I’m happy to report that I achieved my best marathon time – my “PR” or “personal record” – over the Memorial Day weekend at the Vermont City Marathon. It’s a good thing, too, since I was sort of cocky by mentioning in a blog post a few weeks ago that I knew I was going to do it.
Above: My ‘selfie’ prior to the Vermont City Marathon with the 4 hour and 30 minute pace group. One of the pace leaders, Jen Sorrell, is also pictured (with sunglasses).
I ran the 26.2 miles on an unseasonably warm and sunny day in Burlington, Vermont, along a course with diverse terrain, but lots of fan support, in 4 hours 27 minutes and 11 seconds. This is 4 minutes faster than my previous best time, which was at Rock ‘n Roll Phoenix marathon, way back in 2006.
This was only my 6th marathon, but my fourth in the past three years. Up until yesterday, my recent results were very disappointing. I ran the Air Force Marathon in 2012 in 4:46:40, while nursing a bit of a hip injury. Last year at Vermont City, I pulled a calf muscle in the cold and had to walk from mile 14 until mile 17. However, I was proud that I recovered enough to run the last 7 miles, after receiving medical treatment, and cross the finish line in 5:08:53. Finally, last fall, I participated in the inspirational 20th running of the Philadelphia Marathon. I felt strong for much of the race, but really petered out after mile 18 and finished in 4:47:14.
What did I do differently this time to not only chop 20 minutes off of my recent best time, but also to achieve my PR? I attribute these results to 4 things:
- Quitting drinking.
- Losing more than 20 pounds.
- Stepping-up my training program.
- Running the race with a pace group.
Quitting drinking was instrumental, because it set me up for a successful diet and also freed-up my time for more exercise. More background about my New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol this year can be found here, here, and here.
Losing over 20 pounds helped my confidence level and my training. I immediately saw faster running times at the start of my running season and I have had far fewer aches and pains along the way, due to losing weight.
Although I had already improved my chances to getting a marathon PR time this year by sticking to my goals of not drinking and losing weight, it was also critical that I employ both training and racing strategies to help me get the rest of the way there. Since I died in Philly at mile 18, I needed to step up my training program with more long training runs. That’s why I selected Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 Marathon Training Program that I described here and here.
Having a solid 20-mile run and strong half-marathon performance under my belt prior to running Vermont City was key to my fitness level and confidence. The last piece of the puzzle was to have support on race day. There’s a reason why they say a marathon is as mental as it is physical.
That’s why I reached out to Jen Sorrell and Kristin Lundy, the pace team for the 4 hours and 30 minute group, before race day to let them know that I would be running with their pace group. In addition to the well-documented benefits of running with a pace group (see here and here), I felt that contacting them in advance would make me accountable and improve my chances of following through.
Jen and Kristin were fantastic motivators. They cheered us on and made sure we ran consistently on pace the whole race. They also shouted out helpful tips about the upcoming terrain, where we would see motivating fans, when to consider fueling, and how to best approach special terrain like an uphill, downhill or trail. The race flew by and the first mile marker I remember clearly was 10 miles in.
Although I ultimately moved ahead of this group at mile 20 to finish at a faster pace, I don’t think I could have done it without them. My hats off to Kristin and Jen. After the race, I emailed them both to ask what motivates them to be pace leaders, rather than running for their personal best time.
Kristin said, “It has taken me a long time to be able to run a smart, steady marathon. I have made many mistakes along the way, and learned a lot with my experience. It is really a great thing if I can help someone else along the way, and pass on any tidbit of knowledge I have picked up…Seeing people reach their goal is extremely rewarding. You not only get to revel in your own happiness of crossing the finish line, but you also get to feel good from seeing them do it. It’s a win-win!”
And, Jen added, “I personally like pacing as it’s rewarding to be able to help others meet their goals, whether it is to get a PR, run steady or just finish.”
I still have a long way to go before I can qualify for the Boston Marathon. However, following through with my training and race strategies and achieving my PR are important milestones in that journey.