This year was a game changer for me. My half marathon went from 1:43 to 1:35 and my full from 3:49 to 3:31. I’ve been asked this question a time or two since.
Everyone is different and has a unique journey; here’s mine and what worked for me.
When I started running, I was so out of shape I could barely jog 30 seconds on a treadmill. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating.
I kept at it, and a few months in, I could jog a solid 30 minutes without stopping. I remember that day clearly and it was a big victory.
I decided to celebrate by registering for a half marathon, my very first race. At that point, I only ran 15 miles a week with no idea how fast or far I was going. It didn’t matter to me. I finished the 2009 Bismarck Half Marathon in 2:11 and felt on top of the world.
After that, I ran one half marathon every fall and stopped running during the winter, opting for classes at the YMCA. In the spring, I would start with 5-milers when the weather was mild enough, and celebrate my summer running with a fall half. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
It wasn’t until 2015 I realized I could run. I mean, really run. I ran the 2015 Fargo Marathon in 3:49, 14 minutes away from a Boston-qualifying time. I decided a BQ was my goal, knowing it wouldn’t be easy, but I would work hard to achieve it.
This is what I did:
1. Followed a plan. I used Hanson’s Marathon Method. This step is simple, but so important. I followed the plan to a TEE – no skipping days, no cutting runs short. If the plan said 8 miles, I ran 8 miles.
2. Each run served a purpose. Every week incorporated three runs of substance – track/speedwork day, race pace day, and long run day. The other three days were easy paced. Each run had a specific goal pace.
3. Upped the mileage. Hanson’s had me running six days a week, with peak week at 63 miles. It was a tough training cycle, but fun. It adequately prepared my legs for the demands of marathon day.
4. Made easy days easy. In order to truly hit my hard paces, I had to hold back on easy days. It took self-control, but running easy allowed my legs to recover so I could go hard three days a week.
5. Strength trained. This is extremely important. Most runners would rather eat a Gu for breakfast than strength train (*shudder*). Only running leads to overuse injury. Lifting or bodyweight strength will strengthen your muscles, allowing you to run faster and recover more quickly. It will also make you much less susceptible to injury.
6. Trained my mental muscle. In order to fully realize your potential, you have to believe you are capable. I had many days out on the road where I’d think, “I have to run 26 miles at WHAT pace?! No way.” Shut down negative thoughts and turn them around in a positive way.
Find a plan that works for you. Follow it. Commit. Believe you can. Then, go get it. Happy running!