With his PR at Grandma’s Marathon this summer Craig Hunt has taken his running career to another level. His 2:15:29 puts him 50th on the list of top U.S. marathon finishes in the past two years and less than 30-seconds off the Olympic Trials “A” standard. We wanted to learn more about his transition from being self-coached to working with VDOT Coach Jay Bawcom.

VDOT O2: How long have you been training with Jay and how did that come about?

Craig: I’ve been training with Jay since January of 2019. After a disappointing showing at CIM in 2018 I decided to make the switch from being self-coached to finding someone that can provide more structure and insight into my training. Jay was coaching my roommate Dylan Belles at the time and it made the most sense to partner with Jay and have a workout partner in Dylan as well.

VDOT O2: How has working with Jay differed from your previous approach?

Craig: Previously I was self-coached which worked well for a while but slowly became more stressful as I continuously questioned the workouts I prescribed myself. I was able to run 2:18:23 in my marathon debut at CIM in 2017 but after returning to CIM in 2018 and running slower I knew it was time to make a change.

While coaching myself I did a lot of traditional marathon training including a lot of tempos and large workouts. After peak races I would take 1-2 weeks off and then start back up. With Jay we take a different approach. We have continuous/consistent training, and let months of training build upon each other with minimal down time even after peak races. After a marathon or 50k I typically will run light the next day and then have about 4 days off, after that we’re back training.

I really like this approach because it allows me to recover from my race, but continue to build fitness since I didn’t lose any from an extended period off. Another aspect that is new is that Jay rarely prescribes a “traditional tempo” as in 8 miles at marathon pace, instead we may do 4 x 3 miles at marathon pace. This allows us to not only get more work and volume in at marathon pace but also doesn’t deplete me completely at the end of the workout because I’m given short breaks between each rep to regroup.

The biggest difference simply has to be that I’ve now put the faith of my training in someone else’s control. I simply just need to buy into the process and put the work in…no more stressing or questioning the training I would prescribe myself.

VDOT O2: How has managing your training through the app helped you?

Craig Hunt: Using the VDOT O2 app has been a huge convenience factor in my training with Jay. I have my GPS watch automatically upload all my runs so even though I don’t speak with Jay everyday I know he can view my runs and keep tabs on me. He knows all the details and splits from my runs and workouts without speaking to me which is great because he can see when things are going well and when they’re not he can quickly make adjustments.

VDOT O2: Your result at Grandma’s was almost a 3-min PR. What was your goal going in and what were the big difference makers?

Craig: My Grandma’s result was a 2:57 PR from my 2017 race at CIM. My goal heading into Grandma’s was to run 2:15:30. By aiming for 2:15:30 I knew that I’d be able to put myself in position to break 2:15 if I was having a huge day, but also run a PR if I wasn’t. Ultimately, the race played out perfectly and I was able to run just under the goal time I had established.

The biggest difference maker this year had to be my experience with longer distances which resulted in me knowing to be patient early in the race. I went into the race with a plan of running anywhere from 5:08-5:12 pace each mile. For the first 2 miles I was with a group of about 8 guys running that exact pace but by mile 3 I could tell they were picking it up. It took a lot of will power not to go with them but I made the right decision to back off slightly and stick with my game plan of being patient. In the end, I made the right choice because most of those guys came back to me late in the race and I was able to move up from 17th to 5th place over the second half.

VDOT O2: How has training been going for the U.S. World 50k Champs? What are some of the key workouts Jay has you doing that vary more in terms of what a typical marathon athlete would expect?

Craig: Training for the World 50k Championships has been going just as well as any of my other build-ups which means good but not perfect. I always find that asking for a perfect build-up is a tall order when you’re also working a full-time job and trying to train like a professional. This build-up has presented it’s challenges but overall I’ve been able to have consistent mileage and piece workout after workout together.

My training hasn’t varied very much from what I’ve done leading into past marathons and 50k’s. I have a few long runs that may be longer than if I were racing a marathon but overall the main aspects of my training are very similar to my marathon training. We don’t necessarily have any big key workouts in my training. I feel as though I don’t need to have any “home run” workouts to be confident in my fitness and know what I’m capable of. Like I’ve mentioned, I just try to continuously build upon consistent training and hopefully save all my “home run” workouts for race day and then hit a “grand slam.”