Friday, March 4, 2011

Shaving 35 Minutes Off the Marathon in Less Than 1 1/2 Years

My marathon times have followed a pretty clear pattern over the past 17 months.  They're getting faster!  And by leaps and bounds too.  Here are the dates and times of the last 5 marathons I've raced in:

September 20, 2009 3:53:56
October 18, 2009 3:49:19 (roughly 4 minute improvement)
February 28, 2010 3:35:57 (roughly 14 minute improvement)
November 7, 2010 3:29:25 (roughly 6 minute improvement)
February 19, 2011 3:18:05 (roughly 11 minute improvement)

Now, I'd love to share with you the secret "formula" that I followed to make this improvement possible!  Except... I don't have one!   I don't keep a running log (never have!), but I can't remember making any significant changes over the past 17 months.  About a year ago, I started running with my group of running friends.  They met in the early morning, and I quickly joined their group and began running 6 miles or so three times a week.  The miles were not excessively fast (mostly 10 minute miles).  This was the first time I was running this regularly and this far since having two children.  I think the consistency is such a key for me.  I was finally back to a regular running routine.  My body remembered marathons in the 3:40 pace, then the 3:30, then the 3:20.  It had felt all of those before, but that was before I had children.  I'd love here to insert something about how much I weighed back then compared to how much I weigh now, but I don't weigh myself either (see here).  So I'm not much help in figuring out the secret, now am I? 

Here's something that I do think is crucial to note.  Between October/November and February each time I shaved the most time off of my marathon times (roughly 14 and 11 minutes).  Each year I had run a 50K at the end of January.  In December 2010, I had paced a marathon.  From seeing this, I not only advocate using one marathon as a long run for another (the marathon a month philosophy), I also advocate using slower long runs and runs that are over the marathon distance as a means of training.  I think the 50K truly helped me perform better on the marathon that followed it.  It certainly made the marathon seem easier!

I am probably at a plateau for now (I'm not thinking I am going to get much faster than this based on my pretty poor--though consistent--training).  At this stage, I am planning to make small diet, workout, and running changes to see if I can take "only" 3 more minutes off of my marathon time.  I tried a yoga class for the first time this week and really noticed that I lack upper body strength.  Working my core out would really help me be a stronger runner.  I am trying to eat healthier (that is not hard to do since I love candy and junk food).  And I would like to use several of the 5K and 10K races as speed work for my upcoming marathons since I don't care much for "regular" speed work. 

It seems like the advice you can take from my journey is that speed may, ironically enough, come slowly over time or gradually over a series of marathons that you have planned.  I hope any other runners out there reading this might be inspired by my 35 minute improvement to see if you could do the same.  Maybe you will follow a more structured approach than I did, but the key is to find what works for you. 

Finally, this post would be lacking if I did not point out that the marathons listed above are about much more than the finish time.  I have included one or two pictures from each marathon below.  I hope you will be able to see some of the happiness that running marathons with my husband has brought me over the last 17 months.  The time on the clock is irrelevant to the joy I have felt at each of these races. 

Maui Marathon Maui, HI September 20, 2009 3:53:56

At the beach upon our arrival in Maui.
 IMT Des Moines Marathon Des Moines, IA October 18, 2009 3:49:19

A good ol' hotel picture after the race was over. 

 Rock 'N' Roll Mardi Gras Marathon New Orleans, LA February 28, 2010 3:35:57

Before the race began.  We had just watched the sun rise and were soaking in the other runners' excitement.

 Marshall University Huntington, West Virginia November 7, 2010 3:29:25

The shirts, numbers, and medals

A great spot along the course with beautiful changing leaves

 Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon Myrtle Beach, SC February 19, 2011 3:18:05

On the beach the afternoon of the marathon


  1. That is so awesome, my friend!! I have been trying to figure out how you did that and how I might copy you, but every runner is so different, it is hard to know what would work for me. I do think you get better rest as far as breaks from running. I pound the pavement almost every day because I love it but I think I could probably do with a bit more off time.

    Still, however we may try to analyze and figure out your formula, I believe you have a talent for it. I think you are both physically and mentally strong and that is how you have shaved off those 35 minutes. It is that strength of yours that I try to tap into from myself. I thought of your latest marathon blog during the half marathon yesterday and tried to use the "disassociate yourself" part. I think it worked. ;)

  2. Jane, I am so glad you were able to use that mantra. It seems pretty silly but it worked for me. It is so hard to push through being tired, in pain, etc.
    More interesting to me than this latest marathon improvement was between my 4th and 5th marathons, where I took 33 minutes off in between. One factor there was that I started dating Rick and we trained together. Also I believe there was a Mtn. Mist in between them too. Who really knows what works but it is fun to try to figure it out. If only there was a formula!
    Also, you are right about the days off. I feel so much better on fresh legs.

  3. I'm proud of your steady improvement and agree that running those marathons was so much more than the finishing times.

  4. SO VERY INSPIRING!!! It would be nice if you could have a formula for me to follow...but at the same time I do know Jane is right--each runner is different and has to find what works for her. :D