Long runs! Tempo workouts! Mileage! We know these things are instrumental in running a fast marathon – but what else is important?
A marathon attempt is daunting: at 26.2 miles, it challenges your body in ways that shorter races can’t even touch.
Fueling becomes critical – you can’t store enough in your body to carry you the entire distance.
Muscle damage is inflicted from over 40,000 high-impact steps on paved roads.
Pacing is vital. You can’t recover from going out way too fast (the marathon will humble you!).
Any runner who’s completed a marathon will agree that the physicality of the race is its biggest challenge – and probably its most addictive feature that keeps people coming back for more. But running your fastest marathon and squeezing out every second of improvement is about a lot more than just good training.
If you have a big marathon goal – like maybe qualifying for Boston – every aspect of your race should be carefully planned. Today, I want to show you five ways that you can run a faster marathon that have nothing to do with training.
Choose a Cool Race
Anybody who ran the 2012 Boston Marathon (like Terry) will agree that racing in the heat is miserable – and slow. Because I have no shame, I’m going to quote myself from earlier this summer:
The brutal weather that’s rocked the East Coast of the US during the last several weeks has reminded many runners that summer running isn’t all lollipops and negative splits.
Lollipops and negative splits… I crack myself up.
But it’s true: the vast majority of runners won’t be able to race at their potential in the marathon with temperatures over 70 or 75 degrees. While beliefs about how the weather impacts your race performance might become self-fulfilling, I’m a realist and understand that heat and humidity don’t present ideal racing conditions.
Do yourself a favor and choose a fall race that consistently has cooler temperatures. Your new PR or BQ time will thank you.
Size Matters (of the race!)
What did you think I was talking about?
The difference between a “same old” time and a new PR might come down to competition and crowd support. If you’re running alone, the race is essentially a solo time trial and you won’t benefit from competition. Being pushed to perform – and exceeding your expectations of what you’re capable of – by other runners is a well-documented reality.
If there are other runners going a little bit faster than you, they’ll pull you along.
Don’t neglect the crowds watching the race either. I remember running the final half of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon – an out and back stretch up Kelly Drive that was nearly deserted for 90% of the way. It was lonely and uninspiring.
Then look at the electrifying, screaming crowds of New York City and it’s a night and day comparison. When you’re struggling through the final 10k of a marathon, you need all the help you can get. Choose races that have the competition and supportive crowds that will pull you closer to your marathon goals.
The Marathon Course Matters
If you register for the Blue Ridge Marathon and expect a fast time or new PR (with over 7,000 feet in elevation change), I’m not going to have any sympathy for you when the monster hills trash your legs early in the race. Runners looking for a BQ or PR should seek out a flat, fast course where the terrain and elevation will work with them, not against them.
Fast marathon routes like Houston, Chicago, or the London Marathon will give you the best chance of running your best. In fact, according to Daniels Running Formula, an 8:15 mile effort on the treadmill at a 6% grade would need to be run at 10:00 minute pace!
Hills will slow you down significantly so avoid them if your goal is to run fast. They’ll not only increase the effort you need to run a particular pace but the downhill running will surely lead to additional muscle damage. To finish strong, you’ll want to pick a flat race that won’t put unneeded stress on your legs and aerobic system.
And of course, you always want to run the tangents!
Go Local if Possible
It might sound romantic to travel to Berlin and race their flat and fast marathon in an historic city. But did you think about the travel hassles, likely interruption of your taper training, and the nightmare of a 6+ hour time change? Not to mention the financial costs of long travel to the race!
Local races have the advantages of shorter travel distances, little to no time zone changes, and similar weather that you’ve been training in for months. Racing local is less stressful – and it’s always a good thing to be stress-free on race day.
There’s a reason why some elite runners travel to the Olympics 2-3 weeks before their race – it takes a tremendous amount of time to get there, acclimate to the weather and time change, and adapt to the local environment. Us mere mortals don’t have the luxury of 3+ week running vacations so the next best solution is to stay relatively local with your peak marathon.
What Next – Put This Into Practice
Passionate marathoners who want to improve their personal bests and reach a new level of performance – like qualifying for Boston or breaking a big time barrier like four or three hours – can use this advice to optimize their best marathon.
Even if you’re a new runner or haven’t yet run your first marathon, there’s a lot to think about when attempting 26.2 miles. These are four “non-training” factors that go into choosing your peak race.
Soon we will be re-opening Run Your BQ - a community of marathoners who are running faster and healthier than ever.
But there’s a twist: RYBQ has had a complete overhaul and is redesigned to better help our members. With a new user interface, more features and functionality to help our runners connect, and improved training it’s now one of the biggest and most comprehensive marathon training sites available.
If you have an upcoming marathon, want to qualify for Boston, or simply run easier and with fewer injuries, we invite you to join us when we open next week.
For more info on the program and free reports on how to run a better marathon (including a video tour of the new site!), just sign up here.
Have questions? Feel free to email me anytime.
Get the Strength Running PR Guide ebook and tips to run faster (without the injuries).