One of the great things about running is that no matter how fast you go, there’s always room for improvement. Whether you’re looking to sign up for your next marathon or just want to set a new personal best, these tips can help you run a smarter, faster marathon.
SET A REALISTIC TIME GOAL
Whether you’re looking to qualify for Boston, set a new PR or finish, setting a realistic goal is your first step. If you’ve already run a marathon before, start by assessing how you performed in your previous race. Analyzing where you can improve will help you alter your training plan and strengthen your weaknesses.
Hitting the wall at Mile 20, uneven pacing or not doing enough long runs before your race are all things that can be corrected. Figure out where you can realistically shave time from your previous effort, set a new goal and determine the pace per mile you’ll need to train for moving forward.
SLOW DOWN AT THE START
While this might sound counterintuitive, running the first few miles of your race slower than your goal pace can save you from hitting the wall later. Run the first 3–4 miles 10 seconds slower than your goal pace per mile and speed up to race pace by the half-marathon point. Your goal the second half of the race is to run faster than the first half and focus on finishing strong.
TRAIN MORE AT RACE PACE
Long, slow miles are part of training for a marathon. But that shouldn’t be all you do, especially if the goal is to get faster and not just finish. Include mile repeats at, or faster than, goal pace, Yasso 800s and tempo training should all be part of your marathon training plan.
On long runs, think about doing at least a portion of it at your goal pace so you’ll know what it feels like on race day when you’re fatigued. Try alternating every other mile or doing the last half of your long run at goal pace to get used to that kind of effort.
WEAR THE RIGHT GEAR
Blisters on your feet from ill-fitting footwear and chafing from your clothing are two things that will slow you down on race day. If you plan to wear a different running shoe and outfit than you normally train in, make sure you try them out prior to your event.
Using all of your race day gear on at least a 10-mile training run ensures they’re comfortable, fit properly while you’re moving and won’t cause any sore spots after the first few miles of your race.
It’s easy to forget to drink early in the race and hard to catch up if you’ve neglected hydration up until the midway point. Staying on top of your hydration needs and consuming some carbohydrates from the first aid station keeps you from having problems later that can kill your pace.
If hydration or other digestive issues have been a problem during previous races, it’s also a good idea to train with the same gels and fluids you plan to consume during the event. This can help prevent the dreaded runner’s trots and other issues that can wreak havoc on race day.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT EVENT
Trying to set a PR at a race that features a hilly second half or is run at high altitude probably won’t be your best choice. Instead, do some research to find a race that’s fast, flat and known for producing good times. Events promoted as Boston Qualifiers are usually good, too and often have pace setters running even splits to help you reach your goals. Also try to avoid races known for occasionally having bad weather or that are overly crowded, as this can negatively impact your pace.
RACE BEFORE YOUR RACE
Having a rehearsal before the real thing is always a good idea. Signing up for a few 10Ks during your training plan or even a half-marathon a month or so before your go at a full helps you work out the kinks with your gear, get used to pre-race jitters and try out a pacing strategy.
Since the event is shorter, use a pacing calculator to determine a how fast you should be able to run. If you plan to try out a half, run the first six miles at marathon pace and the last seven slightly under. This will get your body used to being uncomfortable and give you an idea of what the longer version is going to be like.
READ MORE > 5 TOP RUNNING GOALS AND HOW TO ACHIEVE THEM
RUN MORE OFTEN
Most first-time marathoners run three times per week and supplement their weekly training routine with other forms of cardio and strength training. While this can be an excellent strategy to avoid injury and allow yourself to recover between long runs, upping your mileage and the number of days you run per week is one way to get faster for your second go at 26.2. Running more often may also be necessary if hitting the wall was a problem in your previous races.
As long as your body can tolerate it and you’ve built up your mileage correctly (no more than a 10% increase each week), running 4–5 days per week with a mix of distance runs, tempo training and intervals can provide huge performance gains when it’s time to race again. Be sure to keep in mind it’s still a good idea to include one or two days per week of rest following your long or hard runs to keep from overtraining.
TAPER AND REST
While it goes without saying that you’ll want to get as much sleep as possible the night before your race, getting plenty of sleep the week before is even better. It’s also a good idea to minimize outside activities leading up to the race and choose to hang out at home with family and friends in a relaxing environment. Reducing stress and allowing your body plenty of time to recover mentally and physically leading up to the event can have a positive impact on your performance.
LISTEN TO MUSIC
Even though the USATF has relaxed the rules on whether or not athletes are allowed to listen to music during a race, check with the organizer of your event beforehand to make sure it’s allowed. If so, having a race-day playlist can be a good way to stay stress-free and let the miles tick away. Music can also have a positive effect on your pain tolerance and keep you upbeat and pushing forward in the latter part of the race when it’s common for your pace to slow.