Dear Boston Marathon Runners:

by Jason Fitzgerald

In less than a week, you’ll join over 36,000 other runners from around the globe to run the world’s greatest marathon.

But next Monday will be different. Last year the running community was devastated by a senseless tragedy that took three lives, injured over 260 more, and forever changed all of us.

Despite all that, here we are – preparing to race from Hopkinton to Boston once again. Like I proudly exclaimed one year ago, We Are Runners, And We Will Run.

It’s just a few days until – for many of us – we run the most important race of our lives. Some of us have waited years for this opportunity. Others have hoped, dreamed, planned, and worked for this day for as long as they can remember.

When you’re in your corral waiting for that gun to go off, you have a decision to make. You can go out too fast, give up on the Newton Hills, and maybe muster a weak smile at the Wellesley girls in the scream tunnel.

Or… you can race smart and draw energy from the record one million fans on the sidelines who – for just a few hours – will cheer like you’re sprinting down the homestretch in the Olympics.

Mile after mile, execute your plan. Be patient. Be flawless. Be tenacious. Be perfect. Be relentless.

You know, the more marathons I run, the more I realize that the marathon is just like life. Most of it isn’t too challenging. But the hard stretches will test your character like nothing you’ve ever known before.

You’ll wonder if you’re cut out for this. You’ll debate slowing down or walking. When it starts to hurt – and it will – you’ll doubt your ability to get it done.

Don’t.

Don’t settle. Don’t expect less than your best. Be a perfect version of yourself on Marathon Monday.

You have before you an opportunity that most runners will never have.

I’ll say that again: most runners only dream of running Boston. You are running Boston – and your greatest accomplishments come from your biggest opportunities.

My high school coach use to ask us late in a race, “You have a decision to make. What are you going to do?” It forced us to make a conscious decision to settle for another hum-drum performance or give it our all.

If you read Strength Running, you’re a runner who doesn’t settle. Strength Runners accept challenges – even when they seem insurmountable. You fight for every second, every meter, every mile. In any race, it’s the runner who’s willing to run to the edge who succeeds.

Because you know when you cross that blue finish line on Boylston Street all the sweat, tears, and even blood will be worth it. Every sacrifice you’ve made over the last six months – the pre-dawn runs, the missed parties, and countless miles – will make the difference between just another marathon and the best race of your life.

And when I line up with you in Hopkinton to run the most historic foot race in the world, I know you’ll make that sacrifice with me.

Next Monday, you will run the race of your life. You’ve earned it.

When our friends and family see us finishing the Boston Marathon – making a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston – let’s make sure they forever remember the race of our lives.

So… you have a decision to make. What are you going to do?

***

Post-pep talk announcements!

The Boston Meetup: this Saturday, I’m hosting a meetup for Strength Running readers, runners, fans, critics, and people who wonder if I’m actually a real person. All are invited, even if you’re not running Boston or think running is just for weirdos who secretly love short shorts.

It will take place at Clarke’s from 4-7pm, located in Fanueil Hall at 21 Merchant’s Row. More info on the announcement post here.

The Boston Course Guide: if you’re running Boston and want a detailed, “insider’s look” into the Boston Marathon course, I contracted a more experienced runner to write a comprehensive course guide.

More info on the guide and author can be found here.

Tracking My Race: if you’d like to check on my progress during the marathon on baa.org, my bib # is 1644 and I’ll be in Wave 1, Corral 2.

I’ll see many of you this weekend and along the course. I can’t wait!

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Stuck in a rut? Tired of running the same loop at the same pace (in the same shoes) while training for the same race?

try something new

Fear not, fellow runner. I’ve got strategies up the wazoo to help you spice up your running and inject some flair into your training.

See, I’ve been there myself. There have been long stretches of time when my running went nowhere (like freshman year in college when I was running slower than high school).

Or my ongoing struggle with chronic injuries before I finally broke my injury cycle.

Oh right, and all those times when I raced poorly because I’m a headcase.

Training doesn’t always go well. Sometimes it sucks. But if you’re ready to finally make a positive, lasting change with your running then I know I can help. Not just because I’ve been there myself but because I’ve made it my job to help runners do just that (like Rob or Lydia).

Today I want to help you try something new. Whether it’s just a small piece of your training or an entire new race focus, changing just one thing can make a huge difference.

One thing’s for sure: you can say goodbye to stale, stagnant running.

These ideas are excerpts from my book, 101 Simple Ways to be a Better: A Short Guide to Running Faster, Preventing Injuries, and Feeling Great.

Until Friday, April 11 at midnight the book is on sale for only $.99 so pick up your copy before the price goes up!

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the book as an instant PDF here.

Run a race you’ve never run before

Too often we get stuck in a rut of only running 5k’s or 10k’s. It’s time to break out and discover other races! Less common distances like 8k (about 5 miles) and 10 miles can help you break out of a funk – plus, if you’ve never run these distances you’ll automatically get a shiny new PR!

Distance isn’t the only variable you can play with – try running a track or cross country race to get off the road and try something really new. The speed of the track or the strength required by a cross country race can help you discover what you’re good at.

And if you’re truly bored with “just” a running race, then try a race with obstacles like a Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder. Make sure you’re also doing enough strength exercises to be able to confidently complete the many obstacles you’ll be faced with during the race!

Further reading: How to Train for Warrior Dash (and win with no experience)

Run different types of long runs

Long runs don’t have to be the same pace. In fact, you can squeeze even more fitness out of your long runs by varying the terrain and pace that you run in the later miles.

Three of my favorite types of long run variations include:

  • Hilly long runs: run several long hills in the final 2-5 miles or run one long hill of 5-10 minutes in the final 1-2 miles of your run.
  • Long runs with surges: With 1-2 miles left in your long run, start a short fartlek workout. My favorites include 8 x 30 seconds at your 10k pace with a 1-2 minute jogging recovery or 6 x 1 minute at your tempo pace with a 1-2 minute jogging recovery.
  • Progressions: In the final 2-5 miles of your long run, gradually pick up the pace so you end your run at your tempo or 10k pace. This is definitely an advanced type of workout, but it’ll help you gain even more endurance as you teach your body to run fast when it’s tired.

These are slightly more advanced versions of the standard long run, so progress intelligently and start with hills, then do a fartlek long run, and finally end with the progression.

Further reading: Endurance Training Q&A: How Do I Run Faster for Longer?

Chase a seemingly impossible goal

Maybe it’s qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or running an Ironman Triathlon, or even breaking 25 minutes for 5k. Whatever it is, commit yourself to it with vigor.

Big goals don’t get accomplished overnight so dedicate yourself to it and stay committed. Remember, the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is today.

Further reading: How to Set Goals that Scare You Sh*tless

Don’t be a one trick pony when you’re getting strong

Make sure your core and strength workouts challenge your body in all three planes of motion: front and back, lateral, and rotational. Since running is all front and back motion, it’s important to move in different planes of motion to stay athletic and improve your injury resistance.

Here are a few exercises that help you do this:

  1. Lunge forward and rotate your trunk to the side and back as you lunge
  2. Side plank
  3. Side leg lifts
  4. Side lunges
  5. Hay bales with a medicine ball (squat down with a med ball, then as you raise up you lift the ball up and to your side. Rotate your trunk and watch the ball as you rotate it to your side.)

Running creates imbalances because it’s a repetitive movement in one plane of motion. Counteract those imbalances with exercises in multiple planes of movement to stay healthy.

Further reading: The Tomahawk Medicine Ball Workout

Give running a rest. Go multi-sport!

Sometimes, you just need to take a break from running. The best way to do this – and still stay fit – is to train for a multi-sport event like triathlon (swim, bike, run) or duathlon (run, bike, run). Both sports allow you to continue developing your endurance while experimenting with new forms of exercise.

You’ll also be able to increase your athleticism by working different muscle groups and prevent injuries by getting stronger and correcting imbalances that form through consistent running. Triathlon or duathlon training has you running less, but you’ll likely be working out even more.

When you eventually come back to only running, you’ll be a stronger (and faster) runner.

Further reading: Run Your Next Personal Best: Triathlon Edition

Run workouts that that have more than two paces

Common workouts among runners include a set of intervals at a predetermined pace like your current 5k or half-marathon pace. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these workouts – in fact, they can be great during the specific phase of your training period.

But including 2-3 different paces in your workout can help you learn to run faster when tired, boost your fitness, and improve your finishing kick. So instead of your next 3 x mile at 10k pace, try the following:

2 x mile at your goal 10k pace with 3 minutes jog recovery, then 2 x 800m at your 5k pace with 2 minutes jog recovery.

This workout has you running at a faster pace at the end with the same overall volume. Hopefully this workout will help you negative split your 10k race!

Further reading: Are You Making this Common Pacing Mistake?

Occasionally wear a pair of minimalist shoes

Wearing minimalist shoes for all of your running is probably a bad idea. Most runners don’t take enough time to transition gradually and safely – and they end up hurt. A better idea is to wear a lighter, more flexible shoe for 1-2 short and easy runs every week. You could also wear them for your weekly fast workout once you’re used to the easy runs in minimalist trainers.

Wearing “less shoe” will help you develop stronger lower leg and feet muscles while reinforcing good running form. It’s more difficult to aggressively heel strike in light shoes so you’ll be forced to run more economically with lighter, quicker steps.

Further reading: SR’s collection of running shoe reviews.

Get All 101 Ideas to Get Out of Your Rut!

This week Strength Running turns four years old. To celebrate, you can pick up a copy of my book for just $.99 – and get all 101 ways to become a better runner.

Check the book out on Amazon here – or download it instantly here as a PDF if you don’t have a Kindle reader.

The sale ends Friday, 4/11 so don’t wait.

And as you keep running through plateaus, ruts, and hum-drum periods where you never feel good, you’ll find that there’s one constant in running:

Regular variation – within a consistent training schedule – can make the difference between loving each run and dreading every time you lace up your running shoes.

Now a question for you: how have you broken out of a rut with your running?

Leave a comment below with what worked, what didn’t, and how you broke through your plateau. Let’s help each other out so we can keep running strong!

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