Dot McMahan was our guest on Episode 12.
C259: Dot, welcome to the Cloud.
Dot: Thank you for having me.
C259: It’s great, great, great to have you, especially heading up so close to Worlds. The obvious first question is how is your training going? How are you feeling? Are you tapering back your mileage yet?
Dot: I am not. Training is going very, very well. I think I topped out at about 114 miles per week, which is down from my pre-baby years if you will, but up from Chicago last fall. I had a minor two-day setback, and I ran on the Alter-G for two days, but otherwise workouts have been going along as planned, and today I ran my fastest 2 x 6 mile workout ever, so that’s very promising.
C259: Great. How fast was it?
Dot: My first one was 33:38 and my second one was 33:29.
C259: You brought it down 9 seconds. How much of a gap between the two segments?
Dot: It’s 10 minutes.
C259: That bodes well for the race. What is your goals?
Dot: My goal is a perceived effort PR. The weather might hold me back from an actual PR. I’ve run enough marathons that I’ll know if it’s a perceived effort PR or not. Along those lines, I’m shooting for a top 20 performance. Looking at the weather in years past and what the times really mean and the conditions and the effects of all that, I think top 20 is what I’m looking for, and time will be irrelevant actually.
C259: Have you and Deena and Jeannette discussed possible tactics? Any chance that you’ll run together at the beginning of the race?
Dot: We haven’t been in contact about tactics, per se, but I think our times have been pretty similar over the last year so my guess is that we might end up running next to each other at least for a portion of the race.
C259: Obviously you are focused on the race at hand, but do you still plan on running a fall marathon, or does this eliminate the possibility?
Dot: Yeah that eliminates my possibility of running a fall marathon. I need a bigger break between my marathons.
C259: Dot you said you got up to 114 miles. How many miles during an average week were you running?
Dot: Probably right about 110.
C259: So a very steady high plateau.
C259: Getting to your career highlights a bit, you set a massive PR in the 2008 Olympic Trials, an eight minute PR, then you took a little time off to have a baby, your daughter was born in 2009. Then by 2011 you had another big PR, a three minute PR at Grandmas. What do you attribute those big improvements to?
Dot: There were a few things I changed shortly before the 2008 Trials, but probably the main change that I made is that I put a time limit on my career in order to have a baby. It forced me to be present in my training. I was happy with my career if I never came back to competing again, but I also wanted to reach a few more goals before walking away. For example, from the ’08 trials to that fall, one of my goals was to be top 5 in a US championship which I did in the 20K, and I wanted to make one final world team before I had a baby. Making those goals allowed me to be really present in the moment. I think a lot of times we make these goals and we don’t put a time limit on it. We say, oh I want to run under 33 minutes in a 10k, and we don’t say I want to run under 33 minutes in the next year and plan your year around that, so I think really making that decision to have a baby forced me to become present in my training.
C259: And then you got even faster after having a baby.
Dot: Yeah, I’m not going to say that was easy by any means. But after having my daughter, I became more motivated by the amount of time I put into training because it meant time away from my family. My thought was if I was going to pursue another Olympic Trials qualifier I needed to be very aggressive. Every run needed to have a purpose. At Grandma’s marathon I told myself I needed to have a PR or I would give up my running. I became very mindful of staying in the present.
C259: It has lent an urgency to your training.
Dot: Yes, definitely.
C259: Is there a chance that Worlds might be the last race for you? Or are you looking towards the next Olympic trials, which would be your third trials?
Dot: I really do live segment to segment now because my family’s needs are constantly changing, and I really don’t feel like I can devote myself more than a few months at a time. But I do have a few more goals on my bucket list, if you will. They are mostly time goals now, but that’s only because I recently accomplished two major goals this year, and one of them was winning a US Championship and the other was making a world marathon team.
C259: Is one of them sub-2:30?
Dot: (Laughter) That’s definitely out there. I also have 5K and 10K goals and half marathon goals, but honestly most of them are time related. My two main goals were to win a US championship and make a world marathon team.
C259: What are your time goals at the other distances?
Dot: I’d like to break 16 in a 5k, I’d like to break 33 in a 10k. I would like to run in the 1:11s for a half marathon and run under 2:30 for a marathon, that’s definitely out there. That’s one that I’m not completely sure at Moscow if it will be possible – not because of lack of good training, my training has been going really well – it’s just that the conditions may not allow for that to happen. I hope I’m wrong, but at 2 o’clock in the afternoon in August, it might be kind of brutal.
C259: Now the 25K champs had a thrilling ending, can you take us through the last mile of that race?
Dot: I’ve run the race a lot of times, and it tends to play out the same year after year, and the pace is always irrelevant. It’s always one person, maybe two, get out super hard. And then a big secondary pack settles for the first six or seven miles, and then at that point the hills start, and somebody makes a move, and it breaks up the pack. This year was really no different. What was different for me is that I actually went out with the lead back, and that’s something I’ve never done before. You can ask my coach – I don’t race at the front I like to watch in the second pack and then kick. So this year was a lot different for me. The pace was quicker than I thought I was ready for, to be honest, but I felt good and I convinced myself to stay with the leaders. Slowly mile after mile we dropped the secondary pack. I just really enjoyed knowing that I made a mental breakthrough and so I made a small break around Mile 13 or so, but Chemtai [Rionoukei] responded by Mile 14 and then I started to suffer a little bit, and Mattie [Suver] passed me. And then there was that point in the race where you realize what’s on the line, and I had to make that decision to either let my bucket list goal slip away or try gutting it out. I gutted it out and really hoped for the best. I knew Mattie’s a tough competitor and she wasnt going to let me take it away. And so it ended it up being a pretty intense finish. But I feel I made my mental progress by running at the front that day.
C259: Did marathon training give you confidence to do that, knowing that you were in fantastic shape?
Dot: No, not at all, actually the complete opposite. I took this winter and worked on my speed. I did an indoor segment and I had a lot of bad indoor races but a lot of good indoor training. I worked on my speed I didn’t know how it was going to correlate to racing the 25K in the spring. But a lot of times we think of ourselves as old school marathoners, at least I do, my 5K and 10K PRs aren’t anything to write home about, but I am a good marathoner, a consistent marathoner. I think I needed to work on my speed and just take the time to do that. Sometimes we’re so impatient. We don’t want to work on things we’re not good at. Especially at my age. I just want to do things that I’m good at. My coaches thought that would be a good idea – they didn’t say that I had to do it, but they strongly suggested that I do that.
C259: So you were an 800 meter runner in college, so you were going back to previous types of training.
Dot: Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely different to go back to speed work once you’ve run marathons and run the higher mileage. It was a good learning experience for me, and honestly I think that’s what got me through the 25K. Running a little bit faster pace wasn’t as excruciating as it had been in the past because I had done so much speed work. And the base is always there. If you’re running a marathon or two a year, you always have the base in your legs.
C259: Tell us about your Olympic Trial races. The first as we mentioned was a huge PR and the second was even faster.
Dot: I really enjoy the Olympic Trials races, because the best part is we have everyone on our team training for the same race. Just the hype from that alone makes training exciting. I don’t think there’s anything specific to say about those races. I think I ran what I was ready to run, what I was trained to do. I just had a lot of fun with it. It’s really unique to have as many training partners as I do, and it just brings that race up a notch compared to any other marathon that you do.
C259: With Olympic Trials races there’s that obvious goal that if you finish top 3 you go to the Olympics. You had said at the time that there was an outside chance of you coming in third. Does that loom large in the race or do you just enjoy the race knowing that if it happens it happens, and when the reality sets in that it’s not going to happen, you’re still having a good time.
Dot: No, definitely, you get to that point in the race where you realize it’s not happening and it does takes a few miles to dig yourself out of that hole and realize OK, there are still other things to achieve here. It definitely takes a toll when you realize you’re not going to be top 3. It’s a mental challenge for sure.
C259: From a certain vantage point it seems excruciating. At what point in those races did you feel you had to adjust?
Dot: It was different in both races. I think the first time I really had no idea what I was in for. I think I hit a wall around 21 miles or so in 2008. It was a wall I never hit before, and had to work through that. I was able to end up passing a lot of people because other people hit the wall too. 2012 was a lot different, because there weren’t nearly as many people hitting the wall. I remember there are a couple of turnaround points and I remember looking up and thinking “I can’t believe how many people are still in the chase.” The last time I saw the leaders, it was not clearly defined who was going to make that team. I think that was really unique. Different courses give you a different vantage point too. You see things play out a little differently.
C259: We should mention this isn’t your first time running with a USA singlet. You’ve run the World Half Marathon Championships twice, one was in Edmonton another in Brazil. Is there a financial sacrifice for you to run Worlds? Is there a cost in terms of giving up another race opportunity?
Dot: Yeah there definitely is. For me the financial side isn’t what motivates me anymore. I think it’s a huge honor to race fort the U.S. team, and definitely something that I wanted to do. It was on my bucket list. But most major marathons have top 10 money and/or time bonuses. So yeah, you’re giving that up. But the opportunity is not a cost – the opportunity lies in racing for the U.S. team. I’ll learn a lot of about myself, about how international competition works. There’s always something to be learned.
C259: If you don’t mind us asking, and it’s just to bring a little more insight into the sport, what percentage of your income comes from your shoe sponsor Brooks, what percentage from prize money and what percentage if any from appearance fees?
Dot: I’ve never actually done the numbers, but I would say the majority of it comes from Brooks. And a lot of that comes from paying for travel, that kind of thing. But in the U.S, if you’re placing in the top 3 at U.S. Championships, there’s money to be won, but as far as 5th through 10th place you’re not making a lot of money. It’s crazy how many people have to work jobs and can’t just focus on running, because there’s not a lot of a money to be made in the sport without a sponsor. You definitely need a sponsor that has performance bonuses and I’m fortunate to have that in Brooks.
C259: Yeah, it’s a very steep pyramid in the sport. Would going sub 2:30 change the opportunities for you?
Dot: I would like to think so. You had asked about appearance fees and that’s not something I know anything about. I would hope that maybe 2:30 would give me some opportunities. But honestly I think placing well at Worlds is maybe even more important than running 2:30. Say the conditions are awful, I run 2:32 but I place in the top 10. I think having that should mean more that breaking 2:30. But I don’t know. I guess until you do it you don’t know what it means financially.
C259: Getting back to your training. In our last episode we talked about the Hansons Training Method. We noted the concept of “cumulative fatigue” which is interesting because it’s a good thing. It sounds bad, but it’s good. It forces your body to adapt. When you’re running through your peak training are you basically tired every day, or parts of the nine-day cycle? Some days are you feeling fine, other days tired?
Dot: I would say basically every day I’m tired. After about three weeks of running, I pretty much don’t have fresh legs until race morning. It’s definitely a grind. You get up, you go do 12 to 14 miles in the morning, in the afternoon you do another 4. So much of the running marathon training is going through the motions. You get up you do it. You get up you do it. It’s kinda crazy. It definitely takes a toll, and it’s not something I would want to do year-round. I don’t know how someone trains for four marathons a year, I really don’t. I think one marathon a year is more than enough.
C259: If you did feel fresh on a given day would that worry you, or that you need to be training harder?
Dot: No, I would probably take that as a blessing and just enjoy the moment. I don’t second guess my training. I think I have the best coaches in the world. I do what they tell me to do and I know it works.
C259: What’s your longest long run and separately what workout do you really dread the most?
Dot: My longest long run in the past has been 22 miles, but this segment I only went to 20. Again I don’t really question it, I just do it. And I probably dread a lot of the early workouts, because they’re cut-downs, so we’ll start at 6:45 pace and then every mile we’ll drop it down 10 seconds. I think those early pace changes are really difficult after coming off a down time. I just struggle through them. They don’t usually go very well. I usually have like one workout a segment that does not go well. It ends up being really frustrating.
C259: Can it be motivating in a way?
Dot: Yeah, you always come back from it. I don’t really carry it around with me. I used to when I was younger but I really don’t anymore. It doesn’t have to go to your heart. A great workout doesn’t go to your head and a bad workout doesn’t go to your heart. You just take it as it is.
C259: Dot, how many runs do you do alone and how many with the group?
Dot: In the morning I do all my runs with the team, and then afternoon runs I do either run by myself or a lot of times my husband we’ll come along and he’ll push my daughter and we’ll go as a family. But this segment I’ve been running a lot alone because some people had down time, or a lot of people had 8 to 10 miles in the morning and I had 12 to 14. I was running a good portion of the run by myself.
C259: Do you do some of your runs with [teammate Desiree Davila]?
Dot: Oh yeah definitely, day to day training, we do runs together. We don’t do workouts together. We might have a workout the same day but we don’t run the same pace.
C259: Did you do the simulator this cycle, the 26.2 kilometers at marathon race pace?
Dot: I did a 20K race. I didn’t race it, I ran at marathon pace. I did it on the 4th of July and it was so hot and so humid, so it was great simulating the race in Moscow. It went well so I can’t complain about it. My coach just said “Do you want to do this race instead of doing 26.2K simulator by yourself?” and I said “Yeah!” I’ve done so many simulators by myself that I was so happy to race instead.
C259: I’m imagining a simulator where they put up a little model of the Kremlin and you have to run by that.
Dot: They do try to make it interesting, they really do. They do so much for us to get us ready for the race.
C259: So Dot, finally we have a selfish question. The name of our show is a cryptic reference to our goal of breaking 3 hours in the marathon. We’ve gotten close, actually both of our PRs are 3:08. What be your top training tip for getting Brenn and me under 3 hours?
Dot: I kind of mentioned it before and I think you should do some speedwork in an off segment — not in marathon training. I know a lot of people like to do speedwork during marathon training. I would say make it a few months of 5K or shorter paced training in an off segment. I think that would give you a nice change of pace perspective. Get some leg turnover, and make you appreciate the fact that you do have some leg speed.
C259: So that ties into what Alan Culpepper said on our show, “Get fast first”. I think he was thinking something similar at the very beginning of training. We’ll also take to heart your comment about being more present for training, after you put a time limit on your career, it made you more aggressive and more focused. We both have families like you and you don’t want to spending extra time running when you can be spending it with your kids.
Dot: it’s difficult, there’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into your training and your parenting when you have little ones begging you to stay home when you’re going out for a run.
C259: Thank you so much. We really appreciate it. Say hello to Jeannette for us too.
Dot: I will. I’m exciting to have her as a teammate she’s a fun person
C259: When are you heading out to Moscow?
Dot: I leave August 5.
C259: Well safe travels and have a great, great race we’ll be watching.
Dot: Thank you guys so much for having me on the show I appreciate it.
C259: It’s our pleasure.