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Finding a Passion and Love for Running

By April 4, 2019May 20th, 20235 Comments
Josh Clothiaux running marathon

Josh Clothiaux from Washington D.C. recently posted a very nice message in our Extramilest Facebook Group. I really like how he has been able to find a real passion and love for running, while improving significantly as an athlete. I wanted to hear more about his approach to training and racing and he was kind enough to share his experiences below.

Floris Gierman, I’d like to share a quick note of gratitude, and encourage others who recently started MAF low heart rate training to stick with the program. It can be frustratingly slow in the beginning, but as others have proven, it pays off. Prior to today, I ran two marathons and struggled with severe muscle cramps at the end. The first around 4:10 and the second around 3:50. Neither experience was particularly fun, either. I ran a 3:26 in Washington DC today – without muscle cramps no less. It’s not the sub-3 time that several others have achieved, but your podcasts and blog posts have helped me find a passion and love of running. Thank you – I can’t wait for the next race!

Where were you born and where do you currently live? 

I was born in State College, Pennsylvania and currently live in Washington, D.C.

How long have you been running? 

I grew up playing sports, and have been active for as long as I can remember, but have only recently started to run independently of training for a sport. I’d say I started seriously running a little over one year ago. 

You have ran 3 marathons so far, what were the months and year you ran this in and what was the finishing time of each? 

I first ran a 4:11 at the Pittsburgh marathon in May 2016. The race was brutal and a template of how not to train for a marathon. In hindsight, I’m fortunate to have avoided serious injury. I next ran a 3:52 at the Georgia Marathon in March 2018, but suffered through leg cramps at the end (similarly to the first marathon). Most recently, in early March 2019 I ran a 3:26 in the Washington DC Marathon

You recently ran a 24 minutes PR! What was the biggest difference in your training and racing that you ran such a big PR?

The slow pace of the training runs. Shifting to heart rate training was immensely useful. I completed most of my training between a 130 to 150 HR. I posted some of the runs to my Strava and receive the typical “slow pace!” comments. Low HR training is an excellent tool for ego reduction too! The slower pace also allows for a focus on breathing and form. I experimented with a metronome on a few runs to improve cadence, and learned that I likely was over-striding in the first two marathons. I prefer the lower end of the steps per minute range, but have settled in to the 170/minute range on race days.

I started MAF training last October 2018. All of my training runs in the HR zone. When tired, I dropped the pace to the lower end of the zone or took the day off. I continued to play soccer and basketball recreationally, so any cross-training was not strictly MAF. My longest training run was about 17 miles (~2.5 hours), and all of my training runs were in the HR zone (~135 to ~150 bpm on average). 

Josh Clothiaux running marathon
Josh Clothiaux at the Hokie half marathon

What was your training volume in hours or mileage like? How did a typical training week look like for you?

Per your podcast with Phil Maffetone, I imposed a time limit on the training runs, and instead walked around the city before or after the run for additional mileage. I ran around 35 to 45 miles per week. Most of my runs double as the commute to work (between 2 and 3 miles), and I’d add a longer run on the weekend. I capped my longest runs at around 2 hours. I made a few smaller changes too, such as using a standing desk at work and walking most places rather than taking public transport.

Any strength or cross training? 

I lifted weights a few times per week, spent a few hours per week on a stationary bike, added core work, and stretched. I also played soccer recreationally with friends.

Josh cycling pikes peak with the non-profit “Bike and Build”

What was your race strategy going into the Washington DC marathon? 

My strategy was designed to avoid leg cramps late in the race. I focused on a running slowly, breathing consistently and deeply, finding a sustainable cadence, and supplemented regularly with electrolytes and sodium tablets. I refined the supplement regimen in training, and felt confident in the approach on race day. I held back until mile 24, then raced to the finish.

How did the race strategy work out for you? 

Admittedly I was skeptical about finishing a marathon without completing a long-distance training run or two, especially with my history of cramping. I kept waiting for the cramps to arrive, but when my legs felt fresh approaching mile 24, I took advice from Kelley Puckett (who said something on your podcast along the lines of “when your legs hurt at the end of the marathon, they really need a change of pace, so run faster”) and I finished out the race at 6:45 min/mile.

My strategy worked as planned. I’ll modify it next race to allow for more consistent splits.

What did you do when you hit tough spots in your race? 

I tried to relax, focus on breathing, smile and enjoy the run. 

What did you eat and drink the night before your race and on race morning? 

I ate a sweet potato, banana, and almond butter in the morning. I made no modifications to diet for the race. I plan to improve nutrition prior to the next race.

How did you limit your risk of injuries during training? 

The traditional running plans dictate the daily mileage but do not account for fatigue or other factors. I increased mileage slowly and again trained at a comfortable pace. I also took rest days when I felt fatigued, and didn’t feel the pressure or guilt of a “missed” training day. 

Do you have any recommendations to other runners looking to improve, to become stronger, healthier, happier and faster athletes? 

I don’t think I have anything novel to contribute that your Extramilest Podcast or Extramilest Facebook Group hasn’t covered. If I were to stress one element of your program, I think it’s to adopt a long-term approach to training. You’ll see results if you run at an appropriate pace, avoid injuries, and stay committed to training over several months and years.

Which other races are on your bucket list to run? 

I’m running the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 5th, but am not sure about future races after. I think my next goal will be to qualify for Boston, but that’s probably one or two years away.

Any closing thoughts?

Your Extramilest podcast covers an array of topics, and I only followed the MAF training to start. With the goal of long-term running success, I opted not to overhaul my life for running and instead focused on the incremental, manageable changes that you recommended. I started walking or running to work for extra mileage, take the stairs rather than elevator, and used a standing desk for part of the work day.

There’s much to learn and improve on in the future. I’m slightly under 6ft (182cm) and ran the race at around 195lbs (88.5 kg). I could stand to lose a few pounds. In the next phase, I’ll slowly implement your suggestions on diet and make smarter food decisions (I ate pizza and went out for a beer with friends the day before my race). My dream is to qualify for Boston, and your methodology provides the template for doing so. But first, a post-race beer!

You can find Josh on Strava and connect more with him in our Extramilest Facebook group.

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  • Vikash Malik says:

    Wonderful post as always. I followed you a lot and still follow your method of extra miles and MAF. Thanks to your posts I was able to make to Indian National 100k Ultra Running team and ran in the world championship in Croatia in 2018. I ran sub 3 marathon in 2016 and is in the shape of sub 2:50 ( I hope). Thanks for your posts and blog

  • Hendra says:

    Hai. Im curious. Ive practiced Maf method and i have felt the improvement.

    But regarding to full marathon race. Do i need to run at maff pace too? Or i run to a higher heart rate?

    What is the heart that i should use during full marathon then?



  • Flo says:

    Hi Hendra, that’s great you have noticed improvements training at MAF low heart rate. The concept is to train at low HR and teach your body to use more body fat for energy by developing aerobicly. During a race like a marathon you can get your HR above MAF. How much above is something you should test on long training runs. For me 15 to 20 beats per minute above MAF is sustainable for the duration of a marathon. How that helps. Have a great race!

  • Flo says:

    Hi Vikash, I’m happy to hear that. Congrats on your great running accomplishments. Well done on your sub 3 and all the best with your upcoming races. Let me know how your sub 2:50 attempt goes! Thanks for letting me know. Cheers, Flo

  • Vikash Malik says:

    Hi Flo

    Did not run a marathon yet but ran 50k in madcity in 3:27 with marathon split of 2:53. I think sub 2:50 is coming this year possibly 2:45.

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