple
5:30pm — After work I hit the gym. The plan for today is deadlift, back, and shoulders. I get some pull-ups and planks in before getting to the main work. Then it’s OHP > Deadlift.
- 3×6 pullups (weighted +10lb)
- 3 planks: 1:45, 1:30, 1:15
- Side planks 30 sec each side
- 5 sets OHP (moderate effort)
- 4 sets Deadlift (65, 75, 75, 90% bodyweight)
- 3 sets db rows (52.5 lb) x 10
- 3 sets db press (52.5 lb) x 10
Fifteen minutes in the steam room & a shower wraps up the session. All told I’m in there for about 90 minutes.
7:30pm — I do a little grocery shopping afterwards. There’s an open mic I like to hit on Mondays, but it’s getting late early and there’s stuff I need to do at home, so I decide to pack it in. At home I have a PB&J sandwich and catch up on some news. Then it’s cooking my lunches for the rest of the week. After cooking, I’m still hungry so I have a bowl of cereal – that wraps up my food intake for the day.
8:30pm — Evening Meal
- 1 PBJ sandwich
- 1 can LaCroix
- 1 bowl of cheerios – 1 cup almond milk + 1 banana
This is all generally in line with my TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) — I try to eat at maintenance, generally (slightly over on running days, slightly at or under on non-running days). When I started running & working out in general (approximately three years ago) I tracked everything pretty religiously for a while, but now can more or less keep a running total in my head. To me it’s more important to eat clean — lots of veggies, no HFCS, etc. — than it is to meet any strict calorie goal.
TOTAL MILES: 0
WEEKLY TOTAL: 0
TUESDAY — Day Two
7:45am — Wake up, quick shower, out the door
8:05am — It rains during the walk to work, but seems to have tapered off as I write this an hour later. If we had a day like today (60, breeze, rain) for the 10K next week, that would be incredible, especially after the hot, sunny, humid nightmare it’s been for the last two years.
Today is track day with my club, Central Park Track Club. I’ve been running with them since late last year, having joined to get a full cycle’s worth of training in for New Jersey. But first, work.
8:30am — Breakfast: Oats/yogurt
10am — Snack: Orange
1pm — Lunch: Pasta/Veggie Salad & Bread (I make this in bulk and put it in containers to bring to work. Each has the following, to the best I can estimate):
- ⅔ cup red bell pepper
- 1 cup broccoli
- ½ cup chopped carrots
- ¾ cup whole wheat pasta
- Chunk of bread
- Hot sauce, lots
At lunchtime, I’m feeling pretty good. Shoulders are a bit sore from the gym yesterday but legs are ready to go for track tonight.
3pm — Snack: Apple & orange
5:15pm — Pre-track CLIF Bar
5:45pm — I get home from work around 5:45 and don’t really have time to dawdle. I strap on my “fast” shoes: New Balance Vazee Prism.*
*These have been my “fast day” shoes for the better part of a year now, but the clock is probably ticking, miles-wise, on this pair (my 2nd). They’ve released Vazee Prism 2 which probably means they’re discontinuing this version, which will make it hard to find, but I’m not in the mood for shoe shopping at the moment so I haven’t really looked into it.
The jog from my apartment to the East River Track is about 3 miles, through midtown and down the east side. I’m not sure when I realized that it took me less time to jog it than to take the F train, but I’ve been doing it ever since. It also doubles as a nice warmup. I get to the track a little early, and do two clockwise loops. This, combined with the strides Coach has us do to heat up brings me to 4 miles.
7pm — Track Workout
The workout starts right away: Four sets of 800m at 5K pace, followed by a 100m jog, and then a 300m at 3K pace, followed by a 400m recovery. Coach tells us this is a workout geared towards the 5k. I can see it: run the 800 fast, then a quick recovery before kicking it up a notch for the 300.
The first two are feeling good. I’m hitting the 800s in 3:00, and the 300s in 1:00. I decide to kick it up a notch for the next two. The short recoveries between the 800 and 300 don’t make starting/stopping the watch very practical — I need a watch that can tick off segments (some of the people I follow on Strava have them. When it’s time to upgrade, I’ll look into it). But the group I’m running with confirms 2:56 for the 3rd 800 and 2:47 for the final. The 300s are fast. I practice really leaning into the turn and coming out on the straightaway blazing. My watch confirms that I’m accelerating pretty good here.
All in all a successful, satisfying workout. It’s always nice to come out of a workout feeling like you hit it as it was intended. I do a bit of light stretching and then slowly jog uptown (cool down) with some folks from the club who are going my way.
Strava data: https://www.strava.com/activities/1024506572
(I have my watch running the whole time so the times aren’t exact).
8:30pm — Evening meal
- 1 PBJ sandwich
- 1 can LaCroix
- 1 bowl of cheerios + 1 cup almond milk + 1 banana
After I’m done eating I do about an hour of reading and turn in around midnight. I can generally manage to fall asleep pretty quickly on running days, so I get about seven and a half hours of sleep, which is perfect.
TOTAL DAILY MILEAGE: 10.75
TOTAL WEEKLY MILEAGE: 10.75
WEDNESDAY — Day Three
8:30am — Breakfast: cereal/oats and yogurt
10am — Snack: Orange
1pm — Lunch: Pasta/Veggie Salad & Bread. Same as yesterday, but I found it a bit dry so I added some pasta sauce.
Snack: Apple, Orange,
Pre-Run Snack: CLIF Bar
6:30pm — Run
Wednesday is an easy run day with a few friends. There is a rotating group of 3-6 of us who meet up in Central Park after work and run anywhere from 6-10 miles and then go out for dinner or drinks or snacks, whatever we’re in the mood for. Pace varies from 7:30 min/miles to 8:30 min/miles depending on how we feel, where we are in our cycles, etc.
Today, I wear my Mizuno Wave Catalyst. These are my “normal” training shoes, the shoes I use for everyday runs. I like having two pairs of shoes and alternating them — I feel like it gives the shoes a little extra time to recover between uses and extends their life (maybe bullshit?).
I jog up from my apartment to the meeting spot (2 miles, easy). I’m a little stiff from the hard track workout yesterday, but feeling rested and strong. Today, there are three of us — one of us is on her first run since qualifying for Boston at the Vermont Marathon 10 days ago, so we’re taking it super easy. We run up the bridle path, do a loop, keeping to a modest 8-8:20 pace. We then switch to the inner path to do a loop of the reservoir. This is enough for them — after the reservoir loop they split off to grab their things before dinner. I decide to hang out for a bit and do another reservoir loop. I pick up the pace slightly but still keep it around 7:55 min/miles. There’s no need to push; I had a nice workout yesterday and have a hard tempo run tomorrow.
My main goals on a run like this are: 1) form and 2) enjoyment. For form, I will concentrate on foot strike, keeping my core square, etc. I have a checklist I go down from the top of my head down to my feet: Is my head up? How’s my breathing? Are my shoulder slouching? Are my arms pumping and in line with my path, or are my elbows flaring? Are my hips square? Are my legs moving straight or are they bumping into each other? Are my feet striking where I need them? I run through this list from top to bottom, and when I find something slacking, try to correct it.
Secondly, I try to just relax and enjoy myself. It’s 63 degrees, sunny, I’m healthy and happy and running in this beautiful park in this incredible city. What a world! After my second loop I merge back onto the bridle path and head south. I slip back onto the main loop around the Delacorte Theater and continue down to 72nd street, where I exit the park and head towards SweetGreen, where my friends and I will be having dinner. When I get there I’m at 7.95 miles so I run a little more to make it an even 8. This puts me at 10 when combined with my warm up.
Strava info: https://www.strava.com/activities/1026145813
8:15pm — Dinner is a Sweetgreen Harvest Bowl w/bread.
10pm — When I get home I watch a little bit of the Mets game. Later I get a little hungry so have a bowl of cereal with a banana, same as the other nights.
TOTAL DAILY MILEAGE: 10
TOTAL WEEKLY MILEAGE: 20.75
THURSDAY — Day Four
8:30am — Breakfast: cereal/oats/yogurt
10am — Snack: orange
1pm — Lunch: Pasta/Veggie Salad & Bagel
3pm— Afternoon Snacks: Apple & Orange
6pm — Pre run fuel: CLIF BAR
7pm — Run
Thursday is my club’s tempo night: This week’s workout is geared towards the 10K as many of us are running the Queens 10K next weekend. Tempo night is generally the workout I look forward to all week. I feel like the greatest gains I’ve had since I joined the club (which led to a 10 minute marathon PR) have been to these brutal tempos. The workouts are difficult by themselves; the fact that we’re running them on the hills of Central Park adds an extra wrinkle that makes them even more challenging. Add in the fact that no matter what group you go out with, there’s always someone to chase, always someone who’s going to push the pace, always someone to motivate you — it makes for an intense night. When approached properly it’s a great opportunity to improve.
I warm up 2 miles to the meeting point in Central Park, do some light stretching while the group gathers, then get ready to go out with my group. The weather’s on the cool side for this late in spring, and I feel pretty good after the last two days of running. The weekly structure of Track>Easy/Long>Tempo>off has been working pretty well for me in hitting these tempos.
The workout: This week is pretty typical: it’s a 5K, then an approximately ~.3-mile recovery, followed by a 2 mile, .a longer, perhaps ~.5-mile recovery, and then a mile to finish. The 5K is to be done at 10 mile pace (for me, 6:30/m), the 2 mile, at 10K pace (6:22/m), and then the mile even faster; Coach says 5 mile pace but I’m looking to hit it at 6:15/m. Shoe-wise, I’m back in the Vazee Prisms.
Part I: 5k w. ~3.-mile recovery
- We’ve been instructed to watch the pace on the 5K in order to save our energy for the back half of the workout. The second leg of the night, the 2 miler, is a straight shot from 72nd to the highest part of the park — but I can tell within the first 800m that it’s not going to happen. The group I’m out with is rolling along at closer to 10K pace, and I’m hanging with them. We’re on the lower loop of the park, doing just under two laps. I’m working hard here, but towards the end I feel like I’ve got it. I’m at the back of the back but they’re not dropping me. We cross in 19:45 or so, and then recover through the 72nd street cutoff back to the starting point, where we’ll head north for the next segment.
- Strava for part one: https://www.strava.com/activities/1027617587
Part II: 2-mile w/ ~.5-mile recovery
- The recovery is pretty short — we were warned! By the time the group goes to make the turn I’m feeling like I’m not ready, but I go with them anyway. The front of the pack pulls ahead, probably having done the 5K at ten-mile pace and switching now to true 10K pace. This part is all uphill, so my goal becomes not to fall too far off of the original pace. I figure if I can do this uphill stretch in 6:30 that would be fine. On the climb to the top of the reservoir, the back of the pack is a bit staggered. We’re aware of each other but fighting too much to stay together consistently. This is probably the hardest part of the workout for me. First mile: 6:35.
- There’s a nice downhill to start the second mile. Here, I try to practice good turnover. I’ve been using the downhills more for recovery than time recently, and I’ve been consciously working to find a happier medium in that respect. The squats are part of this. Stronger quads mean I will be able to let them take a bit more of a pounding as I work the downhills. I feel good here, using my momentum and form until we reach the 102nd cutoff and the hill scoops me up. I work the climb to the top of Harlem Hill – tough and steep but shorter than the counterclockwise ascent. I crest the hill and relax – the pack comes back together as we jog gingerly down the hill and talk about how much that just sucked (a lot). Second mile: 6:30
- Strava for part II: https://www.strava.com/activities/1027617589
Part III — The Mile:
- Moving clockwise up the back half of the Hills, we steel ourselves for the last leg. One mile. Easy, right? I’m shooting to hit this anywhere in the neighborhood of 10K pace. We start moving west through the 102nd street cutoff. It’s a slight downhill this direction, and by the time we’re through we’re already at .30. The rest is uphill. It’s difficult, and energy is low, but the spirit is strong and I’m moving well for what I have left. At .90 we crest the final hill and let it fly. We see the groups that have finished waiting with Coach by the bottom of the hill. I cross at 6:20, not bad. High fives and panting and ambling around with our hands knotted behind our heads follows before we gather ourselves for the cooldown jog back to the south of the park. It’s been a good night, and I’m thinking about food.
- Strava for part 3: https://www.strava.com/activities/1027617592
9pm — Dinner:
- Brown rice
- Trader Joe’s Jaipur Vegetables:
11pm— Late night Cereal
TOTAL MILEAGE: 11.50
TOTAL WEEKLY MILEAGE: 32.25
FRIDAY — Day Five
8:30am — Breakfast: Oats/Yogurt
10am — Snack: Orange
12:30pm — Friday is a half day at work — Summer Fridays! I take the prime afternoon time to hit the post office, bank, and DMV – quality errands for which I’d generally have to miss some work. I have my usual breakfast and stop for a sandwich before hopping on line at the DMV (lunch is a Meatball sandwich from Fresh & Co).
2pm — After errands I’m back in the gym for squats. No running today. I’m doing a pyramid, trying to work back up to bodyweight but I’m not there yet. I do a warm up set and then build up to 145lb and then back down again. I move over to the jungle gym for pull-ups, dips, and core. I finish with a nice, long, relaxed stretch and a full foam roll out. I’m sore but it’s nothing bad, unexpected, or unmanageable.
- Squats – 2 warm up sets, then pyramid x5
- Pullups 3 x 6 (+8lbs) / Planks 1:45 / 1:30 / 1:15 + 30 secs each side
- Dips, 3 x 10 / Hanging knee raises 3 x 10 / Single Leg Deadlifts 3 x 6 (20lb kettlebell)
- Static stretching
- Roll out
5pm — After the gym I treat myself to a Quest Bar (yes, I actually like them) and some miscellaneous snacking at home. Friday night is movie night at my friend’s place. I definitely snack pretty fiercely here: BBQ chips, macaroons, cookies, popcorn. I don’t know exactly how much but let’s just call it… a lot.
- Quest Bar
- CLIF bar & yogurt
- PBJ sandwich
- Movie Night snacking
TOTAL MILEAGE: 0
TOTAL WEEKLY MILEAGE: 32.25
SATURDAY — Day Six
9:30am — Movie night turned into a late night, but I’m up early anyway. I try to steal another half hour or so but as I’m drifting off the shelf in my bedroom falls off the wall. There’s only a cheap plastic lamp on it, and the shelf underneath holds, so no damage was done but it makes a terrific racket and jolts me fully awake.
It’s long run day. Long runs are pretty modest at this point in my cycle. Coach* is prescribing 10-11 miles, with 5-6 of those being at 10K+1min (~7:20/m for me). Doable. I make some coffee and eat a CLIF bar and check the weather – 90 degrees!! Well, I think, maybe I’ll just do a quick easy six and do the workout Sunday. But then I see that Sunday is supposed to be 93 degrees so I force myself to get hype for a hard run, to happen very soon. It’s only ten o’clock but it’s already 85 degrees. I’ve got to get moving before things get too bad. I eat an orange while throwing on clothes and get out the door fast.
*The CPTC coach sends out an email every week with the workouts, and how to approach the week. It’s not “long run season” (i.e., marathon season for most of us) but he seems to prescribe runs of 8-12 miles for those who want to do them.
- Clif Bar
10am — Run
I’m back in the Mizunos for this run. I’m not as sore after yesterday’s squats as I was last week, but the legs are definitely feeling heavy as I jog to the park. I get to Columbus Circle, take a drink of water, do some quick dynamic stretches and start my watch as I head up the east side. My plan is to get about two, two and a half miles into it before I bump my pace up to 7:20/m. It is, unsurprisingly, hot. I pass Engineer’s Gate on the loop and decide to just get it over with. The first mile of the pickup is a bit slow, at 7:30, so I decide to stop fucking around and just hit it. I work Harlem Hill and the rest of mile 4 to the tune of 7:12 and now it’s on. I’m working hard, it’s hot, it sucks. But I click off a 7:09 and a 6:58 before I rein it in a bit. 7:13 and 7:09 wrap up the workout portion — I’m back at Engineer’s gate, having done a complete loop. I recharge at the water fountain and move it onto the bridle path to jog it back in.
I do another 2.5 back to Columbus Circle and trot on over to Dunkin Donuts, my weakness, my love. They have something called a VANILLA CAKE BATTER donut which I simply must have. I also get a medium Strawberry Coolata, just about the perfect thing to drink after a hot run. It’s calorically pretty expensive, but it’s so hard to care.
Strava data for long run: https://www.strava.com/activities/1030099850
Afterwards, I’m farting around the house. I make some phone calls, do a little bit of work, and make myself a nice big stir fry for lunch. I dice a red pepper, chop up a carrot, and add about a cup of broccoli, fry up with a little bit of rice and some chicken, and I’m good to go. It’s an impressive sized lunch bowl (with bread!). I fall asleep watching the Mets game.
Post Run Eats & Lunch
- Lunch: bread rice chicken veggies sauce
7pm — I wake up and do a little writing, while keeping one eye on the NCAA Women’s Outdoor meet. There’s also the second game of the Mets doubleheader on. Snack is an apple and a small cup of cereal. Dinner is two Trader Joe’s Veggie Masala burgers, 4 slices of bread and ¼ cup of cheese. Add some mustard.
- Dinner- veggie burger patties on bread – cheese
Late night snack: M&Ms ice cream bar
TOTAL MILEAGE: 11.75
TOTAL WEEKLY MILEAGE: 44
SUNDAY — Day Seven
8:30am — I’m up at 8:30am and anxious to get out and run before the day gets too hot. I have no real goals for this morning’s run except 1) make it over 6 miles, to get above 50 for the week and 2) enjoy myself. Number one won’t be a problem but it’s not even 9am yet and already 80 degrees so number 2 will be a little more difficult. I eat a fairly typical “quick” breakfast, which is a cup of coffee and half of a PBJ: basically a slice of bread, half PB and half J, folded. With the coffee it’s filling enough. I don’t like to run with a full stomach.
9am — Run
I trot up to the park and start my watch. The sun’s out and it’s blazing; maybe even hotter than yesterday. I head up the west side and switch over to the bridle path at 72nd street. I take the bridle up to the 102nd transverse and jog through the cutoff via the road, and switch back to the bridle at the reservoir. It’s a pretty unremarkable run, but just the fact that I’m out and running sub 8s feels like work. I could slow down to 8:15-8:25/m but I think, what would really be the point? I’d just be out on my feet in the sun longer, so I run as fast as I can without really pushing just to get it over with. I stop and the water fountain by the reservoir on the way back, splash some water over my head, and jog it back down to Columbus Circle, and then home. I treat myself to a big, cold smoothie and a shower.
Strava Data for Sunday https://www.strava.com/activities/1031702062
I finish the week with 51 miles and change. It’s race week, with the Queens 10K slated for Saturday morning.
12pm — The rest of my morning/afternoon is filled with errands and grocery shopping, but I do manage to squeeze in a quick gym session. (But not before stopping by Dunkin Donuts for a Boston Creme). I give my legs a break and focus on upper body work, mostly shoulders and back. It’s a quick couple of sets, and I’m in and out in under an hour.
- ½ PBJ
- Cereal w/banana
TOTAL MILEAGE: 7.7
TOTAL WEEKLY MILEAGE: 51.70
A Look Back — Thoughts On The Week
I feel like this was a pretty typical week for me, although I admit I tried to make it as close to the platonic ideal of a training week as possible because I knew I was tracking everything. It made me think a lot about my motivations for everything, from what I eat to why I run, even why I write and what I would hope to get across to anyone who would be reading this. I’ve spared you the lion’s share of these expositions (I got close to 500 words deep into a tangent about waking up in the middle of the night before I realized I’d forgotten what I wanted to tie it into), but if for whatever reason you’re interested I could chew your ear off about it some other, more relevant, time.
I had a mellow taper week and went into my race (Queens 10K) not really feeling like I could chase another PR, so I set some more modest goals. I wanted to go out close to my PR pace but really wanted to negative split. I’ve been frustrated in recent races being dead towards the back half, and really wanted to see what I could do if I had gas left for a late charge. So at Queens I set out to hit the 5K in around 20 minutes and push the second 5K. Mission accomplished! https://www.strava.com/activities/1040870718
My 5K split was 20:07 and my final time was 39:54. My final mile suggests I probably could have started pushing a little earlier. But as much as I’ve learned over the years about how to run, learning how to RACE seems like a different matter entirely. So perhaps that could be my next goal.
About Joe O’Leary
Joe O’Leary is a writer, musician, stage performer, and runner based in New York City. More info about him can be found at his seldom-updated, poorly designed and woefully maintained website, www.mrjoeyoga.com
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