A big misconception is that marathon training should get easier over time. Reality is training for a marathon is and will always be difficult.
Over time certain elements become less daunting. For example, I know I am capable of running 26.2 miles. But, what I don’t know is if I’m actually capable of meeting the lofty goal I’ve set for myself.
While other elements of training – speed work, long runs, injury prevention and mind games are always a challenge.
I’m in the middle of my eight week of training and so far I’m not feeling like I’ve made much progress. My tempo miles are slower than they were this spring yet, I feel like I’m working harder than ever. The effort is there. I just hope the work translates to faster paces this fall.
My first seven weeks of training basically looked like this:
1-2 strength sessions a week (1 barre class + something else)
1 tempo run
1 easy run
1 long run
1 recovery run
Week 4 was an impromptu cutback week due to some personal stress and lack of sleep.
I know that true commitment to training lies in being dedicated to the details. Last week I saw my physical therapist, started adding in core work after every run, added in strides once a week and recommitted to foam rolling whenever possible.
Now that I’m in the thick of marathon training, I’ll start to post regular training updates. I’m also tracking all my training runs on Strava. If you’re a strava user, let’s connect!
I know that to some people, what I’m about to say sounds insane.
My marathon training plan is twenty weeks long.
I live and breathe by the philosophy that what works for one person will not work for another person. It’s how I coach my runners and why having a personal run coach is important. It takes time to figure out what works for you and it takes even longer to figure it out if you don’t have much experience or aren’t consulting an expert for help.
Figuring out what works is a dynamic process. What works one year may not work for me another year. What I did while training for my first marathon 17 years ago, will obviously not work for me now.
Can we switch gears for a second and talk about age?
It’s interesting how often I hear myself saying “I’m old”.
There have been quite a few time periods in my life when I felt old, yet I was literally only a child or only twenty-five. I don’t want to look back at my forties and wish I had viewed my current life situation differently. Instead, I want to make the most of this decade of life and just live without an emphasis on my age.
I don’t remember where I first read this statement, but saying “I’m old” has become the new “I’m fat”. Both phrases have a twinge of distorted thinking and I really am too old for this kinda crap. 😉 Promise me that if you hear me saying I’m old that you’ll call me out on it!
Okay, back to the main subject of marathon training.
I’m doing a twenty week marathon training plan. Why?
Because I know it works for me. I have plenty of time to relax, slowly build up my miles, increase speed and can schedule plenty of cutback weeks.
I thrive on having extra time built into my training schedule. Things come up and long runs or key workouts get missed. Having a longer schedule doesn’t intimidate me. It give me a sense of security knowing I can take cutback weeks to recover from hard training weeks while having some wiggle room for those times when a long run goes bad or I need to take an unplanned weekend off from running.
Getting faster is not easy. Progress is slow but with diligence, hard work pays off. Running at the same pace day after day might be enough for a new runner to gain a bit of speed. However at some point, running the same pace day after day will not yield the same returns.
Whether you are running speed work or not, doing these three things can enable you to become a faster runner. If you aren’t doing speed work but have been running for over a year consistently, now is the time to start.
1. Add Plyometrics To Your Workouts
Why? Running is a series of single leg jumps done over and over again. Performing plyometric exercises will strengthen the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon works together with other muscles and tendons in the body to spring you forward while running.
When: Perform plyometrics at the end of your run or during strength training sessions.
How: Perform 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions of exercises such as jump lunges, single leg lateral jumps, or jump squats a minimum of two times per week.
2. Do Strides
Why? When done properly, strides train the body from a neuromuscular standpoint to increase leg turnover rapidly while maintaining proper form.
When: These can be done after you’ve completed a dynamic warm-up or at the end of a run.
How: Strides are essentially short sprints (50-100 meters) with a focus on form. From a standing position, start to run and pick up speed quickly so that within 10 seconds, you should be at a quick pace (a bit faster than the pace you would run a mile race at). Focus on form and once you’ve been running at the fast pace for 10 seconds, gradually slow down while maintaining your form. After each stride, jog easy for approximately 30-45 seconds before performing the next stride.
Perform 4-6 strides, one to two times each week.
3. Run With Someone Who Is Faster Than You
Why? To challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and to make faster paces more comfortable.
When: Whenever your schedule allows.
How: No matter what type of run you plan to do with your fast friend, make sure to make a game plan so you aren’t left far behind them, feeling defeated. One option is to run with your faster friend when they have an easy run on their training schedule. To get the most out of running together, their easy pace should not be faster than your tempo pace. Another option is to run with a friend who runs about 10-15 seconds faster per mile than you normally do. This is a pace you should be able to sustain, but is more challenging than your go-to pace.
After running six marathons between November 2012 and October 2014, I needed a break. Having reached my ultimate marathon running goal in 2013, I was satisfied with the marathon.
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon and the entire training season leading up to the Rock’n’roll San Diego Marathon is a time period I’ll remember forever. It taught me that I do not in fact give up and that obstacles are just something to jump over.
View from the Manhattan Bridge during a recent training run.
I remain satisfied by that marathon finish, but based off the circumstances of the day (80% humidity, hills + a sprained ankle), I believed I was capable of running a faster marathon time.
But, that was three years ago. Since then, I’ve focused my energy on growing my business. I just haven’t cared enough about my own running to be serious about a goal.
Something started to shift this spring. My work life was feeling more manageable and the idea of running 20 mile long runs in the summer months started to sound appealing again.
I thought about the things that enabled me to be successful in the past. I thought about which workouts I hated and which ones I loved. I thought about all the things I’ve learned that work well for me and how I could replicate those things in a new, but similar fashion.
After taking some time to realize this desire to run a marathon wasn’t a fluke, I knew I didn’t want to train alone. Training with others was a huge part of my previous success. And as nearly everyone knows, having a training partner and friend to get through the miles is so much better than going alone.
After thinking it over for a minute, I knew who I wanted as my Amy (or as my Shalane). How do you decide who is who in these “you are the Amy to my Shalane” relationships? Anyhow, I knew who my perfect running partner was but she just didn’t know it yet. I felt silly and nervous approaching her with the proposal, but I was in luck… she said yes!
With that, I registered for my tenth marathon, booked a hotel room and am 100% committed to working hard towards setting a new marathon PR this fall in Philadelphia.
Your watch is not a dictator. You are the master of your mind and body. Only you can determine how hard or how easy to run, when to speed up or when to slow down. You determine your pace. Your watch does not.
How many times have you looked down at your wrist during a workout to see your pace and felt disappointment? What if you had not been wearing a GPS watch, or any watch at all, but completed your interval or workout at the prescribed effort level? Most likely you would feel proud of the work you had done. You would not feel defeated by the numbers. Instead you would feel motivated by accomplishing your workout.
When our efforts don’t line up with the numbers on our watch, we can question our abilities and our goals. Yet there are so many things that matter more than the pace we ran, such as how we executed the workout. If the effort was there, that’s what matters. That’s how we make progress and get faster.
The pace your watch doesn’t tell you about is how much sleep you had last night. It doesn’t tell how tired your legs are. It doesn’t measure cumulative fatigue from weeks of training. It certainly doesn’t measure your stress levels. All of these are factors that determine how a workout goes. Bottom line—your effort level matters more than the pace ran.
You’ve read about running by feel several times (take here and here for example), but maybe you dismissed it as something you don’t need or don’t want to do. I’m here to tell you that running by feel will change how you approach running. You might even surprise yourself and set a new PR. Even if you don’t, I bet you’ll enjoy running more than ever when you let go of the numbers on your watch.
If breaking your dependence on your GPS watch isn’t something you ever thought you could do, I challenge you to give it a try for a few months by starting with the steps outlined below. I will warn you—just like everything else, it takes time to learn to run by feel.
How to Stop Looking at Your Watch One Run at a Time
Step 1: Make the commitment to trust your body’s signals as to when to slow down or when to speed up during any type of run including a race.
Step 2: Go for a run without wearing a watch. Map out your run ahead of time so you know that you will hit your mileage for the day. Then do something bold and execute your workout for the day sans watch.
Step 3: Wear your watch for a speed workout, but set the display to only show elapsed time. Run your intervals or tempo miles for time instead of for distance. Running for time means you can’t cheat the clock by running the intervals faster to get them over with sooner.
Step 4: Wear your GPS watch on a run, but put a piece of duct tape over the face. Try to run even splits during your run without letting your watch guide you. Your body will give you all the clues you need.
Step 5: Wear your watch during a race, but commit to only looking at the mile splits. Write out a race plan based on effort level instead of specific paces. Use the splits at each mile marker as feedback only. Stick to the race plan you created based off effort level only.
After doing these five things a number of times you’ll learn how to be less dependent on your watch and more dependent on your body’s signals.
If you aren’t sure how to run by feel here are some tips:
Pay attention to your breath. Unless there is an elevation fluctuation, when your breathing rate speeds up or slows down, your pace has most likely changed. Noticing changes in your breathing pattern is difficult to do if you’re listening to headphones or chatting with a friend.
Notice your stride. Variations in the length of the steps you are taking can indicate a change in pace. A shorter stride usually indicates you’ve picked up the pace.
Listen to the sound of your feet hitting the ground. A louder or softer foot strike may also indicate a change in pace.
I originally wrote this post for Women’s Running. Check out my weekly posts here.
In theory, coming home after a run and making a healthy recovery smoothie should be easy, right? Running short on time and not having the right ingredients in the fridge are two reasons why making a smoothie at home isn’t always so simple. A third and more expensive reason is that stopping at the local smoothie bar is quick when you are too hot and too hungry after a run to wait any longer for sustenance.
However, this doesn’t have to be complicated. With just a little bit of planning you can have a refreshing, healthful and affordable post-run treat without spending lots of time cleaning a blender or chopping ingredients.
On a day when you know you have enough time to make a smoothie, make an extra large one. Drink 8-10 ounces of your smoothie immediately, and then pour the remaining mixture into Popsicle molds. Make four popsicles and you just made 5 days worth of recovery fuel!
This cherry-limeade recipe below will make approximately one 8-10-ounce smoothie and four 3-ounce popsicles.
1 cup almond milk
1 cup raw baby spinach
8 ounces frozen dark cherries
juice of one lime
Blend ingredients until completely smooth. Pour 8-10 ounces in a glass and drink. Divide the remaining portions into four popsicle molds. Place popsicle molds in the freezer overnight.
If you add ½ cup of plain organic greek yogurt to this recipe you’ll get more protein!
I experienced my first running-related injury in the fall of ninth grade. Our high school’s cross country course started with a significant downhill through a grassy field. Moments after the start of one of our weekly meets, I bolted downhill and immediately twisted my ankle.
Diagnosed with an ankle sprain and sent home with a pair of crutches, the one thing that I remember most was the doctor saying, “It would have been better if it was broken, because then it would heal completely. Ankle sprains never really heal one hundred percent.”
Fast-forward 25 years later to last fall when once again I was recovering from an ankle sprain after running through the grass during a trail race. At this point in my life I know that crunching sound my ankle makes when I roll my ankle all too well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sidelined from spraining my right ankle, but I can tell you that how I handle being injured has evolved over the years. As I’ve matured as a runner (and as a human) I’ve learned the right ways and wrong ways to handle any injury.
The wrong ways I’ve handled injuries:
Denial—This way of coping with an injury was my best friend in my mid-twenties. If I ignore the injury, it will just go away, right? Nope. I hobbled my way through a marathon with an injury and didn’t run for six months after I crossed the finish line.
Giving Up—Once I was diagnosed with an injury (which let’s be honest, it’s really easy to diagnose a sprained ankle over and over again!) I just stopped doing everything and sat on my couch waiting for my injury to heal itself. This approach did allow my injury to heal, but giving up completely and letting something heal are two very different things.
Pouting—Crying over spilt milk is fun to do, until no one wants to talk to you anymore because everyone is sick of hearing your complaints. I’m embarrassed to say there have been times when I’ve been that horribly annoying runner who just won’t stop talking about their injury. I now allow myself to pout about an injury for up to 24 hours and then it is time to move on!
The right way I’ve handled injuries:
Sought Professional Help Immediately—Now, if I have a minor ache or pain that lasts for two weeks, I make an appointment to see my physical therapist. I follow his guidelines and do every exercise he tells me to do, so that I either avoid ending up with a full-blown injury or can work on chronic issues like ankle stability and ankle joint mobility.
Set New Goals—Just because I may not be able to achieve my running goals while injured, it doesn’t mean I can’t set other health-related goals. For example, right now, my goal is to walk for 45 minutes and then do 15 minutes of strength work, six days a week.
Embrace The Reset—No one likes to be injured and missing the fall racing season isn’t fun, but I’ve learned that an injury can have a positive effect on other areas of my life. Not running means I have time to regroup and focus on the things I’ve been slacking on while I was focused on training.
Injuries are challenging to deal with, but having the right mindset and having a good relationship with my physical therapist has made a huge difference in how I handle them. I also know there will be other races to run during the next season and that goal races aren’t the most important things in life.
What have you learned from injuries?
This post first appeared on Women’s Running where I blog weekly. Catch my weekly posts here.
Favorite feature: mesh on the back strap means it’s a much more breathable sports bras than the ones I’ve previously worn, it’s also one of the most supportive sports bras I’ve owned -Tip: purchase one band up from your regular bra size.
If you can find five minutes to squeeze in a core workout, I’ve got a quick and effective one for you to try.
Instructions: #1: Choose an intensity level for your core workout
Level 1: perform each exercise for 30 seconds, and then rest for 30 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
Level 2: perform each exercise for 45 seconds, and then rest for 15 seconds before moving onto the next exercise.
Level 3: perform each exercise for 60 seconds, and then move directly onto the next exercise as quickly as possible.
#2: Set a timer for your desired intervals. Looking up at a clock can compromise your form.
#3: Perform each of the exercises below in order for the amount of time indicated in step 1.
Note: No matter what intensity level you choose, do not rush through the exercises. They are to be performed with control and precision. This isn’t a workout where you’re trying to see how many reps you can do in a given amount of time.
Exercise #1: High plank with arm reaches Note: Try to keep your hips squared up to the ground when reaching your arm out.
Exercise #2: Rotating plank (forearm plank to side plank, rotating from side to side) Note: When rotating into the side plank, try to keep your hips lifted.
Exercise #3: Back Extension with a Lat Squeeze Note: Keep your abdominals engaged while lifting your arms and legs off the ground. Contract your lats by pulling your elbows down by your ribcage, as if you’re doing an invisible lat pulldown.
Exercise #4: Bird/ Dog Crunch Notes: Try to keep your hips as stable as possible. When you pull your knee and elbow towards one another, imagine doing an upside down crunch.
Exercise #5: Slow Motion Mountain Climbers
Notes: Try not to move your hips up and down like you do when performing a regular mountain climber instead use your abdominal muscles to stabilize the torso.
Are you signed up for a fall marathon, but not sure what to do between now and when marathon training officially starts? It can be challenging to figure out exactly what to do in order to prepare for following an intensive training plan.
To start marathon training feeling your best, you’ll need to find a balance between being laid back about your workouts but also making sure you’re doing the work you need to do in order start marathon training off on the right foot.
If you’re too strict about following a plan now, you risk burning out before you’ve made it halfway through your training plan. If you aren’t strict enough about doing your base building workouts, you risk getting injured during training or not being able to reach your goal.
Here are 7 things you need to do in the weeks before you start following your marathon training plan.
#1) Pick a training plan or hire a coach. If you’re not sure how long your training plan should be, read this.
Review your past training logs. Make notes of what kind of weekly mileage you want to complete. Write out your goals for the race. Then start looking for the training plan that’s going to work best for you. If you only want to run four days a week, don’t choose a plan that asks you to run six days a week.
Running isn’t your only goal in life, so find a training plan that works well with your lifestyle.
#2) Work on your weaknesses. If you know you need to work on glute strength commit to strength training three days per week now so that once marathon training starts, you’ll be strong enough to handle all the miles. If you know you need to work on your mental game, start working on it by reading books, listening to podcasts, etc.
Even if you don’t have weak glutes or know of any muscle imbalances, you should still focus on doing strength training a minimum of two times per week.
#3) Be a little less structured with your workouts, but give each workout a purpose. Marathon training can feel as though it goes on forever and ever. Now is the time to be a little less structured with your workouts. Give yourself the freedom to workout later in the day on the weekends. Don’t be afraid to miss a workout to see friends, or just cut yourself some slack when you need it. Make sure you’re doing the work you need to (base building + strength training), but don’t go crazy. Once marathon training officially starts, you’ll need to be on your ‘A Game’ and giving yourself some time to breathe now will set you up for success.
#4) Build your running base. Before you begin training, you’ll need to have completed 4-6 weeks of consistent running. The amount of miles you’ll need to run per week to build your base depends on your goal for the marathon, your running history and what kind of mileage you’ll be doing during the first month of your training plan.
#5) Have fun with your workouts. This is a time when you can try out all the fun fitness classes in your neighborhood without having to worry about how they will interfere with marathon training. Once marathon training starts, there won’t be much time for exploring new workouts.
#6) Improve your running form. Now is the time to focus on stride rate, stride length, foot strike, arm swing, etc. Small changes made over time can make you a more efficient runner.
#7) If you had any nagging injuries you haven’t taken care of, see a Doctor or Physical Therapist. Don’t wait for a small twinge to become a real injury. Get it taken care of ASAP!