Marathon Mania: How Joe Improved His Marathon by Over 66 Minutes

A lot of runners find it tough to design a well-rounded training plan. Maybe they don’t know enough, so their running becomes boring.

Or maybe they have too much information and succumb to the Try Everything, Try Nothing Approach to running. It’s easy to find a training plan and some strength workouts online. But are they right for you? Have they been designed for runners like you? Do they target your specific weak areas?

Combining all of the elements of a good running program can be daunting. So most runners do the easiest thing: nothing.

That’s exactly what happened to Joe, who just last year was a 5:11:37 marathoner. Over the last year, he struggled with his running and felt “frustrated with being frustrated.” He just didn’t know what to do.

He told me:

“Although I own some running books that contain well regarded marathon plans, I felt overwhelmed by the number of choices available and couldn’t decide which one was appropriate for me.

Since I couldn’t decide what plan I’d ultimately use, I kept slacking off with my training. All this was really starting to hurt my running.”

Instead of doing nothing – or sampling random workouts without a plan in place – Joe decided to take control of his training before his next marathon.

He wanted to find a solution that fit his own personal needs – he was tired of trying to figure out the best marathon training alone and instead wanted it outlined in front of him.

Joe’s goal was to “stop thinking and start training,” so he got a PR Race Plan (a fully custom training plan) to see how far it could take him in the marathon.

“The Transition Was Really Easy”

Any coach can tell a runner, “Well, you have to run 100+ miles and three grueling workouts every week to reach your potential.” That might work for the pros, but will it help you specifically? It certainly won’t help us average runners. Though it might help us get injured in two days…

So instead of creating an “ideal” training plan, I worked with Joe to write a plan that fit his current fitness level; we increased the volume and intensity according to the principle of progression. He was already doing some pretty good training, with his mileage in the 30’s and 40’s and regular tempo runs.

But he needed a transition to more holistic marathon training to finally improve on his 5:11 PR. Instead of thinking he wasn’t fast enough for personal coaching (the “I’m afraid of pushing myself / I’m not good enough” mistake), he took the plunge.

Here’s how the first few weeks went for Joe:

The transition was actually really easy. The first weeks of the plan were similar to my previous training in terms of total weekly volume and the number of days I ran per week, and it was a gradual increase to the more difficult peak training from there.

The plan challenged me to moderately increase my training volume and get consistent with all the injury prevention things I had been ignoring (to my detriment). I found that while my legs used to feel jerky during the early miles of a run, a good dynamic warm-up makes it feel more like I’m gliding from the start.

My legs and body greatly appreciated the injury prevention efforts, and the training volume was enough to be challenging but not enough to run me into the ground. All this led to greater confidence and increased enjoyment of running overall.

Of course PR’s are important – they’re the measuring stick used in running. But beyond your own records, running has the capacity to improve other facets of your life as well. In Joe’s case, he increased his confidence and his pure enjoyment of running.

How valuable is that?!

Results: Joe’s Amazing PR Marathon

Every runner that gets a PR Race Plan gets a customized solution for their goal. But I like to say that no plan is a silver bullet; there’s only so much one can accomplish in 3-4 months. So of course, Joe’s big marathon PR is also the result of months of work before his training plan.

I was pleased to find that this year, I finished fast enough to get the good beer.”

His personalized plan focused his efforts, provided a roadmap for his key priorities, and allowed him to stop thinking and start training. And he felt stronger, more confident, and accomplished.

The end result? He ran 4:05:12 – an improvement of 66 minutes and 25 seconds.

Joe learned a lot from his experience. Two of the most crucial lessons (in his words) that you should think about:

  1. Strides are a lot of fun and should not be avoided!
  2. I learned how much better I feel if I keep up with injury prevention work – and I also made it to the race without any injuries!

We all know that healthy running can help us feel more consistent and successful. Injury prevention should be a top priority in all of our training.

Joe’s final thoughts:

Consistent training with a good plan is one of the keys to success. The upshot is: a truly good plan will make you WANT to train consistently. Ultimately, my marathon time went from 5:11:37 to 4:05:12.5 after a year of training. The training plan was the culmination of all that effort.

I would definitely recommend one of your plans to someone in my situation. That’s because you know what you’re talking about and your advice gets results. 🙂

How Joe Succeeded (and you can too)

Joe’s far from being done with accomplishing everything he wants to in his running career. There’s always other races, goals, and PR’s to chase.

But in just one short year, Joe made an enormous leap in fitness and performance. He succeeded because he didn’t let information overload get the best of him and learned a few important lessons.

He couldn’t piece together parts of a marathon training plan himself. Joe could have spent weeks researching the best training programs, evaluating his weaknesses, determining a safe peak mileage, and creating runner-specific injury prevention routines. But he realized it’s better to “stop thinking and start training.”

There are no secrets to running faster – so he found time to put in the work. Excuses be damned.

Instead of being “frustrated with being frustrated,” he took action and got help. Sometimes, you’re stuck in a rut. You’re not sure what to do. You’re overwhelmed with information. Instead of doing nothing (which is far too common), he got proactive and got a plan customized to his particular needs.


A big thanks to Joe for sharing his experience and success. Congratulations on a helluva marathon PR – I know there are many more to come.

Give Joe some love in the comments – I’m sure he’d appreciate it! 

If you’re interested in seeing what a custom training plan can do for you – learn more about the PR Race Plan here.

And if you have any questions about Joe’s story, leave them on this article and I’ll see if I can get him to answer for you!

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  1. I would be interested in knowing about Joe’s initial marathon training. Did he follow a certain plan while training for his first marathon?

    • Hi Hannah,

      I followed Jeff Galloway’s “just finish” beginner plan. I listened to some podcasts featuring Galloway, too, and he harped on the “just finish” thing so much that I ended up giving myself permission to do the bare minimum. I have to say that in retrospect, I acted like Peter from Office Space: the plan and the psychology surrounding it didn’t provide enough challenge to be motivating, so I just sorta spaced out. This doesn’t imply that “just finish” isn’t a proper goal for a beginner’s marathon, of course, but there’s a line between “work hard, do your best, and don’t worry about what your finishing time ends up being,” and “do just enough to make it across the finish line with a pulse…and by the way, have fun walking that evening.” And I crossed it. That was my fault, though, not Jeff Galloway’s.

      But, that’s one reason why I love running: it’s a microcosm of and a metaphor for life. The trick is, we have to be sure we’re the ones writing the metaphor.

  2. Jason Novack says:

    That is a good story, but a 5:11 marathon while doing around 40 miles per week is leaving nothing but room to improve. Sounds like he really didnt train for the 5:11 very well at all.

  3. Hey Joe. Congrats. I find myself in a similar situation at times, just getting started learning about all the training options and craziness out there, sorting it all out. Your story offers inspiration and hope to the just-getting-started like me. Thanks.
    Rainy Atherton.

  4. Great story and hats off the Joe. He deserves that drink in the photo. Consistency is so hard to achieve, I love your theme about 2013 being the year of consistency. Really wonderful story, thanks for sharing.


  5. world_runner says:

    Wow! That is impressive. Well done Joe!

    Jason, I am slowly considering a PR plan but, I am curious about 2 things:
    1 – You often talk about injury prevention and incorporating injury prevention exercises into a training plan. I totally agree with that but how do you determine which exercises are the best? I guess what I am trying to say in a very nice way 🙂 is what qualifies you to diagnose injuries and then prescribe specific injury prevention exercises when your coaching is done with very little face to face contact.

    2 – I am training right now for a marathon in Feb (my goal is 3:30) so I know that a regular marathon training plan from you might not work well at this point in my training. But i am really interested in just becoming stronger and faster, more consistently on a year-round basis and not just when I am marathon training. I run year-round but when I am not marathon training that running can be a bit unfocused. So which one of your plans would you suggest?

    Thanks! And well done again to Joe.

    • 1 – There are specific exercises that help specific injuries. If you have ITBS, for example, I know how to treat that from a coaching perspective.

      2 – Year-round, non-race specific training is best served by my 1-on-1 coaching program so we can focus on very long-term goals.

  6. Congrats Joe on such an OUTSTANDING improvement!!

  7. The only thing better than beating a PR, is absolutely obliterating it! Nice work, Joe!

  8. Shelly Browne says:

    Joe –

    Thanks for sharing your story. Very inspiring. Great job on that PR!

    — Shelly

  9. I recently finished my first marathon with a similar mojo to Joe’s (training was minimal; goal = “just finish and still love running…no matter how slow you must go.”)

    Definitely considering your PR Race Plan as I’m anxious to do another marathon in November.

    Thank you!