The 2018 Boston Marathon was nothing short of memorable thanks to the torrential rain, freezing temps and heavy head winds. Just like any trying experience that has pushed me to new limits, I must ask — what did I learn?
I learned the significance of being mentally, not just physically, strong. That adaptability effects my success on race day and in life. Looking back at 2018, I ran a half marathon in 1 hour and 29 minutes. Put that into a pace calculator and I should be able to run a 3:13 marathon. Nope. My fastest time in 5 marathons was 3:25 in Boston… in the crazy weather! I’ve made a promise to myself to get faster and train smarter.
Well, here we are in 2019. I’m back to training (and blogging)! And I have set a lofty goal of running a 3:15 marathon (10 minute PR). Even more importantly, I’m on a quest to improve my overall marathon fitness. This means I have some work to do. I’ve hired a few professionals including a physical therapist and a couple of training coaches. I’m working on sleep, adjusting my diet and upgraded my Garmin watch. (whoo!)
In order to run a faster time and improve my overall fitness, I’ve summed up 3 things I’m doing differently for the Boston Marathon (Round II).
Drum roll please…
#1 Physical Therapy
You know what they say: if it’s broke, fix it!
Since mid-November, I’ve felt severe tightness in my left glute and hamstring, often times holding me back from running. Even after backing off my mileage around the holidays, the pain didn’t subside. With training season in sight, I heard a voice in my head.
Go see a professional.
Enter Bridget Kelly, DPT at Carolina Sports Clinic.
At first, we both thought my problems were solely related to tightness in the muscles. But then I started to feel sharp, shooting pain from my glute all the way down to my foot when I sat, stood, walked or ran. Bridget help!
She diagnosed me with piriformis syndrome and gave me a number of foam rolling, stability and core exercises that help tremendously. I still see her weekly and do the exercises daily. The piriformis syndrome is still there, but I can see and feel improvement.
Takeaways: (1) If you are injured, or even feel like you might be injured, GO SEE A PROFESSIONAL. It’s the quickest way to get better and get back to doing whatever it is you love doing. (2) Whether you’re a runner or walker, injured or healthy, young or old — foam rolling, stability and core exercises are key! You can find a number of foam rolling exercises here. Stability exercises here. And core exercises here.
#2 Slowing Down
Wait. Slow down? Does this sound counterintuitive? You’ll have to take it up with my coach, Lisa Reichmann of Run Faster & Farther, who created a comprehensive marathon training plan for me. Lisa stays in touch on a daily basis and makes me feel like I’m the only runner she’s training (even though I know that’s not true). She and her business partner, Julie Sapper, live in Maryland and are coaching me remotely through the Final Surge website and by email. It’s such fun!
The first piece of advice Lisa gave me?
S-L-O-W D-O-W-N, Helen!
Don’t get me wrong, Lisa and Julie schedule weekly speed workouts throughout my training plan. But their methodology is to use long runs to build aerobic endurance, which is done at an easy pace, at least 60-90 seconds slower than my marathon pace (MP).
According to sports medicine podiatrist Dr. Lee Firestone, the #1 cause of injured runners he sees in his office is running too fast! (Check out the podcast where Lisa and Julie interview Dr. Firestone about injury prevention tips.)
“Including slower runs in your training will help your body adapt to use more fat as fuel, which will help your endurance, and push back the wall,” says Ian Williams, a running blogger and race prediction guru. Check out his thorough and informative article, an updated formula for marathon-running success.
Takeaway: So far, my body needs the recovery runs each week. I look forward to running slower, knowing that a tempo run or hill repeats are around the corner. Plus, slowing down hasn’t held me back from getting faster. If anything, it’s helping. I feel strong during the long runs and faster in the speed workouts.
#3 Running More Miles
Most runners will gawk at me when I tell them that I’ve never really paid much attention to the number of miles I run per week. Sorry! I just haven’t! Until now.
“Mileage is the most basic measure of marathon preparedness, and therefore a good place to start,” says Ian Williams. Based on the data, “those who put the mileage in, did better.”
This is where Lisa and Julie come in (again) and the heart of why I hired coaches. They’ve carefully mapped out my training plan for the season, paying close attention to increasing my mileage her week. Last week, I ran 40 miles. This week, I’ll run closer to 50 miles! At some point, I’ll reach 60 miles before tapering back down to race day. These things don’t happen overnight. That’s why it’s called “training.”
Takeaways: This time around, I’m not shying away from added time on my feet — it will only help my end game. And I’m embracing the process. I won’t be able to wake up and run 60 miles next week. It takes time and work.
So, cheers to return of marathon season, a new set of goals and fresh blog posts to come!
See you out there.