Matt Fitzgerald

What happens when a recreational runner is given an opportunity to train and live like a pro? We're about to find out! For 12 weeks this summer, I will be an honorary member of the HOKA NAZ Elite Team in Flagstaff, Arizona. Follow my journey as I prepare for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Matt's 80/20 Training Plans Get Coached by Matt

Welcome to The Running Bum Blog!

Read about Matt's experience and view his training log.

Matt's Training Log

Week of 7/24/2017 - 7/30/2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Run - Lactate Threshold - 6 x Mile + 8 x 200
Lake Mary (back and forth between 2-1 and 1-2). Cruise pace. Alternating 6:35 from 2-1 and 6:25 from 1-2. 1min rest. Finish with 8 x 200 at mile effort. Not overly difficult. Very much a day to work on efficiency.
12 mi
Monday, July 24, 2017
Run - Easy Run
Easy run starting and ending at the NAU campus with the team and the Corona del Sol High School cross country team

Post Workout Blog:
We had a slight deviation from routine this morning, meeting up on the NAU Campus for a run with the Corona Del Sol High School cross country team, which is in Flagstaff for a summer training camp. Before we started, I met Craig Lutz and picked his brain about Achilles tendon injuries. He told me that foot-strengthening exercises were a key to overcoming his issues. I also chatted with Ben Rosario, who had just had a Skype meeting with Asker Jeukendrup to talk about my nutrition training. He said they are on the same page. Earlier in the morning I had gotten an email from Asker detailing my first training session, which I am supposed to do next week.

Ben introduced all of the runners, including me, to the kids and we then stepped out of Allen Hall and into the rain. Worried about getting lost, I kept up with Ben Bruce and Craig even though they were running kind of fast. My worries dissipated, though, when I realized I felt fantastic. Yesterday’s complete rest clearly did my legs some good.

At four miles we stopped to pee in the woods—which was made easier by the fact that we had dropped all the girls—and then turned around. We ran mile five in 6:54 and it felt effortless. I wasn’t even doing my easy runs at that pace at home at sea level.

I listened in as the high school boys peppered the pros with questions.

“How many workouts per week do you do?’

“How often do you race?”

“How do you choose your races?”

Scott Fauble had an amusing answer to this last one. “At the beginning of each segment, we have a team meeting,” he said. “We tell Ben, ‘Here are the races we want to do.’ Then he says, ‘That’s great. But here are the races I want you to do, and I’m your boss.’”

In the last mile, I found myself running next to Faubs, who asked me how I felt coming off Saturday’s long cutdown run.

“I feel like Superman!” I gushed.

Back at Allen Hall I hung out briefly to eavesdrop on a conversation between Ben Rosario and Craig. They were talking about his upcoming race schedule. Apparently there were three races Craig wanted to do and Ben said he could do only two of them. (So, what Faubs said was was true!) It was interesting to hear Craig talk through the pros and cons of each option. It gave me a window into the business side of the sport. Craig had to consider factors such as travel, how each race might affect his fall marathon, the possible long-term benefit of running a fast time at a higher profile event, the potential short-term benefit of doing an event with a bigger prize purse, and who else might show up at each race.

I couldn’t hang out long, though, as I had to hustle over to Hypo2 to do a photo shoot for my forthcoming book, 80/20 TRIATHLON, and then get treatment on my left Achilles from AJ Gregg at the same facility. I made the appointment not only because the tendon is sore but also because I’m feeling so fit and strong that I don’t want anything to mess it all up before Chicago.
8 mi ~ 57:56 View Run

Run - Easy Run + Drills and Strides
4 miles easy from NAU track with Ben and Stephanie Bruce + drills and strides
4.06 mi ~ 32:37 View Run

Week of 7/17/2017 - 7/23/2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017
Rest Day
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Run - Long Run - Cutdown
16 miles with miles 7-14 progressing from 7:11 to 5:53

Post Workout Blog:
Long runs on Lake Mary Road are a special event for the runners of NAZ Elite, sort of like dress rehearsals are for stage actors. The usual pre-run banter among the runners was thus injected with a little extra excitement and nervousness in the moments before this morning’s long cutdown run.

“Whatever you do, don’t hit your times,” Stephanie Bruce told me before we started. “If you nail this workout, Ben will just make the next one harder.”

My workout was a long cutdown run comprising six easy miles followed by an eight-mile progression beginning from 7:10 to 6:20 and a two-mile cool-down. The real pros all had slightly different sessions, creating a logistical nightmare for interns Ian and Veronica, who were responsible for supplying nutrition to everyone and picking up runners from their various finishing points.

I asked Ian if I could give him a fluid bottle to take with him in his vehicle and he told me to give it to Veronica.

“I’m covering the guys,” he said. “Veronica is taking care of the girls.”

“Did you just call me a girl?” I joked.

But I knew what he meant. I run closer to the women’s pace, so it made sense to lump me in with them in this situation. And, in fact, wound up running the first three of my allotted six easy miles with Steph, Kellyn, and Diane Nukuri, a Burundian runner whose plaudits include victories at the Falmouth Road Race and Bay to Breakers. We averaged 7:25 per mile and I felt good. After three miles, I turned around, while the others continued.

Back at the starting point, I met up with Ben Bruce, who was doing a 14-mile easy run and had volunteered to pace me through most of my cutdown. As we began, Ben warned me against starting off too fast, citing as a cautionary tale the time an over-amped Eric Fernandez had run what was supposed to have been a 6:00 first mile in 5:37.

We completed the first mile in 7:06. Not bad. Ben and I had been chatting the whole way and we continued to talk over the next four miles, Ben regaling me with legends of previous team workouts on Lake Mary Road.

At three miles, Veronica was waiting for me with my bottle. I took a few gulps and plunked it down on the roof of her car. Three miles farther on, Ben bailed out to wait for Steph at her endpoint, leaving me to complete the last two miles on my own. Despite my best efforts to hold myself back in my pacer’s absence, I ran them in 6:15 (15 seconds too fast) and 5:53 (27 second too fast).

A 5:53 mile at 7,000 feet converts roughly to a 5:36 mile at sea level. When I thought about this during my cooldown, and about how comfortable it felt, I came to the conclusion that living and training like a pro with a pro team is working for me so far.

“I heard you burned up the road,” Faubs told me when the whole group reconvened, just as I was opening my mouth to ask him how his run had gone.

Faubs had closed his 20-miler with a 4:46 (sea level 4:29). And he was the one congratulating me!
16 mi ~ 1:53:43 View Run
Friday, July 21, 2017
Run - Easy Run
6 miles easy ''with'' the team on Road 222

Post Workout Blog:
This morning's run took me further afield than I have yet been since coming to Flagstaff. The venue known to NAZ Elite as Road 222 is located about 10 miles north of town on the way toward the Grand Canyon. It's just a rough dirt forest road that climbs gradually on the way out and (obviously) descends gradually on the way in.

Except today I was pretty well convinced it climbed in BOTH directions. I knew from the very first stride I took with the group (Matt, Scott Fauble, Ben and Steph Bruce, Kellyn, Amy, Aaron, and Ian) that my six-miler was going to be one of those not-easy easy runs. I became detached from the others almost immediately and made my solitary way up the road, just wanting the run to be over.

You can't feel good every day in marathon training. The art is planning your training in such a way that you consistently feel strong on your hard workout days and feel flat mostly on your so-called easy days. While it's no fun to feel like crap in any run, I don't mind it nearly as much when it happens on a run like today's.

I got back to the cars ahead of most of the others, having been given a shorter run. While I chatted with Nataki, the interns, and Amy, who had also run six miles, Steph and Ben returned from their eight-miler. The conversation turned to the topic of tomorrow's long cutdown run, which Ian and Veronica have the responsibility of facilitating because Coach Ben is out of town. Steph asked me how far mine was and what my paces were. I told her I would run 16 miles with miles 7-14 at the following paces: 7:10, 7:10, 7:00, 7:00, 6:50, 6:40, 6:30, 6:20.

Hearing this, Ben Bruce, who hasn't been feeling great and therefore is only running 14 easy miles tomorrow, volunteered to pace me, as even 6:20 per mile at 7,000 feet is still easy for him. Perhaps soon I will stop being surprised by such demonstrations of generous team spirit, but it hasn't happened yet.

The workout will take place on Lake Mary Road, Flagstaff's most fabled proving grounds for distance runners. I was already excited to get my first crack at it before Ben volunteered to pace me, and now I am doubly so. Here's hoping I have the legs to match my enthusiasm!
6 mi ~ 47:43 View Run

Run - Easy Run + Drills and Strides
4 miles easy + Drills and Strides from Matt's house

Post Workout Blog:
This afternoon's run was even worse than this morning's--one of those runs where you feel like you've fasted for three days. I was borderline-lightheaded near the end. Also my Achilles was really bothering me. For both reasons, I kept the drills and strides light.
4 mi ~ 32:13 View Run
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Strength Training - Team Strength Workout
Band Walks, Bird Dogs, Kettlebell Swings, Single-Leg Squats with Dumbbell, Side Planks, Reverse Lunges, Weighted Calf Raise, Eccentric Heel Drop, Supine Rows, Pull-Ups, Stability Ball Planks while Drawing Circles with Forearms

Run - Easy Run
8-mile easy ''Bagel Run'' from downtown Flagstaff

Post Workout Blog:
Today was the day I began to feel like a part of the Flagstaff running community. This sense of transitioning from visitor to local began when I showed up at this morning's bagel run and saw many familiar faces, not all of them belonging to my NAZ Elite teammates. I recognized Nick Arciniaga, a 2:11 marathoner whom I hadn't seen in seven years. We did some catching up during the early part of the run, before Nick left me behind. It was fun to hear about Nick's move up to ultrarunning.

In the third mile of my planned eight-mile out-and-back, I heard footsteps behind me, which were soon followed by the words, ''Hi, Matt.'' The greeting was spoken by Tommy Rivers Puzey, possibly the most interesting runner in the world, whom I've known for two years and was hoping to bump into sooner or later here in Flagstaff.

''Man, you're looking fit,'' Rivers said. ''I was checking out your legs.''

''Thanks,'' I said, genuinely flattered. ''I've already lost a bit of weight up here.''

At home I have a body fat scale. Say what you want about their accuracy, but I think they're far better than nothing. Plus, at least their actual weight measurements are accurate even if their body composition measurements are a little off. My last weigh-in before I left California had me at 150.6 pounds and 11.2 percent body fat. This morning, using a new scale I bought at the local target, I weighed in at 145.6 pounds and got a body fat measurement of 10.2 percent. I attribute these changes to increased training volume and a stricter diet (no sweets, less beer).

Any time you ask Rivers what he's been up to lately, you'd better be prepared for an earful. This guy has more adventures in any given two-month period than most people have in a decade. Joining in our conversation was Lane Werley, who won last weekend's Napa-to-Sonoma Half Marathon in 1:05:17. I was prepared to dislike Lane because he beat Matt Llano in that race, but Matt himself had told me that Lane's a nice guy and I grudgingly admit he is.

On the inbound segment of the run, we got talking about my theory that psychosocial factors associated with this kind of running-centric environment increase individual training tolerance, allowing an athlete like me to train harder here than he can in, say, Oakdale, California. Rivers said he agreed with my theory and launched upon a long and utterly fascinating story about the time he did ethnographic work in the volcanic mountains of Costa Rica. While he was there, Rivers--an elite ultrarunner--competed in a locally famous mountain race and got his ass handed to him, finishing in 24th place, 45 minutes behind the winner.

All of the runners who beat Rivers were not actually runners but guys who worked as porters, hiking up and down mountains all day. During the remainder of his time in Costa Rica, Rivers trained exactly like they did, which is to say he didn't train at all but just worked as they worked. Before he left the country, he ran a time trial on the same racecourse he'd failed so spectacularly on the first time, covering the distance 38 minutes faster.

I told Rivers he really needs to write a memoir.
8.01 mi ~ 1:01:29 View Run

Cross Training - Steep Uphill Treadmill Walk
30:00 at 3.7 mph and 15%.
1.85 mi ~ 30:00 View Run
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Run - Critical Speed
11 miles total at Kiltie Loop (7300') with 8 x 1K @ 3:42 w/ 1:00 passive rest + 6 x 200 @ 0:37-0:38

Post Workout Blog:
I’m slowly closing the gap on the pros. I say this mostly tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely. Today’s workout for Aaron, Scott, and Scott comprised 10 x 1K in 3:02 with 1:00 rest plus 8 x 200 meters in 30 seconds. I did 8 x 1K in 3:42 plus 6 x 200 meters in 37 to 38 seconds. The venue was the Kiltie Loop, a horseshoe-shaped stretch of undulating paved road that sits at 7,300 feet in a neighborhood of fine homes in west Flagstaff.

Eric was on hand again to pace me, and thank goodness for that. I don’t know what the thin air is doing to my brain, but I simply could not do the math required to figure out the intermediate splits times at which I should hit the cones that Ben and the interns had placed at 200-meter intervals. So I ended up running the first rep in 3:44 (too slow) and the second in 3:37 (way too fast) before asking Eric to truly pace me instead of merely running next to me. We nailed all of the reps that Eric controlled dead-on.

We saw the other guys at several points during the session and it was clear that they were working harder than I was. I found my pace to be quite easy, to be honest. Ben had the same observation, but when we talked about it afterward we agreed that this wasn’t a bad thing.

“I have no problem being conservative with splits at this point,” I told him. “I’m already taking on a lot of stress with the volume of running and the ancillary stuff. I feel great now, but I worry that I could pass a tipping point just like that [I snapped my fingers] if we’re not careful, and maybe even if we are.”

The 200’s finished me off nicely. I ran them at mile race pace, an intensity that I have seldom touched in my training in recent years due to various injuries. My left Achilles tendon did not love running that fast today—especially coming off of yesterday’s drills and strides—but it did nothing more than grumble and overall I feel grateful for my state of health. If I’m just able to keep doing the workouts Ben gives me, I’m going to get really fit.
11 mi ~ 1:21:16 View Run

Cross Training - Steep Uphill Treadmill Walk
30:00 at 3.7 mph and 15%.
1.85 mi ~ 30:00 View Run
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Run - Easy Run
6 miles easy with the team at Walnut Canyon

Post Workout Blog:
We returned to Walnut Canyon for this morning’s run. As usual, Scott Fauble and I were among the first to arrive. We chatted a bit about our upcoming races—he’s doing the Bix 7 in Iowa on July 29, I have a 5K in Salem, Oregon, on August 12—while the rest of the team arrived and loosened up. As the time to start running drew near, I realized I hadn’t seen Ben Rosario.

“Is Ben coming this morning?” I asked Faubs.

“I think he’s with Rui this morning,” he said.

Soh Rui Yong is an elite runner from Singapore whom Ben coaches.

I had been counting on Ben to supply me with an off-the-back running partner as he had done several times already. Now I was faced with a choice between running alone and running faster than I normally would. I decided to at least start with the others and then play it by ear.

In the early going I ran with Amy, Steph, and Matt, who was still recovering from a half marathon on Sunday. Gradually, most of the others drifted ahead, but not by much. At one point I looked up and saw that the front group had stopped to wait for us. Then I looked at my watch and discovered we had already run three miles and reached the turnaround point for those of us running six miles. I couldn’t believe how quickly we’d gotten there.

On the way back I ran mostly with Steph and Ben Bruce. We talked a lot about the differences between how the pros approach the sport of running and how most amateurs do. They shared my frustration with the moderate-intensity training rut that so many amateurs get stuck in. Steph said she believed the biggest difference between the two groups was not physical talent but how much each group was willing to suffer.

A few years back, the Bruces started an adult running camp for the purpose of exposing recreational runners to the professional approach and mitigating these disparities. This year’s camp starts on August 17th and I have been invited to participate. It was not lost on me that I would not have received this invitation—at least not today—if Ben Rosario had shown up and run off the back with me.

Noticing that our pace seemed to be quickening, I looked at my watch and saw that our current pace was 6:55 per mile. That’s roughly the equivalent of 6:38 per mile at sea level—quite a bit faster than I do easy runs at home—and yet it felt effortless. Nevertheless, I decided I should exercise some restraint and dial back, and I said so to Steph and Ben.

“We only have half a mile to go,” Ben pointed out.

I took a second glance at my watch and realized it was true. Again, I was amazed by how swiftly the minutes had flown by. Not for the first time here in Flagstaff, I found myself wondering if there was a connection between how happy I was in my environment and how good I felt physically. For me, at least, this may be another difference between amateurism and professionalism.
6 mi ~ 43:54 View Run

Run - Easy Run + Drills & Strides
4 miles easy on NAU campus + drills and strides with Ben Rosario

Post Workout Blog:
I might as well be wearing a sign reading, “New Guy.” Today’s rookie moment was showing up at my first drills, strides, and plyos session with the team late, just as everyone else was finishing, because I’d gotten lost (again).

“You just wanted individualized attention, didn’t you?” Ben said when I showed up.

He started me off with a simple exercise where I skipped forward for 20 yards while rotating my arms in big circles, first forward and then backward. Then I did a sideways skipping drill while first crossing and uncrossing my arms at chest level and then waving them overhead like a football referee signaling an official timeout.

So far, so good. But things turned south when we hit the classics: A skips and B skips. (There are also C skips, but Ben judged me unready for them.) A skips are a very simple bounding type of skipping action. I used to do them before and I figured I couldn’t possibly screw them up, but after watching me do them, Ben shook his head and chuckled.

“Try to stay in a straight line this time,” he said.

B skips entail moving forward by kicking a leg out in front of the body with a bent knee, then extending the knee with the thigh parallel to the ground, and then retracting the straight leg until the foot touches the ground underneath the hips, then doing the same with the other leg. Somehow I managed to nail the first two and then lose my mojo, transitioning into something a drunken Rockette might do.

Next up were high knees and butt kicks, two drills that I actually do regularly on my own. But when I did them for Ben, he said my arms were all wrong.

I also do karaokes on my own, but Ben asked me to do a version where the leg on the side opposite the direction of travel is bent and lifted up high on the crossover step. It looked cool when Ben demonstrated it, but when I did it I looked like a rugby player doing rhythmic gymnastics, flouncing crabwise across the field in a most ungainly fashion.

I was then asked to run backwards with a twist, the twist being that I had to kick each leg out behind me as high as I could with each strides.

“Is it your left Achilles that’s bothering you?” he asked.

I said it was.

“I thought so,” he said. “Your right leg is coming up a lot higher.”

We moved on to strides. Ben instructed me to run the entire length of the football field, starting at a jog, accelerating to 90 percent of full speed, and then downshifting for the last 15 yards.

“This is the one time I want you to really think about your form,” he said. “Pretending that Runner’s World is here doing a photo shoot and you want to show off for the camera.”

During the first stride, I hit 90 percent speed a little early, after maybe 30 yards, and after another 30 yards I felt a bonk coming on. How can I possibly hit the wall in a 100-yard run? I thought. But it had been a long time since I’d tried to run so fast.

At the far end of the field I rested briefly and then ran back to Ben.

“Your form was falling apart a bit near the end,” he said. “Try resting a little longer before the next one.”

I completed two more strides. As I finished the last one, Ben shook his head and chuckled again.

“You were doing that thing where your left arm wings out like this,” he said, mimicking an eccentricity of my running form that I don’t feel when I run but that I see in photos and videos of me running. “Nothing you can do about it.”
4 mi ~ 32:18 View Run
Monday, July 17, 2017
Run - Easy Run
8 miles with the team at Arizona Snowbowl

Post Workout Blog:
Nataki and Queenie and I arrived at Ben Rosario’s house at 8:08 this morning, eight minutes late. After a quick hello, Ben backed out of the driveway in his car with Ian the intern in the front passenger seat and we followed him to Arizona Snowbowl, a popular ski area in Flagstaff. Up and up we went. We parked near the summit and hopped out and immediately I asked Ben how high we were, having thought about nothing else during the entire ascent.

“Nine thousand feet,” he said, as he walked past me to greet the other runners.

My stomach turned a somersault.

“What’s the rationale for running at nine thousand feet versus seven thousand?” I asked Scott Smith, who happened to be loosening up nearby.

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

“I meant the physiological rationale,” I said.

“There is none,” Scott said. “It’s just beautiful. You’ll see.”

I did see. My entire eight-mile out-and-back run took place on a singletrack trail that snaked through old-growth forests of aspen, pine, and spruce trees and through glades affording spectacular views of the surrounding area—views so distracting that I twisted my ankle on the way out because I wasn’t watching where I was going.

As usual, Ben Rosario stayed back with me. When we hit our turnaround point at four miles, Steph and Ben Bruce, Amy Van Alstine, and Anne Marie Blaney, a recruit from Central Florida University, were approaching on their way in from a longer run. We allowed them to pass, tucked in behind them, and then fell behind them.

A few minutes later, though, we came upon the same group stopped dead in their tracks.

“What’s going on?” Coach Ben asked.

“There was a fall,” Ben Bruce said.

It turned out Amy had taken a false step and face-planted on the rocky trail. Her right shoulder was covered in dirt and she had a small gash on her shin, but otherwise she was none the worse for wear.

Ben and I let them go ahead again, but a few minutes later we bumped into them a second time, standing still.

“What’s going on?” Ben repeated.

“We’re just admiring the view,” Steph said.

Ben and I looked in the direction they were looking. The vista was indescribably lovely. I suppose I would have assumed that professional runners, being human, were just as likely as us mortals to interrupt a run to admire nature’s splendor, but it delighted me nevertheless to discover that this was indeed the case.

By this point, we had less than two miles to go and Ben and I made an unconscious decision to keep up with the others. The route ended with a challenging climb. I began to hear heavy breathing and some grumbling around me, but for some reason I felt terrific, and by the time we reached the top I was ahead of everyone except Ben Bruce (who was way out in front).

Now, I’m not kidding myself. The three women I passed on that last hill are far superior runners. But I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable I felt in my first-ever run at 9,000 feet. Some runners don’t take to altitude, and I might have been one of them, which would have really sucked, because I’m here for the next 80 days regardless. What still remains to be seen is whether living and training at altitude actually makes me a stronger runner at sea level.

But hey, if it doesn’t, I’ll still have the memories.
8 mi ~ 1:10:07 View Run

Cross Training - Steep Uphill Treadmill Walk
30:00 at 3.7 mph and 15%.
1.85 mi ~ 30:00 View Run

Strength Training - Strength Training
Walking Lunge, One-Leg Bend and Reach with Dumbbell, Stir the Pot, Pull-Up, Reverse Lunge, Side Plank, Push-Up, Toe Walk with Dumbbells, Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Post Workout Blog:
One day in my 6th grade social studies class, my teacher announced a pop quiz. We had to name the capitals of all 50 states. We had been studying the state capitals lately, but we had not been expecting a quiz, and we all bombed it.

I liked my teacher and I was a good student overall and I felt guilty about bombing the quiz with everyone else. So I went home that afternoon and memorized all of the capitals. In social studies class the next day, I asked my teacher to test me verbally. He threw five or six states at me and I nailed them all. I could tell he was pleased and I felt better.

The point of this story is that I was a brown noser.

I left my NAZ Elite team strength workout at Hypo2 last Thursday with a feeling much like the one I had after the pop quiz in this story. So today, in Matt Llano's garage, I practiced several of the strength exercises I had such a hard time doing under A.J. Gregg's guidance. Truth be told, I showed no improvement, but I'm certain the practice wasn't wasted. I hope to impress A.J. just a little this Thursday.

Because I'm still a brown noser.