How I Shaved 60+ Minutes Off My Marathon Time in 18 Months

Happy New Year! 🎉 I love the start of a new year. It’s filled with so much possibility! 2017 has some big shoes to fill, as I ended 2016 with my biggest PR ever. The Grand Rapids Marathon last year is a day I will never forget! I realized I never recapped a bit of info about the plan that I used. So here it goes!

A bit blurry, but a screenshot of my husband and I approaching the finish line at GRM.

As many of you know, I followed the FIRST Novice Marathon Training Plan from the ‘Run Less, Run Faster’ book. FIRST stands for Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training. This plan was very different from what I did for training for my first marathon.

Here are the basics of this plan:

  • Three key runs per week
    • Track (speed work)
      • 400m-2000m distances are listed in a table in the book with goal times for each distance, which are based off of your 5k time.
    • Tempo
      • Short tempo (ST), mid-tempo (MT), and long-tempo (LT) are listed in a table in the book with goal paces, which are also based off of your 5k time.
    • Long run
      • Marathon and half marathon pace per mile is listed in a table, and once again you find your 5k time in the table to determine your goal marathon pace (MP) or half-marathon (HMP) should be.
  • Two cross training sessions per week 
    • FIRST prefers non-weight bearing activities such as swimming, biking and rowing activities to compliment the three key runs.
    • Activities you might normally consider cross training like yoga or weight training do not count as cross training in this plan. They’re great additions, but do not count.
    • For cycling, it suggests biking in low gears with higher cadence to mimic running (80-100 pedal revolutions per minute). If you’re biking in high gears, it’s not worthless though. It’s more in line with running hills. I personally did a mix of both during the training knowing the course I was going to run did have some hills, but was generally pretty flat.

I have so many pages bookmarked in the book. It was basically at my side for the entire 4 months of training.

    How marathon #1 & #2 were different:

    • I was running 3x a week, but the runs were not quality driven with my first marathon. I didn’t do speed and tempo workouts. I generally was pushing my pace for all of my runs and I know this lead to burn out and injuries in my first marathon training.
    • For marathon #1, I didn’t have a cross training plan set in place. I did random cross training like 30 minutes of biking, a 30-60 minute yoga video, or 30-60 minutes of weight training.
      • The biking workouts I did were not quality driven. I was simply biking for that time. There weren’t intervals involved and I wasn’t shifting gears. It was generally an easy to medium effort for the time.
      • Most of the time I only did one cross training day a week, so I was only working out 4 days a week.
    • I didn’t use compression socks regularly in recovery in marathon #1, and used them after all of my runs with #2.
    • Elevation gain on the course was much less with #2, which no doubt helped!
    • The long runs were up a mile every weekend with #1. With #2 it had you mostly increasing evenly, but a few times there were weeeks we went down in miles.
    • The weather was much better with #2 (high humidity and 80 degrees with 1st, which was basically the opposite of what I had been training in).
    • I had my husband with me for most of our long runs for #2. Having someone to run with made the miles fly by and made them much more enjoyable!
    • I played around with fueling options and found that the Honey Stinger gels I had been using were likely part of the reason I felt sick during my first marathon. I was happy to find out that a little ziplock bag of organic pitted dates worked great for my fueling.
    • Nuun Hudration tablets helped me avoid that awful post run headache I got the first time around due to the loss of electrolytes.
    • Wearing a hydration pack was extremely helpful to sip along the way and not have to depend on aid/water stations, and it had pockets for food/fuel.

    The training plan I used for #2 definitely made me stronger. I’m planning on trying out the half marathon plan for a few races this year. Getting into the 9’s for pace is a a goal for me in the next 1-2 years, and long term a sub 2 hr. half would be amazing! I think it’s all possible with hard work and a good training plan. The thing that sticks out to me most is that not all training plans are for every runner, so finding a plan that I found success with last year makes me want to stick with it for future races.

    I’d recommend giving it a try for anyone who struggles with injury, and anyone who enjoys cross training. 

    Here’s to a fantastic 2017! Cheers, friends!


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