Completing my 6th marathon this past weekend taught me so many things that I’d failed to learn already. This marathon brought many new fears and uncertainties as I trained to hit my first ever time goal in the marathon.
Sure, I’d trained for PRs before – but never for a full marathon. I’d learned time and time again that completing the distance in a marathon is enough of a challenge as it is, so why would I push myself to complete it in a certain amount of time?
I spent 5 years running marathons simply with the goal of completing the distance. I loved the grueling long runs, time consuming training, and feeling of accomplishment at the finish.
This time, however, was different.
I unintentionally set a PR at my very first marathon in 2013, and had yet to complete the distance faster than at that first race. As I began training for this past marathon, I decided that I wanted to beat this PR.
Related: 10 Steps to Achieve Any Running Goal
As training progressed, I continued to surprise myself each week with the completion of workouts that I expected to feel hard and paces that I thought impossible. I learned more and more each week, and began to feel a shimmer of hope in the fact that I just might be able to achieve this time goal.
But do you know what I learned that most surprised me?
I can do hard things.
Each week, I surprised myself with my capabilities. As an unfailingly slow and steady runner, I always assumed that the pace I settled into for each easy run was my peak. And I was okay with this – loving running for the accomplishment of distance rather than speed.
With each passing week, I was reminded time and time again that sometimes feeling uncomfortable is okay. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and discovered that I could in fact get used to this feeling of discomfort… and even learn to be okay with it.
Race day neared, my nerves and excitement were at an all-time high, and I set out to beat my PR – and did it.
And you know what? It wasn’t even hard.
Sure, it was hard in a “this is uncomfortable and I really want to take a break” kind of way, but it wasn’t hard in a way that felt like I was pushing too much or doing anything stupid.
I learned a lot throughout these past few weeks about what I’m actually capable of accomplishing, and how to make it a reality.
Whether you’re training for your first 5k or for a new marathon PR, try some of these 7 training strategies to achieve your next race goal.
7 Training Strategies to Achieve Your Race Goal
I can’t say this enough. I truly believe this was the key to achieving my time goal at the marathon. Prior to this past training cycle, I ran each run at what I considered an “easy” pace. This past training cycle, I slowed my easy pace down by nearly a minute per mile.
Every single easy run (about 3 runs each week) was completed at this slow, steady pace. Once a week I focused on speed work and increased my speed by nearly 3 minutes per mile during each interval or tempo mile.
As time progressed, I realized that I wasn’t running any runs at my goal race pace – but that’s okay. Running slower during the easy runs allowed my body time to recover, restore, and avoid any unnecessary damage that would hinder my performance on race day.
Interval training is like taking magic beans each week. Completing interval runs on a regular basis force your body to adapt to much faster speeds than you plan to run on race day, but for an amount of time that is still easily maintained.
Completing regular intervals instills confidence and power to your mind and legs. Knowing that you have run paces that are much faster on race day keeps you feeling strong and boosts your confidence.
Related: The Best 30 Minute Interval Run
Get used to being uncomfortable.
Without realizing it, I had someone convinced myself that running is supposed to be easy all the time and if it feels hard I am doing something wrong.
Can you imagine if we lived our entire lives thinking this?
As it turns out, aiming for a goal of any kind is hard – and if it’s not, you’re probably not pushing yourself far enough. With each interval workout and tempo mile I slowly began to realize that I actually was capable of maintaining those paces.
They were uncomfortable, yes – but not impossible. As I pushed myself more and more I realized that my threshold for discomfort continued to move further and further away. With each run I felt more confident leaving my comfort zone and eager to hit those paces that used to feel uncomfortable.
Running a marathon is never a comfortable feeling – regardless of whether you push yourself or run a slow, easy pace. I reminded myself of this throughout the race, telling myself that if I were to slow down I would still feel the same amount of pain.
Increase your cadence.
When trying to increase your speed during a race or training plan, one of the biggest strategies you can use to do so injury free is to increase your cadence. If you try to run faster without increasing your turnover, you’ll lengthen your stride and unknowingly set yourself up for injury.
When maintaining a certain speed starts to feel difficult, focus on shortening your stride and increasing your turnover.
Aim for a cadence of 180.
Evaluate the difference between your cadence at an easy pace and your cadence during speed work. If the number gets lower as you increase your pace, spend some time consciously increasing your cadence.
Related: How to Safely Increase Your Cadence
Practice positive self-talk.
It’s amazing what an important role our minds play in any sport – especially distance running. It’s no secret that running long distances involves a great deal of mental willpower and strength.
Just as completing long runs relies on your mental willpower, setting yourself up to successfully conquer a challenging goal involves even more mental strength.
Mental strength is more than just the ability to push through pain. This strength means believing in yourself. Practicing positive self talk during training, race week, and during the actual race may give you just the boost in confidence you need to go for it and accomplish that goal.
It’s an old saying but plays such a powerful role in accomplishing your goals: believe in yourself.
Make the majority of your runs easy.
Don’t wear yourself out! Training is meant to prepare your body for long distances on race day without breaking it down too much during training. The goal of any training plan is to strengthen your body and practice for race day without actually completing the distance or running at your goal pace.
Spend the majority of your time each week running at an easy, leisurely pace. Slow down your pace on long runs and spend your other mid week runs recovering. Designate one workout or tempo each week to really give it your all, and then slow it down the rest of the time.
The key to showing up on race day with energy and a healthy body is to treat it well during training. Don’t wear yourself up. Have a purpose for each run – and remember that sometimes that purpose is simply to recover.
Mix things up each week.
I used to always fall in the trap of heading out for a run while mindlessly running the same pace and distance, day in and day out. Each week my pace and distance didn’t change. I played it safe and avoided injury, but always wondered why I never was able to improve.
This training season was so different. And you know what?
The result was different too.
Varying your workouts each week challenges your body by never allowing it time to fully adapt to the different type of work. Spend time running intervals of various lengths, vary your recovery and warm ups, complete tempo runs, race pace miles, fartleks and hill runs. Run on the track, through your neighborhood and on the trails.
Providing your body with a variety of workouts will help it prepare for different types of strain. You’ll push your physical fitness to new levels with each different workout. Come race day, you’ll be ready for anything.
The biggest piece of advice I have: don’t be afraid.
You were meant for great things. Shoot for the stars and give it your all. You’ve got this!