The marathon is different for everyone, everyday. I've had what I thought was awesome training and ended up with a shitty race, so a large part of my answer to "how'd you do that?" is "I got lucky."
Another part is "I picked a good race;" Chicago is notoriously flat and fast and held at a time of year when the weather gods might very well be kind to you, as they were to us on Sunday.
But luck and weather aren't exactly great tools to rely on when you're looking to improve your time. I thought it might be interesting to share what else I think helped me get faster, and get your feedback on what's sped you up, or conversely, what hasn't worked. So, here are some things I did differently in the lead up to Number 18, and my best guesses at how they impacted my performance:
1. Mileage. I had multiple 60+ mile weeks this season, and one week with 78 miles. In the past, I've typically had 3 weeks of 50+ miles. So the volume of my training definitely increased this season. But along with it, so did the amount of running I did on tired legs. Some of that is a function of volume: your legs are probably more tired when you've run 40 miles going into your long run than when you've run 25. But this season I also moved around the day on which I did my long run a lot, so I almost never had a full week of recovery between long runs, and sometimes just had 2 or 3 days between them. I actually specifically thought about that, my practice at running tired, in the later miles in Chicago. It was a good reminder that I could, in fact, keep going at a strong pace.
The flip side of this, of course, is that with increased volume and decreased rest, you're upping the odds of injury. This season, I was smart about it. That was not always the case...
2. Speed work. The single biggest factor in my getting faster, especially as I was trying to BQ for the first time, was speedwork, and I've kept at it weekly during training since then. Mile repeats, 800s, tempo runs. If you want to run faster, you need to run faster.
3. Strength training. I added a thrice weekly lower body strength training workout to my regimen this year in a desperate attempt to fix whatever was wrong with my hip. I can't claim that this was a panacea, but adding squats, lunges, and clam shells has made a noticeable difference not just in my leg strength, but also in my balance. So if I ever decide to run a marathon on a ship deck, I'm covered, I guess...
4. Cross training. Again, while not necessarily new this season, committing myself to cross training just once a week (generally in the form of SoulCycle) over the past couple of years has, I think, helped stave off injury while maintaining cardiovascular endurance. Plus, doing something other than running makes us use other muscles and reflexes, and in the final miles of the marathon, weird-ass shit can happen and suddenly in order to keep moving forward, you have to start doing high knees or hold your arms above your head or utilize your body holistically, and that includes engaging non-running muscles.
5. Nutrition and weight. I've lost about 7 pounds in about as many months doing absolutely nothing difficult. I eat less crap (think fresh fruit instead of Doritos from the office vending machine if I need an afternoon snack). I do less mindless grazing (making actual meals for dinner instead of cheese and crackers, then hummus, then cereal, then peanut butter...). And, since the Social Diet way back in March ("social" component being short lived), I've been keeping a food diary.
I feel like that's some big taboo secret, but in all honesty, it's easy and it works. I never set out to lose weight, but being more cognizant of and intentional about what I was putting into my body had the added bonus of taking a few pounds off. It is remarkable how good one feels when one's diet is not 80% processed cheese (conversely, I demanded TG order us a Papa John's pizza after Abbe and Baker's wedding a few weeks ago, and OMG processed cheese has a time and a place and it is 1am and in a hotel room after a wedding.)
6. Massage. I'm not a big foam roller (don't yell at me), but that doesn't mean massage is off the table. I demanded a lot of massages from TG this season, and I want to be clear that I don't mean the sexxxxxxy kind. Typically, they involved lots of yelling ("Stop pushing there!" "You're hurting me!" "Oh my God, seriously, stop!") and were not at all relaxing for either of us, but ultimately, I think they did help speed up recovery.
If you don't have a boyfriend with whom you'd like to fight, I am also a big proponent of a quick chair massage at the nail salon. 10 minutes will work out the knots you've tied yourself into sitting at a desk all day and then hunching up while you're running. Which reminds me...
7. The Standing Desk. I stand at my desk. As you'll recall, it's a pretty shoddy set up, constructed mostly of boxes of expired liquor donations and annual reports (the nonprofit life is a glamorous one), but it gets the job done: not only do I feel better not being all crammed up and bent over, but since I'm standing there, I'm much more apt to engage in some stretching of my IT bands or quads while I'm on a conference call or something.
8. Cats. I have a cat who wakes me up at 5:00am with his teeth and claws, which means I have no desire to hit snooze and stay in bed with that vicious monster. Get a cat, never miss a morning workout.
Something I don't think has an impact on my speed? The dry period.
|Whereas not drinking beer is overrated...|
So, that's what worked and what hasn't for me. What about you? Try any of the above? Have something else in your arsenal that works like rocket fuel for your racing? Convinced that foam rolling is for chumps? Share your thoughts in the comments.