How did you train to improve your marathon time so drastically? Did you follow a specific plan? How many days/miles per week were you running?
I’ll tell you my whole story – since I think the progression as a runner begins the day you start to run.
In 2003 I decided I wanted to train for and run my first marathon. At that time I had just graduated from college and was living with my mom. I mention this, because I would have never have had the self discipline as a 21 year old to train properly were it not for my mom coming into my room every morning and waking me up to go run with with her. We both worked at a local running store, so pretty much we had the same life. At that time she was being trained by a local chiropractor, Ron Kulik. I piggybacked off of her workouts. We were probably running around 40-45 miles a week and had track practice once a week.
This was WAY too much running for me as a first time marathoner. Looking back this program got me to the finish line, but was a horrible program in terms of increasing mileage at the same time as well as adding in speed. I walked on most runs in order to finish the mileage for the day. It would have been better to run 6 miles straight than to walk/run 8 – 10 miles.
I used to walk/run the long runs and had never run more than 10 miles or so without stopping to walk. I just assumed that on race day I would magically be able to run 26.2 miles. Didn’t happen. I ran 16 miles and then fell apart. I walked/ran my first marathon with the goal of finishing faster than Oprah[as I am sure many first time MCM'ers do!] I finished right at my goal time of 4:20. (my husband years later would propose to me on 4/20)
This being said this race laid the foundation for all marathons that followed.
Marathon #2 was only weeks later – I had gone to NYC to watch the marathon and had seen Puff Daddy or P. Diddy – whatever he wants his name to me this week – pass by me. He had his whole entourage around him – it made me sick. Run like the rest of us buddy. We could run faster too, if we had someone holding everything for us and running with a camera crew. It ignited a fire inside me as he beat my time with a 4:14. I would beat him.
My mom and I headed to Philly to run the marathon. This time I told myself I need to start out slower in order to not die as fast. I needed to drink more water in order to not get so dehydrated. I needed to believe I was a stronger runner than P. Diddy. As I approached the last mile I ran as fast as I possibly could, beating his time by mere seconds. Running a smarter race helped me take a little over 5 minutes off my time in a month.
2004 was a bust. I was running, but didn’t have the same focus as I had the prior year. My 22 year old self was more interested in going out and having a social life than I was in my marathon PR. My time suffered. I finished the Chicago Marathon in 4:28. I doubled up and ran Marine Corps Marathon weeks later.
Marine Corps was truly for fun, as I had worked the entire expo for Brooks. My legs were beyond dead. I walked/ran a 4:56 marathon. I had again followed my moms training program, but didn’t really do all of the track workouts that year.
In 2005 I had more of a focus. I was now working for Moving Comfort and had a structured 9 – 5 job. This is when I first started coming up with running plans for myself. I decided I was going to take matters into my own hand. I would take plans I found online or from friends, and modify them to what I thought would work best for my body. After working the Chicago Marathon expo for two straight days. I ran a PR of 4:09. I again believed in myself and the work I had done.
That year I had started to try and walk less on my longer runs. Starting out slower in order to try to hold the pace for the 20 or so miles. I also began running fartleks on a regular basis with my mom and my best friend Ashley.[read one of my earlier posts this month about my favorite fartlek] Having the three of us together pushed me beyond what I thought was possible. Those were some of the hardest work outs I did that year.
We also started doing tempos. The pace wasn’t lightening fast[I don't even think we ever broke an 8 minute mile], but it was just fast enough to push us out of our comfort zones. I ran at most 5 days a week.
I again doubled up and ran Marine Corps Marathon 3 weeks later. By this point I was getting the hang of races and understood the concept of a. not going out to fast and b. believing in myself. I went under 4 hours for the first time finishing in 3:59.
I also should add that during this summer is when I first started dating my husband. We lived in the same neighborhood and would go for runs together in the mornings before work. Nothing gets you out of bed and moving quiet like knowing that you are going to be running with the guy you have a crush on. I wanted to be fast. I wanted to impress him. I didn’t slack off on any of the workouts with him. I pushed through any and all pain I might have felt because I wanted to show him how great of a runner I was
********I also should add in a note about my doubling up of marathons. I don’t get injured. I listen to my body VERY carefully and back off any time I feel anything wrong. I also have worked for a shoe company and an apparel company so I know when I’m running in the wrong thing or wearing the wrong apparel. I can sense instantly when something is *off in my body* – so things never get to the point where I can’t run. I also should add that I never in any of this training up until this point did I go over 45 – 50 miles. I don’t abuse my body. As my coaching teacher said *running is a gift, that can be taken away* My goal has always been to be able to run when I’m 70 or 80. I want to be the only 70 year old out there. I want to win my age group. If that means pushing myself less now, running less miles, etc. Then I’ll do it. I’m in it for the long haul. I want to be a runner for life. I can double up on marathons because I have learned that my body recovers strangely faster than most people I know. I do not repeat DO NOT suggest doing this. Doubling up on marathons if you body can not handle it can cause injury. It can ruin your chances of running a faster marathon the next training season or year. Coach George of Capital Area Runners who I often talk about, always advises me to only run one marathon even though I recover and even though I often run faster the 2nd time around. He wants me to see the big picture. He believes one day through hard work I can go under 3:00 hours – but only if I train smart and don’t over race my body.
Once I ran 3:59 I felt like I could conquer the world! In 2006 I would become pregnant with my first child and did not run a marathon. I ran throughout the pregnancy but did not push myself to the extremes. I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 miler when I was four months pregnant with her. That was the last 10 miles I ran till Cherry Blossom the following year. At the end of the pregnancy I was walk/running maybe 3 miles.
In 2007 I was back. I again was coaching myself and using altered programs from various online sites or coaches. I again trained with my husband for Marine Corps. After running an awesome 18 miler that year I felt that my body felt a *little funny* [As mentioned I notice the slightest changes.] I took a pregnancy test and was again pregnant!! Less than two months till Marine Corps 2007 I had to stop my marathon training. In hindsight I think this training season really helped me. I ran hard, did my long runs with minimal walking breaks, ran fartleks and went to the track. However I didn’t run the marathon – thus getting the fitness gains but never beating my body up during the race.
2008 rolled around and I was ready for it to be my year. I had been a runner for years at this point. I worked around all these amazing athletes. But really felt my 3:59 marathon PR didn’t reflect how much work I had put into marathons. I wanted to qualify for Boston and I wasn’t taking NO for an answer. I did what I had to do to get it done that year.
My son was born April 24, 2008. That summer I would get up in the 4′s – get dressed and head out for runs alone in the dark of night. I ran faster on those runs, mostly because I was scared of all the darkness around me. I went to the W&OD and would meet my mom and my best friend Ashley for runs on the days I didn’t have the energy to get up early. I never let the fact that I was pushing a double stroller slow me down. I kept up with whoever I was running with.
I didn’t care about the pain. I wanted a faster time. I would run up to South Lakes track alone when my husband would get home from work[yes I went to high school with Alan Webb]. I would do 400′s, 800′s, 1200′s, 1600′s. I pushed myself hard on those runs. Then I would run/jog/walk home.
I was again only running about 40 miles a week. And I ran no more than 5 days. I started really focusing on doing core work in an attempt to loose the baby belly. I ate better and started looking at food as fuel, not something I did for enjoyment. I figured out that gels bothered my stomach and started eating Jelly Beans. I drank more water. I brought water on almost every run I went on. BUT MOST OF ALL I BELIEVED IN MYSELF. At the end of every long run I would push it and push it hard. I ran those miles in the 7′s – telling myself to visualize the finish line. Visualize finishing under 3:40. Learning to embrace the pain.
I followed a plan that summer created by Coach George of Capital Area Runners. Altering it a little to fit my schedule as a mom. I also did not walk. I told myself this was the easiest change to make that would give me huge results.
My family was tracking me during MCM ’08. My mom later told me that her and my husband were talking on the phone and they were both really sad for me. My mom was like *she needs to slow down – she is going to blow up* – *she can’t maintain a 3:30 pace* Every time they saw me on course I was running strong. I knew I would qualify.
At mile 22 – I hit the wall. I hit it hard. Ashley had jumped in and with out her I might not have qualified. I slowed but I never stopped running. I pushed through some of the most immense pain I have ever felt. I could barely speak I was so tired. My husband jumped in. The two of them ran next to me. Saying words of encouragement but mostly just being there for me with their presence. Ashley said one thing that stuck with me. *You can walk girlfriend and you will still qualify – you are doing awesome* I saw Mayor Fenty and was pleased I was beating the Mayor of DC.
I ran my heart out and finished in 3:36. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. Every run I went on. Every track workout I pushed through. Every late night of no sleep. Midnight nursings followed by early morning runs. Every time I didn’t go out with friends. Every time I sacrificed was ALL WORTH IT.
My husband later admitted he thought I was nuts – there was no way I could qualify. I’m thankful he keeps thoughts like that to himself till after my races. I proved everyone wrong by taking 24 minutes off my marathon PR. It was the first marathon I RAN the entire 26.2 miles – not one single damn walk break, not once.
I doubled up again with friends and ran Richmond in 3:58. I had given it my all at Marine Corps and had nothing left in the tank. My new theory is when you give it your all in your first race, you can not go faster in the 2nd. If you go faster in the 2nd – then you did not give it your all in the first.
In April of 2009 I ran Boston. It was my first time training for a spring marathon and it was hard. I wasn’t in the shape I had been in for Marine Corps. I had not done one track workout. I had only done long slow runs, and farleks. Again I was only running 5 days a week and think at most I hit 40 miles a week that winter.
I doubled up again and ran 3:46 at the Potomac River Run Marathon. I had given it my all for a 3:39 at Boston.
The summer of 2009 was the hardest I have worked ever at my running. I combined my knowledge as a RRCA Certified Running Coach with a program I found in Runners World by Bart Yasso, and of course again used some of the workouts recommended by Coach George.
I ran allot of my long runs with MR PIC and ran whatever crazy hard workout she had to do. Often times running 14 or more miles in the 7′s. I ran faster than I ever dreamed possible that summer. I went to the track every week. I didn’t ease up on myself because I was alone. I pushed harder than I have ever pushed before. I wanted to be faster. I wanted people to think I was a legit runner. I wanted to believe for myself I was legit.
I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of the Saucony Hurricane Team for 2009. Being that I was one of the slowest people on the team I felt that I had something to prove. I wanted to show the team that I deserved to be on it. Not just for my knowledge of running, or the running industry, or my love of running, but because I too could run fast.
I began my marathon season with a bit of heartbreak by running the Freedom’s Run Marathon. I was in the best shape of my life. I was at my lowest race weight. I had done the work. I was ready to cash the check. The course proved too hard for me and got into my head. I gave up. I finished with a PR of 3:35 and third place overall female but it wasn’t the sub 3:30 I had trained for.
I do believe that I could have ran faster than 3:35 had a chosen a different course. I proved this to myself by doubling up and running a 3:31 weeks later at Marine Corps Marathon on DEAD legs.
What improved my times that year was track workouts, tempos, marathon pace runs, start slower get faster runs, and also having MR PIC to push me through weekend workouts. She unknowingly helped me become a better runner. I didn’t want her to beat me in workouts or think I was a wimp. So I just kept up – no matter what.
*****This being said I should also note that in order for this to work for you, you must pick a person to train with that is relatively close to your training pace. MR PIC was and is faster than me, but not that much faster that I shouldn’t train with her. For example if you have never gone sub 3:50 in a marathon and you try to keep up with someone on long runs that has gone sub 3:30 – it would be silly. Long runs are meant to develop oxygen carrying capillaries. Run out of your training zones for runs and you won’t get the benefits. Runs are not races. You must do what is going to help you improve, even if that means running slower than you want to.[and running along rather than with friends] McMillan’s running calculator is a great tool to figure out what your paces should be on long runs, track workouts, tempos, etc.
This past winter was a tough one. It snowed allot in Virginia and I was forced to do 2 of my 3, 20 milers on the treadmill. The only 20 miler I did outside was while Miss Karen watched my kids for me. It was one of the hardest 20 milers I can remember in recent history – the run took me well over 3 hours to complete.
What helped me maintain fitness over this snowy season, was tempo runs outside and also on the treadmill. Treadmill runs helped to strengthen my mental determination. I chose to increase my distance this year and averaged between 50 – 55 miles per week – my most ever. Still only running a maximum of 6 days a week, and usually only 5.
I went into B & A Marathon knowing that even if I was in 1/2 the shape I was in last fall I would go under 3:30. The question for me was not if I would go under 3:30 but how far under 3:30 would I go. I was first overall female with 10 minute PR for a 3:21:05. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
My husband would later tell me he didn’t think I was capable of going under 3:30. Again I’m glad he keeps these things to himself till after the race. I also know that I am fueled by people telling me I can’t do something. Tell me I can’t do something and I will prove you wrong It’s in my OCD Type A nature.
So let me recap all this for you in an easy to understand way – in case you want to apply it to your running.
1. If you are currently walking on your runs this the first thing that needs to go. Run a slower pace if that helps you not stop. Run less miles if that will help you make it through the run. You will run faster slowing your pace down than you will running/walking/running walking.
2. After you can confidently not walk on runs then move to increasing your mileage for the week. Do not increase speed and mileage at the same time. Depending on your current mileage work up to something that is ALLOT but is also manageable at the same time. Allot is a relative term, there are times in my life when 30 is a lot – this year it was 55. Hopefully in the future it will be even higher. Don’t do junk miles to get to a number. The miles need to be quality. Junk miles do nothing but break you down.
3. Run a race. Pick a race from the 10K distance up and run your heart out. Take this race time and plug it into McMillans pace calculator. Find your training paces and plan your runs accordingly. As you get faster over time you can plug in new races and adapt your training. Do not however adapt your training from a fast 5K. A fast 5K rarely translates over into what you can run for a marathon.
4. Once you have your distance conquered start trading out some of your daily runs for speed workouts. Trackworks, tempo runs, and fartleks. Don’t do all in one week – two at most is good. Don’t do them back to back. Rest days are great after any of these workouts if you feel you need them.
5. Work on your mental strength. You can do this through visualization, affirmations, running alone, without music, etc. Anything that will help you become a stronger runner with out any additional aids on the run.
6. Nutrition – Make sure you figure out your magic mix for race day. If you can not run a sub 2:30 marathon then you need to be refueling during your races. This includes not only water, but some form of energy. One also needs to consider how you eat during the week while not running. Eat nutritious whole foods to fuel your body for your weekly runs.
7. Once you feel you are in shape enough to run a faster marathon. Research, research, research to find a course that is conducive to PR’s. A good course can mean the difference between a BQ and an almost BQ time.
Hope that helps! Let me know if I missed anything you were curious about!!