Running a Faster Marathon

In December 2010, I ran my first marathon. It took me 5 hours, 37 minutes, and 39 seconds.

In April 2011, I ran my second marathon. It took me 4 hours, 24 minutes, and 54 seconds. That means I cut my finish time by almost 75 minutes. (That’s an average pace that is more than 2 minutes faster per mile.) Since I crossed the finish line at Big D two weeks ago, I’ve been wondering, “How did I do that?” Now I’m no expert (most of my knowledge comes from my own experiences), but I have some guesses.

How I did that (ran a faster marathon):

Log the miles – When I signed up for my first full, I had yet to run a 10k. Of course, I ended up running much farther than that in training, but I was a newbie, a total newbie. By the time I ran my second full, I had almost two and a half years of consistent running under my belt. I had run fast, slow, in rain, in shine, on sand, on consecutive days, and with a few vacations in between.  You don’t have to run every single day (I sure don’t!), but you should run regularly if you are looking to improve your time. And if you are a first time marathoner, don’t get hung up on your finish time.

Logging the miles.

Run long runs slowly – Running slowly sometimes feels wrong, but it is oh-so-right. I knew that I was supposed to go slowly when I trained back in 2010, but sometimes my mind got the best of me. I’d think things like, “I’m running 15 miles today! I wonder how fast I can do that? Wow! See, I’m fast!” and “Oh, if I speed up now I’ll finish x number of miles in under x number of minutes.” It might be hard, but don’t go fast! Take your time, build your endurance. I never really was able to do this until I joined the Dallas Running Club. (See below.)

Run with others – At my first DRC meeting, a speaker got up and rambled on about how there is evidence that those who run with other people in training end up improving their times more than those who train alone. I sat there thinking, “Whatever dude. I don’t even want to run faster. I just don’t want to run really far by myself.” I  had two years of mostly solo running experience. When I signed up for Big D, I knew I needed support. (No way was I running 20 miles solo or any such nonsense.) Best decision ever! I didn’t end up making a new BFF out of my running buddies, but they helped me immensely! I stayed consistent with my long runs, we ran slowly (and my pace leader kept an eye on how fast we went, so I didn’t even need to worry about it.), they shared race strategies and fueling tips. It was just plain fun to run with them. I also started running with a coworker on weekdays. Again, it was someone to hold me accountable. And wouldn’t you know? Running with those people did make me faster.

With fellow-DRC runners after the Tal Morrison 15k.

Race – During Big D training, I ran a total of 7 races ranging from 5k to half marathon in distance. I don’t think everyone needs to run that many races, but a little racing during training is a good thing. It gives you a chance to push yourself and see the strides you’re making in your pace. It also breaks up the monotony of training. Having a race (and race swag) to look forward to every month helped keep me motivated.

Take on tough courses – The worst race (in terms of difficulty) that I ever ran was the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon, but this race gave me more confidence than any other race. If I can survive those hills, I can do anything. Hill training sucks, but it pays off. Whatever is hard for you (hills, heat, rain) if you can find a way to get in some experience during training, it pays off on race day.

There are a few notable things I left out, and that’s because I didn’t do them. I didn’t do any speed work, I didn’t cross-train, I didn’t do any strength training. I find that when I take on too much, I get overwhelmed and run the risk of quitting all together. I kept my training plan simple: run a few times a week, go slow on the long runs.

One of the advantages that I had was lots of room for improvement. (I don’t think my next marathon will be 75 minutes faster than this one. That’d be a BQ!) The biggest thing I took away from my marathon experience: anyone can do it. Yes, anyone. We can’t all do it fast (whatever that may look like to you), but if you train, if you follow a plan, if you really want to, you can run a marathon. Happy running, friends!*