(Note: For the purpose of my analysis, I'm using my adjusted Mississippi Gulf Coast time of 3:50:54 rather than my official shortened-course time of 3:48:17.)
How did I got from a marathon PR of 4:17:53 all the way down to 3:50:54? This equates to a time difference of 26:59, or 1:02/mile. It's been nearly four years since I ran that 4:17 marathon, and since then I've run a 4:21, 4:25, and 4:35. Not exactly stellar times, especially when I'm a much stronger runner at shorter distances.
The last few years haven't been too kind to me on the running front, and it's been a two year long battle to come back to better shape and better mental strength. When the weather in Baton Rouge in January forced me to hold back, I had to abandon my PR and run smart and slow, which was a bummer. But even if I had "raced," I likely would not have run faster than a 4:10 or 4:15. When I ran in the Texas Independence Relay in March, I fell apart and was miserable. It pissed me off.
So then came April and I made the decision that this was not acceptable and I was going to completely change things up and get my sorry ass into shape and blow my marathon PR out of the water. I've written several blog posts since then about my journey to Sunday's race.
From my 4/20/17 blog: Are you ready for a marathon? And OMG I want to go to Boston
"I want to go to Boston. I want to qualify. My new age group qualification window opens up in September, and it gives me another 10 minute cushion for qualifying. But I still need to run a 3:55, and because of the demand of the race even that time will not be enough to gain entry. I will need to shoot for a 3:52. This is nearly a minute per mile faster than my fastest marathon. I have run a 1:51 half, when I was in fantastic shape, so I know the speed is there for me. I just need to tap into it and have a really great BQ race day.
I WANT TO GO TO BOSTON.
I'm laying the groundwork now for making this possible. I want this. I'm ready for this."The journey had begun.
Then I began writing about how my Training Plan took shape and started to progress from that early version to something even more intense.
From my 4/30/17 blog: Training Plan
"Writing all of this out is helping me to see the big picture. I'm still slightly terrified of the work ahead of me, but strangely excited. It will forever be so weird to me that this girl who never really did any sports growing up (well, I tried and I kind of sucked) is talking about running 800 miles in the second half of the year and tackling two more marathons by the time I hit my next birthday. Pretty damn cool."From my 6/7/17 blog: Progress
"I know this means that all the work I'm putting in with regards to my nutrition and consistency and effort is paying off. My head is telling me I can do it and my body is responding. Huge boost for my mental game, that's for sure. Knowing my body is stronger and my lungs are working better than usual tells me that no matter what crazy workout Christine gives us, I can do it. This also means she's probably getting wise to me and will make me run faster."From my 6/19/17 blog: Summer has arrived
"There's a time and place for race pace and faster runs. Long run weekend is not one of those, especially in this part of my training cycle and in the summer. I'm building up my base so my body is ready for more mileage. I added a fourth day to my running last week, and I have 4 weeks until the difficult training technically starts. As I get deep into training, some of my long runs will incorporate race pace miles, but usually no more than 30% of the run, and the rest of the miles will be at long run pace. Speed will happen during interval runs, tempo runs, races, track nights, and runs like those, but in order to properly prepare oneself for the rigors of the volume of marathon training, you have to allow yourself the luxury of recovery miles and long, slow miles. If I ran 8:58 pace day in and day out, at 40 or 50+ miles per week, I would be depleted on race day."It was becoming more and more clear to me at this point that my strategy, while frustrating because it forced me to run over 10:00/mile pace, I had to stick to it and be patient.
From my 7/13/17 blog: Intentional Training
"I'm not stressing about my long run pace at all anymore, whereas I used to be so bummed if I didn't train at a certain pace all the time. By focusing more on my heartrate and cadence I'm able to steadily improve my aerobic fitness."
"Proper recovery from the tougher workouts is vital (yay recovery runs!) to be able to continue to perform well during those particularly hard weeks. I'm just continuing to chant that mantra of "easy pace, easy pace, easy pace" (no matter how much my teammates laugh at how anal I've become). My long slow runs are paying dividends during hard workouts and will (hopefully, oh pretty please) pay off on race day."From my 8/13/17 blog: Trying to see the light
"I'm doing just fine with intervals, tempos, and hill repeat pacing. I can see all that improving, I can see my cardiovascular strength improving, and I know I'm making progress. But those 10+ minute long runs....ugh....I think realizing the benefit of long SLOW runs is a tough thing in general for marathoners to deal with. It's hard to see that when you run so much slower than goal pace, you're actually doing something good for yourself."
"I know that my biggest strength right now, besides my improvement in cardiovascular strength, is my attitude, and while I am struggling to push a few doubts away, I do really believe in myself. Most of the time, at least. But I'm also human and have anxiety and need to take a few deep breaths now and then to calm myself down. My attitude is a thousand times better than it's been in recent years and I'm trying so damn hard to hold onto that!"From my 9/15/17 blog: It's the strangest thing
"I read an article titled 'Change your mindset to improve your race times.' It couldn't have come at a better time, right when I'm starting to incorporate race pace miles into my long run and I'm pushing myself harder during hard workouts now that the weather is better.It's fascinating to me to read all of this again and see my newfound strength taking shape as the training cycle progressed.
Be mindful of the deceptive paralysis that can take hold when you become intimidated by your increasingly faster paces.Basically this means that we allow the fear of the faster paces we are running, and the daunting thought of actually running that in a race, hold us back on race day. We are physiologically capable of our goal, but our minds work against us and we fail to truly believe in our ability. We fear going 'balls to the wall' and then failing."
My my 10/6/17 blog: 9 more weeks
"The next few weeks will really see some serious commitment. 170 miles in October, 190 in November, and then tapering to December 10 race day. Tempos, long runs, track work, easy days, strength work, balance work....did I mention serious commitment?
This shit is so good for me. It's hard and I love it. I'm scared as hell of failing at my goals, but dammit I'm going to do everything I can to get myself to that starting line in the best shape of my life."
From my 11/10/17 blog: Hello Hell Week
"My training volume is more than I have ever done and I can't deny that I was really worried when I wrote the plan. I knew I needed higher volume to do what I want to do, but it frightened me to think of doing midweek long runs in addition to the REALLY long runs over the weekend, to sometimes run 6 days per week...and even 6 days in a row.From my 11/24/17 blog: Turkey Trot Badassery
But I'm still alive and I'm right smack dab in the middle of hell. Last week I ran 54 miles, this week is 49 and next week is 54. Then I get to taper. November 19 can't come soon enough!"
"I'm so glad that I decided to race this. I was in a good position to run well, to shake my demons out one last time, and to finish out the rest of my marathon taper with really good thoughts in my head. Running 7:45 average for 5 miles was not nearly as hard as I expected it could be, so to add over a minute per mile to that pace and hold it for 26.2 seems very doable to me. So far the weather in Biloxi is looking great for the marathon. I will have rested legs and I'm at my best shape ever. My confidence is as good as it's going to get and I'm very happy."From my 11/29/17 blog: The Home Stretch
"I need to keep remembering how all of this feels, that race pace is not a big deal to me, that I'm perfectly capable of dialing into that pace during my race and being okay. I really need to remember that I can run a marathon probably much faster than a 3:52 if I tried even harder. Because I can. Every single data point is telling me this.
And I need to STOP remembering that if I run my stretch goal, I will have taken an entire minute off my pace from my PR marathon. I need to STOP telling myself that people just don't do that. Because I'm perfectly capable to doing that. I made it my goal, I did the work, and the glory is right in front of me to take."Wow....going through my posts since April was fun and crazy.
Do you want to run a fantastic marathon? Do you want to improve beyond what you thought possible? Everyone has different strengths, and some plans that work for others might not work for you. But I can tell you what I did and why I think it worked, and perhaps you can take some of this into your own training.
1. I lost weight. I lost over 10% of my bodyweight since April. I am probably well below 20% bodyfat and am my leanest ever. I did this by cutting out sugar. I didn't eat desserts, I didn't eat candy, I avoided it like the plague. Any sugar I got was in the form of cocktails, because let's be serious...this is marathon training and I needed a damn drink sometimes. I cut out most refined carbs and processed crap. I cooked with whole grains and no white sugar. I snacked on fruit. It was exactly what worked for my body to drop all the excess. I'm sure a big side effect of this was also being able to consistently feel strong in my workouts.
2. I was consistent. If I had to run that day, I did. I didn't get lazy. I respected the training plan and the process.
3. I significantly, but intelligently, increased my volume. I had been working on my base from April to July, when the training plan kicked in. By the time the harder workouts really hit and the 30+ mile weeks started, I had a very strong running base. Adding on the volume and intensity week after week was completely doable. I decided that to be serious, I needed to consistently be running 40-55 mile weeks during the final 10 weeks of training.
August miles: 131
September miles: 163
October miles: 167
November miles: 186
I ran 5-6 timed per week, every week, and sometimes 6 days in a row. The volume was high and relentless.
4. I respected recovery. In order to run at a high volume, I never ran two intense training runs consecutively. A typical week would consist of Monday recovery run (4-6 miles), Tuesday interval or tempo run (7 miles), Wednesday easy longer distance run (8-10 miles), Thursday track work (6-9 miles), Friday rest, Saturday easy run (4-8 miles), Sunday long run (with 3 runs over 3 hours). Goal race pace, for my stretch A goal of a 3:52 marathon, was 8:51 pace. My long runs rarely were below 10:00 pace, my recovery runs were more like 10:15-10:30 pace, but because I took it so easy on those days, my Tuesday and Thursday quality workouts were intense and I ran better than expected. My Sunday long run, even in high humidity and high temps, were strong up to the end of the run. When I incorporated some race pace miles into my long runs, I didn't have much trouble hitting the right pace.
It's a difficult thing for us to throw out our ego and run slow and admit we ran slow. It's so much more glamorous to post that we ran our long run at 8:45 pace instead of 10:15 pace. But you won't hit your goals if you overtax your body. Your hard run days will suffer. Your body simply can't sustain that kind of intensity and you won't be rewarded on race day if you tear your body down. The goal is to build your aerobic endurance. If you do that, you'll be amazed at what you can do on race day.
5. I paid attention to my heart rate. I needed to stay in Zone 2 or less for 70% of my running miles. Because of the summer/fall temps and humidity I would get into low Zone 3 during long runs, but not Zone 4. As the training progressed, I was finding that my heart rate average was steadily declining during quality workouts, so I was able to see that I could start to push even harder during those. I could hold a Zone 3 and 4 heart rate for longer and longer during tempo runs. By analyzing this data, it gave me the confidence that my fitness was heading into the right direction and I was on my way to achieving a much faster pace for a marathon.
6. I took care of my body with non-running work. Strength training, balance work, physical therapy to work on my imbalances, foam rolling, stretching. All of this was vital to keep my body in tip top shape and injury free.
7. I believed in myself. Half the battle during a marathon is mental, not physical. During the last 10K, while your body is definitely fatiguing, most people give up their pace because they allow their minds to screw with them. They forget to trust their training and they give in to all the doubts. But with the right kind of training under your belt, you don't have to allow this to happen. It's not easy, but a slow down in the second half of a marathon is not inevitable. As a matter of fact, with the right training, you should be able to run a negative split race. You HAVE TO believe that. You HAVE TO trust your training. You HAVE TO believe that you are strong beyond measure.
8. I had nothing to lose. During the race on Sunday, which you can read about in yesterday's blog, I went out from Mile 1 with the intention of RACING. There was no real warm up in those early miles, no super slow miles to ease into the distance, like there has been in every other marathon of mine. It was great weather, it was a great course, and I had absolutely nothing to lose by racing fiercely and fearlessly.
I had put in the work, I knew I had tapered the previous three weeks properly, I had so much training volume under my belt, I knew what pace I was capable of, I knew I could probably run even faster, so that is exactly what I allowed my body to do. I felt good, I was running miles faster than my racing plan, but I didn't let that scare me. I kept at it and kept running faster and knew that even if I slowed a little at the end, that I had done everything I could do meet my goal. I ran a negative split race, just like I planned.
I HAD TO BE FEARLESS.
I CRUSHED MY DAMN RACE. I ran a Boston Qualifying marathon by a long shot. I basically secured my starting place in Hopkington on April 15, 2019 (until the course was de-certified, unfortunately).
So today, four days post marathon, I am attacking my new plan with fervor. In 31 days I will once again get to a marathon start line with my plan to crush my Boston Qualifying time. As a matter of fact, I want to crush my shortened course time of 3:48:19, which would require me running an 8:43 average pace. I absolutely can do this. My legs feel great, I am ready to ease into running again, starting tonight, and my heart is ready to embrace this journey once again.