Steve Hallman always thought that training hard with diligence would lead to faster times in the marathon.
It took a new, world-class coach to convince him that resting more with diligence would get him to his goal a little quicker.
And proof of that came in the Berlin Marathon a few weeks ago when Hallman, a Langhorne native, ran a personal best 2:22.03, pulling him to within three minutes of qualifying for the U.S. Men’s Olympic Trials.
He chopped nearly five minutes off his previous fastest time for the 26.2-mile distance, finishing 87th out of some 35,000 runners at Berlin.
Esther Erb Atkins, a former distance running coach at Rider University and two-time U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier herself, came on board the Hallman team and one of the first policies she instituted was getting him to pick his spots, so to speak.
That is, just don’t go out and run day after day. Target specific workouts and make them count. Then rest “hard’’ in between.
“I was so used to coaching myself,’’ explained the 31-year-old Hallman in a telephone conversation. “Then I thought, ‘If I’m going to have a coach, I have to start listening to her.’
“Otherwise, don’t waste her time.’’
It took a while but Atkins’ program started to pay off.
First, Hallman decided to take the spring season off. He usually runs two marathons a year but decided to solely focus on Berlin.
“One thing she’s big on that I had to learn the hard way is rest,’’ Hallman said. “That’s like taking days off. If you go out for a 10-mile run, it doesn’t have to be at six-minute mile pace. You’re just wasting energy that way.
“She’s very big on taking it easy. Don’t look at your pace. I think that’s probably helped me the most. It’s just the little things like that.’’
Hallman resisted the urge to push the gas pedal every day of the week.
“She said, ‘Take your easy days easy. Not just building up mileage here.’ She’s very good at putting that in perspective,’’ Hallman said. “Mentally, that’s a hard thing to get by. You think, ‘I’m just wasting my time out here.’
“On a hot day, she would say, just save it for another day. That’s difficult because in your mind you think you’re doing something wrong, pushing it off to the next day. It sounds silly because when you’re in that moment, you think you’re missing out on a workout when in reality you’re probably helping yourself.’’
Learning to fight another day eventually paid dividends.
“I would say, ‘I couldn’t hit the time today (because of hot weather) but I’ll try again tomorrow.’ And for her, with her pedigree, to say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea, wait until tomorrow,’ that started to work,’’ Hallman said.
Now the long-range goal of qualifying for the U.S. trials doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
But there are other goals, too. Since it’s an Olympic trials year, he could go to Boston this Boston against a weaker American field.
Or he could start a new career as a triathlete, in the Ironman competition.
“A little bit of me wants to do the Boston Marathon,’’ he said, “because it’s so close to the trials that there won’t be that many top Americans running in it.
“I could place really well American-wise in it.’’
And there’s always a chance he could go to Houston in January and take another crack at that coveted 2:19 qualifying mark on a flat, fast course.
“Whichever way I go will be fine,’’ said Hallman, who trains with the Philadelphia Track Club.
Who knew years ago back when he was a runner at Neshaminy High School he would attain such a high level?
“When I first started running again five years ago, my goal was to just qualify for Boston,’’ he said. “Once I did that, I set another mark for myself. It’s just kind of fun to push yourself.’’
Deep down, Hallman thinks he can go faster than Berlin. Due to a plane mix-up, he didn’t get there until the day before the race. Then he temporarily lost his wallet and passport and spent five hours looking for that.
Imagine what he can do if all the pre-race stuff goes right some day.
“She (Atkins) said you still have time (to make the trials),’’ Hallman said with a chuckle.
As long as he gets enough rest, that is.
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