How Joining a Training Group Helped Me Improve My Marathon Time by 40 Minutes

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Historically, I’ve never been one to run with people. I didn’t grow up running, lived for team sports in high school, and only picked up running in college when truthfully, my pants stopped fitting (read: too many bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches at midnight). Since then, running has always been my “alone time,” where I could take inventory of everything in my brain and problem-solve until I felt like I at least had a few things worked out. I ran my first real, trained-for-this race in 2011 – the Charlottesville half marathon. There’s something about someone putting a medal around your neck, even as a grown adult, that makes you feel like you just killed it. I was able to improve my half marathon time over the years through running steadily faster paces and a sheer force of will. The marathon, however, was a completely different game. I’m not sure how I decided to sign up for one. I do know that I did everything “wrong” – new shorts on race day (#chafing), no nutrition or hydration, cotton t-shirt, sports bra, and socks, and shoes with at least 400 miles on them. Let’s just say I didn’t plan on running another marathon after that. I stuck to half marathons for the next three years until I won a free entry to the Marine Corps marathon. I felt like I had to give it another real shot. I had become a stronger runner, learned a little more about hydration and nutrition, and at least gotten a few dri-fit tank tops #blessed. I opted for the “run one mile farther every weekend” long run plan, which resulted in a 3:44 at Marine Corps in 2016. Though I basically couldn’t walk afterwards, I felt a tiny bit more successful. I had no idea the Boston marathon existed until I was shuffling towards my medal after the race, when someone nearby commented, “you were pretty close to a BQ.” Some quick Googling helped me with what a “BQ” was, and the idea stuck.

Life dealt me a tough 2016 that led to a tougher 2017. I moved home to Baltimore and shortly thereafter placed third in the Charlottesville half marathon. I kept thinking, “ok self, you might not be TERRIBLE at this – maybe give the marathon another shot.” I signed up for Charm City Run’s Boston Training Group with Jeff Burger in May 2017. I have to give a shout-out to my Mom, who emailed me a link to the training page with one sentence, “This guy looks like he knows about qualifying for Boston.” I was so nervous the first day of the training group. As an introvert, I was nervous about knowing no one, not being a strong enough runner, not being able to do the plan. Clearly, I had tons of self-confidence. I honestly look back on that day and laugh a little bit, because Jeff’s group could not have been more welcoming, motivated, and ambitious. People were friendly right away and encouraged me to join their pace group. Week one, I learned about wireless headphones, the magic of a spi-belt, and how to actually use a Garmin watch. I immediately felt more positive about the marathon we were training for – Lehigh Valley. Over the course of the summer I learned so much about taking the “easy” days truly easy, varying the speed and type of your runs throughout the week, in-race nutrition, and race strategy. It was great to have company for long runs and track workouts, as well as access to a complete training plan on Final Surge, a super easy-to-use app. Our group supported one another throughout the training cycle, and I felt like I had made some new friends in the process. Lehigh was, to this day, the best race I’ve run in terms of confidence. I ran a 31-minute PR, qualified for Boston by over 30 minutes, and most importantly could walk back to the bus with ease following the race! I remember breaking down in tears on the finish line, feeling such gratitude for the group that helped me succeed and pride in my own personal drive and dedication to training. Later that fall, I ran another PR in the Baltimore half-marathon, placing fourth. I felt like I had found a bit of a running groove, and most importantly, a running home.

As our coach, Jeff helps structure my running so that each run has a purpose and the training plan ultimately supports me in achieving my race goals. Aside from feeling l like a more successful, confident runner, I’ve made some truly great friends through the training group and have found Jeff’s advice invaluable. He has extensive knowledge from his years of running and coaching and treats his athletes with respect and kindness. Jeff offers his runners a lot of his time – creating personalized training plans for each person’s race, serving as a sounding board for email or text questions, putting out water stops for our long runs, organizing group events after big races, and coming to our track workouts on Tuesdays to support everyone. For me, one of the things that best exemplifies Jeff’s interest in his athletes came this summer, when I mentioned that I might need to take my overall mileage down a little bit to help prevent injury. Instead of dismissing me or saying that I “needed” to run more miles to achieve my goals, Jeff created a five-day-a-week training plan and offered it to the group. I really appreciated this, and it certainly contributed to my ability to stay injury-free while succeeding as a runner.

Over this past last year, our group has grown to include even more amazing runners of different paces and different goals. My most recent training block with our group was for the 2018 Chicago marathon and Philadelphia half marathon. I was able to run another personal best following this training block and re-qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon. I was especially excited about this race as I was able to get my time close to the three-hour mark, a big goal I had set for myself. Having a group like this has improved my running confidence, made me a smarter runner, and made running more fun. Confidence is always a work in progress, but I’m grateful to be a part of a group that supports one another. I’m looking forward to continuing to train with Jeff through the winter and spring, hopefully continuing to become a faster and stronger runner.

About the Author – Caryn Just

Timonium team member, Boston training group runner, Boston Qualifier and all around amazing individual.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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