On Marathon Training and Getting (Much) Faster

(source: Pinterest)

(source: Pinterest)

I tend to get a little bit ahead of myself when it comes to goals. For example, when I first started running last March I registered for a goal 5-K race, but when I had to miss it to cover a story for work, I registered for a new race- a 4-miler. What’s one more mile I thought?

After a successful race, in the pouring rain, I decided, on a bit of a whim and a lot of peer-pressure from my cousin, to register for a half-marathon. Couch-to-5K-to-4-mile-to-Half-Maraton, sounds good right? No problem.

Before we even finished training for the half, my cousin begged me to register for a full marathon with her and our friend Lindsey, less than 14 weeks away. While I was heavily considering it, and even wrote a blog post about it, I knew it would be a bad idea- too much too soon. Then, my body decided to pull in the reins by giving me a lovely, painful bout of IT Band Syndrome to remind me I wasn’t Shalane Flanagan and I needed to calm down.

I ran the half and was really happy with my finish. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t the best race, but I finished 13.1 miles. Woah. Then I landed a position as an editor at Runner’s World. If I thought the peer pressure to race from my cousin was bad, the peer pressure at Runner’s World is on a whole other level. But it’s healthy right?

It took my fellow staffers about five minutes to convince me to run my second half-marathon in January with less than a month to train, but I set a PR, by 17 minutes! Coming off of that I was confident and ready to make the distance leap up to a full marathon- the Big Sur International Marathon to be exact.

I’ve been training for the Big Sur for about eight weeks now and I’ve been feeling really good. I’ve been running my highest mileage weeks ever and my longest distances ever- longest run so far ahs been 18 miles. I knew what I was getting myself into with the mileage, and it didn’t surprise me that I’d be able to handle it because the build-up is so gradual. What I didn’t expect to see was an difference in my average paces.

Since I started running my average paces have always hovered around the mid-9-minute mile range. This was fine by me because I wasn’t experienced at racing and since I kept increasing my distances, the goal was always just to finish, not to hit any specific time goal. But now, my mid-week short runs of 3, 4 and 5 miles have been averaging 8-minute per mile paces and sometimes, on the 3 and 4-mile runs, the mid-7-minute per mile paces. This is new. Who do I think I am, being all fast and whatnot?  The more alarming (exciting?) part is this- it doesn’t feel hard.

Basically, I’m starting to get faster and I don’t know what to do about it since I’m currently training for a marathon. I don’t want to take these faster paces out on a long run because that sounds like a recipe for disaster and/or (probably) injury. But, I also don’t want to lose this newfound sense of speed. See my dilemma?

Circling back to how I opened this post, I’m getting ahead of myself, both literally and figuratively. I need to focus on the goal at hand and that is to complete Big Sur, my first marathon. The course is not an easy one but I want to finish feeling good and having enjoyed the experience. I can’t and won’t be able to maintain these faster average paces for a whole 26.2 miles but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to use them after the marathon.

So, I’ve decided this summer, post marathon recovery of course, I’m going to focus on shorter distances. Focusing on shorter distances will help me to get faster and more importantly, teach me how to race. Since I will have hit my goal distance PR with Big Sur (I never plan on doing more than 26.2 miles in one race) I need to get back to basics and learn how to race. This is going to help me not only with shorter distances but with the next marathon I run. While I believe in dreaming big and making goals, I also know getting ahead of myself too much can lead to injury or burnout. I’m going to take the rest of this training day-by-day and if I’m feeling good enough on a short run to run faster, then I will. If not, I’ll see you this summer 7-minute miles!

Do you sometimes get ahead of yourself with running goals? How do you deal with it?

9 thoughts on “On Marathon Training and Getting (Much) Faster

  1. I love this. Yes, I often get ahead of myself in many goals! For instance, I was training for a half 4/28 and a relay in May (with my total mileage being 19 and change) and had thought about a fall marathon. Well, that turned into a 20-miler sign up for 3/24 and a FULL mary 4/27! Yikes! So, I can 100% see your dilemma. And I too would like to visit smaller races with faster paces this summer and fall! (No, I will not do two marathons in a year!) GOOD LUCK TO YOU!

    • Sounds like you’re going to be a busy busy runner this spring! I’m sure you’ll rock all of your races though. Good luck to you too!

  2. How did you get over your IT band injury? I have been running since 2011 and have been struggling with this injury (plus weak hip flexors that ache) since last year.. Next month will be my 8th Half. I am tempted to run my (1st and only) Full January 2014 but my IT band is holding me back from registering… I only want to do 1 Full. I jsut dont think my body could handle more than one. THe 13.1 Half Distance is perfect for me plus I am still working on my goal for a sub 2hr PR…. Can you provide any insight??? Thanks in advance!!

    • Sorry for such a late reply! It took some time for me to get over my IT Band injury but for me, yoga and strength training really helped. Also, when the flare up first occurred, I took a whole week off from running. It’s important to rest up when your body is telling you it needs a break. I also had my form analyzed and it seemed that was part of the problem. Here’s a post about it: https://fitgirlhappygirl.com/2012/08/30/how-to-correct-your-running-form-to-prevent-injury/

      But, I would suggest you do some stretching and consult with a physical therapist or your doctor before registering for the full. IT Band injuries are usually caused by overtraining but sometimes there can be other issues and it would be best to get the opinion of a medical professional before upping your mileage and training. I hope this helps and that you recover quickly!

  3. I’m training for my first half (June) and then my first full marathon (october) and I am having similar issues with pacing. I have gotten significantly faster in the past few months, but I don’t want to try and push that pace on longer distances if my body’s not ready for it! Good luck with your training!

    • Congrats on registering for both the half and full! I hear ya about the pacing, it can be hard! But maybe after your half you’ll have some time in the summer to do a few shorter races to fulfill the need for speed :) Good luck with the rest of your training!

  4. Almost identical to my first marathon experience. I’d always been a ‘9:30’ for easy runs. I’d find myself running a steady 8:10 for mid-distance runs and be in awe. After my full (in Nov), I turned to shorter races- 8Ks and a 5K in a couple weeks. I feel like I’m just starting to tap into my speed capability… And it’s so much FUN!

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