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!

    Advertisements

    Thoughts From My Long Run

    Forgive me for the lack of photos on this one…almost didn’t post it now because I had nothing haha! On Saturday my husband and I went down in miles for marathon #2 training (14 down to 10, per the plan). But, we increased the pace a bit more than the suggested pacing. I learned/realized a lot during this run. Forgive me as I wrote this with pretty free-flowing thoughts…

    Positives

    • My hydration pack love is strong ;)! I love having Nuun/water and fuel/nutrition on the go (and a place to put my phone) without having to hold it all. It’s been so great the past few months!
    • We had a little breeze that picked up part way through and it provided a little relief from the heat.
    • We got out in the morning well before the storms hit!
    • My husband is so encouraging when it gets tough, not just today’s run but every time we run together and I start hurting. Nothing beats the support of family!
    • I promise this is a positive, even though it won’t start that way. Our goal was MP, but I wanted to run at MP (10:18 — NOT what I plan to actually run the marathon at!) and feel like I could increase my pace a lot and still feel good. Why? Because I have an 8 mile race in a few weeks and to PR I need to top 1:17:57 (9:44 pace). Although we kept a good pace, I felt like it was a struggle. I began to dwell on it during the run. And then when I hit stop and save on my watch when we hit 10 miles, I had a moment of clarity. It’s obvious I’m not a “fast” runner, but I couldn’t even imagine running 10 miles at 10:11 a few years ago. I have come a long way, and I will keep working at improving — because it makes me happy! We all have hard runs that might get us in a negative head space, but those runs that feel effortless or even finishing a tough run knowing that I gave it my all really does bring me joy. I felt much happier when I looked at the big picture. A PR might not be in the cards for me this year, as training for an 8 mile and a marathon are quite different! But, I will still try.

    The Not-so Positives:

    • I tested out eating a different breakfast (because never try something new on race day, right?!) because I just felt like a change. Well, I found oatmeal is a no-go for me on running days. I had the most painful cramps that took a good mile to start to feel better.
    • The PR goal I set back in January for the 8 mile in a few weeks looks like it’s going to be quite unrealistic this year. Training for a marathon and a shorter distance is basically impossible. Much respect to Mr. Galen Rupp (I loved cheering him on during the Olympics)! Not to say I won’t give it my all, but considering how I felt today I just don’t see it happening. And that’s ok. My marathon goals are much more important to me right now.
    • Body Glide wore off after about 7.5 miles and I started chaffing under my left arm again. I’ve also tried vaseline and aquaphor in the past with no relief. The aquaphor I think did help in healing a bit, but it didn’t prevent the chaffing. I’m going to buy some Ruby’s Lube soon to try that out. I’m getting desperate and thinking about putting a bandage over the spot in the meantime. I don’t know if that could make matters worse or not, but it’s worth a shot.

    A lot of the time when I run, I just zone out and don’t really think about anything in particular (ha! That sounds kind of funny). However, this run my mind was all over the place. When you go out for a run, are you a thinker? Or do you like to just ‘zone out’? Or do you focus on breathing, pacing, etc.?

    Run Less, Run Faster?

    I’ve had the book, “Run Less, Run Faster,” on my Amazon wish list for a while. But, recently a fellow Team Nuun member mentioned it in an online group and inspired me to go check it out at our local library. The basic idea is that you run 3x a week, and cross-train 2x a week. But, each workout has a very specific purpose. Your runs are track repeats, a tempo run, and a long run. And if you’re cycling for your cross-training like I do, you’re not just riding one pace the entire ride. The book lays out what each week would look like for each workout. I’ve done that schedule quite a bit, but my workouts were often times not ‘purpose driven’. It was more so about putting in the time/miles. I had a great personal record breaking year in 2015, but after reading this book a bit it has me re-evaluating my training. What could I accomplish in 2016 following the FIRST training plan (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training)?  

    I’m a little bummed I don’t have many more weeks of training left before my first race of the year (a half), because I’d love to fully follow the FIRST plan. That being said, I am likely going to be following the marathon plan for my second this fall, and modifying the half plan for the 25k I’m doing. I originally was going to go with one of the Hal Higdon plans, as I’ve taken those (and modified) in the past. When I say I modified, I cut a run and added a cross-train day instead. So, I’m already leaning more towards FIRST as I know my legs feel stronger doing 3 runs a week vs. 4+. I just need to change each workout to have a purpose like the book explains. Long story short, I’m definitely buying the book to keep as a reference for the training plans. I haven’t even finished the book, but it’s already totally inspired me and has me pumped for my long run on Friday!

    What training programs have you used? What have you found works best for you? One thing is for sure, there is not a one-size-fits-all plan out there. Everyone is different. Everyone’s bodies will respond differently to a training plan. It sure is interesting hearing about how other athletes train though!