People generally seem disappointed when I tell them the answer. The truth is, there is no magic bullet. There is no one thing I did differently to get faster. It’s a combination:
2. Strength training
3. Following a good training plan
4. Running more miles/having a large base
5. Getting specific with training paces and make every run count
6. Don’t neglect easy days – in fact, most of your miles should be easy
7. Speedwork, including both on the track and off
8. Diet and nutrition to support your running
9. Recovery/mobility – foam rolling, using The Stick, stretching, flossing, yoga, etc.
10. Stop being afraid of failure
11. Believing you can
While these are all important, I think the most important are the last two. If you tell yourself you can’t run X pace, you probably won’t be able to. You have to get your mind right and believe. The key for my first Boston-qualifying marathon was to believe I could. It was a stretch to shave 18 minutes off an already-decent time of 3:49, but I if I didn’t go for it, I obviously wouldn’t have achieved it.
This year in Boston, I knew shooting for my A goal was dangerous. It might have put me in the med tent. (So many people ended up there that hot day.) I decided to go for it. It was intimidating thinking of all the people who were tracking me. What if I fell short? What if I had an embarrassing finish time? Ultimately, I gave it my all, and luckily did not come up short. I couldn’t have been afraid of failure in that moment, or I wouldn’t have went for my A goal.
Everyone is different, but it has taken years for me to run faster, or even to have the desire to run faster! Being a good racer is about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s a hard thing to learn. I’m not a frequent racer compared to others, but when I do race, I thrive on the feeling of being “on the edge” and knowing I can’t push any harder.
Last weekend was hot and sunny, conditions that always kick my ass. In an effort to be comfortable, I put on shorts and a sports bra before taking off on an easy 10-miler. I looked in the mirror and negative thoughts started as soon as I laid eyes on my stomach.
“You can’t go out in public like that.” “There’s no definition!” “Eww. Too puffy.” “Not tan enough.”
After the high of a marathon fades, it’s normal to expend less energy. When that happens, even the most meticulous eater puts on a few pounds. It’s normal, and even healthy. *gasp*
It’s something even the elite and sub-elite deal with. These are my favorite blogs regarding this subject: Tina Muir and NYC Running Mama.
My amazing friend Jenn posted that morning on Instagram, and after reading her caption, I decided to hell with it. I was going to run in my sports bra, post-marathon stomach and all.
Through training, I was running like a maniac, nailing my paces and averaging around 60 miles a week. I weighed myself every other day, but not for the normal reason. I monitored my weight closely to make sure I wasn’t losing too much weight. When the number dipped too low, I jacked up my calories, again and again.
Seeing muscle definition and sliding on your skinny jeans to have them fit perfectly is an addicting feeling. It’s a confidence booster and physical confirmation of how hard you’re training.
Now that my race is a month behind me, I’ve found I’m up about 3-4 pounds over race weight. I hate to say it, but it causes major anxiety. My spirit is not healed from the physical and emotionally exhausting race that was Boston, but yet, I found myself running 54 miles last week. I’d like to say it was because I love the run (and I do), but it was more because I love my abs.
This week, I’ve intentionally ran and even moved less in general. It’s Friday and I only have 15 miles under my belt. I’ll run this weekend, but I’m not going to stress about any numbers – my mileage, or the scale.
For today, I choose to appreciate how hard my body works, and try not to freak out about a silly number on a scale.
“I ran 63 miles. I deserve this Lenny & Larry’s cookie…..for breakfast.”
“I lifted three times!” *downing a package of gummies*
“This oatmeal isn’t sweet without being drenched in Walden Farms syrup.”
Those have all been normal thoughts for the past 1.5 months.
During training I’m constantly hungry. When I don’t eat immediately I get hangry, leading to packaged “foods.” I’m not a meal prepper, also leading to packaged food-like things. (Yes, I say “foods” and food-like things, because it’s not really food….)
I’ve been experiencing intense cravings for anything sugary sweet. I completely indulged my sweet tooth. No matter what I eat, the craving is never satisfied.
Coincidentally, I’ve been having weird stomach issues I don’t normally have – bloating, upset stomach, reflux, and general bad GI issues.
Last weekend, I road-tripped with a close friend. She has health issues and struggled with a bad stomach and the same symptoms. She removed all processed sugar from her diet eight months ago, going as far as limiting naturally-occurring sugar. After three weeks, her stomach/GI issues vanished.
I’m no stranger to healthy eating, but I never connected my newfound stomach/GI issues directly to sugar!
I’ve read a lot of scientific studies that say moderate sugar consumption isn’t bad, especially if you’re an athlete. Naturally, I took this to the extreme and used it to justify boatloads of it, anytime I wanted.
Since I’m not training for a few months, now is the perfect time to try a sugar-free experimental diet. I’m not going to cut natural sugars, like fruit, but I will limit my loves bananas and dates, at least until my sweet cravings are manageable.
Since chemical sweeteners might affect us the same way as traditional sugars, I am going to temporarily cut those, too. I’m also going to abstain from Stevia for a bit. It’s natural, but I need to completely reset my palate. I want to completely kick these sugar cravings.
When I have the sugar under control, I’d like to experiment with removing foods that spike blood sugar, including grains, just to see what happens. That sounds terrifying right now, so one step at a time.
I’m excited to see how I feel once I remove the sugars. Today is day three and maybe it’s mental, but I already feel like I’m craving less sugar.
I’ll report my results and share some coping strategies when I’m a little further in. Cheers to better health!
I wondered if that would make the blues worse. It has, because what I’m experiencing is dramatic.
Luckily, I’ve dealt with this before, so I brace myself and prepare for its arrival. This is how I deal with the post-race blues.
Accept it. I know it’s coming, so I accept the fact I’m going to feel a bit down after a marathon. It’s natural to feel a little down after you’ve achieved something big.
Set new goals. I have one more big running goal in 2017: the Chicago Marathon. Since Boston went well, I have a lofty time goal in mind. Of course, I’ll take it as it comes, but initially, I want to go big on this marathon.
I also set a lot of non-running goals during this time. This is an important key to my recovery from feeling down. My non-running life is left out during training, and now is the perfect opportunity to give it some TLC.
Spend time on everything neglected during training. As anyone who’s trained for a big sporting event knows, training is hard and time-consuming. Towards the final weeks, it seems all you can do is work, train and recover, leaving a lot neglected.
For me, I am focusuing on spending more time with my boyfriend and dogs. I’m relaxing more (heyyyyy Netflix) and doing non-running things I love, like cooking.
I’ve also picked up on my neglected morning routine of reading, writing and meditation. My whole day is set when I start off on the right foot and I really missed it during training.
Analyze my training and the race. Before too much time passes, I like to think about what went well and also areas where I can improve. Every time I run a marathon, I learn so much, both about myself, the sport, and life.
Focus on fun runs and running friends. A joy for me after the rigors of training is catching up with all my running partners I didn’t have a chance to train with because of mileage/pace restrictions. It’s so much fun to reconnect.
For now, I’m trying to enjoy not being so busy. If I wake up and don’t want to run, I don’t. My body is still recovering, and at the very least, I’m enjoying more sleep.
If you have any ground-breaking ideas on how to deal with the post-race blues, I’d love to know what they are!
Six days later and my brain is still swimming with thought and emotion.
I spent 18 weeks running 908 miles in preparation, hell-bent on a PR, which, admittedly, isn’t the easiest feat. Boston is not a PR course, but I planned to try anyway. My training paces were aimed at a 3:25.
My Boston goals:
•A goal: A PR of 3:25:XX – 7:45 minute miles
•B goal: A BQ with enough cushion to run in 2018, about a 3:30 – 8:00 miles
•C goal: Finish happy, healthy, and uninjured
During the weeks before the marathon, I was voraciously hungry and fatigued. I did what I could to eat nutrient-dense foods and get extra rest, minimizing stress and focusing on pre-race recovery.
We flew into Boston at 10 p.m. Saturday, so it was straight to the hotel and to sleep. This left only one day in Boston pre-race to pick up my bib and explore the expo. I get nerves before races so I wanted to minimize my time in Boston before.
The expo was huge, but for as packed as it was, everything flowed smoothly. You could tell this wasn’t their first rodeo. We didn’t stay long, just long enough for me to snag a few items.
Fast forward to Monday morning. My alarm went off at 5:30. I woke up and had a protein bar and coffee, then got dressed. Weather was warmer than predicted. I walked outside to wait for our Uber and wasn’t chilled at all, wearing only a tank and shorts. This was a terrible sign.
We took the T into the city and arrived at Boston Common. Derek came with me and navigated the route so I didn’t have to think, just move. I didn’t check a bag because my support crew would meet me at the finish. A quick porta potty stop and I boarded the buses to Hopkinton.
Luckily, I met a nice, chatty lady in line and sat with her. (Hi, Krista from Wyoming!) She ran Boston a number of times and talked about the race. The bus ride was long, about an hour. I kept thinking, “We have to run back?”….
On the ride, I ate a Clif bar and Starburst jelly beans. It was tough fueling for a race late in the morning, trying to strike a balance between enough but not too much fuel.
Once in Hopkinton, we were dropped at the athlete’s village, a holding area with food, water and a ton of porta potties. I got in line right away, which was smart, because it took a long time. After that pit stop, it was time for Wave 3 to make our way to the start, another .9 mile walk. I had about 5,000 steps in before toeing the line.
The people of Hopkinton were out to cheer us on on the walk to the start and even had their own aid stations. I was sweating just walking and kept thinking about my goals and whether I should scale back. This heat would be hard to run in and downright dangerous. After debating, I decided to go for my A goal but was terrified it might be too much and the wheels would come off. If that happened, I would deal with it in the moment.
I decided this is the freaking Boston Marathon and I was going to act like I deserved to be there.
The gun sounded at 10:50 a.m. Off we went. As I was warned, everyone went out like a bat out of hell on the downhill course.
I stuck to the plan and nailed my 7:45s as close as possible. The first water stop was at mile 2. I drank a cup, then grabbed two more and started drenching myself. Keeping cool would be the key to finishing without a trip to the medical tent.
The only downside to drenching myself was having to carry my phone. It was in my Flipbelt but I was sopping, so in my hand it went. Carrying something for 26.2 miles is a bit of a pain, but when I’m running, I enter robot mode and do what needs to be done.
I wrote a short recap on Instagram, and it sums up the race pretty well:
I was concerned with the amount of effort I had to exert early in the race. Amazingly, my body was able to maintain it.
I called Derek at mile 6 to ask where they were and on which side of the road. They were near mile 25 on the left side, so beginning at mile 23, I hugged the left side. I still didnt’ manage to see them, but the thought of seeing them kept me going through those final miles. Sidenote: this was also another first, chatting on the phone while running. Ha!
So many people were walking starting at Heartbreak Hill. I gritted my teeth, put my head down, and kept running. It was weird flying by all these talented athletes. To even make it to the starting line of Boston is a great accomplishment…
The crowds along the entire course were absolutely amazing. The shouts of “Boston strong!” gave me chills. The best sign I saw was “4 years later Boston is stronger than ever” on the side of a building. The way the locals came out to cheer on the runners and support their city was inspiring. You can feel their fierce loyalty and determination to let love win.
I now know the meaning and feeling behind Boston Strong. I get tears in my eyes typing this.
If I could use one word to describe the race and experience, it is humbled.
The race humbled me. I’ve never worked so hard in my life and felt like junk doing it.
I was humbled to run the same course as the world’s most talented athletes.
I was humbled to run among police officers, firefighters, military, disabled, and those who lost limbs serving our great country.
I was humbled by strangers who gave me water and orange slices. I was humbled by crowds filled with cheers and support.
I was humbled by cards, texts, calls, and messages from friends and family. Some of these people could not care less about running, but still offered love and support.
I am humbled by how I feel even today – my quads are so, so sore, and my body is tired.
I am humbled to be blessed with a strong body and spirit to allow me to accomplish my dreams.
I am humbled to say I accomplished my A goal and then some, finishing in 3:22:05, 7:42 per mile.
This was the race of a lifetime, and I am grateful to have experienced it. Early on, I said never again, but now I cannot wait to come back to the streets of Boston and do it all over.
The hype surrounding Boston? It’s all real, and it’s all worth it. I hope every runner gets to experience it at least once in their lifetime.
This includes weeks 2 and 3, the final week, of taper. The last week is a partial week because my final run (before a shakeout on Sunday) was April 12. I will run the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 17.
All in, I ran 906 miles over the past 17.5 weeks. I’m pleased with how the entire cycle went. As with any training, it had ups and downs. One of the biggest challenges was training through a brutal North Dakota winter. We were pummeled with multiple feet of snow through several winter storms and dangerously cold temperatures. My personal limit for outdoor running is an air temp (without wind chill) of -5.
Most of my quality runs (track work, tempo, race pace) were done on my treadmill, alone, in my dark basement. Beyond the physical challenges, the mental challenge of regular longish runs (up to 12 miles) took its toll.
I did manage to hit every single mile prescribed in the plan. I’m pretty proud of that.
Through the weeks, I developed one pretty bad cold and dealt with one serious niggle. Luckily, I was able to train through both with slight pace adjustments. Note: this is only recommended if your body can handle it. If you are seriously sick or injured, please don’t run through it. Stop and seek appropriate medical treatment.
The thing that took me by surprise this taper was my hunger. It was/is out of control. I eat just over 2,000 calories a day, which is normally more than satisfying. Through the taper, I usually ate almost all of those calories by 11 a.m. I did go over a few days when I thought it was necessary. I don’t remember experiencing hunger like this before through any other tapering period. Luckily, my weight is stable and I’m at my perfect, comfortable race weight.
Taper Week 2 Monday, 4/3
•8 easy, 8:53 pace
Tuesday, 4/4 •6 easy in the morning, 8:47 pace
•5 easy after work, 8:32 pace
•11 miles total
Wednesday, 4/5 •Rest day
Thursday, 4/6 •9.5 easy in the morning, 8:37 pace •3.5 easy after work, 8:41 pace •13 miles total
Friday, 4/7 •7 with race pace strides, 8:05 pace
Saturday, 4/8 •8 easy, 8:28 pace
Sunday, 4/9 •8 easy, 8:30 pace with some race pace blocks
Total miles: 55
Taper Week 3 Monday, 4/10 •6 easy, 8:27 pace
Tuesday, 4/11 •6 easy, 8:31 pace
Wednesday, 4/12 •6 easy, 8:13
Thursday – Saturday •Rest, rest, rest
Sunday, 4/16 •2 mile shakeout run, very slow
Total miles: 20
I’ve found I like a non-traditional taper, usually running high volume until the final week. This calms my nerves. One change I did make was running the prescribed miles during week 2 of taper (55), but taking out all advised speedwork. In lieu of that, I threw in some race pace strides. This kept me mentally happy.
Another survival technique was running almost all of these final miles with friends. It’s a great chance to catch up and get outside of your head.
The last week is where I really taper hard – minimal, easy miles. In the few days leading up to a marathon, I become really aware of how much I’m moving and try to limit that as well. I’m normally a pretty active person (20,000+ steps a day) so it can be hard for me to sit more and move less, especially when dealing with pre-race nerves.
I fly out to Boston tomorrow. I know most people are already there or arriving long before late Saturday, but I want to minimize my time in Boston before the race. Pre-race nerves will likely hit me hard once I’m there, so I’d rather have only one day to explore the expo, then run.
I’m so anxious to take in this monumental marathon. It really will be a dream come true.
These were two big weeks: peak week and taper week 1 of 3.
Peak week was amazing: 63 miles of nailing miles and paces. My long run was a huge confidence builder before the taper. Everything went smoothly, except I only lifted once, which is actually pretty normal for me during peak week. From here on out, my lifting will be extremely limited, if at all.
The three weeks leading up to the marathon I like to tune into my body very closely. If I’m feeling sore and/or overly tired, I don’t lift. Not much is lost during these weeks strength-wise, but I could potentially damage my performance by overdoing it. If you’re like me, you don’t want to compromise 18 weeks of hard work!
Monday, 3/20 •8 easy miles, 8:45 pace
Tuesday, 3/21 •7 easy, 8:49 pace
Wednesday, 3/22 •Rest day
Thursday, 3/23 •6 working, 7:30 pace
•all other miles 8:49 pace
Friday, 3/24 •8 easy, 8:52 pace
Saturday, 3/25 •Long run day! Ran with a local, super fast group
•16 miles, 7:47 pace
•736 foot gain
•133 avg. HR (great indication that my fitness is where it should be!)
Sunday, 3/26 •13 easy, 8:12 pace
Totals •63 miles
•1 strength session
My first taper week was typical taper. I’m hungry and physically and mentally wiped. I don’t feel like taking naps, but I have no motivation to do anything except go through the motions of my days, so I do just that.
I’m working hard to release myself from the “shoulds” until after race day. You know….I “should” bake some healthy breakfast muffins. I “should” deep clean my shower. I “should” spring clean. NOPE – saving that until after.
Recovery is just as much mental as it is physical.
Since I was exhausted this week, I made the call to not lift. My legs and entire body are sore, which is such a strange feeling after not lifting. Hello, taper, my old friend.
Taper Week 1 Monday, 3/27 •6 easy, 8:47 pace
Tuesday, 3/28 •10 easy, 8:21 pace
Wednesday, 3/29 •Rest day
Thursday, 3/30 •6 working, 7:08 pace
•5 “cool down,” 7:52 pace
Friday, 3/31 •6 easy, 8:51 pace
Saturday, 4/1 •Long run day! Ran with the same local, super fast group
•15 miles, 7:48 pace
•224 foot gain, basically one steep hill and the rest flat
Sunday, 4/2 •8 easy, 8:52 pace
Totals •56 miles
With only 14 days to go, I made the call to scrap speed and run the rest of my miles easy until race day. On the days speed is prescribed, I will throw in race pace strides at the end of each mile.