Marathon training and Nike Alpha Flys: How I’ve been able to run faster than I ever thought I could

October was a really busy month for me in terms of racing. I ran four races and was able to maintain a sub-7 minute pace in all of them. 

I never thought that would be possible for me, and that’s not me being falsely modest or trying to sandbag. It’s the truth. 

So, where has all this newfound speed come from? I have a few theories. But first, let’s take a quick look at the races I ran. 

Oct. 3: I went home to Pittsburgh to visit my family and run the Mario Lemieux 6.6K Run with my sister and brother-in-law. Why 6.6K? Well, that’s the number of famed Penguins star, and team owner, Mario. It equals out to roughly 4.1 miles. Given that I’d maintained a 7:08 pace in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler a few weeks before, I thought maybe I could hold onto a sub-7 pace here, but I had no idea. The race was in downtown Pittsburgh, obviously a hilly place, and it was pretty humid that morning. Plus I’d had a few too many delicious stouts the night before. Because of course. I decided that my strategy would be to go out like a bat out of hell and see how long I could hold on. And it worked! I finished in 28:38, a 6:49 average pace (per my watch, which clocked 4.2 miles. The race results had me running a 6:59 pace. Either way, sub-7!) I won my age group and was 6th overall female. My prize was a hockey puck! 

Oct. 9: I was really excited for the Baltimore Running Festival, which is one of my favorite fall running events. It offers something for every runner — a marathon, a half marathon, a 5K, a “moron-a-thon,” which is the 5K and the half marathon together, and now a 10K. I have participated in some way, shape, or form in the BRF since 2016 — I even ran the half marathon virtually in 2020. This year, they added the 10K distance, so I signed up for that because I had done all of the other races before. I was hoping to beat my PR of 44:50, which I set in the 2017 Across the Bay 10K. I felt confident, but the course didn’t make it easy. I think the first 2.5 miles were totally uphill, haha. There were a few times I looked at my watch and saw a pace in the 7:25 range and thought, that’s it, it’s not my day. But then there was some significant downhill on the back half and I was able to fly. 

At one point around mile 4.5, someone told me I was the second female and I thought that couldn’t be right. I was definitely in the pain cave at that point and just kept pushing, telling myself it would be over soon and if I kept going hard, a PR wasn’t out of the question. When I turned onto Pratt Street and saw the finish line clock said 43, I was thrilled. I crossed the timing mat and a volunteer gave me a little card that said 2nd place female. So cool! I ran a 43:36 — my watch said I ran 6.3 miles (probably because I did some weaving around people earlier in the race and didn’t run the tangents) for an average pace of 6:55.

But wait! At the awards ceremony, I was announced as the third place female. I was a little confused, but super pumped about the PR and the big trophy I won. It got a TON of attention as I carried it around afterwards, LOL. Well, as I found out a few days later, I actually did get second place. The woman they thought got second was actually a dude — I’m assuming he probably ran with his wife or girlfriend’s bib or whatever. So he obviously got disqualified. 

I still count that race as a huge success! 

Oct. 16: Ben’s Run 5 Miler in Silver Spring. My marathon training plan called for me to race an 8K this weekend, which is basically five miles. I didn’t think I’d be able to find a five mile race, but I did! Ben’s Run raises money for cancer research at Children’s National Hospital and is named after a little boy who passed away of cancer in 2009. This was the last year for the race and I’m glad I got to run it. I once again decided to go out hard and see how long I could hold on. The neighborhood where the race was had a lot of rolling hills, but luckily, so does my neighborhood, so that wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. I moved into first place pretty early on and was able to maintain that, finishing in 34:41, a 6:56 average pace. I won a $50 gift card to Dick’s for being the first overall female. I had only run a few five milers before, but my previous fastest time was from 2016 when I ran the Great Chocolate Race 5 Miler in Arlington, Virginia in 36:58. So that was a big PR, too. 

Oct. 31: This is the race I’m still pinching myself over. On Halloween, I ran the Bay Bridge Run (formerly Across the Bay 10K) and I honestly had no idea what to expect for the race. Seeing as I had just run a really strong 10K a few weeks earlier, I didn’t have any expectation of PRing again, even though I knew this was an easier course. (There’s a long uphill in the beginning, but it’s not that steep and you get a sweet downhill stretch afterwards.) 

I literally flew once I got onto the flat and downhill portions of the race. I ran mile 3 in 6:03 and mile 4 in 5:54 — my fastest mile EVER. I looked at my watch and questioned whether that could be accurate. Apparently it was. After runners get off the bridge, you have another mile and a half or so to go and there are two more small inclines, but nothing crazy. The race ends in a business park in Stevensville on the Eastern Shore and when I turned the corner to go toward the finish line, I saw the clock said 39. 39!!! I’d just PR’d again in the 10K by FOUR FREAKING MINUTES. WHAT. Final time was 39:33, which is a 6:22 pace (!!!) and I was fourth overall female out of 6,423 women (!!!!) and first place Masters female out of 4,059 (!!!!!) 

To say I’m ecstatic is putting it mildly. That’s more than five minutes faster than my old 2017 PR on the same course. Truly cannot believe it. 

How did that happen? Again, I have a few thoughts on why. 

I have been running more mileage. Yes, I’m training for a marathon. But I’ve been following a plan that’s new to me, a 12-week plan from the book Advanced Marathoning that maxed out at 55 miles per week. The big difference for me is that this plan has me running multiple double digit runs per week in addition to the weekend long run. So for example, during my peak week last month, I ran two 12-milers (one of which had seven miles at half marathon pace), plus a 20-miler on the weekend. These runs were hard — I was mostly running them after work, and that’s tough to do after a long day! But I think these extra “medium-long” runs made a difference in both my endurance and my speed. 

I have been keeping my easy runs easy. Like a lot of runners, I struggle with this. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of running your easy/recovery runs too fast. When I was training for my last two marathons, I did a lot of “easy” runs at an 8:20-8:30 pace, which didn’t *seem* too hard for me … but probably was. I mean, I ran the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon at an average 8:17 pace…. So yeah. I’ve been really working hard to keep my easy runs in the high 8s/low 9s, and I’ve been mostly successful at it!   

Nike Alpha Flys! OK, so these are a game changer. I LOVE these shoes and they are currently one of my most treasured possessions. These carbon-plated super shoes are a dream to run in and I’m really glad I invested in them. And at nearly $300 a pair, they were quite an investment. (I had a gift card that covered part of the cost, at least.) But so worth it. You can read more about what makes these shoes so special and fancy here. I cannot wait to wear them in the Coastal Delaware Marathon in a week and a half! 

TEN DAYS TO GO! I am so ready and excited to crush it.    

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