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The Run Project - Chasing the Unicorn

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

That’s what I called my little experiment to see if I could improve my running time, qualify for Boston, hit a PR, and nail run pacing. Read on to find my why, the how, and the outcome.

So, you might be thinking, “Hey Coach, you told me that it’s not a great idea to do a marathon in the off season” and yes if you are an avid reader of my weekly newsletter, you will remember me saying that. I do recall mentioning however that “it depends” and like anything we choose to do in our own athletic journey, sometimes when you lay out all your goals, plans and dreams for the future – then you take some risks and deviations to achieve them.

As a Triathlete, deciding to do a marathon and attempt a BQ (Boston Qualifying Time) without injuring myself and with the main goal of learning to love the run, I had a few options. I could do a multisport approach to training, which works very well for athletes who are working on running to run better in triathlon. I used this approach in preparation for the New York City Marathon in 2019 (highly recommend this event by the way – an epic experience). I had a decent result with a 3:47 on a tough course with over 100,000 runners. This time it was different – I wanted to see if I could just be a runner. Just focus on one thing with one goal and only use swim and bike if I needed to or had time for more training.

Here was how I created my goals for this project:

Goal 1: Love the run – train in a way that results in learning to enjoy running

Goal 2: Avoid injuries and overtraining. Carefully crafted plan, good nutrition, and recovery

Goal 3: Nail my pacing, even pacing, with a strong finish.

Goal 3: Boston Qualifying time (for me this was a sub 3:50 – to be sure 3:45)

Goal 4: Stretch goal time of 3:40 (a 7-minute PR so a 3% improvement – which doesn’t sound like much but it’s tough at a certain point to keep finding these gains)

What Race?

I chose the Wilmington Marathon a race close to home and with good Boston Qualifier stats (each race will say how many qualifying times it usually has in a percentage). The timing also worked perfect to allow time to recover before starting my Ironman training block for Alaska.

How I trained.

I’m a big fan of testing things out for myself, so I wanted to use this training block to do a deep dive into the 80/20 Intensity Balance. I chose to follow this closely and used an off-shelf Level 1 Marathon Plan from 80/20 Endurance that I made a few slight modifications to along the way.

I started specific marathon training on the 15th of November so a 15-week block. I had a pretty strong base from training for SwimRun NC so knew I could shorten my general phase a little, use this time to recover and build resilience before moving into the specific block of training.

I did 6 weeks of General Prep, followed by 7 weeks of Specific Prep, and then 2 weeks of taper. I had one full recovery day per week, and a recovery week every 3 weeks.

Here is how my training went:

How the race went.

Very lucky with great temps on race day not too hot, not too cold, overcast. Slight breeze but for the most part it was not a factor.

With the information on my monthly 60min pace averages in training (see above) I was able to make some assumptions on how to pace, but I also knew it also came down to feel as well. I took the first 2 miles very steady and stayed with the 3:40 pace group for that. Then I knew I was feeling good I settled into my own pace at around 5:10 min/km. I crossed the 13.1-mile mark feeling great and was on pace at 5:08 (8:17). Now I had to be very careful, steady and keep on top of hydration and fueling to sustain this pace. I wasn’t aiming for a negative split as much as I just didn’t want to slow down. I knew that this pace was about to feel harder – just by the pure fact that intensity increases with duration. Still feeling good I didn’t do anything exciting in the second half other than just stick to my plan which was: relax, positive vibes, breath, drink, eat - repeat. I know that sounds overly simplified but simple is good when you are trying to push to your limits. I knew those last 5 miles are when the race really starts. I had to focus on being patient and smart until then. I hit the 19 mile mark and said to myself “Ok let’s go” and I started to really work on my cadence, my posture, deep breaths, and relaxed shoulders. There was no room for becoming inefficient at this stage. I finished the last 13.1 miles at a 5:05 (8:12) average pace and the last 5 miles at 5:03 (8.09).

Finish Time:

3:36:05 (actual marathon time from watch distance 3:35.26) 36th Female, 2nd in 45-49 AG

This training block and race was an absolute success for me. I enjoyed every run, felt strong and fit, had no injuries or setbacks, experienced my best pacing in an endurance event to date, got my BQ time by 14 minutes, surpassed my stretch goal by 4 mins.

This was not luck, nor a fluke. This was years of training in the making, lots of mistakes, missteps, injuries, and falling short across many different endurance events and distances. Lots of doubt, lots of wondering why I keep doing this to myself. Lots of highs, and lows.

Lot’s of learning, experimenting, listening to those better and smarter than me. If you listen, every time you don’t hit your goal, you can find out a little bit more about yourself. What your unique skills are, what worked for you and what didn’t. You slowly build a blueprint for your own success. Built on your goals, using your strengths, passion, and intrinsic curiosity of what you are truly capable of.

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