Thursday, May 19, 2016

How I Ran a 33-Minute Marathon PR

I'm two weeks out from the OC Marathon, home of my new marathon PR of 4:19:20, which demolished my past PR of 4:52:52. A 33:32 PR, a time I'd dreamed of but wondered if it were possible. Was my heart in it? Were my legs capable? What if I can't? I think these are all games we runners play in our head (really, anyone with a goal or dream in mind). 

I had gone into the Phoenix Marathon knowing I was well under-trained and unprepared, but was determined to make the most of the race day that was handed to me. Recap: I felt pretty awesome until mile 20 where I was on track for a 4:30ish finish, my stomach flared, and I spent 1:38 walking the last 10K to finish in 4:55. Not the day I'd had in my head, as I was hoping for at least some kind of PR, but I learned a lot that day, too. 

When I got home from Phoenix, I took a full week off. I walked, did yoga, but didn't allow myself to run for a full week. And I missed it. I yearned for a run, but told myself that I need a week to rest, recuperate and fuel the fire that I knew I had. I treated Phoenix like a good long training run heading into OC. Mind you, I'd run two fulls two years apart and now I here I am running two just nine weeks apart. What was am I thinking?

Looking back at the struggle that my first marathon was in 2013, it's amazing to say I've come this far. I ran Surf City that year with a simple goal of finishing sub-5 and still standing upright. 4:58:42 later, I got to call myself a marathoner! I met both goals but was pretty certain it would be a long time before I got there again. Two years later, I was toeing the line of my second full, LA Marathon 2015, feeling infinitely more confident, prepared and trained, many thanks to the run club I'd joined and spent every Saturday with. The heat knocked me off my feet in the end, but still achieved a PR by 6 minutes. That's still a win, right?

So now here I am, jumping from a 4:58 first marathon to a 4:19, I've figured out how to make it all count. These are six things that - especially in this OC Marathon training cycle - I believe are the key to how I had the success that I did at OC a few weeks ago. I had 3 main points that I wanted to focus on during this cycle, some of which are reflected here. Shall we? 

1. Respect the Distance
I'm some 40-something half marathons into my running career and can confidently say I can run a half in my sleep, comfortably. I'm regularly running sub-2 halfs now, also comfortably. Throughout this training, there were several folks who mentioned that if I could run a sub-2 half so easily now, surely I could bust out a sub-4 or 4:00 marathon. Not gonna lie, while that idea sounded so great in my head, it was important to remember to be real - with myself, and with the race - that running a 2-hour half is a lot different than running a 4-hour full. Respect the distance. 26.2 is not the same as 13.1. 

2. Higher Weekday Mileage 
Throughout my other full training, I struggled with not only making it through more long distance (14+ miles) runs, but also didn't pack on miles during the week, which I thought worked. However, after completing this cycle and seeing how many runs were on plenty-tired legs but I pushed on and had some amazing runs in the process, I see the benefit of tacking in those miles during the week. I remember early on in the cycle when I had a #tenmiletuesday (also achieving a personal mid-week distance record), Catherine commented how much of a difference it made to feel prepared for a marathon by not neglecting the mid-week mileage. 

A #tenmiletuesday with Sandy!

3. Yoga
While only four months into yoga at this point, I admittedly suck at cross-training. Like, I'll be great at it for a week and then give up or get bored (mostly bored, let's be real). Yoga became a great place to not only use my muscles in different ways, but also to get my stretch on, because the other thing I suck at worse than cross-training is stretching. I'm a terrible runner, let's be honest. Though I only practice at my local Fleet Feet once a week and on some good weeks, once at home, is something I really do believe helped me immensely through this cycle: stretching out my chronically tight hamstrings and IT, forcing me to relax and breathe and focus on me just being me. 

4. More Quality Long Runs 
For my three previous fulls (Surf City, LA, Phoenix), my longest runs in training had been 16 miles. While 16 is a lot, there's a long way between 16 and 26. One of my major goals for OC was to ensure that I was packing on the miles and getting in the distance past 16 mles, my wall. I can say I successfully:
  • 15 miles (2:15 half marathon pacer + 2 miles)
  • 16 miles (9:50 pace)
  • 22 miles (Ragnar So Cal)
  • 21 miles (9:12 pace)
And many more weekends inbetween with runs ranging from 10 - 12. Feeling these extra miles out was most important for me mentally, as I allowed myself to break past the "13.1 is my happy place" mentality and fight for miles beyond that. 

5. Food Logging
Okay, so add one more thing that I suck at: food. I eat terribly, and regularly joke that I run so I can eat. If I ate the way I should  for the way I run, I'd weigh probably 15 pounds less. By no means am I overweight and know that I have muscle to show for 15 years of soccer and now long distance running) and that 5'6" and 145 is perfectly healthy. However, I am a little conscious about my weight and wanted to be more mindful of what I was fueling my body with and how it added up to race day. Logging my food on MyFitnessPal  from the end of February (just before Phoenix) all the way through OC did not necessarily lead up to weight loss (I don't know a scale), but it did make me more conscious about what I was putting in my mouth and fueling myself just a little bit better.

6. Believe 
It's so cliched and so true. But for the first time, I see where it got me and how much it meant on race day. After my 21-mile run and the energizer bunny that was my pacer Eric, and recognizing that we are our own worst enemies and that you, we, I  are more capable than we think. On race day, when I was at mile 17 on my own and still had energy to go, I had that 21-mile day in my head. If you can do it then, you can do it now... ... hey! Look! Mile 21 and you're still kickin'. Now finish those last 5. Al. Most. There. For once I had that belief, I had something to hang on to and knew that I had it in me from the start. 

Believe in yourself. You are more capable than you realize. 

For more tips and ideas for your training, also check out Run Far Girl's post of a similar nature. I love her tips and ideas and shares how she earned a 23-minute PR too. 

What are your best tips for marathon training?


  1. Congrats on the PR, that's an amazing improvement. I'll be happy to make my best time or beat it by a few minutes this weekend for the Capitola Half.

    I love your list and I KNOW I need to run longer runs to really get better at the half. I don't even want to think about a full marathon until I have that down.

  2. what a great post Megan! Congrats again on your serious PR!!
    My tips are pretty much same as yours with emphasis on fueling and hydration. I can't tell you how many times I see someone asking on my FB running group (not "my" group, it's a group run by people I now call friends :) ) about fueling during a marathon that they are running in a week's time! it's SO important to fuel properly to keep yourself going during the marathon on the day. So as you are training, it's good to practice so you know approx what you need and when.

    I haven't run as many halfs as you but my husband says I can not "eat Half Marathons for breakfast". A HM is a great distance. A marathon takes more time, effort, miles and can be a truly humbling and amazing experience.

    I just had a neuroma removed from my foot, so I'm hoping that this is going to be the way to get under 5 hours!! Time will tell. Next marathon... Berlin!