It was my 5th Chicago and my 7th marathon. My training was better. My nutrition was better. I had cut weight. The weather was perfect.
I posted my very first negative-split race EVER and I PR’d by almost 4 minutes. Here’s what helped me.
This is a personal choice. I know several people whose training overlapped with mine. I ran longer long runs, but less weekly mileage. I averaged less than 30 miles per week for the 16 weeks that I trained. I ran exactly 2 days a week, and towards the end just 1 day; I did a speed workout and a long run, with the occasional 400s or 200s that were in the class WOD at CrossFit TILT. I didn’t run one single step for 8 days before the marathon. That’s it. I continued RXing CrossFit workouts until about 5 weeks before the race, then I modified heavily.
In the past, I have done high volume training, running 4 days a week. And I ended up injured. Crippling, chronic, plantar fasciitis and an IT band injury that left me limping for the last 10 miles of my first marathon. Those who know me, know I joke about #longrunsonly… and I trained that for my last two marathons and while I hit my “goal” of finishing under four hours, I wasn’t coming anywhere near PR’ing either. This cycle, I added speed runs back into my training. I had two races during my training; Falmouth and Reach the Beach. I was running faster and stronger than I had in years.
I had really dialed in my nutrition about 6 weeks before race day. I eat pretty well anyway, but I started weighing and measuring every meal. I allowed myself a few drinks a week and would go out to eat occasionally, just being mindful and logging everything into My Fitness Pal. I also used (and continue to use) intermittent fasting.
I read Chrissy Carroll’s book Eat to Peak after attending a networking dinner for endurance coaches back in August. I learned A LOT about fueling before and during long runs and races… something I honestly hadn’t paid that much attention to in the past. I would eat gels, chews, and blocks, sparingly throughout a race as I deemed necessary. I also have been known to eat cinnamon raisin bread mid-long-run. Whatever.
This time I ate a lot pre-race and we (my training partner Shonda and I) force fed ourselves every 30 minutes during the marathon. Every time I felt slightly sluggish, it was time to eat again and I got a burst of energy. Chrissy’s well-researched advice led me to run my first negative split race. EVER.
Now, Chrissy recommends doing this before beginning a training cycle but I didn’t. And I’m not sure I would do it differently. With the amount that I exercise, it’s really difficult for me to cut weight and keep it off without feeling as though I’m starving myself. I am not recommending this strategy to others, but I dropped almost 8% of my bodyweight in about 4 weeks. Thirty percent of that was muscle (according to the InBody scanner). I ran this same marathon 11lbs heavier in 2018 and it took me 10 minutes longer. I would’ve preferred to lose more fat and kept more muscle, but I cut quickly and this was the result.
The weather was 41 degrees at the start and 48 at the finish. It was sunny and windy, but since it’s a city race, we were protected from the wind for most of it. I have no control over this, but it absolutely helped my performance. I have been very lucky weather-wise in the course of my marathon running career.
Here are the half splits from my previous PR (Chicago 2015) versus my half splits from this year.
2015: 1:52:20; 2:00:22 Overall: 3:52:42
2019: 1:55:02; 1:53:54 Overall: 3:48:56
I’ve trained for 7 marathons in 6 years. I’ve coached athletes through half and full marathons. I’ve learned more each training cycle, for both myself and my athletes. As I said above, some of this is personal, but most of it is well-researched, proven to be effective advice. If you have any questions about training cycles or are thinking about signing up for your first race (5k, 10k, half, full) email me. I love this.