Friday, January 9, 2015

The Evolution of 2:42

My first marathon was a 4:07. My twelfth was a 2:42. How did I get there? Presenting: "The Evolution: An oversimplified look at how my training, goals, and lifestyle changed over ten years and twelve marathons."

As you’ll see there were some big jumps (namely the first one) and lots of smaller ones. I didn’t go from over four hours to under three overnight. I slowly chiseled away at my time, making new short-term and long-term goals as I went. Sometimes a big chunk would come off, but more often it was a small shard.

I chiseled away at other things, too. My first marathon was in college, fueled largely by burritos, beer, and too little sleep. I’ve slowly improved my nutrition over the years, to the point where I no longer chug Diet Coke all day and focus on getting a healthy serving of vegetables at every meal. (I’ve found it most essential to focus on vegetables; proteins and carbs come pretty easily with most typical meals. And I love fruit so I easily hit my quota there.) I’ve also focused on sleeping more, reminding myself (sometimes nightly) of its importance to training and racing well.

1. Charlottesville Marathon, April 2005
Goal: Finish
Training changes: The first marathon means longer runs than ever before. I didn’t worry about time or pace, just on getting in the distance.
Weekly mileage average: As proof of my inexperience, I’m not sure I kept a log or counted miles. I do know I started off with a training plan, and I diligently did most of my long runs each weekend, but I also remember skipping an awful lot of weekday runs in favor of sleep.
Best workout: On my first (and only) twenty-miler, I ran by a man working in his lawn. Hours later, I passed by again. “Are you still running!? How far are you going??” I proudly responded, “Twenty miles.” The shock on his face powered me through the final stretch. This is what it’s like to be a marathoner.
Biggest challenge: Running 26.2 miles…
Result: 4:07:12 (9:26 pace), completely satisfied and proud.
An amateur in a plain old cotton tee. Charlottesville 2005.
2. Baystate Marathon, October 2008
A goal: Qualify for Boston (3:40 back then, 8:25 pace), B goal: PR
Training changes: With a time goal in mind, I started caring about the pace of my long runs and added some tempo workouts.
Weekly mileage average: I definitely think I calculated mileage at this point, but apparently didn’t save my notes. (I still didn’t fathom how long this obsession would last.) 
Best workout: I started running long runs at goal pace, around 8 minute miles. (I’ve since honed my running knowledge quite a bit more, and that strategy is not recommended. I now do marathon pace runs only every few weeks and not for the entire duration of the run, see below.)
Biggest challenge: Run a marathon with some semblance of pace. I had over 27 minutes to slash to nab a BQ, and I often reminded myself (and family and friends) that it could take a few tries.
Result: 3:28:38 (7:58 pace), BQ by 11+ minutes, PR by 38+ minutes. Ecstatic.
On my way to my first BQ. Baystate 2008.
3. Boston Marathon, April 2009
A goal: Sub 3:20, B goal: PR
Training changes: I did more twenty milers (that often included part of the Boston course), going from doing one per season to three.
Weekly mileage average: 36 Highest week: 45
Best workout: My first half-marathon, a 1:34:39, which predicted a 3:18 marathon.
Biggest challenge: Battled some ankle issues, spent 3 weeks in January cross training
Result: 3:18:49 (7:35 pace), PR by almost 10 minutes. Pleased.
Finishing my first--but certainly not last--Boston. 2009
Side-note from my journal after this race: [Thinking about new goals and how far I can take this] Could I get under 3:00? If I could, I bet I could win (or give a serious shot to winning) a small, unpopular marathon. And if I got that, I would have to give a serious shot to getting a 2:48 [the 2008 standard, I didn’t know it would get harder] and qualifying for the Olympic Trials. Yea, yea, yea, it’s CRAZY and that is a really impossibly* hard goal … I'll probably never get there, but if it drives me to win a race or to slowly get closer and closer to 3:00 then I'll take it.”

*Dear 2009 Teal: Never say something's impossible. (See marathons 7, 9, and 12 for how accurate this prediction turned out to be.)

4. New York City Marathon, November 2009
A goal: Sub 3:10 B goal: Sub 3:15
Training changes: I bumped my mileage slightly (tried to average 50 miles per week) and added track workouts.
Weekly mileage average: 44 Highest week: 57
Best workout: One week in October I did 10X800s, averaging 3:08 (“Yasso 800s,” predicts a 3:08 marathon), on Tuesday and an 8 mile tempo run at 6:46 pace on Thursday. I drew a smiley face in my log that week.
Biggest challenge: During the summer I moved to DC for graduate school, but first lived in a rodent-infested apartment where I got no sleep. I moved out by September, but had a string of workouts where I tripped and fell. I blame exhaustion for making my already shuffling stride worse, to the point where my feet barely came off the ground and I tripped often and brutally. (I even ended up tripping and falling in the race, just to give the season a sense of continuity.) 
Result: 3:18:29 (7:35 pace), PR by 20 seconds, but upset.
Scraped up as usual. NYC 2009.
5. National Marathon, March 2010 (now Rock-n-Roll USA)
A goal: Sub 3:05, B goal: Sub 3:10
Training changes: Tried to get better about lifting and doing core work. (Something I still struggle with.)
Weekly Mileage Average: 42 Highest Week: 56
Best workout: Yasso 800s with 3:05 average
Biggest challenge: DC’s infamous “Snowpocalypse.” It snowed repeatedly and massively (for DC, which was ill-prepared to deal with it). My log is a string of curses about the snow.
Result: 3:14:45 (7:26 pace), PR by 4 minutes, but a little bummed.
At least race day was snow-free. DC 2010.
6. Chicago Marathon, October 2010
A goal: Sub 3:05, B goal: Sub 3:10
Training changes: Bumped my mileage again and started doing doubles one day a week.
Weekly mileage average: 60 Highest week: 69
Best workout: Broke 1:30 for the half marathon (predicts a 3:06 marathon) and averaged 2:59 for Yasso 800s.
Biggest challenge: The training went relatively well, but race day was hot (mid-80s). I stupidly went out hard anyway (3:05 pace at halfway) and paid for it, brutally. 
Result: 3:20:16 (7:39 pace), the first marathon I did not PR. Devastated.
Hot, hot, hot. Chicago 2010.
A goal: Sub 3:00 (6:52 pace)…. I didn’t have a B goal; I wanted a 2:59 and nothing else.
Training changes: I started using the training plans in Advanced Marathoning. (I’ve used them ever since, tweaking them only ever so slightly.)
Weekly mileage average: 63 Highest week: 70
Best workout: Advanced Marathoning gave me the structure for my marathon pace workouts. I did 8 miles at pace (15 total with warm up and cool down) in January and 12 miles (20 total) at 6:56 pace in March. I also broke 6 for the mile for the first time in my life.
Biggest challenge: The challenge was mental: getting over Chicago and believing a 15-minute PR was possible.
Result: 2:59:30 (6:51 pace), a PR by 15 minutes. Ecstatic.
Going for sub-3. Boston 2011. 
8. Chicago Marathon, October 2011
A goal: Sub 2:55, B goal: PR/redemption for 2010 Chicago
Training changes: I didn’t seem to change much here. Was I so happy with breaking 3 that I got complacent? That seems doubtful, but the plan looks similar to the previous season.
Weekly mileage average: 65 Highest week: 71
Best workout: 10 miles at 6:47 (18 total) in August, track workouts went pretty well.
Biggest challenge: Looking back at my workouts, none of them were stellar. A half marathon in early September went terribly.
Result: 2:55:35 (6:42 pace), PR by almost 4 minutes. Pretty pleased.
Back for redemption. Chicago 2011.
A goal: Win, B goal: Sub 2:50… changed to just PR-ing after I saw the hills the day before
Training changes: No more complacency. I cranked up my mileage again (went to the next level in Advanced Marathoning) and only took a day off every 2-3 weeks. I also made my marathon pace workouts hillier.
Weekly mileage average: 74 Highest week: 81
Best workout: 12 marathon pace miles (18 total) at 6:42. Also did a 20 miler with 14 marathon paced miles (my longest yet) but wasn’t so pleased with the pace (6:49).
Biggest challenge: An incredibly hilly course, all the other women in the race.
Result: 2:53:10 (6:37 pace), 1st place, 2+ minute PR. Thrilled.
Winning. (The clock is wrong.) Charlottesville 2012.
A goal: Sub 2:48, B goal: Sub 2:50
Training changes: In the summer of 2012 I joined GRC. I spent the fall trying to improve my times at shorter distances; this was my first marathon with the team.
Weekly mileage average: 78 Highest week: 85
Best workout: I broke 1:22 for the half marathon, a week after running an 8k as a workout. I did the 8k (~5 miles) at 6:04 pace and was feeling confident.
Biggest challenge: I reworked my training plan to align more with teammates, planning to cut my longest effort at pace from 14 to 12. But in reality, I never even made it to 12, as I had stomach issues that day and called it at 8. I also struggled with insomnia leading up to the race. Looking back at this training block, I think I was in great half marathon shape, but not great full marathon shape.
Result: 2:52:35 (6:35 pace), PR by 35 seconds. Really bummed. (But quickly overtaken by other emotions on that horrible day.) 
A day ending in many tears. Boston 2013.
A goal: Sub 2:46, B goal: Sub 2:48 (I was sure I would at least break 2:50.)
Training changes: Coming back from my hip injury, I went back to less mileage and taking one day completely off each week.
Weekly mileage average: 64 Highest week: 72
Best workout: My longest marathon pace effort was 12 miles (18 total) at 6:24 pace (equates to a 2:47 marathon). I was psyched.
Biggest challenge: Coming back from injury, with less of a build up then usual. Still, the workouts seemed to tell me I was ready for something big.
Result: 2:58:37 (6:49 pace), the second time I did not PR in a marathon. Devastated.
A disappointing, dehydrating day. Boston 2014.
A goal: Sub 2:43, qualify for the Trials, B goal: None. Sub-2:43 or bust.
Training changes: I put my faith back in longer marathon pace workouts. I also started doing yoga more often and foam-rolling every day.
Weekly mileage average: 70 Highest week: 83
Best workout: 16 mile marathon pace run at 6:12 (22 miles total)
Biggest challenge: A poor showing at the Philly Half set me back psychologically… I took a few days off and cut down my mileage to try to get some bounce back.
Result: 2:42:13 (6:12 pace), Trials qualifier, 10+ minute PR. Ecstatic.
Achieving the dream. CIM 2014.
The most encouraging story from that progression is that there’s power in disappointment. Two of my biggest PRs (Boston 2011, by 15 minutes, and CIM, by 10 minutes) came right after my biggest failures (the two marathons I did not PR, Chicago 2010 and Boston 2014). Defeat can be a powerful motivator. Like an old football rivalry, you don’t want your enemy to get the best of you again, so you fight harder and do everything possible to come out on top.

Also, as I chiseled my time down, I sculpted my training to what works for me. Yasso 800s—while wildly popular in some running circles—don’t work for me (or at least don’t predict correctly), but long, steady efforts at pace do. (This makes sense, as Renato Canova, the famous coach of Kenyan marathoners, often discusses. Workouts with paces close to marathon pace are far more important than those farther away; i.e. a workout at marathon pace matters more than a track workout at a much faster pace.)

You have to find what works for you. I remember frequently thinking that there was no way I (or anyone) could make it to the Trials on less than 90 miles per week. The women who compete in the Trials just seemed too amazingly fit and fast to be running anything less. I like running higher mileage and kept trying to bump it up to something that seemed “Trials-worthy”, but in the end, I made it on 70 miles a week. Don’t be intimidated or discouraged by what others are doing (or what you think others are doing). Everyone is different; what works for someone else might not work you.

That’s how I made my goal. How will you?

Dream big,



  1. What an awesome summary, Teal! I so wish you had been blogging in 2011 - I am hoping for a sub-3 soon (if not this season, hopefully next!) and I've been working my butt off to try and get there. But I always like reading about what the workouts were like leading up to the sub-3 goal for folks (i.e. what the long runs and easy runs were done at, how the marathon pace miles felt those first few weeks of the schedule). I've been using Pfitzinger's plans (the 75-85mpw) for two seasons now (this is my third) and those marathon paced runs are TOUGH. I just did one two weeks ago and it felt like a tempo run - which makes me wonder if the sub-3 pace is too ambitious this go-around. But I'd have loved to read about how your workouts went in that build up as you got faster and faster. :) Very inspiring account of your marathon progression though - and you motivate me to work harder and not give up on the sub-3 (and maaaayyybe one day OTQ) goal!

    1. Thanks, Jenn! I firmly believe you will get your sub-3! The marathon paced runs ARE tough. I always wonder how the heck I am going to go so much farther at the same pace on race day, but I can ensure you that they work and you WILL be able to go that much farther on race day. Before my first sub-3, I did three runs--exactly as suggested by Pfitzinger and Douglas—with varying degrees of success. My first was eight miles at an average pace of 6:51 (right on target!) but I had my brother help me out on that one. A few weeks later I tried to do ten miles at goal pace and failed miserably; I was battling a cold and gave up/stopped a few times. The last one I did was 12 miles at 6:56, which was slightly too slow. All of them were super tough (why do we do this to ourselves??) BUT I was able to hit my goal, even with one workout going poorly and one slightly too slow. The adrenaline and excitement of race day, plus the taper, will help it feel easier on race day. Cheesy at is, the biggest thing is to believe in sub-3 and don’t give up on yourself!

  2. this is a fantastic log of your efforts, struggles and ultimately successes teal! i was just this weekend wondering what it would take to carve my 3:14:43 down to a sub-3. i've only been running since 2009 and at 44 yrs old i wonder if i'm not too late into the game to take down a target like that ... but then i look at people like deena, meb and even haile gebrselassie and think that age is just a number in your head. :)

    anyway, working off of the Hansons Marathon Method for my next race in april, and pushing hard through a daunting (so far) Canadian winter. here's hoping!

    thanks for the inspiration!

    1. It's never too late! Agreed that age is just a number; a better number to focus on is 2:59 ;-)

      Keep after it and good luck in April (and as you battle the cold)!!

  3. This is a great post, I'm saving it!

    I LOVE long runs with goal pace. For both my spring and fall A races (BQ'd in both, PR'd in both), I did 21 mi long run w/ 17 at goal pace and 22 mi long run with 18 at goal pace. Hard but lots of confidence, physical and mental. (interested to see Yassos don't suit you either - I tried them once and my log says "legs SCREAMING" - it was such an unpleasant experience that based on that, McMillan book and Fitzgerald "Run" book, I scrapped them for other workouts, goal pace or faster)

    Thanks for laying it out. Last year was amazing for me, and I plan to continue to get faster and stronger. 1st BQ age 47, 2nd (&3rd) at age 48. I run my first Boston in 14 weeks at 48 yrs old, having taken decades to get to this point, past injury, cancer, life, jobs, moves, etc. I'm excited and quite nervous as I want to do well!

    1. Thanks, M! Love the attitude about continuing to get faster and stronger; here's to dreaming bigger in 2015! Excited to hear about your first Boston, it's going to be awesome!

  4. I'm so glad I found your blog...this is so inspiring and motivating for me. I have done 2 marathons so far, and my last one was 4:49. I really really want to BQ but the thought of running a 3:35 marathon seems impossible. Your story has really inspired me and made me feel like it can be possible with hard work and dedication. I know I need to add more miles though. I'm averaging like 20ish right now. Do you have any tips for adding in miles safely? How do you balance running all those miles and adding in strength training? Thanks in advance and keep up the good work - congats on your OTQ!!

    1. Hi Patty, thanks for your comment! Don't be intimidated by a BQ, the seemingly impossible goals can be the most motivational and lead us to get the best out of ourselves. It's possible, and it will get easier with more experience :)

      Adding miles is all about patience. The usual standard that everyone says is to add 10% a week, so if you're running 20 now, you could do 22 next week. Depending on your injury history, you might be able to add a bit more than that, but definitely take a recovery/cut back week every ~3 weeks. I've built up over a LONG time, so be patient! As for strength workouts--ugh, I'm not the best at them! I still struggle as they are the first to go when I'm busy. I often try to cut out a little bit of time in the evenings while watching TV or something. After I come back from morning runs, it's usually time to get ready for work!

      Good luck!

  5. I just came across this blog today- wow, congrats on your goal and your amazing progress. I have a goal of BQ (3:05) I got injured the last two years during training and was a DNS. My goal this year is to run a marathon healthy, then BQ next year. multi year goals, BQ, is so hard to explain to my non running close circle, would love any advice

    1. Thanks for checking out the blog! I think that's an awesome set of goals, sorry the non-runners don't understand. (It's always hard to explain our obsession!) I would focus on being smart in your training, building mileage slowly and listening to your body. Better to go in to a marathon undertrained than overtrained (or worse, injured). The BQ will come with patience! Good luck!!

  6. You are hands down amazing. I love running but, more than anything else, I love running marathons, so I fell in love with your blog right away! I found your blog because I was making a research on running injuries - I currently have a metatarsal stress fracture and will have to skip what was going to be my fourth marathon: Chicago. In April, I will run my first Boston and my goal is to improve in the marathon as much as possible and hopefully break 3:00 on day. My current PR is "just" 3:29 but, as you would say, dream big ;) Congrats on your OTQ and best of luck in LA!!! Looking forward to follow your journey.

    1. Thanks, Martina!! Sorry to hear about your injury--I feel your pain! But I'm stoked to hear you're dreaming big, sub-3 is possible!! Keep believing :)

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  8. You truly are an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your journey from brand new marathoner to Olympic Trials Qualifier!

    I'm a dreamer as well and am currently in this phase: "Yea, yea, yea, it’s CRAZY and that is a really impossibly* hard goal". Runners like you keep me motivated to push harder and try for that next goal!

    1. Thanks, Amy! Those are the best kind of goals, in my opinion ;-)

  9. I just started to train for my first Boston Marathon this coming April, a race I never thought I'd be able to get into. This blog was really great in detailing how you were able to make improvements and it has given me some ideas for my own future training. I'm in grad school right now for physical therapy and can definitely relate to struggling to get in miles when sleep and other responsibilities are more appealing/necessary! Thanks again for writing this and I'm excited to continue my running career using this as motivation to get better. Best of luck in your future races!

    1. Thanks, Sarah, and congrats on getting into Boston!! Good luck with the training and with grad school! Keep dreaming big :)