Running a marathon is a challenging feat, so making the decision to try to improve your marathon finish time takes a great deal of courage.
When you train to run a faster marathon, you are choosing to embrace the idea of failure while taking a chance on your dreams.
No matter how many attempts it may take, improving your marathon PR is a feeling of pure joy. Experiencing the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes from improving your marathon time is well worth the challenges along the way.
These 11 strategies will help you quickly improve your marathon finish time, so you can shave time off that PR and run a faster marathon before you know it!
11 Strategies to Improve Your Marathon Finish Time
Mix up your speed workouts.
Most runners understand the importance of running faster during training in order to improve their PR. So once you’ve finished a marathon, the next natural step to improve your finish time would be to incorporate speed workouts in your training.
However, completing the right type of focused speedwork (rather than just any speed workout) is key to success for running a faster marathon.
Even though marathon training involves quite a few miles each week, it can often feel like there are very few miles leftover for speed workouts.
Make the most of these miles by mixing up your speed workouts. Rather than sticking to the same workout every week, vary things up.
Mix things up each week, and aim to your fastest paces on the shortest intervals. Include a recovery after each interval, and focus on quickly picking up your speed at the start of each interval.
When the going gets tough, focus on the mile you are in. Forget about the upcoming intervals and the rest of your run, and focus on pumping your arms and increasing your turnover to keep your body moving at your goal pace.
Slow down your easy runs.
One of the biggest mistakes long distance runners make is running too fast, too often. Without even realizing it, we often settle into a comfortable pace that feels not-so-challenging, and complete every mile at this pace.
Before we know it, we are pushing our body too hard, all the time.
Even when training to run faster and improve your marathon finish time, it’s important to slow things down more often than not. The majority of your long runs and easy runs should be completed at a pace that is significantly slower than your goal pace.
Slow down those easy miles and allow your body some time to recover. Trying to run a bit faster just to squeeze in more speed training will likely lead to both mental and physical burnout before race day even arrives.
Be intentional about slowing things down on the easy days, that way you have all of your strength to focus on speed during hard workouts and race pace miles.
Fuel your training properly.
After successfully finishing a marathon (or many), it is tempting to stick with the tried and true methods. Fueling with sugar-packed snacks and empty calories may have gotten you to the finish line before, but if you’re hoping to improve your finish time, you’ll likely need to make a few changes to your fueling strategy.
Running a faster marathon takes work – there’s no doubt about it. So since your body is going to be working even harder than before, it’s important to fill your tank with nutritious foods that will keep you fueled up throughout the many weeks of training.
Evaluate your fueling strategy and overall diet to determine what you could improve. This might involve making a point to refuel immediately after a run, swap the mid-afternoon cookie with a more nutrient-dense snack, or complete a drastic overhaul of your diet.
If you expect your body to make changes in what you are getting out of it, you’re going to need to make changes to what you are putting in to it as well.
Have a purpose for every run.
Marathon training is all about the long runs and fitting in plenty of mileage, but that’s not to say it’s impossible to go overboard.
Junk miles can be found in many training plans, especially distance running plans – and can really slow you down. To avoid running “just because”, make sure every run on your training plan has a purpose and a plan. Is this a tempo run, interval workout, race pace workout, easy run or long run?
Giving each run a purpose will not only help you better understand your goals, but it will help avoid junk miles and overtraining.
If you find yourself running 6 days a week with four easy run days, it might be time to cut back on your mileage and instead focus on running less, but with more purpose.
Maintain strength and cross training.
In order to improve your marathon finish time, you’re going to have to improve your strength and fitness. And in order to improve your strength, you’ll have to spend some dedicated time strength training and cross training each week.
While completing every single run on a training plan is certainly an accomplishment, running without the addition of supplemental training often leads to injuries from overuse.
To avoid this, especially as your mileage increases, it’s important to schedule in regular cross and strength training workouts. Mixing things up each week helps maintain cardiovascular fitness all while working different muscles and strengthening those used on the run.
Dedicate at least one day each week to a cross training workout, and complete strength training either on its own as a single workout or in little portions throughout the week before or after your runs.
While it may feel like a drag to add these extras on to an already packed training schedule, your body will certainly benefit from it on race day.
Practice active recovery.
Training to run a faster marathon involves a great deal of physical and mental effort each week. As your mileage increases, your body and brain will both begin to fatigue from the exhaustive work.
Incorporating regular rest and active recovery days is crucial if you want to improve your marathon finish time. Allowing time for your body to recover each week is not only important, but it is necessary.
Many runners view rest and recovery days as “wasted” training days, feeling as if they could be more productive by squeezing in a few extra miles. But on the contrary – these recovery days are just as important as those speed workouts and long runs are when training to run a faster marathon.
Include race pace miles.
A great way to boost your confidence and fitness for race day is to include race pace miles in the middle of long runs or easy runs.
These race pace miles should be completed at or slightly faster than your goal pace. Throw them in to regular runs, just a few miles at a time, to see how your body adapts to this pace. Not only will these faster miles help your body prepare to run a faster marathon, but they’ll provide a great confidence boost as well.
When thrown in during training, these race pace miles often feel slower than runners originally imagine. After weeks of fast-paced intervals and tempo runs, the slower race pace feels like a much easier workout.
Try adding 2-3 race pace miles to the middle of your next long run and see how they feel.
Run different routes and terrains.
Runners are routine focused people, which can sometimes work against us. While maintaining consistency during training is certainly beneficial, our routines often make easy to fall into the trap of monotony.
When training to improve your marathon finish time, it’s important to mix things up regularly. Spend time exploring different areas and treating your legs to a variety of different terrains.
Try some speed workouts in your neighborhoods, on the track and on a treadmill. Hit up some local trails for a few easy runs to get a break from the pounding on concrete, while simultaneously utilizing various different stabilizing muscles.
Running on a variety of different terrains helps keep your muscles fresh, avoid imbalances and help reduce the overall pounding on your joints. Mixing things up will help you stay strong and prepared to run a faster marathon PR.
Improve your mental strength.
Many runners fail to run a faster marathon because they simply never try, or actually believe that they can do it.
Running a marathon, no matter the pace, is challenging enough as it is. By the time you cross that finish line, your body is likely experiencing exhaustion of an entirely different level.
But no matter how difficult the journey of a marathon may be, it’s important to believe in yourself. Don’t sell yourself short just because you simply don’t want to fail.
Training to improve your marathon finish time takes guts. It takes courage and bravery, which are sometimes difficult to come by.
Continue to challenge yourself, and never fear failure. Put in the mental training each week by conquering speed workouts that may sound impossible before you begin. Find a mantra, remind yourself why you are doing this, and dare to dream about what it might feel like to succeed.
Come up with a race day strategy.
If you want to get a faster marathon PR, most of the work to do so will be completed during training in the weeks prior to the actual race. By the time you arrive at the starting line, there will be no more opportunities to squeeze in any more miles or workouts.
However, that doesn’t mean your journey is over. What you do on race day can make or break your ability to improve your marathon finish time – regardless of what happened during training.
Failing to prepare for the actual race essentially means you are preparing to fail.
Take time to think through all of the logistics of race day and create a plan. Decide on a fueling strategy, whether or not you will walk, how you will stay hydrated, what happens in case of a bathroom emergency, and what you will do when you hit the wall (which is nearly inevitable).
Run with a pacer or pace chart.
No matter how thoroughly you have trained, improving your marathon finish time involves a great deal of hard work during the actual race. You’ll need to maintain a pace that is likely fairly challenging for a significant amount of miles – more miles than you have run during any training run.
A great trick to help keep yourself going through these miles is to create some sort of pacing strategy to use on race day.
Many larger races have pacers set up in the start corrals who are hired to complete the race in a certain amount of time.
Running behind a pacer for your goal time will help you stay accountable and aware of your goal throughout the entire race. In addition, groups often form behind these pacers which may provide some extra distraction and encouragement when you need it most.
If you can’t or don’t want to run with a pacer, find yourself a pace chart or write down splits to use throughout the race. Knowing exactly how long it should take to arrive at various mile markers along the course will help you adjust your pace to stay on track with your goal.
No matter how many attempts it takes, continue to work hard and never give up. Training to run a faster marathon takes a great deal of courage, perseverance and commitment.
There is no secret to improving your marathon finish time – you just have to put in the work. But when you do, the reward is well worth the challenges and struggles you may have experienced along the way.
More tips to run a faster marathon:
- 6 Essential Marathon Training Speed Workouts
- What to Know Before Training for a Marathon
- How to Train for a Marathon and Still Have a Life
- 6 Secrets to Running Faster: How to Increase Running Speed