New Fall Marathon + How To Run A Faster Marathon

So not so great news to share…I have deferred my entry for the Wineglass Marathon until next year. Life, family and circumstances sometimes get in the way of our big plans and goals and as much as I was looking forward to racing in a few short weeks, ultimately, it really was the best decision for me, my training and my family. (Not trying to be vague but also not sharing all the details here.)

I hope to still race a marathon sometime in November – just haven’t registered for one yet. My short-list (right now) includes: Philly, Richmond and Potomac River Run. Have you raced any of these? Thoughts?

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I wanted to share my thoughts on how to run a faster marathon. Let me preface this all by saying that after taking a considerable amount of time off from my first to second marathons, I’ve mostly stayed at the same finish time (I’m working on improving that time right now and will obviously update this as necessary when I do!).

The following was first featured on WomensRunning.com:

The 2002 Philadelphia Marathon was my first 26.2. I was a senior at West Point. I had grown tired of going to the gym and running with no purpose. I wanted to train for something. While I had never run more than seven miles in my life but figured three months was enough time to train for the distance.

I wish I could say that I remembered crossing the finish line or how amazing the entire race was. Truthfully? I don’t remember much more than brief, five second snippets. The one thing that stands out in my mind is the time I crossed the finish line – 3:54.

Over the next five years, I graduated, went into the Army, deployed to Iraq, and filled my time with work, friends and the gym. The longest distance I ran during this stretch of time was 5 to 6 miles. I never intended to run another marathon, at least not in the near-term.  Short distance running with my unit and occasionally on the weekend was how I exercised.

But the summer of 2007 changed all of my running plans. I joined the Fort Hood Army 10-miler team after being persuaded by friends to try out. I now had a knowledgeable coach to train me. For the first time in my life, I did tempos, intervals on the track, and consistent long runs. I learned about stretching, nutrition, cadence, and breathing.

10 miler

I decided to enter the NYC Marathon lottery and figured I could piggyback the preparation for my 2nd marathon with the 10-miler training. I had no time goals for the marathon, which was just three weeks after the 10 miler. I didn’t wear a GPS- I had a Timex stopwatch. I did one 20 miler during training and didn’t dwell on the upcoming marathon. I was too focused on my upcoming deployment to Iraq for a year, which was occurring a week after the race. Despite all of that, I took 31 minutes off my previous marathon PR, qualified for Boston, and ran a 3:23.

NYC Marathon

I am not an expert with training plans, nor am I an elite runner. There is an endless list of things to tweak, improve upon or change to help obtain a faster marathon time. But these are the top things that I did differently from one training cycle to the next that improved my time.

  • To run faster, you have to run faster: For years, I would run 4-6 miles 5+ days/week. Every run was between 9:00-10:00 min/mile pace. So while I was staying in shape, I was not pushing myself or getting any faster. It was too easy to just get on the treadmill, set the pace, zone out to something on TV and run for an hour. Don’t get me wrong- there is nothing wrong with this…but it won’t help you if you want to run a marathon faster.
  • Focused Speedwork:  For three months, the 10-miler team would head to the track once a week to do 400m, 800m and 1600m repeats. During those months, my Army Physical Fitness Test 2 mile run time dropped from a 14:45 to a 12:40. There are some many of types of workouts for speed – tempos, tempo intervals, fartleks, intervals, fast finish, marathon pace and so on. Different training plans utilize different workouts. In my opinion, there’s no right or wrong method. As long as you are working on running faster on designated speed days, you will get faster.
  • More Long Runs: I didn’t do enough long runs for my first marathon. The furthest I ran was 16 miles, and I only did that twice. I paid for lack of long runs by hitting the wall hard at mile 22. Although I only did one 20 miler in the train-up for my 2nd, I did many more 14, 16 and 18 milers. Long runs became part of my weekend ritual and the miles felt more natural to me. I slowed down towards the end but kept running and never hit the infamous wall.
  • Nutrition: When I ran my 1st marathon, my diet was on par to that of most college students- not that great. By my 2nd marathon, I had gotten smarter about foods that work with my body and gave me energy. I also focused on what I was eating before and after workouts and races.
  • Patience and Persistence: I think this is one of the most important things to keep in mind when you are looking to get faster. Chip away at your goal a little bit at a time and remain persistent with your training. If you keep working hard, the results will come.

What one piece of advice would you share for someone looking to run a faster marathon?

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    29 thoughts on “New Fall Marathon + How To Run A Faster Marathon

    1. Pingback: Fall Marathon Plans + Back Home! |

    2. Pingback: Weekly Faves 8/28/14 | Running Southern

    3. I lived in Richmond for 7 years and I have to say they put on a really great marathon. I ran it once (my first), did the half once, and since our house was right on the course just a few blocks from one of the party zones I spectated every other year. It is a great course–pretty fast and very scenic–and there is excellent crowd support; it is very well-organized and not too crowded; Richmond is small enough that pre-/post-race logistics are easy, and the city is pretty easily navigable so it would be easy for your family to get to and from the various party zones along the course to see you.

      I am currently training for MCM, trying to shave at least 10 minutes off my time from my April marathon. To do that, I added one day of speed training per week (previously had not done any speed work but was doing hill training one day a week) and added more 20+ mile runs to my schedule. I am a little worried about overtraining–I have already run 20 and 22 miles and will still run 20-24-20 over the rest of the training cycle. My plan is to see how I feel and if I have to cut down the mileage on one of those, so be it. I would rather be rested and fresh on race day than force the miles and be tired. I am still pretty new at formal training, so I appreciate all the information you share on this blog!

    4. A little less training and one or two less long runs are not the end of the world.
      Go run your October marathon. #runhappy #dontobsessonPRs

    5. RICHMOND!!!!!!! I am doing that one :)…it would be so fun to meet and run some of it together!!! I haven’t totally nailed down a goal time…based on my training I would think it would be around 3:15…but what I am really training for is a smart well run race :). Right now I am adding a few more long runs into my cycle. For every training cycle I usually only do 1 20 and 1 18 mile run. I am hoping to do 2 or 3 20 milers. I also need help with mid race fuel…so I am working on it :)
      Jen@milesandblessings recently posted..First week of school- done. Long run- done!!!!My Profile

    6. *cough cough* RICHMOND!!! You can stay with me! I’ve run it three times-PR’d on it twice; it’s a pretty great race. I’ll totally come out and cheer you on! OR! OBX!! My friend and I are doing it-you should too!! Just sayin’ :-)

    7. I think I have to get through the first marathon first and then get faster. But yes, I am making sure I stick with my long runs. In my limited half marathon experience, I’ve always hit a major wall right at the point where I stopped with long runs. It makes me very nervous that my marathon training plan stops at 32KM.
      Rebecca@RunningFoodBaby recently posted..BBQ Beer Can ChickenMy Profile

      • In my opinion, there’s no need to do anything more than 20 miles while training for your first. It seems like a long distance to go, but when you factor in that you’ll be running on fresh legs, after carbo-loading, getting fluids/nutrients along the course, having fans and spectators cheering and just the overall excitement of race day, the 20 miles will be enough to get you to the finish. You don’t want to overtrain and do too much in training and then be tired and exhausted on race day!
        Congrats on training for your first! Hope it goes well =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..New Fall Marathon + How To Run A Faster MarathonMy Profile

    8. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for you, Michele, but sounds like the right one. Too much life stress doesn’t lead to optimal races and sometimes something needs to give.

      As to your back ups: I’ve done both Phila and Richmond multiple times and really like both. My only comment would be that Phila is getting really, really big and crowded, which can be very frustrating in the first few miles on narrow, old streets. Richmond definitely allows for more breathing room. Both are awesome, fast courses, though, and both tend to have perfect marathoning weather. If you do Potomac, let me know–I’ll come cheer!
      misszippy1 recently posted..Running latelyMy Profile

    9. My vote is for Philly — I’ll be there and would love to see you!
      Your times are insane. I’m currently working speed as I train for Chicago. I ran Philly twice (4:22; 4:04)… My original intention was to finish, and during my second I just wasn’t into it until half way through the race — so I know I could have pushed harder/faster to break 4. I have dreams of BQing so consulted a coach and have been working the Principle of Specificity at MP, which has not been easy. I did do Yassos, but stopped for longer/more quality work outs. Would love any additional tips!!!

    10. I’ve never run a marathon but there are three things that have helped me become a faster runner:
      – hill running and hill sprints/repeats. A great strength workout! Helps improve stamina.
      – cross-training: Lately, I’ve been training for a small triathlon, and the swimming and cycling, along with trail running, has helped increase my pace.
      – diet: I’ve switched to the primal diet (paleo + dairy) and, aside from losing weight, my recovery is so much better, and I feel I’m able to do more.
      Danielle @ Eat Primal, Run Hard recently posted..The Craggy Island Triathlon OR My goal for next yearMy Profile

    11. I ran the Potomac River Run last spring – it is a great race, depending on what you are looking for. It is flat and fast, but also very small. Not a lot of spectators, but it is set up so your family/friends can easily greet you 4x on the course without moving. It is a double out and back, which I LOVED – it helped me to break up the race into 4 short sections, and helped me with pacing as well. However, some people hate it because it can get kind of boring. Pretty course, though. And inexpensive. And it is likely that you can place in your age group and win back your entry. :)

      • This is what I’ve heard and kind of why I love the idea of it. I have a couple of friends who live in the area and was thinking of asking them to each pace me a few miles towards the end…plus my husband and boys could stay stationery and then see me a bunch! Thanks so much for your feedback! I appreciate it!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..New Fall Marathon + How To Run A Faster MarathonMy Profile

    12. Sorry to hear you deferred your entry, but I think that is very courageous of you, and shows what is most important….exactly what should be most important! I hope someday i can make that same choice :)

      I hope someday to go back and do Philly, to prove that last year was a fluke. I think you should do the same, but that is just because I know we both had a rough day.

      My best piece of advice is to rest. I just did my 21 miler, and I feel so exhausted. I know that the rest of the day should just be my body recovering, followed by foam rolling, and ice bathing. Rest is absolutely critical to the grind of marathon training, to help your body adapt so you can run faster :)
      Tina Muir recently posted..Racing as an Elite; Crim Festival of Races 10 Mile RecapMy Profile

    13. Your first and second marathon times are almost exactly the same as mine! I did my first in 3:57 and my second in 3:30 which was a BQ as well! I learned a lot (and hired a coach) in between races as well and I think you hit ALL the big ones – speed, fuel and more long runs. I’m still working on the “more long runs” since, as you know, that’s a bit of a hard one with a young family BUT I want to run another marathon in the next couple years somewhere in the 3:15 range…we shall see!
      Allie recently posted..The Rundown – It’s OfficialMy Profile