Today’s question comes from Robert….

One question for you, if you have the time…  You’ve made some amazing strides in your pace.  The thought of me running a 6:09 mile is so far out there right now…  As you put it, I’m chugging away at 5mph on the treadmill these days, and it feels like I am legitimately stretching myself every time I extend my run time.  Do you find that nearly anyone is capable of that type of growth?

Hi Robert –

I do fully believe that everyone has the possibility for growth. The amount of growth depends on a number of factors, how old you are, how long you have been running, how much work you are willing to put in it, etc.

My first race I averaged 11 minutes miles. If you had at any point in the first years I started running told me that at one point in my life I would be able to run a 6:09 pace on a training run for even one mile I would have laughed at you. I feel that way about SO MANY things in my life I can’t even begin to count. It’s one of the many reasons that I embrace the mantra DREAM BIG no matter how cheesy it is. Often the limiting factor in our lives are our own minds. There are always going to be exceptions. I do however believe, growth is the norm and not the exception.

If you are looking to get faster {which not every runner has this goal – growth can be measured in many other ways}. I would start by analyzing your current running. How many miles a week are you running? Could you safely increase that? Are you fueling properly? Are you eating to food that has nutrients to fuel your body or are you eating empty calories? I would consider finding a training plan if you haven’t already and if it is in the budget hiring a coach can be beneficial.

It isn’t just about going out there every day and pushing a little bit harder on pace or pushing it a little bit longer on distance. You have to mix up your distances and paces to see real improvement in speed. If you go out there and try to push yourself every day it’s going to leave you burnt out and there is always the possibility that you body will slow down further from exhaustion. It’s why I stress that fast days should be fast and easy days should be easy. Recovery days should even at times feel painfully EASY.

I think it’s also important to also come up with realistic goals. My first marathon, Marine Corps Marathon 2003, was a 4:20. I then immediately said I wanted to qualify for Boston and train for a 3:40 the following year. I fell short many a time because I was not being realistic with my DREAM BIG goal. I started training at too fast of a pace because I could handle that pace for the long runs, easy runs and recovery runs. I didn’t hit the paces on the speed workouts, but I felt like I was fine because I could hit all the other paces. I didn’t understand some of the basic principles of running. Once I slowed down, I actually got faster because I was able to hit the speed workouts AND the other workouts. I ran easy on easy days and hard on hard days.

So YES I do believe that almost anyone is capable of growth and I don’t think my story of improvement is all that different from countless other runners. Put your mind to your goal and make it happen!


Have you improved your race times from when you started running? What pace were you at when you started? What paces are you running now? Do you agree that almost anyone is capable of growth?

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  1. Love this post! It is exactly what I needed right now! I set a goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon and my fastest marathon time to date is a 4:38 – I have over an hour to cut off! I am putting in the speed workouts and then I take it easy on my easy day. In fact, I could probably take it even easier but sometimes it is hard to slow yourself down. Thank you for all this information!

  2. This post is spot on! It’s all about taking it steady, not rushing into things and making sure to go slow on recovery and long runs, whilst still being able to knock out the fast runs on those sessions. I’ve had a coach for just four weeks and already I can notice the difference in my running and also my recovery from introducing regular speedwork and hillwork and really taking it steady on my recovery runs. One day I’d like to achieve a London Good-for-age time (3h 45m). I’m a long way off that right now but believe that one day, with a lot of hard work I can chip into my time enough to make it! (Fingers crossed!)

  3. Becca L. says:

    This post was just what I needed!!!! I started running 2 years ago and at times I have felt discouraged and like since I didn’t begin running when I was 5, or even in high school, or even after I had my son (3 1/2 years ago) that there’s no way I’d ever see a sub 8 mile, even. So, now I’m feeling inspired! I know I’ll get there, I have to give myself the time, and the training. My life long goal is to run a sub 4:00 marathon (I’ve only done half marathons at this point) — so now maybe it is attainable after all! Thank you, Dorothy!!!!

  4. This is great thanks Dorothy. I have actually gotten slower whilst training for my first marathon due to illness, and I was running 11 min miles to begin with! I’m looking forward to focusing on speed for the next one and will remember your tips

  5. This post is perfect, Dorothy. I actually have a podcast coming out tomorrow talking with Sage Rountree about reaching your potential on race day, and talking about her upcoming book. Can I come back and link to that tomorrow?

  6. Nice post – didn’t know you’d started out at that pace, that’s very encouraging to those of us working hard to get faster and BQ. (I’m doing hard days hard, ez days ez, long runs, hills, intervals, tempo, etc.) Thanks for sharing! (& looking forward to when the shirts come in)

  7. First, thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I guess I never really gave much thought to training. All the “couch to xx” programs I’ve seen (and admittedly that’s about all the training plans I’ve perused) are all variations on the theme of gradually increasing time and distance.

    I think I have lots of reading to do, and in the meantime I’ll keep laying down a fitness base, and get rid of these extra pounds…

  8. I love to encourage people in the same manor. They often see me as now, but don’t look back to where I started. My first marathon was a 4:20, 2 years later I had a goal to qualify for Boston and I came in at 3:29, 11 minutes under my BQ time. It took a lot of time & patience & training! It made that BQ all the more satisfying know that I worked hard to earn that, it just didn’t happen on it’s own. For those that have never run (& maybe never will) run a BQ that doesn’t mean they can’t set other goals & work hard to achieve them.

  9. I’m currently training for my very first marathon, and already I am thinking so much about all the races I want to run in the future! I sometimes worry that I’m going to burn myself out or that I’m just not good enough at this, and that really puts a damper on my big dreaming. Right now, I’m not super fast, but your post really does make me believe that huge growth is possible with time and a lot of work. I’ve got both of those things, so I’m happy to just going to keep going and see what happens. Thank you for writing.
    -Emily K.

  10. This is a GREAT post! Thanks for sharing!

  11. I love the thought of going slower you actually get faster. I really agree with this but it is so hard for me to actually apply. In my mind you want to get better at something, you get out there and do it over and over, harder and harder…but this does not work. With me and running, my achilies heal for going slow is stretching. I have the hardest time coming in 10 minutes earlier than I have to, to make sure that I get a good stretch after my run. I always say, but I could put in another mile, but the thing that I need to remember is that by me going slow and stretching, my recovery time actually increases, and I can get out there and go faster and harder the next day than if I put in that extra mile and don’t stretch.

  12. Loved this post :) One of the coolest things about running is being able to look back and see how far you’ve come. When I’m struggling or have hit a racing plateau, I find that looking back 1 or 5 or 10 years in my running logs is a huge motivator – it’s always exciting to see how much I’ve grown as a runner! In Jr High racing a 6:30 mile was barely attainable. Now I can hit that pace six miles in a row! Even though most of us aren’t going to be superstar runners, we can all gain a sense of accomplishment and pride from putting in the work to improve and take advantage of our potential.

  13. Awesome post! In just a year and a half, my marathon time dropped from 4:14 to 3:34. Even just a year ago I never would have thought this could happen, but I did exactly what you suggested – added variation to my running routine – and it helped tremendously. You’re right, going slower is absolutely part of getting faster. And once you start seeing results, it gets almost addicting!

  14. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing your own growth. It’s such a great example of what is possible with hard work.

  15. Great post. Your blog is one I read religiously for a number of reasons but one main reason was the way you have progressed as a runner and it seems to me that you run just as much to improve physically but it’s also mentally needed. There is something awesome about seeing concrete goals dreamed, reached, then surpassed. My first marathon 2 yrs ago was 4:12. Just 3 weeks ago I ran my fourth marathon in Missoula (which is freaking awesome btw) and I ran a 3:41:03. I missed BQ by 63 seconds! I never thought I could ever get so close. One really does need to “believe” as cliche or unbelievable as it sounds. Gotta start somewhere right? I didn’t believe I could do it in Missoula, or really the fear of pushing an failing is probably more accurate. I hope to blow my October marathon out of the water (now that I know I can do it and I won’t spontaneously combust). Sorry for the long response but I’ve even wanted to email and say..thanks…your appreciated:)

  16. Krystin Castro says:

    Thank you for posting.. this is a great post!! I am working on qualifying for Boston, my goal is to qualify in 2014. I was never interested in speed until this year so it has been exciting but also a challenge to switch my mindset from running long for a long time to doing shorter speed workouts!

  17. I really needed to read this today, thank you. I’ve been pushing myself on my runs that are supposed to be easy because I want to speed up — you explained why this isn’t a good idea in a way that makes sense to me. Thank you!

  18. Like all of the other commenters, I really needed this, too! I’m running slower now than I used to, and I’m certain it’s because I’m not taking easy runs as easy as I should or not at all. Thanks!

  19. I had no idea you started out at that time! I just ran my first marathon a few months ago in 4:14, and I was so happy! Now I’m wondering if I can get under 4 hours. This post makes me feel like it’s more than possible! I just really need to work more on varying up my runs.

  20. I just discovered your blog a few months ago and I was so motivated by your story to keep running despite challenges. I have a dream of becoming a marathon lymphedema runner to show others with lymphedema that this condition does not preclude them from pursuing their dreams. I’ve only been running since December so my pace is rather humble, but in seeing how you’ve progressed through the years from running an 11:00 pace to 6:09 pace I’m now even more inspired to keep running and pushing myself. Thank you for answering this question :)

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