When I ran Huntsville in 2007 and PRed by 26 minutes, it seemed big... but it was on a flat course on a cool day whereas my previous best was on an incredibly hilly Nashville course on a hot day. It made sense that I had a big difference in time.
But Chicago is also flat. And it was cold...like 40 degrees and sunny, the perfect marathon weather.
So to pull off another PR by 20 minutes? It felt HUGE to me.
I don't have a magic recipe, but here's what I think helped me pull it off:
- I never set a time goal. I had placed absolutely no pressure on myself about my performance. I went into it wanting to have fun, because if it's not fun then why bother doing it? I think this kept me relaxed and calm before the race, so it was ultimately easy to stay relaxed during the race and run an even pace.
- They say that the kind of sleep you get in the 2 weeks leading up to a marathon are more important than the night before. I managed to sleep 10 hours per night most of those nights, and then I slept a solid 7 the night before. I had rest in the bank for sure.
- I ate carbs at most meals before the race... pancakes for breakfast, pizza one night, and my usual pre-race past meal.
- I laid off of anything other than water and Gatorade the two days before and made sure I was completely hydrated.
- I had trained in heat and humidity for months and on super hilly terrain, so the cold and flat course were a welcome relief to my body.
- I ran several races in the month or two before the marathon to get a reminder on how to pace myself and run strong in a race as opposed to what it feels like when you're running a long training run.
- The crowds. Hands down, I am sure that they were a big part of why I was able to keep smiling and keep going.
The truth is that while running is a big part of my life, I don't get as worked up over it as some people might. I'm a fairly healthy eater, but I'm not super strict with my diet. I drink a Dr. Pepper here and there (although never more than one a day). I'm not a heavy drinker by any means, but I don't avoid alcohol during training.
I followed the FIRST training plan and only ran 3 days a week and supplemented in with some cross training, but I have to be honest - I didn't follow it to a T. I missed some runs. I missed some cross training. I only had one long run over 18 miles. I rested when I needed to rest and ran when I was sure it was a good idea.
I'm not saying that's ideal. I probably need to be a bit more strict if I want to break 4:00 because if there's one thing I know it's that I have to work for it... I'm not naturally that fast. But still, I think that being relaxed and flexible ultimately made the biggest difference for me.
As runners, we all have to determine what works best for us. What I've done might not necessarily improve someone else. There are plenty of people who run 50-60 miles a week and do great, but I know that's not for me. I max out around 32-35, and I'm very comfortable with that. I like being conservative in my training.
So what's next? I've been ironing out a new training plan. I'm going to continue with only running three quality runs a week. I even signed up for a track clinic on Tuesdays for the rest of the year that will help me get my weekly speed sessions done. Plus, I thought it'd be fun to train with others on a track and get to work with a coach for a bit.
I'll be running the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville on December 12. (Anyone else want to join me and Amy at it?) Would I love to break 4:00? YES. Would I love a new PR whether I break 4:00 or not? YES. Am I really going after this at this race? Not really.
Don't get me wrong. I plan on training well and running a good race. It's just that I've never run two marathons within two months, so I want to be careful. I don't want to put a ton of pressure on myself and not ENJOY it all. Whatever happens happens.
I'll be going after that 4:00 in time. I'm thinking I'll make it a serious goal when I go into my next training cycle.
For now? I'm happy being at 4:11:22 and knowing that I'll be running my sixth marathon before the year's end. I'm a marathoner. It sometimes is all about the numbers, but it's also more often all about the experience. I love the experience.