How I Got a BQ

This is a post that probably should have happened sometime in September when I actually ran my Boston Qualifying race. Apparently I was too tired physically and mentally to actually write a blog post for approximately the next 6 months after I qualified. I have about a month until I’m going to start gearing up for another season of hard training, and I’ve been reflecting a lot on what went well in training that caused me to PR by 16 minutes and get my first BQ.

Of course, there are a number of things that aligned for me that were out of my control: great race day weather, a body that cooperated and didn’t get injured, and generally good health throughout the whole training cycle. But let’s focus on the things I could control. Here is how I got a BQ.

Start with a Good Base

…but also feel rested and ready to work hard. I spent the spring before I started marathon training doing half marathons. The lower mileage gave my body rest, but the training kept me running 4-5 days a week including speed workouts. Before I started training for the marathon, I had PRed a couple times at the half marathon distance and felt ready to go longer.

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Jackson Hole Half

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Colorado Half

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Horsetooth Half

Choose Your Race Wisely

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a goal race. I wanted a fast course with a strong likelihood for good weather. I wanted a climate I was used to — high and dry with no humidity. And I wanted it to be a fall race so that I could do the bulk of my training in the summer when I’m not working. Enter: the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon. This race is a very fast downhill marathon with a huge potential to BQ. To me, it seemed a bit risky considering that the last downhill marathon I attempted was the Colorado Marathon and that did not go well. Which brings me to my next point…

Mimic the Race Course on Your Long Runs

One of the reasons I crashed and burned at the Colorado Marathon was that I was doing a lower mileage training plan so that after the first 17 very downhill miles, my legs were toast. By the time I got out of the Poudre Canyon, I was out of gas and basically shuffled through the last 9 miles. I knew that if I was going to have any success at Big Cottonwood, I would have to learn from my mistakes and get my legs used to the beating of a downhill course. Big Cottonwood is similar to Colorado in that you run the first 18 miles down a steep canyon, then exit the canyon and run the last 8 miles on a flat or rolling hill course in the heat of the sun. I would venture to guess that many BQ dreams are crushed in those last 8 miles.

I switched to a higher mileage training plan, and started scoping out long runs that would be similar to the race course. Since I live in Colorado, good canyons were not hard to find. These were the elevation profiles of some of my long runs.

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Downhill ending in Golden, Colorado (note the hills at the end)

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Allenspark to Lyons, Colorado

By the time I started my taper, I had completed three 20-mile runs and four very downhill long runs. I knew that I was prepared both physically and mentally for the demands of the course.

Compare my training runs to the actual marathon course:

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Elevation profile of the Big Cottonwood Marathon

Make Sure You Have Time To Train Hard

Fall marathons are my jam. That’s because I’m a teacher and I have the most time to dedicate to training in the summer. For me, spring marathons are for fun, fall marathons are for PRs. In addition to extra running time, I also have more time for strength training, proper stretching, and all the things it takes to train hard without getting injured. This past summer, my kids were in CARA track two mornings a week. Throw in two weekend runs, and I was doing at least 4 of my 5-6 runs outside in the heat. I knew my body would be ready for whatever Utah threw at me on race day. And while I can always get better at strength training, I was also doing a few different core workout DVDs like Pilates for Abs that I generally don’t have time for during the school year.

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Running in the heat makes you better at running in the heat and faster in cool weather.

Get Plenty of Sleep

The last key to my success is that I was getting plenty of sleep. Again, thanks to my more relaxed schedule in the summer, I probably get an hour more of sleep a night than during the school year. This gave my body more time to recover and be ready to hit the next workout. If you aren’t getting good sleep, you are at a greater risk for illness and injury. While most of us probably don’t have time to nap during the day like the elites do, we can at least make sure we are training during a time in our lives we can get a full night’s sleep.

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Recovery is a key component to every training cycle

*BONUS TIP* Practice Positive Self-Talk

I didn’t include this in my original post, but I am back to add it in because it is probably one of the most important things I did during this particular training cycle. I practiced constant positive self-talk and worked on replacing all negative thoughts with positive ones. In this Runner’s World podcast, Deena Kastor spoke about mastering the mental game which is so important in a marathon. Deena says, “Our thoughts become our emotions and our actions and our habits,” and “Now I’ve gotten to a place in my runs where that challenge is there, and I’ve got to dig down to the bottom of my heart to find that positive side to get me through it.”

I started doing that on every run, and had my mental game pretty fine tuned by the marathon. If I started getting down about the heat in training, I told myself that it was making me stronger for the marathon. When I got hot during the marathon, I told myself that this moment was the reason why I trained in the heat all summer, and I was ready for it. I answered every negative thought with a positive one, and I never felt defeated.

deena kastor

My next goal race is the Chicago Marathon in October. I’m going to try to repeat a lot of these things that made me successful last year as well as working to improve my strength and nutrition. Let’s see where these legs can take me!

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