Getting a Faster Race Pace

runningI found a love for running in my high school and college years but wasn’t very fast. Read my story on how I got a faster race pace and cut 1 hour off my current marathon by running fewer miles and less times throughout the week.

The Back Story

Being a “fast” runner was ever a word to describe my running ability. It was a skill I had to learn and a way I had to train my body to be comfortable with a faster pace.

I was a sprinter in high school but not fast enough to make it to State. I was just a hair off of being that good! (or I tell myself that!) I never loved to go more than 3 miles. I thought I wasn’t made for endurance running. Crazy how what you tell yourself you are, you believe. I believed I was only a sprinter. I wasn’t made for distance. So when I started running distance I was at about a 10-11 minute mile. Which I was content with. I was just running for exercise and therapy! It was how I calmed my nerves and cleared my head while I was going through high school and college! I got a roommate that ran for the same reasons and we often found ourselves going longer and doing more challenging courses. I was surprised that I found lots of satisfaction in this. I was interested in how to cut time off my running pace.

The First Race

Time passes and I get married. It was a busy time in our life. We were both going to school, working and trying to stay healthy.  I decided to try out a marathon. Knowing it was going to be just for fun and to keep me accountable with exercise. But it was also a great challenge for me and I knew I needed something for me.

When I was looking around at marathon training schedules it was hard to find one that didn’t take hours and hours out of my day. But knowing I was still a real beginner I went with a pretty generic outline. It had me running lots of miles 5 days a week. It was crazy. Especially when I was getting closer to the race. It was requiring me to run 8-10 miles multiple times throughout the week.

This was hard but I fit it in. I ran around my town, on the treadmill and tried to keep on track. I didn’t quite make it to race day with a full training schedule behind me because I got burnt out. I was tired, physically from running so many miles each week. I went into my first marathon with my furthest distance of only 13 miles to my name. This was stupid. Absolutely stupid. But I had always heard that you can run double what you have trained. So I took faith in that and went for it.

The race was hard. It was more down hill than I had trained, more uphill than I trained and I went way to fast out of the shoot. I was tired and run down by the time I first saw my husband at mile 17.  The last few miles were pure torture as I told myself to just more one leg in front of the other. I prayed for strength and knew I was going to make it but it wasn’t going to be pretty.

As I crossed the finish line at 4 hours and 40 minutes it was a mix of emotions. I was sad that I didn’t hold up as well as I wanted to. I was tired and sore. I was happy that I finished, but sad that I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be.

The next marathon that I did was with my husband. Although I did the same time, my training was similar to the first but I made it up to 20 miles instead of 13! Plus the course was a lot different and it was a huge difference in how I felt at the finish line.

The Turning Point

My 3rd marathon was where I changed my training and cut 45 minutes off my racing time.  This was a more enjoyable training schedule too. I didn’t burn out and didn’t feel like I always had to run.

I was running only 4 times a week and cross training 1 day a week. This helped keep my joints safe and prevent injury by strengthening my muscles to support them.

hill running
Want to know the secret about this way of training? It was hills. I ran hills. I did it 3 times a week. I pushed myself while I went up. I kept up the pace when I got to the top and I let gravity take my pace faster down the hill. I kept the pace after the downhill to a reasonable speed and found that my miles were getting faster. My endurance was getting better too. It was amazing how strong my heart got by pushing it to the max going up the hills and making it recover a little bit harder by not stopping at the top.  I love to exercise, but I don’t love to do it all day. This helped me get in my miles and get on with my day. I loved this way of training and knew I was going to do it with any other race that I did. I finally found a way to cut time off my race pace.

Another way to cut time off my race pace

Marathon number 4 came up and I was worried I wasn’t going to get the same type of hill training in that I needed for this marathon. There weren’t any hills around my house. No really. The closest hill was about 3 miles away and it doesn’t even last longer than .1 mile. Plus, I am lazy when it comes to training. I don’t like to drive to different places to run. I like to start from my house, end from my house. Really, the truth, I like to sleep so if I have to drive somewhere to run, I have to get up earlier. Not cool. I also like to keep my workouts as short as possible. I mean, I have 4 kids, and a husband that I really like to hang out with so if I’m spending all my mornings driving around just to go for a run, I feel like I am wasting time. So I tried to do the hill training but they were as close to my house as they were the last time I trained for a marathon. So I resorted to running faster with shorter distances.

I would take on a 2-5 mile route and run it just a bit faster than what I was comfortable with. If I was doing just 2 miles, I would almost sprint those miles. Taking a break by jogging and then running the mile fast again. Or I would do sprint intervals. I would set a timer on my phone and sprint for 20 seconds, or I would sprint for one block and then jog for the next. I would do this for at track runningleast a mile if not more. In the summers too, I would often go to the track to teach a class and so I would stay after and do sprints on the track. Sprinting the straight aways and jogging the corners.

With this training I was able to get my best time of a marathon at 3 hours and 39 minutes. Cutting 17 minutes off my current race time! Not quite good enough for Boston but pretty darn close!

Conclusion

If you want to cut time off your current race pace, I would suggest not just running. Mix it up with sprints, hills and long runs. I think you will find better enjoyment in training too. You won’t just be running the long roads at the same pace. You will be challenging your legs to run faster. Your heart will learn to recover faster and you will find better endurance. You will cut time off your current race pace.