Faster! Stronger! Tips from me to you.

(I am incredibly proud of myself for resisting the urge to add that's what she said to the title of this blog post)

Happy Monday, all.  Mondays are usually my training recap day, but there isn't much to recap this week.  After the Steamtown Marathon last Sunday, I took off on Monday and Tuesday and rested.  My quads were *killing* me in a way that they haven't killed in years.  I really felt the effects from those 10 miles of downhills, and I had the roughest recovery since my first marathon in 2004.  By Wednesday, and after using my stick roller in the hurts so good way, I was ready for a run.  I met my new running friend from the running club at the local track and we ran 3 miles. It was great.  Thursday I swam a mile in the pool, which felt incredible.  I have missed swimming ... even in the 25 yard pool.  Friday was another easy 3 mile run, followed by a Saturday rest day.  Sunday I ran a shorter long run of 8 miles.  Even though my BQ marathon is done, I am still training for the Philly marathon in about a month.  I'll pace my friend at her first marathon, and I am really thrilled to do that!  Honestly, helping and watching someone you care about reach her dreams is just as gratifying as reaching your own.  

Anyway ... training recap aside, I've gotten a few questions since my BQ about how I was able to cut nearly 15 minutes off my prior best marathon time.  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure.  I know part of it, for sure, has to do with the condition that I'm in after Ironman training.  But I really thought about the question, and I think there's more to it.  Here are some things I did differently this year (and that you can do too without having to train for an Ironman) that I think made a huge difference.  Some tips, if you will.  Who doesn't love tips?

1.  Focus on Form.

This one is absolutely number 1.  I focused on my form, and in particular, on my upper body.  I met some amazingly talented athletes in the past year, and especially at the ETA Coach Lake Placid training camp I attended.  I'm Facebook friends with my fellow camp-mates, and I noticed a common thread in their running photos: they all had a very similar upper body form.  Their shoulders were relaxed, their chest was open, and their arms were nice and low.  I made a point to think about this on my long runs, and I could feel a huge difference.  You can see it, too, I think.  

Here I am at the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon.  Notice how my shoulders are high and my arms are sort of crossed in front of me? 

Compare that with my form at Steamtown.  Shoulders are lower.  Arms are more to the side.  This form opened my chest, allowed me to conserve energy and was far more efficient.  This alone, I think, made the biggest difference in my race.  

2.  Consistent Speedwork.

You have to sweat and you have to get uncomfortable if you want to get faster.  There's no two ways around that.  I had always incorporated speedwork into my marathon training, but for Steamtown, I did it on a regular, weekly basis.  And the speedwork was really tough and took a good hour+.  I also made sure to do it at the track so I could focus on the speed vs. the distractions of having to navigate elevation and terrain changes or traffic.  Speedwork will absolutely make you faster.  Speedwork is absolutely hard work.  I always come off my speedwork workouts completely charged up.  

3.  Cross Training.

In my case, biking and swimming.  I've read, I've been told, and now I've experienced that becoming a stronger biker will make you a stronger runner (but sadly the opposite is not true - being a strong runner will not necessarily make you a strong biker - meh).   Granted, I spent hours and thousands of miles on the bike in the last year.  But all of that biking paid off: my legs have never been stronger.  Usually around mile 18-20 of the marathon my legs feel a little fatigued.  Not so at Steamtown.  I credit biking with that.  

I also think that swimming made a difference.  Swimming has made my core and my arms much stronger.  The great thing about swimming is you can do it as an "active recovery" after a hard workout like running.  So rather than a day off, you can still workout, but it won't tax the body.  I am a huge fan of swimming.   I am also a huge fan of swimming in Mirror Lake in Lake Placid.  Sigh ... gotta go back.  

4.  Hire a Coach.

OK, this should be number 1.  I recognize that working with a coach isn't necessarily feasible or realistic for a lot of people.  And frankly, had I not done Ironman, I wouldn't have worked with a coach.  But ... it works.  As much as I know my body and know running, I am and was woefully uneducated about the science of training.  I followed my workouts carefully (ok, maybe I stopped the aqua jogging) and was surprised at the lack of tempo runs or hard runs.  Most of my runs were at endurance pace - nice and easy.  Everything was carefully planned.  And I have never felt better - both in training and in running that marathon.  I now view working with my coach as an essential part of my training.  It's an investment in me, in what I love to do and a little insurance policy that I am training smart and won't hurt myself.  That's my coach below in the blue.  And I'm behind him on the ground.  See what swimming did to my shoulders? Now you see why I am such a fan.  


Yeah.  All caps have fun.  It is so easy to get into a rut of taking training really seriously, almost too seriously, and losing all the fun in the sport.  I run for sooooo many reasons, but one of them, and it's a biggie, is I love it and it's fun.  So on my training runs, I tried to focus on the fun ... the silly music that I listen to when I run, the pretty sights around me, how good it felt to run.  At the race, I still had fun, even though I had a goal and that goal required me to work hard.  So many people came out to cheer at that race, and I made sure to smile and laugh with them when I saw them.  There were moments of painful hard work, but when people were cheering for me, I returned their energy and smiled back.  It helps.  

There you go!  Tips from me to you on faster running -- it's like running therapy!

A little funny note to end on this fine Monday morning.  My friend Angie has two kids, ages 9 and 7.  She posted the following on my Facebook page:

The kids were watching a nature show about cheetahs that said that humans have better stamina and are surprisingly well suited for running. I heard, " Yeah, like Aunt Shanna," and then, " Right! No cheetah has ever been an Ironman!"

I love it!  And that's right - no cheetah has ever been an Ironman.  Take that cheetah.  Sidebar: the cheetah is without question my least favorite of the large cats. And even if it was, which it is not, I'm an Ironman and the cheetah is not.  

See you swoon,

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