It’s true what you’ve heard. The stars must align in order to run a solid marathon. However, there are things that you can tweak in your preparation for tackling 26.2 that won’t leave you feeling like you sacrificed your first born child and got nothing in return.
It’s also true that what works for one person will not necessarily work for another, but with ample training time, you can hopefully fine-tune everything from your training to nutrition and have a successful run.
And also note that even if you do everything you “usually” do, you’re apt to have a fail here or there. That’s just life.
And, so, I present to you: HCR’s Tips for Training for a Goal Race Marathon
**Obviously, I’m slightly looney. The info below is the craziness that I did to achieve a goal time in good physical standing (re: not laid out for days pre- or post-mary).
1. Miles count. For my first marathon, I used Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 training plan. It worked, for the most part; I finished my first marathon. What made my second training cycle better was having the base mileage from my first training cycle, which allowed me to more easily fit in 50 mile weeks because running had become easier. I no longer had to ice after my long runs or drain blisters from my toes because my body had grown used to the regular beat down.
Actually, I lost all the nails that were causing me issues, but who’s counting?
For me, adding more miles really helped me gain the strength in my legs and feet to get more quality training runs in. The easiest way for me to do this was to have a mid-week 10-miler on Wednesday, and an 8-10-miler on Saturday or whatever day came before the long run.
2. Speed counts. For my first training cycle, I ran in a zoned-out headspace. If I ran my 5 miles in 42 minutes, I accepted it for what it was. This time around, I chose two training runs outside of my long run to focus on sustained speed. They were usually the Wednesday and Saturday 10-milers, which I would try to run at a comfortably-hard pace, which ended up being about 20 seconds/mi. slower than my 10K pace. I would also add a stride/hill repeat drill on Tuesday or Thursday. What I discovered was that my “easy” days became faster without being more difficult.
Also, if I was struggling to start/finish a run, I would insert some fartleks. I would speed up for about a minute, then back off for another minute, and repeat until either I got home or I felt like it was time to move on with my life. I used Mealsandmiles‘ easy fartlek drill that didn’t require a track or much effort to remember:
3. Hill repeats are worth it. Even though I didn’t make it to a track (I really should have made it a priority) except for a couple of times, I was able to do some hill repeat drills at my kids’ gymnastic complex.
For the hill repeats, I did them every other week fully anticipating on doing track work on the alternate weeks (never happened). I would run 1.5 warmup miles, then run at 85% up the hill for a minute, then jog back down for between 6-8 times, then cool down for however much time I had left until gymnastics ended.
Hill repeats were a fun way to break up the monotony of running. They were also short enough so that once I was ready to stop, the minute was up, and I could recover my way back down the hill. My hill repeats were hard and effective in helping me improve my speed, strength, and hill-running form (there was a bridge in the middle of Ventura, and I was fully prepared for running it in the most efficient way possible due to my hill repeats). Here is a diagram of efficient hill running:
4. Run the terrain! Now, for Ventura, I was super lucky in that I live super close by. I spent a majority of the weekends running the middle part of the course (Thanks, Mom!), and twice, the race director held mock training runs complete with aid stations!
Unreal, I know. Race directors, make note.
V and I completed both of the on-course long runs together, and I think it helped us mentally prepare and set mini-goalmarks to reach as we approached the big day.
I also changed up my normal training routes around my neighborhood. Instead of running an out-and-back that began with a climb and ended with an elevation drop like I did when preparing for M2B, I mixed up the elevation on my course so that I was completing climbs at the beginning, middle, and end of the runs, thus increasing my strength and endurance in a more fatigued state.
If you don’t live somewhere where you can run the course or course-like routes, take a drive and run your long runs somewhere different! The change might be really nice! Especially on your third or fourth long run into a training cycle!
5. Injury prevention. I learned this the hard way in training for M2B, but I have since amped up my pre- and post-run stretching and post-run icing. I was on the DL for several weeks back during M2B’s cycle, and not only was it physically painful, but mentally, I was defeated at times!
For Ventura’s training cycle, I religiously completed a series of dynamic stretches before running (I do my favorites from a video posted on Hungry Runner Girl’s blog). Post run, I stretched and foam rolled! Yes, that meant that I left time to stretch after running, which was totally a foreign concept to me. It turns out that leaving those extra 5-10 minutes might have saved me from injury! This was REALLY hard to do because I usually like to jam pack as much as I can into a day, and stretching NEVER took priority over anything. I’m a changed woman.
I also took days off when I felt little nigglings. And when I felt little nigglings, I iced up the wahzoo! Three times daily for20 minutes, real ice under a compression wrap. That’s what I learned from my $65/half hour physical therapist. It turns out that he knows what he’s doing and I learned a little bit from him! It also turns out that resting or cross-training one extra day or two is not going to deplete an athlete’s fitness!
6. Planks. I cross-trained a lot more during Ventura’s cycle:
But I think the one thing that really helped was planking. I would do them for 1-2 minutes at a time whenever I had the chance or remembered to. Never underestimate the power or core strength! Increasing my core strength definitely helped my running form!
Oh, and can we take a moment to appreciate the ridiculousness of taking barre classes? I took mine at M6 Fitness in Thousand Oaks (insane ass-handings on the daily). The bennies to barre (for me) were increased strength and flexibility where runners need it most: the hips, butt, feet, ankles, legs, core… just about everything. My weak areas were my hips, hammies, and feet, which are weak areas that can cause injury to runners. I tried to take them twice a week, but most of the time I could only get childcare for once, so I worked my butt off at that one per week.
7. The long run. For M2B’s cycle, I just tried to survive. What I found during round two of marathon training was that my body had become accustomed to running for long periods of time allowing me to focus on quality long runs. This meant that I would go out at a long run pace for the first half, then gradually increase my speed for the second half. These negative splits were critical in training my mind and my body for the race because it wasn’t easy to hold back and then run progressively faster when the legs are tired.
8. Support. From my mom, who watched my girls early in the morning so that I could run some solid long runs on practically every weekend the husband was working, to my bff V, who texted me before and after every training run, ran some long runs with me, and was my partner in (running) crime, to my new team of totally amazing women, Oiselle, running became much more of a team sport than an individual one. It’s easy to give up if nobody is holding you accountable. While I had my off days, I would always put my big girl pants on the next day and train harder because I had this ginormous goal of BQing.
Which I did.
And if felt good. Really good.
I’ll write later about how my nutrition in the weeks leading up to the big goal race changed.
If you have more specific questions, feel free to email me at hautechocolaterunner(at)gmailDOTcom or tweet me @hautechocrunner.
What are you training for right now?
A gnarly RAD 10-miler and a couple halfs (yesterday was my first official day of training)
What’s your favorite part about training?
Post long run meals and beer/margs/prosecco
What’s your least favorite part about training?
Finding childcare. Fortunately, I have the best family ever.