I thought all BQers were naturally speedy and ran sub-4 marathons without even trying.
That’s a myth! I used to think the same thing. This is exactly why I wrote that post – to show you that an average runner can BQ!
How’d I do it? Let’s start with the physical part first.
Know what works for you
When I’m coaching someone, I often tell them that I made every mistake in the book so they don’t have to. I really think I did. Lots of trial and error. But it made me a smart runner. I know what my body can handle and what it can’t. I know which training plans will work for me and which ones won’t. I know when to back off and rest and when to kick it up a notch.
Listen to your body and keep a training log. After each training cycle and race, jot down what worked and what didn’t. Review often and look for any patterns.
Marathon-paced long runs
I love me some marathon-paced long runs! I wrote a post awhile ago explaining my reasoning for not doing long, slow distance long runs here. LSD does not work for me. I gave it a fair shot. My coaching certification is through RRCA and they heavily stress LSD long runs for everyone – beginners to elite. I 100% agree with LSD long runs for beginners who need to build an adequate endurance base. But, if you have a time goal in mind, you need to incorporate some MP miles into your long runs. For the simple reason that practice makes perfect.
Speed work (FIRST training plan)
I used the FIRST training plan for my last 2 marathons (with modifications – I added in some easy runs for more mileage). I definitely credit it with helping me BQ. Before the NJ Marathon, I went to the track here and there but I wasn’t consistent. I’ve been doing speed work consistently for the past 9 months and the results are astounding. My marathon pace dropped significantly. And I saw results quickly.
Consistency is key here. Pick a day each week and dedicate it to speed work. It’s easiest to do on a track but any flat, paved path (free of traffic) will do. And don’t think you have to run all-out…that is a misnomer. You can do intervals at 10K or half marathon pace. For my final weeks leading up to the Lehigh Valley Marathon, I kept my intervals at 10K pace because I found myself overstriding (and subsequently hurting my hamstring) when I did intervals at 5K pace.
This training cycle was the first time I experimented with a 2-week taper. And I will never go back to a 3-week taper again! For me, it’s more mental than anything. I had a good 22-miler 2 weeks before the LVM. The day of the race I kept thinking that all I had to do was repeat the run that I did only 2 weeks before. It boosted my confidence significantly.
Before you try a 2-week taper, think about how long it takes you to completely recover from a 20 mile run. If it takes awhile, I would err on the side of caution and stick with a 3-week taper. You don’t want to have any lingering effects of that last 20-miler come race day.
Train for the worst case scenario
I learned this the hard way during the Pocono Marathon. Know the marathon course. Look at the elevation profile. Ask people who ran the race in previous years (sidenote: take their advice with a grain of salt. A big hill to some is a little hill to others and vice versa). If there are small hills, train for big hills. It will only help you come race day.
Now for the mental part…
Break it up into small chunks
When I started to get closer to my BQ time, I looked at each marathon as a way to inch closer and closer to my ultimate goal. My goal for Steamtown was to break 4:00 hours. Then my goal for NJM was to hit 3:50…and finally BQ (3:45) at LVM. This made it much more manageable and less daunting.
Such a powerful word. Believe in yourself AND in your training. If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t.
This tactic worked well for me at LVM. Instead of thinking ahead to the later miles (i.e., the last 6.2), I forced myself to focus on the current mile and mastering it. It can get overwhelming to think of how many more miles you have and how you are going to maintain MP, blah, blah, blah. It’s a vicious cycle of self-doubt. If you find yourself going down this road, snap out of it (during the LVM I audibly said “stop”) and regain your focus.
Phew! I had lots to say. If you made it through this post, kudos…you deserve a gold star!