It's official. I'm a two-time marathoner. For someone who spent a long time saying I had no desire to run even one marathon, this is a big deal. Heck, this is a big deal for anyone. Less than 1% of the population will ever run a marathon at all.
This training cycle was pretty different from the last. When I trained for Pittsburgh in 2016, I was new to the 26.2 mile distance so my goal was simply to finish. I chose a training plan, stuck with it as much as I could, and ran the race. I also raised over $2000 for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. It was a truly amazing experience, and definitely convinced me I *could* run another marathon if I wanted to.
After Pittsburgh, I decided to run the Erie Marathon that September. Spoiler: I didn't run the Erie Marathon. I didn't run a marathon at all that fall. The summer was really busy personally and professionally, I moved, and my training just never came together. I knew by about mid-July that the Erie Marathon wasn't going to happen. I didn't beat myself up about it, and just focused on my other fall races (which included 3 half marathons in 3 weeks in October, all of which I NAILED).
After battling shingles in December/January, getting back into running was tough (seriously, who gets shingles when they are 31?! #autoimmuneproblems). The middle of winter is not a good time to start going outside again. I slowly got back into things, ran the half in Pittsburgh, and generally took it easy running-wise for the first half of 2017. In June, I decided to choose a fall marathon and try again. I wanted something in September or October (ahead of a trip to Walt Disney World in November!) and within driving distance (to keep costs down, but also in case any family/friends wanted to come along as well).
I had run on a relay team at the Akron Marathon a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It was a well-supported race, and the swag is nice. With Ohio also being the state I was born in, I thought it might be cool to run a marathon there. So once again I added a training schedule to my calendar and got back into a routine.
1. My routine. I was mostly able to stick with it, usually hitting my goal of at least 3 runs per week - the weekend long run being one, the mid-week long run being another, and then a third and sometimes fourth shorter run throughout the week.
2. My nutrition. I've been using this AMAZING nutrition for over a year now, and it's been such a game changer for me. Consistently eating high-quality, nutrition dense shakes (that tastes DELICIOUS) has been so helpful in maintaining a healthy nutrition plan.
3. Hill repeats. In the past, most of my training runs were generally the same. Sure, some of the shorter runs might have been faster than my long runs, but I wouldn't call them speed workouts. I don't have a track that's super convenient to get to (not as convenient as my neighborhood or the park, anyway). I tried to always incorporate hills in to my workouts (let's be honest, it's kind of hard not to in Pittsburgh), but never really had any intentionality behind any of this. I decided to start somewhere and started doing hill repeats. I picked a big hill at Graham Park and told myself I'd do one workout per week where all I do is run up and down the hill. If it ever got easy, I'd find a bigger hill (ha! Like that will ever happen.). I never felt like the hill got easier, but I definitely felt like I was getting stronger. This certainly came in handy when I encountered the hill-that-never-freaking-ends shortly after the half split of the marathon course.
4. Informed-Sport Certified Performance products. Shoutout to my amazing nutrition company again! I don't know why I waited so long to use the performance line. The pre-workout is the only one I've ever tried that actually works, but doesn't make my skin crawl. Really. No twitchy feeling. Like the pre-workout, the post-workout recovery drink tastes delicious and is a refreshing complement to my post-workout protein shake. Before mid-week and weekend long runs, I also used a nitric oxide supplement to help increase blood flow. This helped me push harder with less effort.
5. Strength training. Until this summer, I'd never belonged to a gym (other than my university rec center). Most of that was due to cost - most of the gyms near my house are phenomenal but expensive. Heck, even the YMCA is $60 a month! Knowing I would still want to do the majority of my running outside, the expense of a gym membership never seemed worth it. Planet Fitness opened in Cranberry over the summer and at $10 a month, it provides exactly what I'm looking for! I have access to strength training equipment, classes, and cardio machines for a great price. I knew that even if I only went once a month, it would still be cheaper than many of the popular fitness classes out there (not knocking them, I just can't afford it lol). I set a goal to go and strength train at least 2 days per week throughout the duration of my marathon cycle. Most weeks, I made it! Some days I would do the 30-minute express workout circuit, and other days I'd pick and choose which machines I wanted to use. After weeks of watching others use the assisted pull-up/tricep dip machine, I finally tried it myself. I've always wanted to be able to do a pull-up, but that's a really hard move to work your way up to, so having the assist of the weights really helps. This made a HUGE difference in my running. I could literally see my muscles getting stronger and it was playing out on the road as well.
6. The people of Akron. The weather on race day was HOT (more on that below) and the people of Akron really stepped up and showed up for us runners. The Blue Line Block Parties that were scattered on the course were so encouraging and kind, and they provided critical aid and refreshments. People put out spreads of watermelon, orange slices, pickles, pretzels, water, gatorade, beer, margaritas, popsicles, snow cones, and more. There was a cooler at one block party marked "Free Beer! And Free Ice!" and you better believe I grabbed as much ice as I could carry. People set up their sprinklers and sprayed runners with their hoses. They shouted words of encouraged, held up funny signs, and really SHOWED UP. The official aid stations were well-supported - everyone was always ready for every runner. Fellow runners supported one another and made conversation to help pass the time and distract from the relentless heat. People made sure those that needed medical attention got it. The police and fire departments manned every intersection, keeping traffic moving when they could and keeping every runner safe on the roads, all in the blazing sun wearing dark uniforms (and DAMN if there aren't some attractive officers in Akron). I cannot say enough great things about the people of Akron, and the Akron Marathon. Definitely a race to add to your wishlist.
What Didn't Work?
1. The damn weather. If I'd wanted to run a race in the summer heat, I would have signed up for one in July. It was unseasonably hot on race day, like hot even my summer standards hot. The Akron Marathon issued a weather advisory earlier in the week and encouraged people to slow their pace. Not exactly what you want to see when you're gunning for a HUGE PR, but you can't control the weather.
2. Shoe issues during training. I tried a few different shoes throughout my training and I struggled to adjust to the wider toe box of a pair of Sauconys. I'm super appreciative of Dave and his awesome team at Pro Bike & Run - East End for helping me choose the right shoes and make adjustments as necessary. The team there is so knowledgable and I always felt like they had my best interests in mind - it wasn't just about making a sale.
What Happens Next?
As my training progressed and my paces stayed consistent, it became increasingly clear that a sub-5 marathon, which had always seemed like a pipe dream, was not only within reach, but was realistic. The weather dictated otherwise - I had no choice but to slow down and I knew in the days leading up to race day that the Akron Marathon was unlikely to be the place I broke 5 hours. I struggled with this idea (because it SUCKED, and still does) and tried to adjust my plan. Knowing Sub-5 wasn't realistic (or safe in that heat, really), I set my sights on at least hitting a new PR (anything under 5:28). And I DID IT! I ran the Akron Marathon in 5:25:03. Not the time I had hoped for, but a new PR and a hard-won victory and definitely something to celebrate!
When I knew that Sub-5 wasn't going to happen, I actually started contemplating finding another fall marathon to try again and hope for better weather. I'm still kind of undecided on that, but leaning towards not trying to do that and just looking ahead to spring races! But who knows? :-P
I'm hoping to hit the gym to strength train at least 3 days per week in this interim time (when I'm not on a training plan). Back to working on those pull-ups and building my overall strength! I'm hoping to make decisions about spring races in the coming weeks so I can get a training plan back on my schedule - I work much better when I've got a routine than when I'm just out there running however many miles I want.
I also really want to spectate a race sometime soon. Spectators really make all the difference in the world and I want to help someone else in that way.
Sub-5, you're on notice. I'm still coming for you!
What About You????
What are your goals this fall? Do you have more questions about my training, or my nutrition, or have suggestions? Want to know more about the performance products I use? Not only are they the best, they're cheaper than most of the stuff I see out there. Anything else you'd like to say? Tell me in the comments!