Marathon Training: Hills, Re-thinking goals, and the 12 Days of Tapermas

Well, this post was originally just going to be about my hill training last week but I feel like I have so much to talk about so this post has evolved into a big buffet platter of all things training right now.

The 12 Days of Taper-mas

You know the whole 12 days of Christmas counting down to Christmas day? On Tuesday I realized I have 12 more workouts remaining until I finally – dear god, FINALLY – start tapering, so I have thus coined these next couple weeks as “The 12 Days of Taper-mas”. On the 12th Day of Tapermas my training plan gave to me: 12x400m hill repeeeeeeeats!¬†And damned if it didn’t leave me completely wrecked, too. Holy cow. Welcome to the peak weeks of training! But if you can get through¬†a 10 mile workout that includes 12 sprints up a .25 mile hill without keeling over or just sitting on the curb sobbing because life is unfair, then you can run a marathon. I’m convinced.

Needless to say, I think these next 1.5 weeks are going to continue to be a mental struggle. I’m not afraid of the work, but I am just so ready to be done training. 1.5 weeks – it sounds so short and SO close, but it feels like it might as well be 5 more years away. I want it to be taper time so badly (if you couldn’t tell by my recent musical improvisations...).

The Hills Are Alive

This past weekend was my first 20-mile long run. I was in my hometown in Iowa for the Easter weekend and I ran a double-loop of the hilly 10 mile route I did as a long run in Week 1. Don’t believe everything you think about Iowa, folks. This is what I had to work with:

20 miles: DONE!

And that was the day after a 10-miler, on a different route, that looked like this:



Just for funsies, here’s the Pittsburgh Marathon course elevation. Keep in mind that the scale and distance are different than the other two, which makes it look slightly less dramatic, but you can compare the elevation grades.

PGH elevation


The run went really well. It’s not my fastest long run, but I’m impressed with the average pace given that my first mile was somehow a 10:40.


My last 5 miles started at 9:00 and progressed down to goal MP and it didn’t feel that hard. It was mostly downhill at that point, but not all of it was, so that was pretty cool. What was really cool was that at the end of the run, it didn’t feel like I had just run 20 miles. It didn’t seem any longer or harder than some of the 16, 17 and 18 mile training runs I’ve had. I’m sure the change of scenery helped, and the constant hills allowed me to engage different muscles and helped break up the time. I also think it helped me recover much faster – less pounding and repetition, I suppose.

The hills – they were hard. They look hard, and they were. Some of them were just ungodly. But it got me thinking how this whole training cycle is really like one giant hilly course. Sometimes you’re going downhill, cruising on confidence from conquering such a huge hill; and sometimes you’re pushing uphill, slow and laboriously, being broken down and completely humbled by the earth. You feel cocky, then you feel intimidated and unsure. You feel in control, then you feel like a total amateur. You feel ready, you feel scared. It’s easy, it’s hard. You love running, you hate running, you love running.

Re-evaluating Goals

So…it’s that time. I’ve come far enough in my training¬†–¬†20 milers, tune up races, tons of workouts – that I have a pretty good idea about whether my goals are realistic and if I need to adjust them.

I’ve had some time to think, and while training is going great and I have no complaints, I no longer feel comfortable shooting for a 3:40 finish time in Pittsburgh. I feel slightly more comfortable shooting for a PR/sub-3:45, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t want any finish time goals for this race. I’m just feeling so over it. All I¬†want is to run it and try the best I can and be happy with whatever that gets me.

It’s not that I don’t think I’m capable. It’s just that there are too many external factors at play, and I don’t have the time or energy to try to¬†micromanage them. There’s the weather – I don’t know what it will be, but¬†weather around the first weekend in May is always dicey and unpredictable, and I feel like I need to prepare for the worst. There’s the crowds – Pittsburgh is notorious for having a super crowded start, with the marathon, half, and relay all starting together.¬†Finally, there are like 100 turns in this damn course. Course turns are a blessing if it happens to be a windy day, but oh dear god the tangents. This could¬†mean¬†running at least half a mile¬†longer that 26.2 to get to that finish line, which has a big effect on pacing.¬†There are just too many variables, and I would rather defer to the day and work with it instead of against it.

And then¬†there’s my training. I’ve worked hard and trained well, but I have a confession: I haven’t been playing by the rules as much lately. There has been a lot more switching things around, modifying the focus and goals of certain weeks, playing it by ear, and I have not been doing much practice at my specific marathon pace. Instead, I have been focusing on harder tempo runs and hill workouts¬†in an effort to keep improving my fitness and pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I feel that these things are really helping my marathon preparation, but not making it easier to know exactly what finish time I can run.

Perhaps this is just me not being diligent in sticking to my plan, but really I think it reflects that I no longer want to tie my success to a specific finish time – I just want to see what I’m capable of. I want to put in some hard, gritty but gratifying work and¬†let the chips fall where they may.¬†Just once, I want to step back, stop thinking so much, and just let something be a surprise and a mystery. I don’t want to feel like I can only be satisfied if I get a certain finish time. I want this to be fun and I want to be focused on the¬†sheer accomplishment and humanity that a marathon encompasses. I want to race this one on my terms, not the clock’s. I want to give 100%¬†and be happy with whatever that ends up looking like. I want to be proud of the work I put in to get to this point instead of constantly worrying if it measures up to some random standard.

I’d love for this marathon¬†to be killer fast¬†and¬†go beyond my expectations, but if that happens, I want it to be because it was meant to be on that particular day, not because it was expected going in. This is a different journey than the one I took to Grandma’s Marathon, and it will be a different race. In my gut I know that the triumph of this marathon isn’t going to be another breakout performance. And that’s okay! This one is going to test me. It’s going to talk back to me. It’s going to push me to the limit and break me down the ground and rebuild me back up to the top all in a few hours. It’s going to be fun but it’s going to be gritty. It could possibly and just barely be my fastest marathon yet, but it will be the hardest. It will be messy. But in all of that, it will also be uniquely fulfilling and my most rewarding marathon yet.

So that’s where I stand now. I’m not ruling anything out, I’m just going to keep pushing full steam ahead and let whatever’s meant to be happen naturally.



Oh by the way, I’m running another half marathon this weekend. I said a couple weeks ago that I wanted to try for another faster PR, but I don’t really feel like racing this one anymore, and I no longer¬†care as much about PRing my half. I’m tired and I¬†don’t want to slow down my training momentum right now,¬†and I just want to get these two weeks over with and get to taper already. Plus, it’s apparently going to be really windy on Saturday. I will probably just treat this as a tempo run and keep my eye on the prize.


Have you ever changed your goals during a training cycle?

Anyone else running a race this weekend?


30 thoughts on “Marathon Training: Hills, Re-thinking goals, and the 12 Days of Tapermas

  1. I’m running a 15 K on Saturday and then two weeks til my half. I think we go into a training cycle with a realistic but maybe a stretch goal, and it is totally fine to reassess towards the end. I like to give myself a broad range of goals – just finish, finish strong, time goal 1, time goal 2 etc. And sometimes I’ve felt really good on a race day and just knew that I could hit that “crazy” time goal. Reading between the lines it seems as if you are just ready to be done with marathon training so I’m hoping that you’re not talking yourself down prematurely. And good luck with the half marathon!

    1. Thank you! I wouldn’t say I’m talking myself down. I believe I’m capable of those times and in a more “predictable” environment (course is familiar/similar to previous races, etc), I’d feel more comfortable keeping them. Since that’s not the case here, I’m just trying to take some unnecessary pressure off myself. I have time goals for every race I run and I’m just over it. Especially with a marathon when just finishing is an accomplishment – like why isn’t it enough just to run a good race and just finish strong? I think I’m capable of my original time goals, but with all the variables and how unfamiliar this type of race is, it just adds another layer of pressure that I don’t need right now. This is supposed to be fun, not a test I need to pass. I want a good finish time but I’m just trying to trust that if it’s meant to be, it will happen and I don’t need to force/worry about it. It’s a new strategy for a “worrier” like me so let’s hope it works!!

      1. Sounds like a plan! Somewhere in the training cycle we forget that this is a fun hobby that we should be enjoying. I wonder if you thought of racing blind, and leaving the Garmin at home?

    2. Oof! I’ve gone Garminless in shorter races but I don’t have the guts to do it for a full yet. I really need it to make sure I don’t start out too fast, because that would be deadly in a marathon. With tapered legs and race day adrenaline I don’t trust my body not to trick me into thinking that marathon pace -20 secs is “easy” and “totally sustainable for 26 miles.” It’s something I’d love to try when I’m a little more experienced though, because I’m a big advocate of Garmin free racing.

  2. I’m also from Iowa (though now living on the East Coast), and whenever people confess they think Iowa is flat, I’m like, “THINK AGAIN!” Those hills look killer! Way to tough ’em out!

    Good luck heading into the taper! I’m running NJ Marathon on May 1 and am similarly counting down to the taper. These peak weeks are rough!

    1. Hello fellow Iowan!! We are marathon date twins!! Good luck getting to taper. We can do this!!!

  3. I am feeling the same way about my race. I’ve had to deal with a lot of stress during this marathon training cycle and I’m just over running and training and just want to finish lol. Either way, I’m not going to win the race and I’ll still get a medal, so why stress myself about a time?!

    1. Exactly! The great thing about marathons is that because of what a huge deal that distance is, there is always a sense of accomplishment in just finishing. I mean, it’s 26 miles of running! Having time goals is fun but if it just adds unnecessary stress and pressure to something that is supposed to be fun and exciting, then maybe it’s worth reconsidering whether they are worth it. I do think we are also just so tired and fatigued and ready to be done, and that makes it harder to stay motivated too. Hang in there! We can do this!

  4. You’re almost there Hanna! Just take it one day/mile/interval at a time and that taper will be here before you know it. It sounds like a smart move to take the PR pressure off of Saturday’s half. No sense in burning yourself out at a tune up race when the main event is just around the corner. Also I think windy runs/races are the absolute worst, hopefully it isn’t as bad as predicted.

    My latest coping strategy for putting to much pressure on myself and/or worrying about ridiculous things is to just state the two possible outcomes. So for Pittsburgh: Either you’ll run a 3:40 or you won’t. That’s it. That’s the “bad” outcome. No one is going take away your running shoes and tell you never to race again. The internet is not going to point and laugh and tell you you were stupid for setting a hard goal. Either you’ll run that fast or you won’t. It isn’t a big deal. [I should note that my husband finds this new strategy of mine completely ridiculous. He’s all down to earth, realistic, like obviously those are the only two options, what did you think would happen? But I know you are a worrier like me so I thought I would mention it.]

    [[And a final note: It sounds like you are just reaching the exhausting peak weeks of training and feeling a bit over it all. Based on your training and recent hilly half I think 3:40-3:45 is a very reasonable goal for you. You’ve got this!!]]

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement Heather! Your strategy sounds kind of like something I do, when I just ask myself “what’s the worst that could happen?” “I don’t run a PR” “Okay, and?”….etc, going all the way down the chain until I realize that I can handle whatever it is and seeing how utterly silly it is to be so stressed out about. That’s kind of what I did here. A 3:40 isn’t going to qualify me for Boston or anything, so if I miss it, what am I really losing? TQing for Chicago would be great but if I don’t get in here, there’s always another race. Chicago will still be around after next year and if I want to run it that badly, there are other ways to get in. Similarly, not PRing is disappointing but people miss PRs all the time, for a variety of reasons – it doesn’t mean they’re not capable or that they’re any less of a runner.

      Your comment about someone taking my running shoes away made me laugh. I just imagined a couple somber cops showing up, coming into my room and taking the shoes and saying “I’m sorry. We have to take these now. Say your goodbyes”

  5. This is exactly the attitude I want to have for NYC in November. I want to see what I’m capable of, but given all the variables on the day, trying to make too many plans regarding specific finish times and goals is not in the cards. I think you’re looking forward to it with the right perspective and I can’t wait to see you shine in the race!

    1. You have such a good attitude toward all your running and racing in general, I have no doubt that you will enjoy every moment of your journey to and across that finish line!

  6. I’m making Pittsburgh about having fun too. I’ve definitely been liberal with how I’ve interpreted my training plan these past few weeks. Haha. And honestly, I’ve never had a great showing at Pittsburgh. As much as I want to, I keep running this race because I love the city & love running through it.

    But, yes, the start is always ridiculously crowded. There are only like 4 corrals compared to other races like 30+ & the first few miles are VERY crowded. I ended up with about 26.6 on my Garmin last year. Which, my running joke the whole race (see what I did there with the bad pun!?) was that I was stopping at 26.2 no matter where I was.

    1. This will be the first marathon where I’ve run more than .15 mile longer than 26.2, so I’m interested to see how I handle it mentally. After 26 miles…that’s a lot of extra! lol. I saw on the website that they only have 4 corrals and that kind of annoyed me. Really, a race that large and you can’t divide it up a little more? I’d be willing to wait longer to start if it meant the waves would be more spread out and people could get into their paces easier.

  7. First of all, let’s talk about those hills! Holy hills, Hanna! I’m trying to think of where I could run here that would even come close that. You crushed your 20 miler on ridiculous terrain the day after a 10 miler. Wow. To say that you’ve prepared yourself for the course in Pittsburgh is an understatement. Awesome work!!

    As for getting rid of a time goal, it sounds like this is a great decision for you. Not because you can’t reach those times (LOL, seeing the title of your post and then reading about your epic 20 miler I was thinking you were going to change your goal to a faster time!), but because like you said you want to be able to enjoy the outcome and race without the extra pressure. My husband has been telling people “Katrina’s running a half, she’s going to run it in [insert fast time]” and I’m all “stop telling people that! They’re going to think I’m ridiculous if I can’t do it!” But the thing is, no one else cares! Not in a bad way, just that if I go run a 1:45 or a 2:45 my friends and family think it’s great. It’s hard not to feel pressure when you’ve put your goal out there, but the thing is no one is judging if it doesn’t happen. The race itself can go one way or the other, because like you said you there are so many variables along 26.2 miles on that 1 day out of your whole training cycle, but anyone who knows about your race knows the incredible work you’ve put into it and that you’re an awesome runner. When I ran my 1st marathon I set out that day to try to BQ, knowing it would be a crazy A++ goal. When I knew it wasn’t going to happen my goal was to just enjoy the rest of the race. I didn’t want walk away feeingl disappointed instead of celebrating the huge accomplishment. As my husband always says, the marathon is your victory lap for putting in all the training. You are going to have a great victory lap in Pittsburgh!

    1. Thanks so much Katrina! Love your comment, everything is so true. Your husband, LOL. How mean! I think that’s the harder, “other side” of putting goals out there as a blogger. It’s great to have the encouragement as you go along but then the race comes, and if you don’t meet your goal…everyone will know. If you hadn’t put it out there, whatever happens you can just play it off like that was your intent all along. We all know no one is judging us, but, it’s still not easy to come back and explain that things didn’t go your way and you fell short of a goal. But, no matter what happens in any race, the truth is: life goes on. Shit happens in races and you get over it and keep moving forward. And if there’s one thing I learned after my marathon last year it’s that sometimes, good races can actually be harder to move on from than bad races. But I think it gets easier when, no matter what happens, you’re not as invested in the outcome.

      1. Yes to all of this! Have you read the book, “How Bad Do You Want It?”, by Matt Fitzgerald? I was listening to a recent podcast with him where he talks about how being so focused and pressured on a time goal can backfire, which makes a lot of sense. I think a goal time is useful to push yourself during training to reach new fitness levels, rather than just being a goal to dictate what paces you “should” be hitting on race day – and I think you are setting a prime example of this.
        Enjoy your half marathon this weekend! You are almost in Taper-ville!

  8. You are VERY prepared for this race, but the bottom line is, you have to run what is presented to you that day–It could be a “good” day or an “off” day. I am confident that you can hit your goals.
    I am worried about the weather for Boston too. If it is a head wind and rain, like last year, I will have a hard time putting in a solid effort…

    1. Thanks so much Cheryl! Yeah, Boston’s weather seems so erratic! Last year was the wind and rain…and wasn’t it hot the year before that? LOL. I guess we should all know what we’re getting ourselves into with these Spring marathons. But Boston is Boston…it could be a blizzard and I’d still go out and run it!

  9. I recently found your blog because of your Pittsburgh training/blogging, and I’m positively geeking out that you’re from Iowa! Randomly, I just moved to Iowa from Pittsburgh (I’m in Urbandale).

    There were SO many people who were like, “bye-bye hill workouts” when I said that I was moving here. hahah I cannot wait to start getting out there on the trails and join some run groups. I’ve found my local Fleet Feet group and the Capital Striders, but if you have any others to recommend, I would greatly appreciate it! ūüôā I’ve got Dam to Dam and the Des Moines half both on my schedule already!

    1. Another fellow Iowan!! Yay!! Oh man, I wish I knew some groups to recommend I actually didn’t start running until well after I moved away so running was never a part of my Iowa life. I’ve heard Des Moines is a cool race – never heard of Dam to Dam! Have you heard of the Marathon to Marathon? I’ve always wanted to try that one. It’s in June every year. It’s from tiny rural town to another and everything about it just sounds so quintessentially Iowa. Thanks so much for stopping by!!

      1. Thanks for the additional race suggestion! I heard that there was a city called Marathon in Iowa, and it just seems appropriate to have that on my radar. ūüėÄ

  10. Oh my those hills!! I never would’ve lasted 20 miles in that haha. There are no hills where I live, so when I travel and run somewhere that has even the smallest of hills I die! I think you are more than prepared for your marathon, and I can’t wait to hear how your race this weekend goes!

    1. Thanks so much Court! We don’t really have too many hills where I live either so it’s hard to find a good rolling hills course. I had to go to Iowa – of all places! – to find a good one to run on, lol

  11. High five to you on that hilly long run! Oh my goodness Hanna you are going to crush PGH. And I must say I applaud you so much for letting go of time goals. You have worked so hard for this race; the best thing you can do is remove the pressure and enjoy yourself. It’s better to have an enjoyable marathon without a PR than a suckfest of a race even with a PR. And the marathon is such a beast, especially in summer! I’m already questioning why I signed up for a summer marathon lol.

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement Laura! Haha I also question the sanity of a July marathon…but…I think our July here in the Midwest looks a little different than yours!

  12. I like how you are just letting things go. I can also tell by how you feel where you are at in training. It happens we get exhausted and over it. The taper will be here soon. You could always use this weekends half to test out marathon pace to see how it feels. Help see the big picture and get used to running that pace. I love those hills! I have been running a ton of them and they are just the best! The picture reminds me of some that I lived by in Indiana before moving back to Michigan last year.

    1. Thanks so much! Love that there are hills in Indiana too! No more of this “flat midwest” stereotype, people! It’s not that I lack confidence in my goal pace, it’s just that I want to take the pressure off so I can enjoy the experience no matter what happens. If I get it, great, if not, that’s okay too – as long as I just try my best!

  13. First of all I have to say, GO HANNA! Those hills look like monsters and you keep up an amazing pace! AMAZING!!!

    Second, I love the mindset of pushing yourself and letting the chips fall where they may. That takes away the stress of having to meet a very specific goal while also giving you the freedom to really go for “it.” I love that!

  14. I’m with you – so over training! I’m sick this week which has actually been nice because I’ve been too tired to care and it’s been a nice distraction. But these last few weeks always feel never-ending and all I want is my week post-race to sleep in. The weather here has been so back a forth and I’m ready for sweaty summer running. Anyway, a PR goal with no specific time goal sounds good… but I’m biased because that’s what I’m doing too! A big part of that for me is also because of the uncertainty of the weather. Anyway, I’m rambling. Great work on your 20 miler. Just a few more weeks, hang in there!!!

Comments are closed.