Last year I tried to qualify for the Boston Marathon at the 2015 London Marathon. As a background, the Boston Marathon is the hardest to get in to because of its stringent qualifying time requirements. To some runners, me included, this is the holy grail of marathon running. Unfortunately, my time was not fast enough at 3:47 the first time I tried and so I vowed to try again. For my age group, I should finish an accredited race below 3 hours and 40 minutes. To qualify for the 2017 race, I should finish that race between September 2015 to September 2016. But meeting the minimum required time does not guarantee entry since they register those with faster times first. So it’s better to have a buffer so you are assured of entry. The record now for cut off is between 1:30-1:40 minutes faster than required time. I wanted to finish at 3 hours 35 minutes to guarantee my slot.
I signed up for the Tokyo Marathon again and luckily got in. I also decided that this would be my next shot at doing a Boston Qualifier (BQ). This time I wanted to do things right and be 100% ready. So I would like to share some of the things that helped me with my training.
Have a program that you are absolutely comfortable with.
You will commit at least 12 weeks of your time training for a marathon so you should make sure that you are fully subscribed to your program and understand what it entails.
I am such a creature of habit that it is easy for me to weave a program into my everyday schedule. I like having a framework to book end my days with so I can be free and spontaneous with everything else in between. This goes for training as well. My coach, Kevin Fule, made sure that I have the basic stuff covered- interval, tempo, VO2max and long run. In between I added the other things that I was already doing which contributed to overall fitness- strength/Pilates training, yoga or swimming. It may seem like a lot but that’s around 5-8 hours per week max.
I am also a treadmill runner so I had to make sure that the program maximizes this. 70% of my training is on the treadmill and you really can train yourself to like it, believe me. This has allowed me to be a steady-paced runner and I think also aided in avoiding injury because of the controlled environment. The program I followed used Zones that were speed-based so it was perfect for treadmill running. So for instance, I know Zone 3 is 5:02-4:46 mins/km or between 12-12.5 speed on the treadmill.
Follow it to the letter.
Because I bought into the program, I followed it 100%. It’s the first time ever that I have done this. I was never into any strict training as a runner and only started following programs in the last two years. Previous ones I honestly did not get to follow to the letter for one reason or another. There is nothing like feeling really prepared for a race knowing that you trusted your coach, your program and did everything that you were supposed to do.
Of course it was a flexible program and it could be adjusted depending on weekly performance and how I was feeling physically but I didn’t want the mental overhead of adjusting so I just followed. My coach was able to view my activities via Garmin Connect (Funny side note, I am not into sports gadgets and all the tech stuff related to training so the coach had to teach me how to properly use my watch and tracking since he noticed that I seemed to just use it like a stopwatch. )
Go for smarter training and recovery.
Another interesting thing about the program I followed is that there was less concentration on mileage but more on varied, quality workouts that focused on increasing confidence to speed up. So a week had four run-specific days. Three out of the four included any of the following- run threshold, run hills, run tempo, run aerobic. The last run was always a weekend long run, longest of which is one 30 kilometer run.
Built into the program are recovery periods that were very helpful in ensuring that I was not overly exhausted or burned out from the training. Back to back runs were also done to ensure that I trained to run on tired legs. This was important since based on my previous races, I have a very strong first half but get significantly slower on the second half because I could not will my legs to run faster even if my cardio could still take it.
Speaking of recovery, one of the wonderful surprises was that immediately after the marathon, I could walk normally, even going down the stairs (which is the hardest to do after a long race). You can’t believe how this is such a feat for me after all those marathons where I could barely walk after. I credit this to stronger legs from following the program.
Overall it was not a physically draining program that left me feeling spent. I actually felt energized knowing that I could accomplish the workouts set for each week.
Prepare yourself mentally.
Very important learning for me and I think one of the most critical factors for this race’s training is incorporating mental practice into the program. This is something that we don’t normally plan for when we talk of race training. In my eight years of running I think this is the one thing that spelled the difference amongst all my race preparations.
For this I read two really good books recommended by my husband- The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford and 10-Minute Toughness by Jason Selk. These books talk about how an athlete can equip himself with tools for his mental tool kit. They speak of the daily practice of training and strengthening the mind so it can will the rest of the body to focus and perform the task at hand.
Key learning that I applied is that “mindfulness requires a returning to the moment we are in, and the breath is the most effective tool for doing this.” For the entire race I just recited to myself: “Strong, steady pace all the way. To do this, just use the breath. You are ready and you are in the best running form ever.” Every single time a negative thought crossed my mind, I replaced it with this statement. During the race I was not fixated with the thought of hitting 3:35 but just focused on keeping a steady breath and pace. Concentrating on the goal time unnecessarily stresses me out and this was not how I wanted to race.
I also was very aware of hitting my 5km splits. I did not rely on my watch for pace because for some reason it was displaying an erratic speed plus I heard that the course is supposedly longer than 42k. So I relied on the actual kilometer markers and checked my watch every 5km mark. Then I compared it to my target splits which I wore on my other wrist. This was simpler and kept me focused on just running and breathing versus constantly checking my watch.
This was the pace band that I used as a guide during the run. It was free to personalize and print at the expo.
I consciously followed my splits and accomplished all until KM 35. There were several uphill portions during the last 5KM so this could be one reason why I did not hit the last split.
Also, another helpful process I learned from these books is as follows:
- Decide what you want to accomplish and what it takes to get there.
- Choose to act on the physical and mental plans needed to accomplish your goals.
- One of two things happens—either you achieve your product goals(e.g goal time) or you make adjustment to your process goals (what it takes to get there).
Enjoy the process. Love the run.
Training is serious but it should never cease to be fun. It should work for you and not feel like a chore. You are committing time, energy, money into this so you should at least enjoy it, right? The world is full of stressful things and working on your passion shouldn’t be one of them. Don’t be too hard on yourself nor too strict with every single thing. For instance, I’m asked whether I have a special diet whenever I train. I don’t and I eat and drink anything and everything but always in moderation (although those who know me too well might disagree). I have a hearty appetite and equally appreciate the healthy and not-so-healthy.
I love eating clean and healthy, most of the time anyway.
But I also enjoy eating and drinking eveything else
In conclusion, the road to mastery and excellence is really a daily choice and practice. Nothing great comes out if you don’t show up every single day. But after all is said and done, always remember why you got started on this path in the first place. For me, I just love to run and everyday I feel blessed and privileged that I am able to do so. So on to the #RoadtoBoston!
Walking along the unusually quiet streets of Omotesando (this place is literally a sea of people during shopping hours) en route to race venue.
There were helpful volunteers every step of the way, ensuring that runners knew where to go.
Runners heading to their respective starting zones.
It was a beautiful day for a run. Over 30,000 runners from all over the world excitedly await at the starting line.
Happy to finish strong!
I got all teary eyed as I entered the building where the runners’ baggage were lined up. All the volunteers were clapping as they welcomed and thanked us. The volunteerism and organization of this race is something else, truly very Japanese.
“May all beings experience excellence and wisdom with grace and ease.”
Finished my best race ever. Thankful for this blessing and privilege, always.