From 4:53:41 to 3:09:59
Running fast has never come easily to me. When I qualified for the Boston Marathon two weeks ago with a time of 3:09:59, it was the culmination of six marathons and seven years of trying. And a far cry from the arduous four hours and 53 minutes that it took me to cross the finish line in my first marathon.
While there are plenty of great coaches how there who can help you get faster, the fact that I had to work so hard to get to Boston puts me in a unique position — I went from being a guy who couldn’t run one 7:15 minute mile to a guy who just ran 26.2 of them.
So I thought I’d share with you what I consider to be the most important things I did along the way, in case you can’t get that vision of yourself crossing the line in Boston to stay out of your head, either.
How I Qualified for the Boston Marathon
- Increase foot turnover to 180 steps per minute. Though awkward at first, this forces you to land lighter with each step, like you would if you were running barefoot. “Running on eggshells” is a great mental image. I believe that this alone stopped me from getting the shin stress fractures that plagued my training for my first three years of running. Find a running song with about that tempo and align your steps with it.
- Do three running workouts and two to three easy runs per week. One long run, one tempo run, and one track workout, plus two or three very slow recovery runs. I followed the plan from the book Run Less, Run Faster, but I replaced the cross-training with easy runs.
- Clean up your diet. I’ve always considered myself a healthy eater. But when I made the decision to become vegetarian, everything changed. I dropped about five pounds without losing any strength, and from then on I felt like a clean-burning machine.
- Spend some time strength-training and foam rolling. When I started doing core-strengthening exercises (from Core Performance Endurance) and foam rolling once or twice per week, nagging injuries became a thing of the past. No more missing workouts because I needed a break.
- Do long runs at near marathon pace. In the past, I always did my long runs at one to two minutes slower than marathon pace. Come race day, I had no idea what I was capable of, and had spent almost no time training at the required 7:15 pace. This time, my long runs increased in intensity until I did the final 20-miler at only 15 seconds slower than marathon pace, and it made a huge difference in my confidence.
- Pick a flat course, and train on flat trails. Choosing a fast race makes a big difference. I qualified at the Wineglass Marathon, which has a few small hills but a small net drop in altitude (200 ft). And if you’re not going to race on hills, you don’t need to do much hill training. Do it from time to time, but for the most part, save your body from the wear and tear of hills if you won’t need it on the big day.
- Do a few trial runs with the stuff you’ll use on race day. Whether it’s your pre-race meal, your during-race fuel (I decided against caffeine supplements), or what you’ll wear, experiment during your long runs leading up to the race. But save your final long run for a race-day rehearsal, just to be sure nothing can go wrong. Well, as sure as you can be.
- Convince yourself that it will happen. In the days before the race, I was unsure of whether I’d be able to qualify. But in the years before the race, I told myself over and over that one day I would do it, until I became sure of it. I don’t mean just positive thinking, I mean changing your gut-level association to what you’re capable of. See this letter I wrote for an example.
So there you have it. Follow these tips, and you’re sure to be running the streets of Boston on Patriots’ Day.
Ok, there’s just one more thing you have to do.
Work your ass off.