HOW TO BEAT YOUR MARATHON PR
What are you really capable of when it comes to fitness? Sure, you think you’re working to your max when you eek out that last push-up or decide to bang out one more mile before calling it quits. But, research shows our brains kick in to “protect us” before we truly reach our full potential. As a runner, I’m fascinated with the idea of figuring out my running “speed ceiling.” If I were to train under the best circumstances, could I crush my 3:58 marathon PR set in Chicago back in 2014?
Let’s back up a second: I’m a writer and editor living in New York City and have been running marathons for about three years, racking up eight in total including the six World Marathon Majors. I also volunteer for Minds Matter NYC and practice Transcendental Meditation daily. It’s tough to squeeze in marathon training with a hectic work schedule and those extra commitments – plus trying to maintain some semblance of a social life in Manhattan. But from what I’ve found, it’s not at all impossible. In fact, running – and training for races specifically – has actually helped me to improve those other areas of my life. It teaches you discipline, will power, and helps you become a better planner, just to name a few of the perks. But one thing that all of my marathon finishes have in common thus far is that they’ve left me wondering, “What if I could have pushed harder?” In each instance I finished feeling tired–mentally and physically, seriously “rungry” (AKA run-hungry), but not totally gassed. And also, what if I had trained differently? Better?
So, with the help of adidas Train & Run app, I’m setting out to find out on September 25th at the Berlin Marathon. But it’s not all about me. I’m going to chronicle my journey in this blog to hopefully inspire you to attempt to shave minutes off your own PR, whether it’s 3:58, 4:58, or hey, even 2:58 (#jealous). Or, maybe you’ve never run a marathon and you’re toying with the idea of signing up for your first. This blog series is for you, too. (In fact, did you know that means you’ll automatically PR ;)) Over the next several weeks, with expert tips from the pros at EXOS and adidas, I’m going to give you all the tools you need to conquer a marathon, whether it’s Berlin in 2017 or any of the other incredible 26.2-mile footraces around the world. We’ll cover movement, nutrition, mindset, and recovery on this blog, so keep checking back over the next several weeks. To kick things off, we’re starting with movement, since actually running – and other exercise, as you’ll soon see – is a pretty critical piece of the whole marathon training puzzle.
STEP 1: GET YOUR CUSTOMIZED TRAINING PLAN
Big Gigantic’s “Got the Love,” is blasting through my earbuds as I pick up my pace, running south on the West Side Highway in Manhattan towards Battery Park. It’s deserted at this hour. It’s 6:00am and just a few other “crazy” runners out here logging some miles before work – the lucky ones who get to see the sun rise, the lonely boats rocking serenely on the Hudson river, the empty playground on Pier 25.
I’m in the middle of an 80-minute run – on a Thursday morning. That’s what my “Run a Race – Marathon” training plan in the app prescribed for me today and it’s super important to find (and of course, stick to) a plan when you’re doing any race, especially a 26.2-miler. A well-developed plan will include everything you need to do to arrive at the starting line in the best shape possible: a mix of speed workouts, “tempo” runs where you run at a consistent “comfortably-hard” pace for a set amount of time, long runs, and recovery runs.
Well actually, this particular run was originally on my calendar for yesterday. I had even packed my Ultra Boosts in my purse along with all my other running gear to hit the road immediately after work. But, at 2pm, a friend in town from Paris invited me to grab a drink after work in the West Village – and I just didn’t want to turn her down. So, I didn’t. Instead, I decided to set my alarm for the crack of dawn and get the run in today instead.
THEN, STRENGTHEN YOUR STRIDE – LITERALLY
Ok, so my runs are set. But I can’t just run and run alone and expect to arrive at the starting line in the best shape possible, much less set a personal record. Hitting the gym is key to staying injury-free and can actually help me – and you – PR. “Strength training will help with the movement patterns for running so you are more efficient and, over time, could help you beat your PR without being sidelined with an injury,” explains Greer. “If you feel like you’re a great runner, but don’t have the actual strength to support the stress on your body, it leads to injury,” she adds.
This is something I learned myself through trial and error. While training for my first marathon in 2012, I ended up in physical therapy with tendinitis in my left hip. My therapist told me that my lack of core and glute strength was likely the culprit and we worked on building that up together. I fully recovered – and learned my lesson the hard way – over several weeks of time-consuming and not-cheap therapy.
Luckily, Train & Run also has strength-based programs (for free!) within the app. There’s even one specifically for runners called “Strengthen Your Stride.” It’s perfect for runners who may be a little weary of any part of the gym that doesn’t involve cardio machines since it walks you through the workout step-by-step just like you have a real-live trainer by your side. And just like how that trainer would customize the exercises to her client’s needs and goals, EXOS created this routine specifically with runners in mind: “All the exercises in this program are designed to build the movement patterns necessary for running,” confirms Greer. “Movement patterns” are the e. “When you run, you never use one specific muscle and instead in each and every stride, multiple muscles have to do their job simultaneously,” Greer says, which is why they’ve included moves like deadlifts in the Strengthen Your Stride program–it’s a very similar movement pattern to running and builds up that lower body strength including your glutes and core.
FINALLY, HAVE A PLAN B – AND ALSO C
This is the best tip from a runner-friend I could ever have received. My commute home from work is about 30 minutes by subway, 20 by Citibike, 25 by Uber – or 28 in my running shoes. At least once a week I leave all my stuff at work shoved under my desk, take my apartment key off my key chain and pocket it along with a credit card and ID. I either run straight home up the West Side Highway or go a little past my Houston Street “exit” if I need more miles. It’s such a huge time saver since I’d be spending the time trapped on the subway otherwise.2. Pull a “double”
This is popular with triathletes but works for marathoners, too. If you don’t have time to get in all of your strength workouts and runs on their own days, you can do two in one day. You can do them one right after the next, or even one in the morning and one at night. Just keep in mind for those back-to-back workouts that it’s important to always do weight training before cardio – you want to be freshest for lifts and body weight exercises, then it’s OK if you go into an “easy” run a little tired.3. Embrace your wet hair – or invest in some great dry shampoo
Early morning workouts are my jam. But I also know the importance of sleep and shoot for at least seven hours a night. So if I have an AM appointment at, say, 8:30 or 9am, I’ve found I can still get in a solid workout if I skimp on my “getting ready” routine. Turns out, my hair looks fine if I wash it at the gym and let it air dry rather than battling with the blow dryer for 15 minutes. Dry shampoo is also clutch if you don’t even have time to wash.4. Skip your workout
Yep, it’s fine. Sometimes life just “gets in the way” and you have to miss a run. Or maybe you’re too sore or feel an injury coming on. This can actually be super smart in cases like those. Just get back on track with your plan the very next day rather than “falling off the wagon” and derailing your whole week’s worth of workouts.
By Caitlin Carlson. Caitlin is a writer and editor living in New York City. She loves to travel and run–she’s completed all six of the World Marathon Majors and wants to tackle the 7 Continents Club next.