Dad Bod

Knox Robinson On Marathon Training For Beginners

Calling all weekend warriors.

Originally Published: 
Two men running in the woods.

So, you’re holding your beautiful new baby, teaching the toddler to walk, or pushing the kid on a balance bike, and you’re thinking, “Time to remove ‘Run A Marathon’ from the Bucket List, ’cause that ain’t happening as long as this kid is vacuuming up every spare moment of my life.” Knox Robinson wants you to know that’s bullshit. Before he had a 2:36 marathon time, a top-100 finish in NYC 2011, and a Runner’s World cover, Robinson was like you (only with way cooler hair): a new father with a grind of a job and his fastest days behind him. Witnessing his son’s birth in 2003 begged the question, “When was the last time I did something that unified mind, body, and soul?” All he could think to do was run.

So the next day he ran a lap around Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park and kept at it until he was silly fast again, pushing little Raul in a stroller much of the way. Having overcome career and fatherhood as viable obstacles to training, Robinson now coaches for the Nike+ Run Club, where he helps dads like you do the same. Follow his guidance to qualify for Boston and teach your kid to fix you a sandwich.

Don’t Think, Just Make It Work. Then Think.

Robinson was so affected by his son’s birth that he didn’t stop to Google “Marathon Training Plan” — he just ran. “That first year of fatherhood, everything is white-knuckle terror. I think fathers think they won’t have time or life is gonna go sideways,” he says. “But if you can keep a cool head, fatherhood and distance running are complementary.” Both teach you to prioritize, consider the bigger picture, and decide what’s really important before moving forward.

Only Think About These 3 Workouts

“Everybody’s getting a crash course in vo2max and all this specialized performance training,” Robinson says of the current, internet-fueled running boom. “The newfangled stuff, ‘immaculate interval workouts,’ is cool, but a specific performance requires a point of view and a specific approach.”

His approach (cue old-school coach eye-rolling) tunes out the noise and boils marathon training down to three essential workouts: track intervals (alternating short, fast repetitions with recovery periods), tempo runs (sustained effort sessions run between easy and interval pace) and long runs (running far). Do between five and eight of those three workouts, designed and executed respective to your goals, over 8-12 weeks leading up to the race. After that, just get to the start line and Robinson says you’ll be surprised to discover what you’re really made of.

You Can’t Do Everything. You Can Decide What’s Important.

Having a kid inspired Robinson’s return to running, but also altered his priorities and free time. Unable to dedicate as much time to training, the time he did train became more focused. Instead of waiting for his buddies to show up and goofing off for the first three miles of a 90-minute run, he got right after it. Making this work for you involves deciding what’s important and being flexible.

“The choices parenthood creates for you are the building blocks of success for athletes with children.”

“Figure out how bad you want it, and then apply that calculus to the specifics of your training,” he says. For example: “If you have one Sunday in three weeks free, are you gonna booze away the Saturday night before or plan around an epic long run that’ll be key to your preparation? These choices parenthood creates for you are the building blocks of success for athletes with children.”

Don’t Be Afraid To Bring Your Kid

“To all the beer-drinking, tattoo-having, record-collecting, bad-acting, Instagramming dads out there,” Robinson implores, “feel okay about taking your kid with you.” Although your wife might not be so keen on you pushing your toddler across the 59th Street Bridge in February during a 20-mile run (“Maybe that was a little extreme,” he admits now), a lifestyle of healthy eating and physical activity is a pretty great thing to share with your child. Robinson’s father did, and helped excite him about the sport.

“In the late ’70s, early ’80s, I thought that’s just what a dude did,” he says. “I didn’t know my dad was in the back of the pack; I just thought he was a fly brother in waffle racers and an afro doing his thing.”

That doesn’t mean your kid has to run; Raul plays soccer. But including them, rather than feeling compelled to shield them from your crazy regimen, will likely enrich the process for you both. “He’s a part of my team when no one else is there,” Robinson says. “That’s training, isn’t it? What you do when no one else is looking and no one else is there.”

Teach Your Kid To Fix You Sandwiches

Being part of the team also means aiding in recovery. Because at some point during marathon training, you will end up flat on your back, unable to peel your stinking carcass off the floor. When that happens, your kid better be handy with a peanut butter knife. “You think about how to teach your kid to swim — no. Teach your kid to make a sandwich,” Robinson says. “When you come back from that long run, someone’s making a sandwich, and it’s got to be them.”

“Dads Have An Edge.” Use It.

Robinson believes that the crucible of parenthood forges tougher athletes because being present for your kid first requires feeling good about yourself. “You’ve got to have a strong backbone to handle the emotional gravity that comes with [parenthood], so when it comes time to whip somebody’s ass on the track, dads and moms are used to it,” he says. “I think they gain a little extra fortitude when it comes time for tough distance running training. Being a parent exorts you to get out there and pursue a better version of yourself.” Case in point, what sounds harder to handle: A colicky infant at 3 a.m., or 12 quarter-mile repeats?

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