Since falling in love with marathon running some years ago, I think it is fair to say that running faster marathons has not been a particular goal for either of us. That is not to say that we haven’t tried to run the best time we could on the day, but rather that we haven’t given much thought to doing anything to improve these times. It wasn’t until Boston and Comrades Qualifiers (sub 3:30 for Cam and sub 4 for Jacquie) really became issues that we decided that we had to do more than just ’try harder’. This is what we did.
Pre-race – Training schedule (of sorts)
1. Fewer marathons
So many people said to us if you want to run faster then you have to run fewer marathons. We weren’t convinced ourselves, but we decided that it was worth a try. So we set aside a time in our calendar during which we would not run a marathon and instead follow some sort of training plan. We raced San Sebastian 25th November, we paced friends in Valencia 2nd December and then we didn’t run another marathon until our target race in Phoenix 9th February. This gave us a 10 week break – the longest gap between marathons (apart from one injury each) since 2013.
2. Upping mileage
Despite running fewer marathons our plan was to run more miles. During the period from the last marathon at the beginning of December until the Phoenix marathon in February, Jacquie upped her distance (compared to same period in 2018) by 20% (308-378K) and Cam by 45% (343-498K). (Jacquie’s damaged knee is still a limiting factor in terms of increasing mileage).
3. Faster training runs
The training schedule we (loosely) followed included more speed work. We didn’t get as far as track sessions but we aimed to do more tempo runs and more steady-paced runs than we usually do between marathons.
We both ran at faster paces on average, with Jacquie running around 5:20-5:45 from 5:45-6:00 min/k and Cam running 4:30-5:15 from 5:30-6.00 min/k.
4. Short races
With crowded parkruns no longer being suitable for racing we entered a series of shorter races from Christmas through January to push ourselves and test paces. These included 10k, 10 miles and a half marathon. We don’t have much to compare these times to because we haven’t done much in the way of short races for some time but Cam turned out a series of impressive PBs and Jacquie improved her age-grading at all distances.
5. Racing weight
Weight has an effect on running speed. We do try to eat sensibly most of the time but are often puzzled by what appear to be random weight gains and losses. We both had a target weight in mind and tried to achieve it/keep to it for the marathon at the end of February without being too obsessive. Attempts to cut down on alcohol intake were more successful the closer we got to the race.
Race day – getting it right
6. Choosing the right race
We needed a race that was accepted as a Boston Qualifier and we wanted it to be early in the year (the Boston Qualifying window is Sept 9th 2018 to Sept 9th 2019). The first suitable race we could find was in Phoenix Arizona. The temperature in Phoenix in February would be perfect as the race had a very early start with cool but not cold temperatures and finished before the sun had time to heat up the day. The course, although undulating, had a downhill start and was net downhill overall which suited us as we both gain more from running downhill than we lose going uphill. The race was point-to-point and the course reasonably straight so there was less chance of running a longer race as is often the case on winding courses. The course was also not congested and the support on the route was excellent. Starting in the desert in the dark surrounded by giant Sugauro Cacti added to the sense of occasion which we find often raises the game. Arizona was an amazing place to go, and the position of a hotel a few minutes from the buses to the start and the actual finish line was a real plus.
7. Shoes – Nike Vaporfly 4%
Probably the best Christmas presents ever. These shoes are so light and springy, the carbon plate certainly puts a bounce in your step. We used them for all our races throughout January and they didn’t let us down. The problems with them are price and longevity (200 miles). But if you want to run fast we would certainly recommend them – as it would appear would most of the elite runners. The start of the Tokyo marathon was a sea of red.
8. Positive mindset
Running a marathon has a huge psychological element to it. Trying to run the fastest time you have ever run requires both mind and body to be ready. The training runs and race times from the previous weeks had put us in a good place both physically and mentally. It helps if you really do believe you are capable of running the time that you want, and that on race day you can banish any negative thoughts before they affect your running. Developing strategies to deal with negativity is just as important as training your body to run well.
9. Fuel – Maurten/Clif Bloks
We’ve written about this before. Jacquie has finally found a successful way of fuelling during races with Maurten products while Cam is still experimenting. Clif Bloks are her fuel of choice at present. We both used caffeine – Jacquie in pill-form and Cam in the caffeinated Bloks.
10. Even pacing
How many marathons did we need to run to finally accept that even pacing gives a faster time? We are talking over 100! But we are now both totally sold on the idea and tried our best to run to pace in each race we completed. ‘Controlling the race rather than letting it control you’ is our new mantra.
Our attempts to run faster marathons paid off. Cam ran a huge 15 minute PB of 3:18 and was well within her time to qualify for Boston. Jacquie ran 3:44, a very safe pen D for Comrades and only 30 seconds off her all-time PB – a time which, at 66 years of age, she had considered to be no longer within reach.
Which of the above factors influenced these results? Jacquie would highlight improved fuelling, while for Cam the fast-pace training runs stood out as being important. There was obviously more consistent running in training rather than the ‘massive-marathon-mileage-then-break-for-recovery’ of previous years. Short races definitely helped us to push the pace. We both loved the shoes! The course may have been a factor though we have run downhill courses before without the same degree of success. We can’t say for certain what made the difference; it was probably a combination of all of the above. What is certain is that we went into the race with the self belief and courage to go for our goals – maybe there is something in this training business after all!