Lessons from a 2:39 Marathon: Philly Race Report

On November 20th, I raced the Philadelphia Marathon and finished 42nd in a time of 2:39:32, a PR of over 5 minutes.

I never hit the wall, barely slowed down at all during the last 6.2 miles, and felt strong from start to finish. The Philly Marathon is my crowning achievement in my 13+ years as a distance runner.

Philly Marathon

I made the decision to run another marathon with trepidation; my last marathon was over three years ago at New York. I ran 2:44:38 and was sidelined by severe illiotibial band syndrome for six months afterward. I was mentally crushed and doubted that I’d ever run another marathon. I even considered permanent retirement.

In hindsight, that injury was one of the best things to ever happen to me as a runner. It forced me to reevaluate my training and learn what really works. I devoured every running book and training website I could find. I learned everything I could about how to train effectively to run fast and prevent injuries.

It worked: I’ve been injury-free since 2008 and I just took five minutes off my marathon time, getting under that elusive 2:40 barrier.

More importantly, the injury and my study of running prompted me to start Strength Running. After seeing so many runners making the same mistakes that I used to make, I wanted to help as many people as possible become better runners. Thank you to all the runners who’ve supported this site – through sharing an article, buying a race plan, or commenting on a post. I appreciate it all.

Now that you know the background of my hesitation to run another marathon, let’s dig into the details…

How Do You Train for a 5+ Minute PR?

Long Run

My training for Philly started in early August and spanned 17 weeks of specific marathon preparation. I focused on the basics: high mileage, lots of marathon pace running, long runs specific to the marathon, and maintenance work.

Maintenance work is the running that makes goal pace easier: strides, shorter fartleks, tempo runs, hills prints, and a small amount of Vo2 Max  intervals. I try to never get too far away from one type of training, so while my focus for the marathon was on aerobic development and marathon pace, I didn’t ignore the other aspects of sound training.

My overall mileage for most of this training phase was in the 80-85 range, with a few weeks higher and lower. I averaged about 10 miles more per week than my training for New York so I knew that I was stronger and more prepared. My monthly mileage:

Unlike my previous marathon training, I used a lot of double runs during this cycle – peaking at a double of 11 miles in the morning and 7 miles in the afternoon. Doubles take a few weeks to get used to so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t feel good right away. It also took me weeks to get used to this volume when I’ve historically done 10 and 5 mile doubles.

One workout helped prove that my fitness was where it needed to be: my last long run of 22 miles. Instead of just easy mileage, I ran a moderate 6:59 pace for the first 11 miles and then ran 3 x 3miles during the last 11 miles with a mile of recovery running. The splits for each faster segment were 18:46, 18:05, and 17:46. Even the recovery miles were fast – both were under 6:40.

Training Secrets and Magic Workouts!

For top marathon secrets of fast marathoners, just send three easy payments of $19.95! Limited time only!

Look: there are no training secrets. No one workout will make you a good marathoner. The boring truth is that continued improvement in the marathon is fairly simple (but not easy): run a lot, run fast sometimes, and stay healthy.

Do this for months and years and you’ll get damn fast. But this strategy is admittedly boring – there aren’t any silver bullet workouts or training philosophies that are going to transform your running overnight. There are good ways to do things and best practices (that’s where I can help), but don’t expect any miracles with a low mileage, short training cycle.

As Mark Wetmore, head coach of the University of Colorado Cross Country team has said:

We don’t have any secret weapons…the cornerstone [of our program] is the long-term, patient development of the aerobic metabolism.

One way that I can help you run a fast marathon is through my marathon training website Run Your BQ – a community of distance runners who share one goal: to run the Boston Marathon.

Mindset and Race Execution

Jason Philly MarathonAbout mile 23. Not the best form here – can you tell I’m exhausted?

Since I felt so horrible during my last marathon, I was nervous at the start. A million questions ran through my head on race morning:

  • What if I hit the wall again?
  • What if my IT Band acted up?
  • What if I needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the race?
  • What would happen if I ran slower than my other marathon?
  • What if my Gu packets fell out of my pocket?
  • What if I went the wrong way…?

I was being unreasonably nervous. I think this is normal, though. As Alberto Salazar has said: “I had as many doubts as everyone else. Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.”

I ran 6:03.9 mile pace for the first 20 miles – exactly according to plan. When I hit the 20 mile mark in Manayunk at the end of the Kelley Drive stretch, I felt surprisingly good. So good that I ran 6:01 for my 22nd mile! That would be my last “fast” mile of the race but I still pushed the effort until the finish line. There was no hitting the wall.

My strategy for avoiding that seemingly inevitable bonk was twofold: adequate training (check!) and a lot of carbo-loading. Starting on Wednesday before the race, I started eating a lot more carbs than normal. I didn’t feel good sometimes with the fluctuations in blood sugar, but cramming glycogen into my muscles and liver was more important.

I also took 6 gels and a cup of Gatorade during the race, amounting to over 160g of carbs. To put this in perspective, that’s more carbs than an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s. This is on top of my breakfast of oatmeal, a Powerbar Harvest, a banana, and (obviously) two cups of coffee.

The marathon isn’t just physical; the mental aspect of a good race can’t be overlooked. From the start, my mentality was to remain calm and just relax. I want to credit Greg Strosaker for giving me the idea to use the mantra of “relax” –  it worked for him when he won his last marathon in a 2:56 PR and it worked for me. Thanks Greg!

Sometimes “no news is good news” and in this case, it’s an appropriate saying. Nothing significant happened during the race – just the slow ticking off of fairly consistent splits. Here are most of them:

Mile 1: 5:55
Mile 2: —
Miles 2/3: 11:51
Mile 4: 6:05
Mile 5: 6:00 –> 29:52 at 5 miles
Miles 6/7: 12:05
Mile 8: 6:13
Mile 9: 6:10
Mile 10: 6:13 –> 60:35 through 10 miles
Mile 11: 5:48
Mile 12: 6:00
Mile 13: 6:04
Half Split: 1:18:28
Mile 14: 6:03
Mile 15: 6:07 –> 1:30:39 through 15 miles
Mile 16: 6:04
Mile 17: 6:05
Mile 18: 6:09
Mile 19: 6:04
Mile 20: 6:12 –> 2:01:16 through 20 miles
Mile 21: 6:08
Mile 22: 6:01
Mile 23: 6:15
Mile 24: 6:13
Mile 25: 6:13
Mile 26.2: 7:25 –> 6:10 pace

After Philly: What’s Next

Sloth? Gluttony? For now.

But long-term, I’ll probably focus on shorter races in the 5k-10k distance in the late winter and spring. I may even do a Warrior Dash if it fits into my schedule.

Now that I have a qualifying time for Boston for the highest registration wave, I’d like to run Boston in 2013. What marathoner doesn’t want to eventually run the Boston Marathon?

Until then, I’ll be recovering with two weeks of no running, plenty of sleep, and maybe a few beers. I spoil myself.

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  1. Cheers Jason. It feels great when things come together on race day and you can see the fruits of all your labor. Congrats.

  2. I’ve been waiting for this post – congrats again on the phenomenal race, but what I mean is congrats on the culmination (for now) of a phenomenal journey starting all the way back to NYC. As you hinted, everything you have done since then has prepared you for this day – it wasn’t one good training season, or a few key workouts, it was the full body of work and the physiological gains you developed in patiently executing it. Thanks for the mention (honored by it, in fact), and glad the “relax” strategy helped you out.
    I agree with your lessons learned on the mileage and the carbo-loading, but with one notable exception – my Towpath race was the first marathon in which I didn’t bonk, but also the first one in which I didn’t take a single gel during the race. I certainly took carbs in the form of Gatorade (maybe more than normal, as the aid stations were more than adequate), but I found it interesting that I felt only a minor lull in energy around mile 20. Maybe it is the early morning pre-breakfast running that builds up a tolerance for running in a glycogen-depleted state. But it just goes to show that, again, there is no one secret formula that works for everyone.
    Recovery well, you’ve earned your holiday gluttony.

    • Thanks Greg. Yeah you don’t run a good marathon off of just one training cycle – it takes years. I wonder what I could do in 3-5 years? Regarding fueling – it’s definitely personal. For me, I think I burn hot when it comes to fuel so I needed a lot of sugars, despite doing most of my runs in the morning without breakfast. Either way, it shows you have to find what works for you.

  3. Leo Castaneda says:

    That is just impressive. You are such an inspiration! I am jealous of your speed and your dedication! Congrats again!

  4. Awesome race! So much to learn from just one article, both big lessons and small ones. Thanks for sharing your results and training tips. Can’t wait until my marathon secrets book arrives 🙂

    And if you haven’t done a warrior dash, try it, we did the one in Windham NY in August and it was an absolute blast!

  5. Fantastic race! I guess you’ve already run NYC and maybe don’t want to again given the history there, but your time is still an auto-NYC qualifier. I’m hoping to use a half marathon in 10 days to qualify for NYC before the standards get tougher (you can see that race is clearly in my head right now).
    Congrats again on the PR.

  6. Congrats, Jason! Very impressive PR, and very cool that you were able to detail all the steps along the way. Enjoy your accomplishment, and Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Kudos Fitz, it’s awesome to see a running coach who can really throw-down on race day!

  8. Congrats on an awesome race.

  9. Great work Jason! I so want to be like you when I grow up! 🙂 Your splits were pretty even all the way. Was there anything you would have done differently?

    • Good question Lisa – you’re keeping me honest here! 🙂 It’s hard to say because I always think I could do something better in both race execution and training.

      Here goes: be more consistent with gym workouts, be more consistent with hill sprints, be more consistent with overall mileage (I took a few days off and slacked on others), drink less (I admittedly like to rage with my friends once in awhile), do more hip opening yoga, run barefoot strides, and do some strength circuits during workouts in the earlier parts of training.

      For the race itself: Go out a little slower in the first 5 miles and make that time up later (with interest!), be more confident about what I’m able to do in general, close the last 2 miles faster. I’m telling you, racing is like gambling – you always think you’ll do better next time.

  10. Congratulations on your race, Jason! I’m very impressed (and jealous) with the consistency of your splits, as that is one aspect of my marathons that went so poorly for me. Following your advice through the next year, I’m confident I can make some gains in that department. Your own accomplishments definitely speak to the effectiveness of your training methods, so kudos to you!

    Also, I noticed in your photos you’re rocking the Saucony Fastwitch shoes–how did they hold up for you through the race? I’m thinking about trying those out, myself…

    • Thanks Kurt – believe me when I say I’m surprised with the splits a little myself! The Fastwitch worked out, though I wasn’t ecstatic about wearing them. I got a blister at about mile 7 too, but all in all no complaints.

  11. SUper recap. I was just in Philly today and now am West of Harrisburg, UGH, your weather is terrible.

    I think a move to sunny Florida (as I contemplate becoming a silicone valley gal) would be in your families best interest.

    Can I admit to not having any interest at all in Boston?
    Still, with your qual time, I think it would be an interesting and amazing race to see what you could do with it.

    I am also wondering what you think of a person who is having lower miles doing the 2 a days? I admit that I am sorely tempted to start trying this to speed things up a bit.

    • Doubles aren’t for everyone – it’s better to get your volume up with singles first. And always increase with patience…

  12. Thanks for the report – excellent advice in every way!

  13. Jason,
    Great race. I actually saw you running at mile 21 as I was running in the opposite direction. I yelled “Fitz” but you were very focused and had a very nice pace. Was there anything about the course that you didn’t like?

    Note: This was my first marathon and I want to thank you for your IT Band workout video. When I started running last year and got injured I never thought I would run more than 20 miles per week. Getting injured is frustrating so I really embraced the routine when I found it on your website. Your workout routine really increased my core strength which aided in a respectable time for a first time marathoner (3:42) like myself. I can’t wait until the next marathon and I will continue working on my core strength.

    Good luck next year in Boston.


    • Hey Cenk, I actually liked the course a lot. Kelley dr was a bit lonely but otherwise mostly flat and fast. Good luck with the ITB!

  14. Evangeline says:

    AWESOME! Congratulations and your name just spelled a lot of encouragement to my marathon dream.

  15. Joe Richardson says:

    Nice race report and truly inspiring!

  16. well done, Jason! you are an inspiration and example for all of us! I hope you are having a great Thanksgiving! spoil yourself, indeed. well earned!!!

  17. Congrats on your PR! I am starting to train for a marathon in March. Have you used any of the Pfitzinger plans before to train? If so, what do you think of it? Also, what do you think of the Hansons Plan (shorter long runs)?

    • Hey Ron – I’ve never looked into either the Pfitzinger or Hansons plans. I will say that I’m not a fan of shorter long runs. If a runner is ready and it’s appropriate, longer long runs (20-22 miles) are always the way to go.

  18. What shoes did you wear for the Philly marathon? They look like Kinvaras or Mirages.

  19. Thanks, I see now where you mentioned Fastwitch earlier in the thread. Just in case you’re looking for another pair, they’re on close-out at Holabird for $48 (sizes 9 and up.) http://www.holabirdsports.com/cgi-bin/product?product=045115


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