The biggest lie I hear runners say is, “Coaching is just for fast people.” Ha!
Today I want to share a story about Jessica, a 28 year old runner from Colorado. While she knew she wasn’t very fast, she was able to see dramatic improvement (with no injuries) with a little bit of coaching help.
Jessica had been a 5k runner for awhile but soon decided she wanted to tackle a half marathon.
It was her first longer race and she wasn’t sure what to do. She told me:
I had used running plans before, even those in the Rebel Running Guide. They were great, and I saw lots of improvement. However, they were for the 5k and I wanted to run longer distances. I was also at the point where, while I am not very fast, I have more experience than a novice runner. Most running plans are for beginners and I had moved beyond that.
So she did what most runners do: tried to modify a plan she found online for her fitness level and schedule. But when she was tired or busy, she’d skip a workout and say “Oh, I’ll just run tomorrow instead.”
Jessica was frustrated because she didn’t know what to do week to week and her fitness gains were coming slowly. She found it hard to see how much progress she had made in the previous year.
How to Learn From a Bad Race
Last year Jessica ran her first half marathon in 2:58 – and felt terrible about it. She wound up walking much of the race and wasn’t happy at all with her time. She knew she could do a lot better.
So she did what any good runner does: learned from her mistakes, took action, and set her next goal – another half marathon in the spring. On New Year’s Day she invested in a custom training plan to help her finish better the next time.
I wanted this to be a great race, one that would give me the boost to gear up for the marathon I wanted to run in fall 2013. I have read Strength Running for years, and have come to trust Jason’s expertise both through his articles and his work on Nerd Fitness’ Rebel Running Guide. [a 5k program for beginner and intermediate runners]
A frustration that Jessica felt before her personal training plan was that she was tired of trying to cobble together a good training plan from all the conflicting information she found online. She wasn’t sure what days to run or how to schedule her running workouts around her karate classes and strength training sessions.
Most runners succumb to the Try Everything, Try Nothing Approach at this point: they dabble with a fartlek here, a tempo there, and a few inconsistent long runs. Their training bounces around, never settling on a single good progression of workouts.
The danger here is that there’s no guiding system behind your running. How can you improve with no progression that’s backed by a good training philosophy?
But Jessica knew that she was capable of a lot more so she took action and got to work on her personalized plan.
At first, she found it a little difficult to find time for the regular injury prevention work. Even when she just wanted to hop in the shower after her run before rushing off to work, she realized how important it was to prioritize recovery.
So she woke up 20 minutes earlier and it made a big difference, especially when she was tired from running another day per week than she was used to.
Round 2! How Did Jessica Run in her Next HM?
Jessica’s running went well during the entire training cycle. She ran more than ever before and consistently completed a challenging workout each week. The hard work paid off.
I asked her if she experienced any positive results and she said:
No injuries! I worried about courting injury when adding mileage and harder workouts. Running magazines, blogs and forums are full of stories about injuries from pushing too far and too fast. But I made it through the twelve week program injury-free and I’m very proud of that.
I’m glad that she didn’t second guess her workouts. I worked hard to make sure the running was appropriate for her (and the internet is notorious for awful training advice).
And it worked: on race day, she felt fully prepared. Instead of worrying if her training was good enough or if she had done the right workouts, Jessica said that she was completely confident that she could finish. She remembers:
I blew my previous half marathon time out of the water! I finished the race in 2:24, a PR of 34 minutes, and with a negative split! I didn’t have to walk at all, in spite of the windy conditions and the hills during the last two miles.I am still brimming with confidence. I have signed up for the Chicago Marathon, and I am positive that I will be able to finish. I know now that if I stick to the plan then it will fully prepare me.
One of the reasons why I love this particular success story is that Jessica, by her own admission, is quite an average runner. She said that she is “not a beginner nor an elite.” But does that mean she has to settle for whatever mediocre results that she’s getting?
Jessica knew that she could be better so she took action and just a few short months later, ran an astounding 34 minute PR over 13.1 miles (that’s over two and half minutes faster per mile!). She had no injuries and was able to complete the entire half marathon – her first ever – with no walking.
Just look at her blinding speed in this video!
How Did Jessica Succeed?
It would be self-serving of me to claim that all of Jessica’s success has to do with the training plan that I wrote for her. No, that’s not the entire truth. I pointed her in the right direction, but she did all the hard work.
There are several key lessons from Jessica’s transformation. A 34 minute PR over 13.1 miles is admittedly rare. It requires a smart training approach and near perfect execution (awesome job Jessica!).
The biggest priority was to stay healthy. After all, if you’re injured you can’t run the workouts that enable you to set new personal bests. So the training plan I wrote for her included a lot of runner-specific injury prevention exercises and routines. Many of them are the same ones that have helped me avoid major injuries for the last four years.
Jessica took weekly karate classes and also lifted twice a week – a great start to being a well-rounded athlete. Though I warned her:
Although I’m cautious of karate (it can be explosive, putting you at an injury risk when you’re running more and can potentially detract from your running workouts), you can keep doing it if you love it. Do what you love, after all!
Last year I had a runner injure her foot during karate so I’m weary of it as cross-training for runners, especially when your volume and workouts are challenging.
Jessica also saw such an enormous improvement because she challenged herself with higher mileage and more difficult workouts. By first focusing on injury prevention, she was able to stay healthy with a more advanced training program custom-built for her.
The result? A dramatic PR and one of the most inspiring success stories on Strength Running.
Jessica also has a few words of wisdom from her experience:
Stick to the plan and don’t worry if you miss a few workouts. I missed two or three runs during the program but I didn’t let that derail me and got right back on track with the next workout.Also, a running program increases not only your physical ability, but mental toughness. When the race got tough at the end, I was able to keep going because I knew that I could. During training, the long runs and workouts were hard. Because I made myself do them and pushed through my fatigue during training, I was able use that willpower during the race.
Please join me in saying, congratulations Jessica! I’m beyond honored to have contributed to her success and massive improvement and these stories are the reason why I absolutely love my job.
If you have any questions for her, leave them in the comments below and I’ll see if she has time to respond. She’s probably out running anyway…
Finally, Jessica has a recommendation:
I absolutely recommend the PR Race Plan to other runners like me, who are neither beginners nor elites, who are slow but determined to finish anyway. I love the quote ‘We don’t rise to the level of our expectations – we fall to the level of our training.’ On race day, it’s not hope that gets you to the finish line, it’s your training. With the right training, you can accomplish anything.
If you’re curious to see what you could accomplish with a custom training built to your personal needs and fitness level, learn more about the PR Race Plan here.
Get the Strength Running PR Guide ebook and tips to run faster (without the injuries).