Friday, October 16, 2009

Post-Chicago: How I PRed by 20 Minutes and What I'm Planning Next

Actually, I don't really know for sure how I pulled this one off.

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 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.


Kelly said...

So awesome to hear all your tips. Hopefully i'll be able to run some long distances at some point. I can't believe you'll be on marathon #6!

Rachel H. said...

Great tips! I can't believe that you are already planning for another marathon! That's great though, and I wish I could join you. :)

Sharon said...

Plain and simple - you were smart with your training & listened to your body. I really think that makes all the difference. Once I am back to running I am going to take the same approach as you and stop beating myself up by doing more than 3-4 runs a week. That is definitely something that I didn't do before. I really think I burned myself out.

Thanks for all your tips and I wish I could run the marathon with you guys in December :)

Chris said...

Mel - thanks for the info on using the FIRST method. I also tried it, but got injured very early my training, but your base of running is much larger than mine (and I think that makes a big difference.)

Paul said...

Mel - your second point about sleep has reminded me of just how well this same thing has worked for me in the past ... and of how I completely forgot it this time round. Aargh! (And I cannot blame my two young kids for that...)

You are still soooo young and developing your strength year by year. Your fastest marathons - should you continue - are likely to be in another 5 years or so.

Crikey, mine was last weekend at age 41. So you have plenty of time to go under 4.00 ... then 3.45 ... then 3.30 or whatever.

I think your enjoyment of what you do will be the key to a long, successful athletic career.

All the best, Paul

Kimberly300 said...

can't believe you are running another marathon so soon. that is amazing! I would love to join you but I don't think I have enough time to get ready for that distance (although I probably do but I am chicken!)

your tips were great. I am always interested in the specifics of how runners train and prepare for a race. good stuff!

Niki said...

Great tips girl!! I would LOVE to run a marathon in the near future:)

Nicole said...

I'm so proud of you! I think if you follow the same plan you did and do everything the same, you could so do it! 11 minutes is nothing. thats less than a minute a mile. Just think about all the people we weved around? That is a huge chunk of time. I think the key is to save some for the end. We did a great job with staying on even splits and i think your right when you say even splits is key. Slowing down by only 2 minutes for the second half is amazing! We really did well on that and i dont think we were even trying! HAHA! :) Anyways, i think if we would have had a little more in us the second half, we would have been golden! :) Great job and you WILL get your sub 4 SOON!

Alisa said...

You have such a wonderful attitude about your training and training in the future.

I think not setting time goals (or at least not strict ones) is really important for my mental game.

I wish you lots and lots of luck training for your Dec marathon, you're a little marathon queen.

The Shabby Princess said...

Hi there! I found your blog via Mrs. Mojito and wanted to say congrats on that awesome PR! I have my first marathon coming up in less than one month and I'm nervous and excited about it. I really appreciate your comments about not running unless you felt up to it--I tried to go run yesterday after work but it was cold, windy, and I'm fighting a terrible cold and a puffy ankle. I walked home feeling terrible about myself, but, this post reminded me that I need to take care of me--after all, I want to have a fantastic time at that marathon--not hate myself because I missed a run.

Anyways, thanks!

Chic Runner said...

I totally am the same way as you with most things! :) You worked hard during training and did things for YOU, which I think is the most important! :) Glad you had the best day and smiled the entire way through!