How I Went from 3:57 to 3:37

I’ve been planning to write this post for a very long time.  Probably like the second I started training.  At the time, I thought I’d call it The time I actually trained and ran a marathon without wanting to murder myself!

And then after a few weeks, and some new-to-me workouts, I thought I might call it The time I trained, ran a marathon, and PR’d – by a lot!

And then, right around taper time, all high on surviving peak week and floating around with my big-ass head, I thought I’d call it The time I freaking figured out the marathon and made it my bitch, bitches! I know everything! Somebody pay me and bottle up this awesome!

I guess we’re not quite there yet, but I can at least shed some light on what got me from a 4-hour marathoner to a 3:37 marathoner in less than six months.

* obligatory disclaimer – this is what worked for me. it might not work for you. i’m not a coach or certified or any of that nonsense. i didn’t work with any of those people either. but maybe you’re my body twin and you’ll benefit from this. or if I get amnesia you can read it to me so I can run again *

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The “Get Freaking Fast” Plan – Summary

What I did right, and what I should prob do next time

  •  Solid Base – I didn’t go from “zero” to marathon training.  I was at about 20-25 miles per week, with a long run (10ish miles), and some decent strength and yoga training before starting “official” Ragnar/Eugene training
  • Mix it up – Keeping things exciting with different types of runs not only improved my physical abilities, but kept my head out of the gutter and staved off burnout.  I also learned what “recovery run” means, and actually ran slow enough to make them useful.  (like 30 seconds slower than “easy” pace for me
    • Typical week : Sunday off, Monday recovery, Tuesday speedwork, Wednesday easy, Thursday tempo/hills, Friday off, Saturday long run.

Thank you x10000, Coach FasterBunny

 – a few favorite workoutstrackless 800s via Garmin, roga’d tempohill repeats, Long ladder (track), first 20-miler, 800s (track) –

  • Injuries be damned – If something hurt, I rested/iced/stretched, AND tried to determine the source. Shoes need replacing? Bad form? Did I run too much in my Kinvaras this week? Find the issue and FIX IT. See a doc if you have to (I feel obligated to say this?)
    • I bought a Stick and religiously took it to my quads, calfs, and IT band. 10 times out of 10 there’d be some knotty shit in there that needs worked out, whether I knew it or not.  Love that little torture demon.

  • Fueling – This is something I never really realized I was crap at.  I consider myself a Grade A eater/drinker – no help needed there!  But it turns out I was putting in a lot of late long run miles pretty poorly hydrated.  The fuzzy brain, cramps, and post-run nausea were completely cured once I quit being too “proud” to stop and fill up my bottle during runs.  This has made a huge difference in my mental state at the end of long training runs, and if nothing else it’s worth it to not feel so suicidal on Saturday mornings.

Lemon lime to the salty sweater rescue

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So what do I need to do the next time around to make sure my precious goals (whatever they may be) don’t slip through my fingers again?

  • 14-16 weeks.  I went with 10 weeks this cycle because I was worried about burnout, which didn’t end up being an issue. With base training it ended up being around that anyway, so I def want a few more weeks of structured workouts.
  • Stretching/strength training/yoga.  I fell off the yogi wagon and would like to get back on.  The proactive stretching (rather than just when I’m tight) and added core strengthening is definitely a key to staying injury-free.
  • Sleep.  More!  And more consistently.  Probably less aided by bottles of red wine and excessive late-night carbs.

  • For Brooks to finally release some new fun colors of the Launch that match more of my favorite running outfits.

Right now I’m looking for a good summer marathon to piggyback onto this round of training, and hopefully lock down my BQ by the time registration opens in September.  But whether that happens or not, I’m excited to put all of this into place and give “Real Training v.2” a go for Long Beach in October.

Yeah, I said Long Beach.  Time for redemption.

Sarah OUaL


51 thoughts on “How I Went from 3:57 to 3:37

  1. I don’t have much to say, other than awesome job. You killed it and deserve to be beyond proud. You’re definitely going to BQ this year.
    What type of yoga did you do?


  2. “Good” summer marathons are few and far between because of the weather, but when you choose one, that’s the one you should train for and then set between-marathons plan for that and Long Beach. That way, you’ll peak for the summer race and maybe get a tiny bit better by Long Beach. Training for Long Beach and running the summer marathon hard during that cycle will give you less than optimal results for both. Just sayin’ …


    • Yes, I agree that back to back marathons are tricky. I have done a marathon about a month after the first marathon 3 times and I have had every result: improvement, literally the same, and much worse. I’d almost advise to look for one not too long from now and use the marathon as the last long training run otherwise if you wait too long you will impact your Long Beach results. This is of course dependent on how you feel right now.


  3. This is awesome! I’m so glad you posted about your running plan because I’ve been looking up how to drop some time off my runs and this is exactly what I needed to read from some one else! Thanks! and once again great job :)


  4. I just bought the Brooks Launch shoes – I’m having a really hard time with the whole matching thing! NOTHING GOES WITH THEM! But I love them nonetheless!


  5. Thanks for writing a “what I did” post. It saves me from having to send a lot of psycho emails begging you to fly to Ohio weekly to teach me how to run. Maybe my fall marathon won’t be at a snails pace. And I haven’t seen the Brooks Launch yet, but I run in the Dyads, and they look like my grandma’s walking shoe. Maybe we could write them a letter. (PS: I was a picnik fan too before its demise, I see your photo manipulation is still going strong. Did you find a decent replacement? Please share!)


  6. I usually don’t post! Just one thing one time about having a whole room for my unfolded laundry. Your journey has been super helpful and inspiring to watch! And the revelation that more consistent sleep is needed without the alcohol haze? Whoopsie :) I just had that realization too and am glad I’m not the only one, even though I love my vodka! You give me hope


  7. Could you tell us where you got “the stick”? I haven’t seen one that looks like that. Is it your foam roller? Thanks!


  8. You are so awesome! I’m so proud of you!!! Now, I’m going to channel Sarah OUAL for my second full. I will definately PR since my first was done in the depths of hell better known as San Antonio. The second will be in lovely cooler San Francisco… yes, I am aware of the hills.


  9. Can you bottle up your awesome and send it to me so I can drink it?? I’m a 3:58-er right now and running Chicago in October. You give me hope that a BQ isn’t too far from reach. Thank you for this, it’s exactly what I needed to stay motivated through this ridiculously hot Florida summer of training I’m about to attempt. You rock.


  10. I would like to say how much I love your blog!!!! I just found you from skinnyrunners blog and Your amazing!!!! Its the country girl in me who loves finding solace in another country girl!!!! Plus your brutally honest and hilarious two things I love!!! Anywho, I have been slowly creeping my way through your archives ( stupid grad school slowing me down ) I have not go to the post about your first Marathon yet. I loved this post about your training. I am planning to run my first Full in November, I’ve done two half’s so far, but im looking for a training plan to use for the Full. You are such an awesome runner I was wondering if you could steer me in the directions of a good first marathon plan, maybe the one you used for your first marathon. Thanks so much for your help!! Congrats on the PR Your AWESOME!!!!!!


  11. It’s awesome to read your story of how training actually changed your time! During my last training cycle I went from just running the first half and projecting to run a 3:45-3:50 and then really putting in my speedwork, hills, etc. for the second half and clipping down to a 3:33….you did an amazing job and I’m totally inspired to keep with my new game plan. :) I was just toying with Long Beach yesterday….could be fun!!


  12. Thanks for posting! I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to mix up training to get more value out of it, and also not doing the same workouts week in week out.

    Any tips on Excel training plan usage? I’m thinking of how to get fancy with the colors depending on whether I hit my times or not …


  13. Thanks for this! I am registered for my first full (aaaaahhhhh!) in November. Thinking about investing in a Garmin—which one do you use and would you recommend it??


  14. It was so great to see you and hang out a bit more in Eugene.
    You have that BQ inside! I can’t wait to read the recap where you get it!! I’ve really loved watching your journey mehrun to runlovefest :) Keep it up!!


  15. Sarah you’re the (wo)man! You’ll definitely BQ this year an you are my inspiration to stop being a loser and start actually running marathons “fast.” I’ve been a 4:30er for years and just haven’t pushed myself to change that. This is the inspiration I need to get closer to 4 – hopefully at Long Beach! As far as your summer race – what about the SF marathon in July? Though I am sure it’s stupid hilly!


  16. You are awesome!!! and a total inspiration. I’m starting my training for my FIRST marathon, and with my pace it will be (most likely) a 5hr ordeal, so this helps me to believe that I can someday attain a 4.5hr, or even less! Thanks for the inspiration :)


  17. I think the biggest thing that helped me knock 23 minutes off my PR and almost an hour off my previous marathon attempt at LB* was finally including strength and some cross training (more of the former). I ran about the same miles and had a shorter marathon training cycle, but it still helped me get to that sub-4 which I didn’t realize I had in me until shortly before the marathon.

    *I’d like redemption at LB too, but the timing is off for me.


  18. You rocked this marathon and training plan! So happy for you!

    Did you find a good deal on the stick? Road Runners has it but its not cheap and I’m in serious need of grinding out my IT band.


  19. I think the only “good” summer marathon may be in Alaska. I wouldn’t describe SoCal summer weather as decent running weather… but maybe that’s just me. ;) You’re well on your way to kicking Long Beach’s a$$! Go get ’em!!!!


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  21. This is pretty much the post Id like to write someday! How I went from a 3:55
    marathoner to a BQ. It’s not going to happen this training cycle but maybe next time…. You give me hope!


  22. Thanks, that was an awesome, super helpful, inspiring post. I have been running for 4 months, and have just run my first half marathon, and all I can think is “I wanna be faster”. This post made so much sense, I love your weekly routine, in fact I’m probably gonna just steal it, and who knows maybe my next half will be faster, and maybe I even progress to a marathon one of these days!!! Thanks for posting Sarah, I have been reading bits and pieces of your blog through Emilysweats!!


    • Congrats! The great thing about running is there’s always room for improvement – whether it’s faster, further, or just enjoy it more. Hopefully the race bug bit you :)


  23. SERIOUSLY.. I’ve been waiting for this post. And I’m going to refer back to it for my next full…. wtf? remember when you told me I was a badass for my 3:49?! YOU KICKED MY ASS, and I can’t wait to try your methods to try and kick you right back.

    P.S. It’s next week I’ll be in Burbank……. saaayyyy you’ll come run with me. please?


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