Now that my 2011/2012 marathon season is complete, I wanted to look back and review my improvement over the past three years. Although I knew I improved, I didn’t realize how much of an improvement I actually made. The chart below is pretty self-explanatory. From the 2009/2010 season to the 2010/2011 season, my average marathon time improved by 10 minutes. From last season to this season, my average time improved by 13 minutes. I found this surprising considering I’m not getting any younger.
So what do I attribute the improvement to? Here are my top 5 things.
1. Training Smarter, Not Harder: When I was preparing for the 2009/2010 marathon season, I was running a lot of miles and running most days. I was probably averaging 50 to 60 miles a week, but most of it was junk miles. Because I ran most days, the quality of my speed work suffered. Now I only run 3 days a week, but each run has a specific purpose and I rarely run more than 40 miles a week.
2. Eat and Sleep Well: I’m convinced providing the body adequate nutrition and rest is just as important as the running. You will never achieve your peak running ability if your body is tired or isn’t provided the nutrients it needs for endurance activities. Also, you are highly susceptible to injury if you don’t give provide the body sufficient building blocks to rebuild itself.
3. Cross-Training: Strength training, cycling, yoga, walking, stretching are great supplements to running. I did all of these. On the days I don’t run, I try to do at least one hour of cross-training during my non-running days. This past marathon season I did a lot of cycling/spin bike which helped build complementary muscles as well as enhance aerobic capacity. Cross-training also provides a more holistic approach to fitness and reduces your chance of injury.
4. Race Weight: Everyone has their own ideal race weight. I’m about 10 lbs lighter than I was 3 years ago. Being lighter has certainly helped with my times, but there is a point of diminishing returns, so you’ll need to be cautious about not going too extreme in this area. I’ve pretty much settled into the 140 – 145 lbs range and plan to stay there. I may be able to run a little faster if I got into the 130s, but don’t think that would be a healthy weight for me.
5. Consistency: I’ve been fortunate to run three years without any significant injury. I’ve had minor aches and pains here and there, but nothing that has sidelined me more than a few days. I honestly believe becoming more of a mid-foot runner has helped immensely in avoiding chronic running injuries. This consistency in running without a long layoff certainly helps you improve your times. However, I have realized that results don’t come overnight, but they will come as long as you continue to plug away.
I am not expecting to see any substantial improvements next marathon season, but I do expect to improve. As I get older, I’m certain faster times will be harder to come by, but I still think I have a few years to go before I plateau. But regardless of improvements, I’ll still be happy to just be able to get out there finish a marathon.