Running slower to run faster ….

Posted: November 30, 2011 in Training
Tags: , , , ,

In 139 days I will be standing on East Main Street in Hopkinton, MA ready for the 116th running of the Boston Marathon.  This will be my seventh marathon and second Boston. 

And for the seventh time in seven attempts, I will be training differently for this race than I have for every other marathon to this point.  My goal for this race is simple.  I want to PR.


Running a 3 hour time would be tremendous.

A sub 3:05:00?  Wow.

But really, the thing that I want to do more than anything is to come through the chute in Boston and erase the memories of my race in 2010.  I have never finished a marathon feeling more beaten by the distance than I did on April 16th of that year.  The course started to test me just past the half-way point as we entered Newton, MA and I did not have a single answer for the marathon that day.

Each mile to the finish was a battle for me.  Every hill no matter how slight felt like a mountain.  Even the downhill finish provided me no relief as I slogged my way to a time of 3:22:42.  At that point it was my 2ndfastest time in the marathon, but it left me bruised and beaten physically, mentally and emotionally.

Crushing Defeat in Boston

I vowed that I would train harder, harden my body, get stronger, and run faster.

591 days have passed since that race and I have thought about it at least one time each and every day.

I have indeed learned how to train harder and smarter, transitioned to the triathlon to give my body two more forms of exercise in cycling and swimming, and I have been able to stay relatively healthy.

I have set PR’s in every distance since 2010 from the mile to the marathon and set some of them multiple times.

But this year I want to set one final PR in the marathon and I want to do it at the sight of my greatest disappointment in this crazy sport of ours.

As I have reflected back on my race in New York earlier this month through 19 miles I ran the Marathon about as perfect as I could expect to ever run a race.  Mile after mile, split after split, hill after hill I kept the needle steady and ticked off consistent 3 hour pace marathon splits.

It was only as the course reached the Willis Avenue Bridge at mile 20 did my legs start to falter and the final hills took their bites out of me over the final 10 kilometers.  3:08:09 was a fantastic effort and an overall pace of 7:11 was a full :15 seconds per mile faster than my previous Marathon Best.

Hard to be disappointed in those results, in fact I am very proud of my performance.

But to be able to claim victory on Boylston Street this April I will have to be even better.  Better trained, better prepared, stronger and once again the “F” word – faster.

To do so I have spent a lot of time thinking about my approach to marathon training and will make a few tweaks to my workouts – especially my hill workouts tailored specifically for the point to point course in Boston.

But the one change that I am going to make which I feel will give me the most bang for my buck is to start running slower in order to run faster.

I know this sounds counterintuitive, but after looking closely at my splits from New York and some of my longer training runs (18-22 miles) – I have come to realize that top-end speed is not my nemesis when it comes to my particular goals for the marathon.

An 18:12 5K, 37:30 10K, 1:03:47 10 Mile and 1:23:55 Half-Marathon are all times that stack up very well for a serious attempt at a sub-3 hour marathon.  Certainly a 3:05:00.

What I need to do is make sure that my endurance is where it needs to be to be able to hold my target pace over the final stages of the marathon, specifically the final 4 miles after we leave the Boston College Campus in Chestnut Hill, MA and we push to the finish.

One of the “training mistakes” I believe I have made in the past is running my “easy” days and “recovery” runs too fast.

By not slowing things down on those days I have not spent as much time logging miles “on my feet” as they say and that has shortchanged me when it comes to my endurance training.

It also has made it more difficult for me to run even harder on my “hard” days.

For example, this morning’s 10-mile run at Recovery Pace was executed at 8:06 pace – taking me just over an hour and 21 minutes.

The same workout, if I had run it at 7:35 pace, which is still “an easy” run for me would have forced me to push a bit harder and not gotten as much of my “recovery” from Monday’s workout (8.3/6:56 pace) as I needed.

I also would have run a little bit more than 5 minutes “less” on Tuesday morning – which over the course of a marathon training cycle can quickly add up to a couple of hours of “less running” – shortchanging my endurance training.

One final product of “running slower to run faster” is that it will force me to stay patient.  To be quite honest, running “slower” is kind of hard.  It takes concentration and restraint to stay within yourself and not allow your legs to speed up just because it “feels good.”

This same restraint and patience is exactly what I will need on Patriot’s Day in Boston over the opening 14 miles to Newton.  Every :05 too fast I am on the front of the course is going to cost me :20 seconds on the back half, possibly more over the final 4 miles which have proven to be my “trouble-spot” in the marathon.

So these next 20-weeks or so I will be slowing things down on my recovery and easy days so that I can run faster on April 16th.

I’m working on being more patient.  It’s not happening fast enough …

  1. Great post. I’m in my first marathon training cycle (May 12th is my target first Mary) and I can already notice this mistake. A 5 mile run that I plan for 8 min miles always ends up with me running the last 2-3 at 7 min pace. Really tough to slow down but it was nice to read this and see that there is a benefit to slowing down

    • joerunfordom says:

      Sean – Congratulations on your first marathon this May! Enjoy this training cycle, the first one really is special with a lot of “breakthrough” workouts. You’ll be running further and further, faster and faster and really feel your training change you as a runner. Just stick to the plan and you’ll be more than ready on race day. Take those rest days and easy days serious – they are as important if not more so than any of your “hard days” …. speaking from experience on that one, but as you probably read, I’m still learning ALL the time with this sport of ours. I think if I ever get it all figured out, I’ll be so old I’ll be sure to win my age group …. best to you Sean!

  2. Luau says:

    Although nowhere near the speedster you are (or I was just a year ago), I am going to remember this post as I train for Sugarloaf in May. I missed getting into Boston this year by 33 seconds, and now have to take another 4+ minutes off of my PR to qualify for 2013. Slower to go faster…that may well be my mantra this winter. I may be cursing you as my fingers and toes freeze, but it is good advice nonetheless.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Matt – I have NO DOUBT that you are going to take those 4 minutes off and then some in May. That is a great marathon course, you are going to train your booty off this winter and crush it. But yes, it is a little colder running slower 🙂

  3. mpsfamily says:

    Great post. Doing those recovery runs slower gets a lot easier when you get older. 🙂 My body needs those 10 min mile days. 2010 was my first Boston and I finished about two minutes behind you. 2012 will be my second and I’m hoping to PR there again. Won’t even dream of 3:00, but 3:15 would be pretty cool

    • joerunfordom says:

      Very excited for you to be headed back to Boston this spring. We should try for maybe a meet-up? I’m sure we’ll be getting a pretty big daily-mile group together post-race – just drop me a note and let me know. Best to you chasing that 3:15 this year, I think with the knowledge you gained in 2010, you’ve got a better than great shot at it! Happy trails and best to you with your training.

  4. I think your plan is spot on. My training this past summer was at a far slower speed, but quite a bit more miles, than past years, and resulted in an 8-minute PR (plus, frankly, gains at all other race distances as well). Honestly, as I’ve watched your training on the DM, I’ve more than once seen one of your workouts and thought “too fast, Joe”.
    Now, I need to be careful to practice what I preach, as I find my own tendency of late is to be in the 7:20’s instead of 7:40’s. Thanks for the reminder.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Greg, that was one of the most impressive parts of your Towpath Marathon (sub 3 and overall win) – was your discipline on your easy days and your hard effort on your hard days. I’m going to practice what I preach this go-round and really work “hard” on all my workouts – sometimes working hard is going to mean slowing way down. It really only has to come together for one 3 hour period of time over 20 weeks … I’m going to try to remember that. Best to you Greg!

  5. Jodi H says:

    The is such a good post and a great thing to remember. Every single time you post that picture of you and Dawn from Boston I can’t help but become emotional from the obvious disappointment in your eyes in that picture. The way Dawn is looking at you makes me tear up. It’s as if she is saying: “I understand, I really do, but I love you no matter what and you are my marathoner”. Best of luck with this new approach to your training!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Jodi – thanks for the message! I’m hoping to have a VERY different shot of Dawn and I at the finish in April this year – I usually don’t feel that a particular race is more “personal” than any other, but Boston for me certainly is. I’m going to train harder than ever and leave it all out there in April. Whatever happens is going to have to be good enough, because I’ll be living with it for a long time. Take good care Jodi!

  6. Carolyn says:

    I’m nowhere near your speed, but it is still so hard to go slower. I understand the importance of it, so I, too, am planning to be more mindful of it. Great post, thanks for the reminder!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Carolyn! So great to hear from you. The good part about this topic is I think it applies to every single one of us. If Ryan Hall can run “easy” on his easy days … I’m pretty sure I should be too 🙂 Take care!

  7. Jim in Maine says:

    Our mutual friend Bob has told me this also and I have seen it work for Barry L among others. I really do believe this is true Joe – and, as always, well stated by you. Thanks – and best of success.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jim! Hope you, Patti and the girls are all doing great and getting ready for the holidays. Yep, lots of great advice coming from that old sage Bob up in Riverhead. Barry L. saw some really impressive results as well. I’m all in with this Jim – I know I’ll still make some mistakes here and there and run some workouts “fast” because it just feels too good not to, but I’m going to make a conscious effort to really “save it for the hard days” – as there will be plenty of those during this training cycle.

      Take care! J

  8. traintotri says:

    Nice post. As runners who have worked hard to achieve faster paces, it can sometimes seem like a setback to train a minute or more per mile slower than what we might be able to do on a given day. But the marathon is just as much about endurance as it is speed. You have some good advice – the hard part is sticking with it!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Very spot on! I think we’ve got to just check that “ego” sometimes on the training route and remember that race day is race day, everything else is just preperation. Best to you, hope you are doing great!

  9. Stu A. says:

    I get the train slower to run faster ans try to do that myself.

    What I’m having trouble with is starting the race off too slow (60-90 seconds) than training in an effort to be ready for the finish. But it doesn’t work that way and I get frustrated.

    So, for me, there’s a balance between running too slow and just right.

    I’ll be following you in Boston. Train hard!


    • joerunfordom says:

      Stu – I’ll tell you, that was one thing that really worked for me in New York. Instead of just blasting away over the first two miles, I really just used them to settle in comfortably. Some of that was the Verrazzano bridge, some of it was the crowd, but a lot of people got caught up “racing” way too early. I just stayed smooth and decided I would run some easy early miles and then reel back in that “lost time” :05 seconds a mile at a time. The marathon is so long, having that extra energy and getting into a smooth rhythm instead of firing away at race pace from the start really helped me. I’m a believer. But it certainly isn’t easy. I’ve gone out too fast in every other marathon I’ve ever run. Shame on me.

  10. I will be there in Boston with you and I also have the goal of a PR since I so rarely get to race at sea level. This will be my first Boston and I want to beat my best of 3:40:21 run in 1993 before I took a long break from racing. Of course I’m almost 20 years older which has me all the more motivated. I’ve been working hard to make recovery run actually super slow, but it’s a challenge. It’s the long runs with some marathon pace miles mixed in that make me feel like I’m making the most gains – but those gains only happen if the easy runs are easy.

  11. Robin Brunet says:

    This is a fantastic post. i read early on in my training to run slow to run fast and I do that. I’ve been trying to convince a few people of this theory as well and this post hits the nail on the head. Happy training….good luck in Boston. I’ll be there as well, hoping to run a steady pace race!

  12. I don’t think i ever want to run a marathon! I prefer 5ks and 10ks.But recently i feel as if i don’t have enough energy to run at a 6:50 per mile for 3.1 miles.My PB at 5k is 20:34 i have been training three days a week for 8 months and i am 13 and a half.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s