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Parker Stinson was riding high in 2019. In May, the then-27-year-old set an American 25K record. Come October, he lowered his marathon PR by four minutes, cruising to 2:10:53 in Chicago, good for 11th overall and third American — just 17 seconds behind top American Jake Riley.
With the Olympic marathon trials looming in February, Stinson was feeling like a contender. “After Chicago, I felt like, maybe I could make the team,” he says. “If I had a day, it was possible.”
But it was not to be. In December his knee suddenly slipped a cog. “I was in the middle of training, just getting ready for heavy marathon training, and my knee just blew up one day,” he says. “It happened so fast.”
An MRI revealed a pinched fat pad, the soft tissue behind the knee cap, which, when inflamed, throws off the tracking of the joint. Stinson had experienced this earlier in his years of running, but it was never this bad. In the past, it could always be handled with a little downtime, some rehab and maybe a cortisone shot. Stinson tried everything that had worked before. But no luck.
What’s worse than recovering from an injury? Being injured and not knowing how to get better.
“I tried everything,” Stinson says. “I flew all over the country seeing people. I tried PRP, I tried another cortisone shot. I was taking time off, and my MRIs were getting worse.”
Deal with the Devil
Finally, in July 2020, he had surgery to shave down the pad. And the surgery fixed the tracking issues.
That was the good news. The bad news was that it now swole up after every long run.
“It’s like a deal with the devil,” Stinson says about surgeries. “They do fix what’s wrong, and it’s great. But your new injury is that you got surgery. There’s a lot of complications that come with that. And this knee has been no different. I still deal with stuff now.”
Adding to the complications was the fact that Stinson had been in limbo since December. By the time the surgery had healed and he was ready to start running again, he hadn’t really run for eight months.
And so he began again. Carefully.
“I was like, ‘This is my last chance to get something to work,’” he says. So, unlike 99% of injured runners, he actually listened to the doctors and came back oh-so-slowly. “The first week I ran 7.5 miles, with walk/jog runs. And the next week was like 18 miles. I was so happy. I was ecstatic. Just to be able to run. It wasn’t great, but I didn’t have pain, which was huge.”
After the July 9th surgery, it took a month to restore his mobility enough to run normally again, and until November until he was back to his typical base mileage.
|Parker Stinson Recovery Progression Following July 9 Surgery|
|August 10th||7.5 miles|
|August 17th||18 miles|
|August 24th||36 miles|
|August 31st||42 miles|
|September 7th||43 miles|
|September 14th||51 miles|
|September 21st||61 miles|
|September 28th||64 miles|
|October 5th||49 miles|
|October 12th||71 miles|
|October 19th||81 miles|
|October 26th||77 miles|
|November 2nd||66 miles|
|November 9th||84 miles|
|November 16th||83 miles|
|November 23rd||83 miles|
Fortunately, he wasn’t wasting many race opportunities as COVID-19 raged on throughout the fall of 2020 and into 2021.
“I was really, really glad I had all this time to wait to do marathon training,” Stinson says. “I think that would have been really tough.”
Instead, he targeted a half marathon in January as his post-surgery race debut. “It was a lot more manageable to say, ‘I’m training for a half marathon — just training to be a good fit, overall runner,’” he says. “If I was training for Boston, when it normally was, in April, I think that would have been dangerous on my knee — it wasn’t ready to handle the loads of the marathon.”
Stinson won the January 17, 2021 Naples Half Marathon in 63:31, but didn’t really feel back until he popped a PR 62:07 half marathon in May — running alone with a rabbit on a Eugene, Oregon bike trail.
“I really felt like things had come full circle,” Stinson says.
Flash forward to September, and not only is Stinson back to full marathon training, but he’s doing more volume than he did heading into his marathon PR in 2019. That is by design.
Stinson’s coach, Dathan Ritzenhein explains: “The emphasis for Parker in this Boston Marathon training block has shifted to doing an overall higher training load. It has been an increase of about 10–15 miles per week, and he is never very fresh for the workouts. The cumulative fatigue is much higher but we hope that will be what will allow his legs to get to the top of heartbreak hill and not only be able to maintain like 2019, but to actually finish faster.”
Ritzenhein says he kept the volume and workouts manageable during the 2019 Chicago build-up, to ensure Stinson’s confidence stayed high.
“After that race I was happy with how he ran, finally being able to finish well the last 10K,” Ritzenhein says. “But he is another two years stronger now and he has been able to handle more in his non-marathon training blocks, so we are carrying that over to the marathon.”
Besides adding more miles, Stinson says he’s not run on the Alter-G during this buildup, something he did a lot in 2019, and he’s been averaging about 30-seconds per mile faster pace on his recovery days. “I think because I’m not smashing the workouts, I’ve just been feeling better on my easy runs,” he says.
Despite the increased cumulative fatigue, Stinson has still run some eye-popping and confidence-inspiring workouts.
He points to his last long run before Boston, where he averaged 5:28/mile pace for 20 miles, “at altitude, on a hard Boston-simulation route.” The route mimics the basic contours of the storied course, but the Boulder hills dwarf those in Massachusetts.
Stinson starts to describe a couple of strong fartleks, then realizes they are in the same week, and, to illustrate the full scope of his training, lays out the whole 112 miles, day by day. That would make his coach proud. “Parker generally always likes to feel great in his workouts,” Ritzenhein says. “But I’ve tried to get him to shift focus more to the day after day and week after week.”
Here’s a week in the heart of Stinson’s Boston build-up:
Monday, September 6
A.M.: 12 miles in 6:33 pace + 4 strides with a float. Stride 100m, jog 100m. Do 4 out, then jog back, for a mile total.
P.M.: 5 in the evening on the treadmill. 1% incline. Start at 7:30 pace, end at 6:30 pace. Start treadmill at 8 MPH, then bump up to 8.4 at half mile, then 8.6 at a mile, then every mile after that go up .2.
“I run on the treadmill a lot. I really like doing that for a few reasons: I zone out, put on music, do something different. I can run later in the day, sometimes at 8 pm. Also, my average heart rate on those runs is, like, 130. I just run slower on the treadmill than I normally would — it’s a pure recovery run for me.”
18 mile day
Tuesday, September 7
• 3 mile warmup at 6:48 pace
• 50-minute fartlek. 9.69 miles total, 5:09 average pace
• “On” segments, in minutes: 1,2,3,2,1,2,3,2,1,2,3,2,1 — recovery times same as work interval
• 3 mile cool down at 7:12 pace
“Ran with Joe Klecker on dirt roads. Joe only had 30 minutes, so I was out really hard with him, then I had to finish the last 20 minutes all by myself in the hurt locker.”
P.M.: 1 hour massage. 5 miles in the evening on treadmill. Average pace 6:50.
21 mile day
Wednesday September 8
A.M.: 14 mile run at 6:30 pace on soft trails.
“It shows that you’re handing the pacing and recovery if you can come back and run 6:30 pace for 14 miles after nearly 40 miles in 2 days.”
Thursday, September 9
A.M.: 8 miles at 6:40 pace + 4 strides
P.M.: 1 hour of PT. 4 miles in the evening on treadmill. Average pace 6:55.
13 mile day
Friday, September 9
A.M.: Long fartlek
• 3 miles at 6:30 pace warm-up
• 25 K “In and Out” on rolling route in Boulder. Alternating 3:00/kilometer and 3:25/k (fast segments at threshold pace, slow at marathon pace plus 20–30 seconds).
• Stinson ran the fast Ks between 2:51 and 3:02 (4:35–4:50/mile pace) and the float Ks at 3:22–3:28 (5:25–5:34/mile pace)
• Total: 15.5 miles in 1:19:13 (5:06/mile average pace)
• 2.5-mile cool down at 7:22 pace
“This workout went really well for me. 15.5 miles at 5:06 pace is already good at altitude. But 50% of that is at 4:30 to 4:40 pace, and then you’re settling in. It’s an inefficient way to run 5:06 pace — that’s the point, it makes you burn way more fuel than you normally would, staying at a consistent pace. I fueled the whole time, and then I closed my last K in 2:51. If you can close with your fastest K at the end of a workout like that — you know you’re fueling is working. So it’s a good confidence builder for both fitness and fueling.”
P.M.: 1 hour massage. 4 miles in the evening on treadmill. Average pace 6:55.
Saturday, September 10
6 miles at 6:44 pace
Sunday, September 11
A.M.: 10 miles at 6:37 pace
P.M. 5 miles on treadmill. Average pace 6:50
Week Total: 112 miles
Betting on Boston
It’s weeks like these that Ritzenhein is counting on to carry Stinson through to Boylston Street. “If he can look back and see that the total block was better, and he was still able to run great workouts on tired legs, I hope that it will give him the confidence to trust that during the race,” Ritzenhein says. “He has a very good year of training under his belt now, and that is what I believe will lead to a great race in Boston.”
Those who have run the downhills of Boston may wonder at the marathon choice for someone still managing an iffy knee. Stinson acknowledges this, and admits that, while his course simulation long runs have gone encouragingly well, “They blow my knee up after the fact.”
But he deals with the inflammation, trusts his PT, and gets back out on the roads.
“Yes, I have knee problems still, and it is something I have to deal with every day,” Stinson says. “It is definitely a risk running Boston. But at a certain point, I have to move on and approach my career like I am healthy and like I am the best version of myself. I have to throw caution to the wind and trust my body will do what it can do and that the surgery worked.”
And it’s not just another marathon. “It is Boston,” Stinson says. “The super bowl of the marathon majors.”
Besides the history and prestige, Boston doesn’t have rabbits, and often stays tactical through the hills, leveling the field a bit. “There are factors that bring my 2:10 closer to those 2:05 guys,” Stinson says. He points to Scott Fauble and Jared Ward who have led far into the race and finished in the top 10.
“I think there could be a chance for me to mix it up for a really long time, at a World Marathon Major,” Stinson says. “And that excites me.”
An excited Parker Stinson is worth rooting for. Especially when he is also confident, grateful to be running again, and eager to show the world he’s back.