If you’re reading this and you’ve recently achieved a marathon personal best, firstly, congratulations. You may want to push on to your next marathon at this point or not is entirely your choice, but if you’re already eyeing up your marathon PB attempt, then keep reading.
Identify weaknesses and strengths
Break down what went well and what could be better in both training and the race for your new PB. What was different from before? How can you build upon those things? What didn’t go so well? What could you do differently next time to give you a faster time?
What sort of things should you consider?
Let’s break it down into some common areas.
Physical preparation – cardiovascular endurance (fitness), muscle endurance, muscle strength, power, flexibility, balance, coordination (movement quality), recovery (sleep and active recovery).
Nutrition – race day fuel, carb loading, training nutrition, recovery nutrition.
Psychological – thoughts and mental tactics to help you train and race closer to your capacity.
Tactical – pacing, racing and playing to your preferred strategy, course management.
These all interplay and this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but figuring out which of these can be improved upon is key if you want to get another PB in your next race.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Sometimes it’s not obvious what could be done better, or on the flip side, there are lots of things you know can improve to help you, but you’re not sure which to prioritise. At this point consulting a running coach would be a good idea. The more varied their experience and qualifications the better. Someone who only plans runs will be able to help, but will likely look at it from that perspective only. A coach who can look at the larger context of training, including strength, nutrition and mobility/movement will be able to identify the most appropriate way forward.
I know several runners who were told to jack up their mileage to run faster, achieved great times but have been regularly injured since. We’ve all done it, let’s face it. Running better before running more is generally my advice, but not always. It really is an individual assessment.
Put in the work
Once you know what to work on, create specific goals and action plans to progress these. Plan from your desired end point back to the start to make this easier to manage and ensure it reaches an appropriate level by the target race.
What might it look like?
From my first marathon in 2:51:43 to my fourth marathon in 2:37:06 took just under 2 years. Each time I ran a PB, but the margins became narrower and improvements smaller. I addressed the biggest things first such as increasing the quantity and specificity of running sessions. I added a little more strength training and more work on foam rolling and mobility with drills. Nutrition was the big change from my second to third marathon, with a reduction in weight by 7lbs and my first “proper” carb load in the final days. Consistency from better planning and fewer unavoidable life circumstances helped me run faster for my 4th than my 3rd, despite it being the hardest course I’d run so far.
Look for where you can make improvements, either working on your strengths, or developing your weaker areas. Marathons are tough. They can chew you up and spit you out no matter how well prepared you are, so give yourself a fighting chance by doing everything you’re willing to in order to achieve your goals of running back-to-back marathon PBs.
Written by Kyle Brooks, Running Coach based in Norwich, Norfolk