How I Am Getting Stronger And Faster

By Rob Waddell

Richnmond 2011 hi resRob Waddell of Richmond, Va., has completed 31 marathons, including 18 consecutive Richmond Marathons and 10 Boston Marathons. From his late 30’s to 40’s, Waddell ran two marathons a year (spring and fall) and trained 10 months out of the year. After Waddell reached his 50’s, he noticed a decrease in his speed and endurance; but after adopting a new lifestyle and training methodology, he has excelled in his speed and endurance way into his 50’s. He was at the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon and has raised over $10k for the victims and looks forward to a potential PR at this year’s marathon.

Ever change high schools? Well, I did twice, and it isn’t easy for a borderline introvert.  I wrestled in high school, and when I was in the 11th grade, I won half of the share of varsity matches that year. Baseball was my primary sport, but my wrestling success gave me confidence and so much fitness that I’d lap the baseball team during practice; so my coach put me on track team, and I ran track and played baseball. It was the first time our high school allowed a student to do two sports in same season.

It wasn’t until college when I developed the itch to run. One day, I mapped out a 3-mile course and ran it as hard as I could. My watch said 15 minutes! I checked the mileage again to be sure. During this time, I was doing anything I could to make money – paper routes, mowing lawns, retail, painting and construction. As the oldest of five siblings, I gained independence at an early age and was accustomed to making my own way. One summer, while painting a family friend’s interior, I saw a PDP 11/70 computer in the basement and taught myself Fortran programming.

After college at Virginia Tech University, I was hired by SAIC and worked the Tomahawk Cruise missile program project. I left SAIC for an opportunity in Hawaii with McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, and it’s from there that my  “athletic career” took off.

As many know, Hawaii has a triathlon culture; I really admired it, and so I trained and competed in a couple Olympic-distance races. I worked out with the Marines at the Camp Smith Marine Base located in Hawaiian town of Aiea on the island of Oahu, and swam at the base pool at lunch time. I used to run up the mountains and basically did anything to build strength and endurance.
After seven years, in 1995, I returned to Virginia and challenged my neighbor, a marathoner named Bill McCorey, to bike with me. He also challenged me to run long with him, and in 1998, when I was 39 years old, I ran my first marathon. This lifestyle was perfect for me, giving me the time I needed to think strategically in a quiet place, and I was thrilled at my early progress against my goals. I qualified for Boston after finishing my third marathon with 17 only seconds to spare! This sealed my desire to be a lifelong marathoner at the best possible level I could achieve.

Needing to Make a Change
At 49, and after 10 years of running two marathons per year, I reached my limits as a runner when I failed to qualify for Boston. I noticed my strength was waning, and my ability to run strong in the last 6.2 miles of the marathon was becoming too difficult for me to be competitive. My first thought was to leverage the best at-home training programs to get back to top overall body fitness while continuing to run, work and have time with family. So I started with a query to myself:

“Could I run a personal record (PR) time once again in the marathon if I was able to get in top physical shape?”

In the winter of 2010, I selected P90X (lean) as my fitness program of choice, with an eye on a PR in the Richmond, Va., November 18, 2011. As I went through the program, I observed a few key elements were missing from my fitness regimen:

  • I lost a lot of muscle over 10 years of marathon training, especially in core and upper body muscles;
  • I obtained most of my nutritional energy from carbohydrates; and
  • I needed more strength and flexibility to hold good running form over long distances.

After my self-analysis, I incorporated P90X two to three times per week. Now, when I finish the workout, I can run a tempo run right on the backside of it, nearly floating. Nothing gives confidence more than that feeling. Confidence leads to patience; and in the marathon, patience to hold steady pace in first half is the key to an optimal performance in 26.2 miles.
Therefore, I made the following long-term modifications to my training, nutrition and lifestyle to gain peak fitness:

Added Protein to My Diet – Most people need 1 gram of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight per day. A recovery drink after tough workouts also makes a huge difference.

Incorporated Core Stability Training (Core Synergistics from P90X) 
I needed to eliminate muscle imbalances. Long-distance running strengthens some leg and hip muscles, but leaves others weak. You need to strengthen your abs, hips, lower back, and gluts. This helps you maintain efficient body position while running, thus allowing optimal stride length throughout marathon distance. If the abs are weak, the pelvis rotates forward and puts more stretch on the hams. This can cause injury to the lower back over the miles and time.

Increased Flexibility or Range of Motion (Core Synergistics, yoga, moves stretches)
The greatest cost of long-distance running is the loss of flexability to stride out. This exercise improves running form and keeps it from degrading over time. These exercises improve length of muscle and the length of surrounding connective tissue. Hip Flexors and hamstrings are most important for runners and help determine stride length.
Involved Cross-Training (Intervals with Plyo Moves) – This provides additional cardio fitness without repetitive wear and tear associated with running (i.e., minimizes the pounding on the road). Scientific studies have shown VO2max can be improved by about 5 percent, which translates to improved 5k times by 90 seconds. For me and the marathon, my improvement has been better than 9 percent, leading to a new PR at age 54 after 28 marathons.

Richmond Marathon 2013 - WaddellImproved My Running Style
Because I run 60 miles per week, the increased lower leg strength allowed me to optimize a mid-foot strike. This resulted in better foot turnover and no injuries from higher mileage.

While I was changing my training and eating habits, I also changed my lifestyle by eating a more balanced diet, exercising for total body/mental fitness and increasing activities outside the normal running regimen. These activities included more time with the family, taking on more of the cooking, and more outdoor non-running activities like fishing and hiking with Joan, my wife, in addition to marathon training, in order to feel better about myself both physically and mentally.

Through the changes in my eating habits and running philosophy, I noticed improvements in my ability to recover from one hard effort to another; and perhaps this also helped during peak performance efforts in the training plan. I do believe that a runner can benefit mentally from activities and mental stimulation that are independent of running preparation alone.

My dedication to marathon preparation is now focused on mile 20 of the marathon and beyond. Over the years, I have learned a lot through trial and error. I’ve learned to not overdo the running at the expense of good overall fitness.
Experience is a good teacher, and I naturally began to visualize what I needed to do when the going gets tough, and then do that in training. I feel stronger, more confident, and equipped to stay focused, calm, and persistent in the face of roaring pain. No matter what, the last 6.2 miles always takes a lot of grit and focus to avoid losing time!
When it comes to injury, I have been hurt in only 1 marathon out of 31 – and I attribute that to the way I train consistently over a 5-month period using sound sports periodization techniques, including a good rest cycle after each marathon. The one injury I sustained was an ACL issue caused by snow running three weeks before the 2013 Boston Marathon, which resulted in a cramp in the ACL area at mile 21. This slowed my pace in the last 5 miles and resulted in a finish just 20 minutes before the bombs exploded. As it so happens, the delay caused me to be captured in some before and after photos where the image was shown on CNN and on the cover of The New York Post. This was so moving to me that I returned to Boston in 2014 after raising over $10k for the victims and set a Boston PR. Coming into the finish that day felt like finishing in the Olympics; the crowd was huge, loud and wonderful!



About Rob Waddell:
Rob Waddell is the Senior Vice President, CIO and Principal at Apex Systems. Waddell began his career in 1983 at SAIC, working as a systems analyst on the Joint Cruise Missile Program (Tomahawk). In 1988, he joined McDonnell Douglas Aerospace as a senior systems engineer and site manager at CINCPAC headquarters. Waddell is a founding member and first Chairman of the VCU School of Business IS Advisory Board and has guest lecturered and mentored students in the Executive Master’s program. He also currently serves on the board of the Virginia Tech’s Pamplin School of Business and Information Technology and has served on the board of the Greater Richmond Technology Council. Waddell is a native of Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Business Management and Masters work in IT. He and his wife of 25 years, Joan, and son, Matt, live in Richmond, Va. His passions are running, providing coaching advice on endurance, following professional tennis, fly fishing, and service above self.

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