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How Mark Ran a 16 Minute Marathon PR (despite thinking it was “beyond impossible”)

Is it possible to run a huge PR, avoid the infamous “marathon bonk,” and recover quickly from the race? You bet!

Mark's Marathon PR

Mark racing a half marathon before his PR Marathon

I talk a lot about “small wins” – they’re the little training victories like negative splitting a long run, being more consistent, and reaching a new mileage record.

By themselves, these small wins aren’t very compelling. One good workout doesn’t mean much after all.

But when you add them up, over the course of a month, a training cycle, and even years, you get enormous improvement. What once was “beyond impossible” now becomes routine.

I once struggled to break 5:00 in the mile. When I finally broke that elusive time barrier, I was thrilled. Fast forward five years and I ran a 4:49 mile… for the first mile in a 3,000m track race.

These massive improvements aren’t special or unique. I’m not an outlier. Today I want to share the story of Mark who crushed his goal and dominated a 16 minute PR in the marathon.

If it isn’t Working, Try a Different Strategy

A lot of runners keep doing the same thing over and over again with the same results. Or they have no idea what to do next.

Do any of these sound familiar?

I’ve tried doing LSD but I never know if I’m doing it right

I find myself trying to figure all this out on my own and it’s hard

Feeling lost in my running right now

My biggest problem is feeling lost in my running and how to best reach my goals

Mark was in a similar position in February. He wanted to run the Vermont City Marathon in May – and run a big PR. But he didn’t know where to start. He remembers, “I had some thoughts on a training plan (taken from previous efforts), but the plan wasn’t one where I had run a PR with in the past. With my own plans, I would go out and run because I knew that I needed to, but the runs had no other purpose than to get the miles in.”

Mark could have cobbled a plan together himself from the mass of bad marathon advice out there, but where would he be now? Likely in the same place. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

Instead, he found Strength Running and decided that a personalized training plan was what he needed.

“I was happy for someone to listen to my goals and needs and turn them into a plan that I was able to follow. It was customized for my goals and needs, and provided a daily objective that contributed to my overall goal to run a PR. Each run had a purpose so I felt that I was making progress each week. “

How to Adjust Your Training (but keep doing what you love)

Mark had a consistent, solid base of miles to start his marathon training. He just needed the right training upgrade to reach his goals.

One aspect of his training that I honestly didn’t like – but kept in the plan anyway – were two CrossFit workouts every week. I consider CrossFit to be an example of pointless fitness exercises. They have no purpose, other than to “get fit,” and each class member does the same WOD (workout of the day). There is no specificity, no training purpose, and no ultimate goal of the workouts.

But Mark enjoyed the CrossFit workouts and they seemed to help him get stronger, so I kept them in his training plan. I made sure to adjust his schedule to prioritize recovery since many CF workouts are taxing. He said:

“The Strength Running plan, customized for my goals and schedule, allowed me to get the training that I needed to run a PR as well as continue with other fitness activities like CrossFit and commuting to work by bicycle every day.”

The real meat of his training plan included tailored mileage and workout increases. While his base was good, you can’t run a significant marathon personal best on just 20-25 miles per week. In other words, he needed to work harder.

Mark commented that the transition to the new training was straightforward. He had to get up a little earlier but that’s what hard work is all about.

“One mid-week run was longer and harder than in my previous schedule, so I needed to get up even earlier.  For a few weeks, I found that my legs were more tired than I was used to coming into the long run on the weekends. But I think that this was by design and was part of the preparation for the marathon itself.”

As any long-time Strength Running reader will know, I encourage runners to work harder but that doesn’t mean just mileage and workouts. Strength and flexibility training needs to be a priority – especially when training for a marathon.

This was a big adjustment for Mark, who hadn’t been warming up for any of his runs. He also wasn’t doing any post-run warm-down routines. Except for CrossFit, there were no ancillary exercises in his previous training. So of course, I had him do plenty of core and mobility exercises!

“The challenge was getting myself to put in the extra time, but I believe that these routines made a difference. The PR Race Plan‘s inclusion of warm-ups, cool-downs, and targeted flexibility routines helped me remain injury-free during my training.”

Injury-free training is consistent training. And we all know that consistency is the biggest indicator of success in distance running.

Racing the Vermont City Marathon

Mark Racing a Marathon

Mark sporting his No Meat Athlete shirt while rocking his marathon PR

Even though Mark told me that his 3:39:24 marathon time (a 16 minute PR) “was beyond what I thought was possible,” I think hearing his entire race story is better at capturing his success. Below is a recent email he sent me.

Note: if you have an awesome running story like Mark’s, email it to me!

Enter Mark:

I ran the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, VT yesterday. I followed the plan that you provided pretty closely, but modified it where it made sense and when I needed additional recovery.

Bottom line: The goal pace you set for me in the plan was 8:30/mile. My goal at the start of the race was to run a 3:40 marathon or better. The plan was to run 8:20/mile through 20 miles, and then see what I was up for. I finished with a 3:39:23 which is a pace of about 8:23.

I was strong the entire way. My pace was VERY even through 20 miles. I felt really good at that point, so I picked it up some (7:45/mile), but then found myself feeling fatigued, so my pace dropped back to 8:30’s and 8:40’s. My final 1.5 miles were very close to 8:00/mile, so I was able to break through the fatigue.

I’m VERY happy with my result – a PR by 16 minutes! This race was a huge confidence builder for me. I proved to myself that I am capable of running a no-bonk marathon. I learned a number of things from this race:  even pacing is important, staying focused and not wasting energy on dumb things during the race is important, and that I should not just let things loose at 20 miles even if I feel good.

My recovery has been better than average so far. I have some of the normal discomfort that one has after a marathon, but I am in FAR better shape after this race that I was when I ran Boston in 2011.

So, a big THANK YOU for your race plan. It was a huge help for me.


I want to publicly congratulate Mark for his 3:39:24 PR and such outstanding improvement. Like I tell all the runners that I coach – I can give you direction, but the hard work is up to you. Mark certainly put in the hard work for his PR marathon and now he has the results to prove it.

Finally, he told me:

“I’ve adapted my PR Race Plan for my next marathon [the Amica Marathon]. I’m hoping with my slight modifications to the plan (mostly having to do with pace) that I can get to 3:30 or below. So far, I’ve been able to run a 15 mile long run at 7:35/mile pace (lower than my previous 1/2 marathon PR pace), so I feel like I am on track.”

Yes, I’d say that’s on track! Congrats again to Mark – show him some love in the comments!

If you’re interested in improving your race times, learn more about a personalized training plan or training critique.


Mark emailed me after he finished the Amica Marathon to update me on his progress. Here’s his email:

I followed a modified PR Race Plan for the Amica Marathon in Newport RI this last weekend. On Sunday for the race, the wind gusts were over 20 mph and in your face but most significantly for the 5 hilly miles at the end of the race. I had run the same race 2 years prior and finished in 3:55. My goal was to break 3:30.  I managed 3:25:37. Really strong run. I felt like I could have run any speed I wanted for the entire race. I found myself several times running 7:20/mile during those last 5 miles!

So, 3:25:37 is 38 seconds shy of a BQ for me. On a flatter course, or with less wind, I am certain that I would have BQ’d. When the Boston Marathon registration closed on Thursday, I decided not to try to qualify but instead to stick with my 3:30 or better plan.

Thanks again for the PR Race Plan: the plan that just keeps on giving! In 9 months time, using your plan, I have shaved off 30 minutes from my PR (3:55 to 3:39 back in May, then 3:39 to 3:25 this past weekend). I couldn’t ask for better results than that.

This is why I love my job.

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