Monday, February 1, 2016

A Coach's Experiment

by Gina Kehr

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Experience is everything.” I’ve been hearing it from others as far back as Wildflower Long Course in 1998, my first year racing as a professional. I was 10th that year, Heather Fuhr had won and I was standing up on the stage next to Wendy Ingraham and a lot of other big names in the sport just smiling and being sort of amazed and overwhelmed thinking, “How am I going to get faster?” I said something to Wendy and she leaned over to me and said, “Gina, you're going to do great in the sport, just wait; experience is everything.”

At that time I thought “Wait, I want to be better now... Experience… what is she talking about?” But here I am 25 years later and am amazed at what years of experience can do.

I retired from racing in November 2009. Since that time I have put on my bucket list to finish a marathon that does not have a 112 mile bike ride in front of it. I signed up for Napa in March of 2011, NYC in November of 2011, and gave up in 2012 as I had not made it to one startline due to a variety of reasons. In June I was selected to be part of the Nike Women’s Marathon this past October. With a PR goal in mind, I set myself on a path to have my best marathon. As my training became less of a priority and my body chose to give me experiences that I can now share with my athletes, I made it to the start line with less than optimal training behind me. What was going to be another DNS turned into a what I called a coach’s experiment. Could my body remember the 15 Ironman marathons I had done from 1998 to 2009? What training could I get away with that would allow me to participate?

So with 16 weeks I set out to have my best marathon. About half way in it was clear I was not getting the workouts done to set a PR so it was then that I adjusted my goal and started thinking from an “experience is everything” platform. It was this final adjustment where I learned the following information.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Cross training was a must as that is what my body was used to. It was also a great way to keep intensity up without focusing on one discipline too much. My time was limited and I had a few physical limitations that popped up, so doing traditional long runs became an issue. I would substitute a long run with a hard swim and short tempo run.

  2. I ran frequently. Mileage was down from what I did during my ironman years but the number of days I ran was greater. On average I ran five to six times a week and have since fallen in love with the 20 to 30 minute run.

  3. I ran tempo often. I was trying to do speed work but due to the physical limitations that were springing up I banked on the tempo run. Most of my runs, including the long runs between 12 to 16 miles were at least 20 to 60 seconds per mile faster than what I was hoping to run.

  4. Race execution became more important than ever. Starting out slower than my overall finishing pace was critically important as I knew I did not have the training in me to muscle through a blow up.

  5. Lifting weights must come back into my training regimen.

All in all the race worked out for me the best it could. I am thankful for all the years of training that is in my tank. I went in with an open mind and had to believe that even though it had been four years since I had been on a start line, when it came down to it my mind and body knew what to do. It was a fun day; mentally a day that I can share with my athletes affirming the years of training are always with you. I confirmed negative splitting was the best way to race. I had flashbacks from the Queen K and for a moment I felt like I was in the game again. The race ended with a qualification for Boston 2015 and where I will once again set a goal for a PR and put another gallon in my experience tank.


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at AffinityMultisport.com.
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