How to Improve Your Marathon Finish Time

Hope you all had a great weekend! Mine included relaxing/seeing family and friends/eating a lot of delicious food/running a half marathon yesterday. I ended up finishing the half with a new PR! I am excited because it gives me a confidence boost for my upcoming marathon in Phoenix. More about the half in another post!

In November, 2014, I ran the Philadelphia marathon in 4 hours and 3 minutes. After crossing the finish line (my 11th marathon), although I felt fatigued as anyone would after running 26.2 miles- I did not feel like I had pushed my body to the maximum. I felt that I still had some strength in me- maybe not at that exact moment of crossing the line, but in the hours, days, weeks following the race.

IMG_0758Finish line @Philly Marathon

This end of November marathon marked the beginning of the holiday season, which led to a tremendous, record-breaking snowy winter in Boston. Mark and I had a vacation overseas at the end of the winter, but by the time I was back on greener grass in Boston, I was ready to put that fire of a goal marathon out.

I decided that in order to achieve my goal of qualifying for Boston (3:35 marathon finish time for my gender and age), I needed a professional to put together a training plan that would suite my running style and needs. I found a coach through another blogger Hungry Runner Girl, and worked with her during the summer 2015. She put together a training plan that although seemed a bit aggressive at first- I quickly realized that I enjoyed the challenge and was able to meet the mileage.

Working to run a marathon that is half an hour faster than a previous race is ambitious, but not impossible. I had previously run marathons with finish times closer to my goal (3:37, 3:39, 3:44. 3:49), but had not finished with those kinds of times in a couple of years. Following a summer of hard running, but without devoting my entire life to running, I was able to run a 3:33 marathon in September (Big Cottonwood Canyon).

Just a couple of amazing sites we saw in Utah before the Big Cottonwood Canyon marathon:

IMG_0966IMG_1457

Here are some tips I learned for improving your marathon finish time:

  1. Mentally understanding that this goal will take a lot of hard work and time. My training plan started in May with an average of 30-33 miles/week that month, increasing to 34-46 miles a week in June, to the upper 40’s per week in July, peaking to 53 miles in August. I incorporated long runs, speed work (800 meters, mile-repeats at certain goal paces), and tempo runs into my routine. I also incorporated some agilities and strength training, as well as several half marathons into my training cycle. This was a lot of work—but fun work to me! When runs became difficult/hot/tiring, I tried my best to think of the end result. I had to be sure of how badly I wanted this goal to happen, and had to remind myself of this every single day.
  2. Along those lines, it takes patience to understand your own progression. In order to avoid injuries by increasing mileage too quickly (ie-more than 10% each week, which is the standard rule), I strictly followed my training plan, and increased my mileage each week very slowly: 3-5 miles max per week, no more than a 10% increase. I also followed the important rule of running my slow training runs slowly to avoid injury.
  3. As I mentioned, hiring a coach may help you reach your goal. I quickly realized that the missing link for previous races was the fact that I needed to be accountable to someone other than my sister, running buddies, and myself. A third party observer was that extra push I needed. I highly recommend working with my current coaches Julie and Lisa (Run Farther and Faster) if you can– they have been incredible!
  4. Cut back on the alcohol (this doesn’t apply to everyone!), pay more attention to nutrition and hydration on and off the course. I increased my carb intake during my training cycle- even more during the peak weeks, and know that this fueled my energy and ability to run so many miles.
  5. Choose a course that was favorable for faster finish times, even though it might be across the country. Big Cottonwood Canyon was a good choice for faster racing conditions, given the relatively downhill nature of the course and the mild temperatures.
  6. Find support from friends, family, and other runners– this was helpful during my training cycle and race weekend, and was important for keeping up the morale.
  7. Most importantly: Know that you can do this! With hard work and dedication, you can accomplish anything—even if it sounds impossible!

IMG_1458Training for my marathon this summer awarded me with some amazing sunsets in Boston!


 

Some 3:33 Marathon training plan workouts:

Speed workouts:

  • 1-3 mile warm-up, 4-6x 800m w/ 400m jogging rest, 1-3 mile cool-down. 800s @3:25-3:35 pace.
  • 2 mile warm-up, 4x 1 mile w/ 400m jogging rest, 1 mile cool-down. Mile repeats @7:22-7:38 minute miles.

Tempo runs:

  • 1 mile warm-up, 4 mile tempo, 1 mile cool-down. Tempo miles @7:43-7:50, progressed to 7:32-7:42.

Long runs:

  • Half marathon distance to a total of 22 total miles, fast finish/goal marathon pace (GMP) last few miles.
  • 2 miles easy, 10 miles @ GMP, 2 miles easy.

 

What are some of your tips on improving race times?

What has been your favorite race and and why?

What do you prefer, speed workouts or long runs?

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31 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Marathon Finish Time”

  1. great job on those marathon times — definitely shows that you put in so much dedication and hard work. i’d love to start upping my mileage next year and see how my body takes it — i know that’ll require a lot more stretching and rest. i actually have never run for time — i just run b/c i love it — but pushing myself more probably would be a good challenge, albeit possibly painful. :) great tips.

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    1. Thank you Shawna! Are you currently training for a race? You never know what you are capable of until you try! Just go out easy and increase the mileage slowly. Have fun, I am looking forward to hearing how it goes! :)

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  2. Good advice and awesome achievement!

    Accountability is key for me – knowing that someone else is expecting me to complete a workout is enough to make me do it.

    I also think it’s good to start from a solid base – I’d only been running for a year when I entered my first marathon and think that although I did enough work to develop the muscles in my legs, there wasn’t enough time for the tendons and ligaments to develop as well. I got injured juist after my first marathon, but then went on to complete another 4 at six month intervals before saying I’d done enough. 18 months later, I’m ready to start training for a marathon again, but this time I’ve got a better base to build on.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I think that having that base/knowing that running is a patient sport has helped me get through so many marathons. At this point, after 5 marathons, you’ve developed that base and it sounds like you’re ready to jump into distance running again! Sounds exciting. Maybe you should run a half to start off the season- it would help you slowly get into distance running again before you fully dive in. Do you work with a coach? Mine current coaches are tremendous, I would recommend them to anyone! Good luck!

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  3. Tempo runs have been a huge help for increasing my speed. I did track in high school, so my legs typically remember doing “fast” stuff. And my triathlon training has helped give me the endurance to go out and run. But I wasn’t good at running faster over longer distances. Tempo runs have helped a lot with that.

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  4. Congrats on your BQ!! That is awesome! I BQ’d 2 years ago in St. George Utah..another favorable course with the the last 13 miles downhill or flat. Ran Boston this past April…cold and rainy, but one of the best experiences of my entire life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is awesome Rebecca, congrats on your BQ and running Boston last year– ti certainly was rainy! Are you running in April 2016? I would love to run St. George, I’ve heard so many good things about that race. Reminds me of Big Cottonwood but slightly lower elevation!

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      1. Sadly I didn’t make it into Boston this year. I wish you good luck though. St. George was beautiful. I may have to go back if I want to bq again!

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  5. Hi! Thanks for the tips! Im working on getting faster so I listen carefully to ehat has worked for others.
    Something that helped me a lot was foing hills and trails. I ran hills on my long slow runs, up to 8 miles, for 2 months! I hope this makes sense but this is what happened: I started going uphill at a pace of 11 min/mil and came down after those months with a 9:30 min/mile easy pace.
    It was amazing.
    Once again! Thanks for the tips! 2017 will be my year to BQ so I’m preparing mentally and philysically for all I’ll need to do…
    Hugs
    Nati!

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    1. Thanks for your input Nati! Hills are great workouts, and they certainly build running strength. I actually have a hill workout to run this week so hoping that goes well! I highly suggest you follow some of the tips I’ve outlined in order to improve marathon times. In terms of BQ’ing, the race course is very important- more than I ever thought! Choose a course that is in an interesting location, well-supported, and that is relatively flat. Also keep in mind that ideal running temperatures are in the 30’s-50’s, so location and time of year is key! Let me know if you have any questions- I am excited for you!

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  6. Great post. I am pinning it for when I start marathon training next year. I am planning to run my first full marathon in 2016 and I’ll need all the advice I can get. I am creating a dedicated Pinterest board for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so exciting! I would recommend a fun and interesting race/location. Check out the Rock and Roll marathons- those are always a great choice for first marathons. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!

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  7. Utah is really gorgeous! Beautiful pics indeed, thank you for sharing.

    I’m in a bit of a rut/lull right now and not running nearly as much as I desire or even need for mental health. I really just need to get out there.

    I’ve not really done any official training at all lately but that is on my list for next year. My goal isn’t so much to be fast, but to be faster for longer. My target races are ultras and I want to stay as fast as I can for as long as I can.

    I prefer the long runs. More time to spend with me.

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  8. You’re a rockstar! Really inspired by your goal time achievements. I’ve only run two marathons so far and they were in almost the exact same time, about 3:56 or so. But I definitely felt like I had some energy to spare at the end of my most recent one. It’s encouraging to see that qualifying for Boston and shaving off a good half hour or so is possible with the right training plan :)

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  9. Your marathon times are super impressive – I know I tend to be of the go slow keep going variety of runner – so I’m doing ultras now – but would love to do a marathon around the 4 hour mark – may fastest before has been 4.30 but hilly off road too – maybe course selection would be a good start!

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