PR Spotlight: Steve L

I’m excited for this post for many reasons.  The first is that it should be a welcome change for all (5?) of my male readers!  The second is that the runner is crazy fast and dropped 30+ min off his marathon PR time from his spring marathon to his fall marathon – he went from a 3:36 to a 3:05:06.  And although he missed qualifying for Boston by SIX SECONDS, he is extremely upbeat, positive, and anxious to qualify the next time he runs the distance.

Name: Steven Leibowitz  
Age: 29 
Hometown: Jersey, the north half  
Twitter: @steverunner21

How long have you been running? Competitively, I have been running since sophomore year of high school. My small school had just started its cross country program, but I really did not want to join. I was involved in other sports and this did not seem like something particularly fun. Running had, until that point, been a means to stay active. The day of the team’s first meet my best friend persuaded me to come try it out. After convincing our athletic director that I was in good enough shape and (probably) would survive the 5k race, she agreed to let me participate. Not only did I finish, but I came in second for our team. I stuck with it initially as a great way to get in shape for basketball, my main high school sport, but running became much more than a last minute teenage whim.

On a lighter note, if you visit my parents’ house, you will find a framed picture of two smiling kids with medals around their necks. The snapshot of 8-year-old me and my then, 5-year-old brother memorializes what was likely my first official race, a one-mile fun run we ran together. That was when the joys of running probably settled somewhere in my subconscious. It has been many years since that photograph, but my goal for every run is still to try and relive–if even for a moment–the fun that those two brothers shared that day.

Why did you start running? It took me a while before I “grew into my body,” as my loving parents called it. I started by riding my bike while my dad ran during his own weight loss journey. On days when he decided to do his run at our local high school track, I would see if I could run a mile on my own. I had a Walkman (just Google if you’ve never heard of it) and really enjoyed the accomplishment of finishing those few laps. It was a great activity, and the positive improvement I saw physically really made me want to continue. Over time I learned just how good the act of running actually made me feel. I was hooked.

Favorite Race Distance/Why? The 5k is a great test of speed and endurance. I love challenging myself to hit various mile splits and really try to execute a race plan. Honestly, I fail a lot. But that is what keeps me pushing harder to improve both speed and pacing. Just as an experienced runner can really put effort toward a 5k race, so too can a beginner target that distance. No matter how loud or crowded of a course, I love the solitude from really digging deep during a race. The 3.1 mile distance almost always offers those moments of internal focus, but is short enough to keep emotions and energy quite elevated throughout. Running can also be about community and so the accessibility of a 5k really adds another rewarding dimension. Even now with virtual races like the recent Race for Recovery 5k/10k, there is a whole new level of connecting with runners from all over the globe that is very exciting.

5k: 17:16 (on a track, in college); 18:17 (post-college PR)
10k: 37:26 (on a track, in college)
Half: 1:26:36 (Carefirst BlueCross BlueShield National, Washington, D.C., 2010)
Marathon: 3:05:06 (Philadelphia 2012)

Previous Marathon PR/when: 3:36 – Rock ‘n’ Roll USA (D.C.) 2012. This was a perfect day weather-wise, my legs felt strong, and I had trained pretty well. About two months before this race I experienced some bad Achilles problems. Frustrated and fresh from reading Born to Run, I embarked on a self-guided minimalist experiment. I made sure to be very smart about not overtraining and worked a lot on form. I took a few days completely off to heal, and then built back up, literally mile by mile, wearing new Brooks minimalist sneakers. Patience, smarter training, and copious amounts of KT Tape had me feeling like my body was ready to cover 26.2 miles for the first time in roughly seven and a half years.

The course was generally flat, and I had prepared physically. My problem was that I properly executed a foolish game plan. Always nervous about drinking too much, I waited too long to take any water. With a lot of heat and not enough liquids and fuel, my legs simply could not keep running as I approached a steep bridge at mile 20. After slowing to a walk for over a mile and finally regaining some energy, I ran the last 5 or so and managed to kick it in for a solid finish. The clear lesson from that marathon was to always make sure to have enough fluids, even early on before feeling fatigue.

What did you do differently in your training to drop so much time off from your spring to fall marathon? For me, smart training is knowing when to back off and when to push the limits. I battled injury in the spring, but even being smart about that helped me drop from a 4:09 in 2004 to a 3:36 in 2012. Looking back at the 3:36 though, I knew there were things I could do better. As runners, we need to be able to think about our races and evaluate where we succeeded and where we need improvement.

For my fall training, my most important priorities were to maintain fitness from the spring and to avoid injury. As much as I stress a focus on running form, I made some significant gear changes as well. Having run that first marathon in a pair of worn down racers, I switched my distance sneaker to the Saucony Kinvara3, which I thought was an excellent choice. I went from KT Tape to CEP Compression socks. KT Tape worked well, but I liked the idea of the increased structural support that compression socks offered. I also refuse to shave the hair on my legs, and that decision negatively impacted the adhesive benefits of the tape. The point of all that is not to endorse a product, but it just taught me to be open to change.

On the running side, for each of my 2012 marathons, I adapted Hal Higdon’s advanced training plan to fit my schedule. I was keen on training at smart paces- save the speed for speed work and use the longs runs for building endurance. Also, since so much of distance running is mental, it is really important for me to register my overall condition during and after each run. I make sure to record both physical and emotional feelings in my training log. It helps to reinforce confidence or pump me up for the next workout. When I went outside for my last speed workout before the Philly marathon, it was raining. Unfortunately, there were not enough days before the race to really adjust my running schedule. So I went outside, ran my butt off, and yelled at the rain. Sometimes it just feels great to imagine yourself at the end of a dramatic movie scene, loud music at its crescendo, and you raise your hands to the sky yelling out, “IS THAT ALL YOU GOT??” Instant self-motivation. I knew I was ready to give it my all.

What is your next race/goal? My number one goal remains to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time, 3:05:00. Missing out by 6 seconds really put everything into perspective. I know I can run that race, I know I can beat that time, but I also just really love to run. It is more about competing against myself than a predetermined standard. My bigger goal is to feel like I am back at my top running shape and less worried about injury. That said, I am still deciding on the next marathon attempt to go after that BQ. I also love to run on trails, so I am leaning towards some rugged terrain racing in 2013 as well. One other important running goal for this year is to run more with my wife. Running is a great way to connect, so it is extra nice when schedules and training allow us to lace up together. Whatever the new year brings, I am excited to get out there and run after it!

What piece of advice would you give to someone who is looking to PR? That personal best, whatever it is, is in you. Sometimes, you have to look deeper and in different places to find it. Rest assured it is there. There are tons of great training plans and countless speed workouts that all have merits. That said, my two keys to training are consistency and flexibility. You need to be able to have a plan and stick to it at all costs, while at the same time allowing yourself to adjust with your life schedule and to listen to your body as it adapts to new training. It is important to push your limits, but also to be smart about gradually increasing mileage. Finally, running shorter distance races during any training cycle always help keep you motivated, track your progress, and offers aerobic benefits greater than the normal speed workout. Just make sure you are always having fun!

Do you have any questions for Steve?  

Do you know of anyone that should be featured on the PR Spotlight? 

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    12 thoughts on “PR Spotlight: Steve L

    1. Steve is a very inspiring runner! I’ve been running for about 20 years and I agree with him that it’s about competing with yourself and feeling great at the end of the run.
      Love your website!

    2. Michele, this looks so wonderful, I cannot thank you enough! I really do hope this just opens up more dialogue and we can all keep learning from each other. I know that what keeps me interested so often is knowing that I can push myself to that “PR” limit, but also that I can have a nice relaxing run when the day calls for it. Finding what works is so individual, but we can all undoubtedly benefit from each others’ experiences. Thanks again for asking me to participate in this, a wonderfully thought of and executed feature section on your already terrific blog!
      Steve (@steverunner21) recently posted..In the “PR Spotlight”!My Profile

    3. Pingback: In the “PR Spotlight”! « Runner: On the Right

    4. #3 Checking in! Steve is a great choice for this months PR Spotlight! He ran a great race, I’m just sorry I didn’t get to see him at the finish line. That BQ is yours for the taking Steve, grab it on the next one.

      • Sara- First, thanks for reading and for your comment! With regard to my training paces, I tried not to micro-manage myself that closely. But don’t get me wrong, I care very much and I do pay very close attention. My first thing was to set my marathon goal pace. Knowing I wanted the 3:05, that was the “easy” part. But when I went out for long runs, my goal for this cycle was to keep on the faster half of Hal’s advice for: “30 to 90 or more seconds per mile slower than their marathon pace.” Those words guided me. That way I get more of a range to hit each mile, and can try to be consistent based on feel. So as training progressed, I felt more comfortable in that range while just inching faster down towards my goal. The speed workouts were naturally a bit more precise, but still allowed for adjustments based on feel. I went with the “Yasso 800” philosophy for shorter speed work. Hope that helps a bit, happy to answer any other questions! Come check out Runner: On the Right!
        Steve (@steverunner21) recently posted..Marathon Time, Philly StyleMy Profile

    5. What I love the most about running, and this was also addressed earlier this week–is that it’s your game. It’s your challenges. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail. I like the honesty about that in this blog. (And I love reading about other runners.) Best of luck on your PR!