Pittsburgh Marathon Training: Review and Thoughts

PicMonkey Collage

I said before that taper is the best time to reflect on the training cycle, because it’s still fresh in your mind and your opinion of it hasn’t yet been influenced by the race outcome.

And yet, I sit here, struggling to succinctly recap the last 16 weeks. The start of this training cycle feels like it was two years ago and everything before March seems as distant as last night’s dream. But, recap I must, so let’s dig in and see what we find.



My plan for this training cycle was to divide the 15 training weeks into three 5-week mesocycles: one to build my general running fitness, one to slowly transition into more marathon-specific work and the last one to pack in high mileage and long aerobic workouts.


IMG_2765During my first five weeks of training, I focused on building up the running fitness that had fallen off a bit during my extended off season and priming my body for more marathon-specific work in the coming weeks. I did short-interval speed work, some cross and strength training, and held off on trying very much goal MP practice.

In weeks 5-10, I tried to keep the variety in my routine but also started to introduce more marathon-specific running into my regimen. MP practice showed up more frequently, weekly mileage gradually increased, long runs hit and exceeded the dreaded 16 mile mark, and speed work graduated to mile repeats and tempo runs.

After 9 weeks of training, I took an entire week (actually, 9 days) off from running when I went on my trip to Guatemala. After being active that entire week, I came back to training as if I’d never been gone, and nothing was different.

Except…something was different.

IMG_2876After I resumed training, I noticed that my feelings and attitude toward training were starting to go in a different direction. While I still wanted to work hard, I began to feel like the rigid structure, attention to detail and obsession with pace during┬ámy first 8 weeks of training were no longer right for me. Around the time that I began my 3rd “mesocycle” (last 5/peak weeks of training), I started to adopt more of an intuitive training philosophy.

Laura is a great resource if you want a better explanation of what it mans to train intuitively, but basically, I stopped following a pre-defined plan and made week-by-week adjustments based on how I was feeling. I still followed a loose plan every week for weekly and daily mileage and when to do key workouts, but each week I played it by ear, deciding which workouts to do based on how I felt and what areas of my training needed work. I stopped trying to hit specific paces in my workouts and focused instead on pushing myself out of my comfort zone and making each workout count. I decided to incorporate a lot more hill repeat workouts, because over time I had learned that these workouts were most helpful to both my hill running and my overall speed

I also gave myself permission on a few occasions to cut out runs that were just going to be junk miles (aka, not serve any actual training purpose, just boost my weekly mileage total). While this did cause me a little bit of anxiety at times, I ultimately feel I made the right call, as this allowed me a bit of a breather when I really needed it and my fitness didn’t suffer as a result.

Around the time all of this was happening another development occurred: I decided to let go of my time goal and just focus on racing to the best of my ability. While I still have┬ádreams┬áfor a PR (letting go of time goals does NOT┬ámean I don’t want to race well!), I can honestly say I have felt so much happier now that I’ve let go of my time goals. Not only do I feel like I have more freedom and excitement in my training, but my attitude toward the race has changed – it’s allowed me to have a more positive and open-minded attitude about race day and appreciate what an accomplishment it is just to run a marathon.

I strongly recommend that more of my fellow runners try out this approach for one of their big races, at least once. It’s not easy to give up time goals, but I can honestly say that doing it was a very liberating and joyful experience for me. It has really changed my attitude and mood, for the better.


So, in general:

IMG_3412I feel good about this training cycle. I don’t think I made any “breakthroughs”, but I worked hard and diligently and I put in 15 solid weeks of training. In the last 5 weeks in particular, I really nailed some hard workouts and I can already see a little bit of the payoff from that. There were a few times I got antsy about my weekly mileage and wondered if I made the right call about cutting back miles or doing a tempo run/racing a half marathon instead of┬ápracticing MP. My training certainly wasn’t perfect – but when is training ever perfect?

But those imperfections are sort of what I love about this training cycle. I’m proud of the hard work I put in and the discipline it took to get through, but I’m equally proud of myself for learning to trust my instincts and follow my heart more than┬ámy training plan. I can see now that this training cycle was always more about improving mentally and emotionally than it was about getting faster, and I can honestly say I’m happy with how the journey turned out.


One regret

I’ve┬ámentioned this before, but my big regret for this training cycle was that I didn’t branch outside my training comfort zone. Since I was never really gunning for any HUGE improvements that would demand a more focused, less risky training approach, I wish I would have taken this opportunity to experiment with a different training style or philosophy, so that I could continue to learn what does and does not work for me and build off that. But what’s done is done, I still did good work and now that I’ll be focusing on structure-free running and then shorter distances for the rest of the year, I have plenty of freedom to try out all those new things.


What’s Next?

IMG_2343-0I’ve discussed this at length already, but after the race I am taking a 3-month hiatus from ANY racing. I’ll be using that time to focus on┬árunning for fun, with no Garmin and no structure. I’m also hoping to get into some other activities like yoga, biking and hiking.

At the end of the summer, I hope to get back into training again. I’m not sure what to train for, but I’m leaning toward a season full of 10Ks. Not necessarily to hit a certain time goal, but just to develop my shorter distance fitness and then use the races to see how I’m progressing. Plus, I love the 10K distance.

I am reluctant┬áto let go of my goal to break 1:45 in the half marathon by year’s end.┬áI may still decide to go that route, but┬áI am a little burnt out from long-distance training and I know that in order to improve as a runner, I need to take time to focus on┬áshorter distances and develop the systems that get neglected during marathon training. My vision is that a fall of 10Ks would transition into training for a goal half marathon in the spring and then my next marathon in the fall of 2017. Again, this is all premature at this point – I don’t know what summer will bring so I’m keeping my options open!

Even though I’ve been so anxious for the training to be over with, compiling that collage of pictures at the top of this post made me unexpectedly wistful. It’s been a good, long journey, full of hard work and pride, and I really can’t believe it’s coming to an end soon. It’s making me a little emotional, actually. I suppose that’s a good thing – it means I had a good run and that this journey was meaningful and impactful. It’s a bittersweet goodbye but I can’t stop life from moving ahead.

I talk about post-marathon life like it’s going to be all sunshine and roses in la la land, but I also know┬áremember that┬áinevitable empty “void” feeling┬á–┬álike something is missing┬á–┬áthat always hits once┬áthe marathon journey is abruptly over.┬áI’m dreading it. But, it too will pass, and I know that this new “hit reset” chapter has been a long time coming for me.


I wonder┬áhow I’ll blog about running now that I’m not training for anything. How much can I write about just running for fun? Everyone in the blog world is always working toward something and training toward something – where does that leave me?

But, I’ll just have to figure it out as I go. Hey, if i could do that in the peak weeks of marathon training, I can do it any time!!


Thank you all for following along. 12 more days!!


21 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Marathon Training: Review and Thoughts

  1. I think you nailed this training cycle! I was the opposite from you and started out really strong and the final section was awful haha. I guess that’s what I can work on for next time ­čÖé I hope that you’ll keep blogging during your hiatus, even if it’s not as often as when you’re training.

  2. Good luck on your marathon – it sounds like you have been doing a great job with training – interesting to hear how you’re feelings changed! Thanks for sharing. You’ll do great!!! You’ve worked so hard! And it’s nice that you will be focusing more on running for fun and looking into other fitness hobbies! It’s funny because I feel the opposite – have been doing running for fun, cycling, yoga – and am recently swiping gears to run training for a marathon. Keeping track of time, sprints, etc all new to me but very excited ­čÖé thanks for the great read and best of luck! You got this!­č嬭č弭čśŐ

  3. Today I learned: I’ve been training intuitively for the past 11 weeks. A couple weeks ago my husband asked me if I had a run scheduled for that night and my answer was “I don’t know.” It was kind of a hilarious moment because I ALWAYS have a training plan and I ALWAYS know what run is next. But this season my only structure has been 1 key workout, 1 long run, about 35-40 miles each week. Other than that I just ran what felt right each day. It has been such a great experience and definitely outside of my comfort zone/love for structure.

    I know you think you haven’t had any major breakthroughs this training season, but honestly I can see such a huge change in your approach to running. When I think back to your relationship with running in the fall, you seemed so burned out on training and racing. You’ve completely turned that around and not only got back into a structured plan but then branched out even further by learning to trust your training instincts and listening to you body while still crushing high mileage weeks. That burned out Hanna from the fall is long gone.

    And don’t forget all of the hill work that you’ve added this spring! You have run two half marathon PRs on hilly courses this spring. Though the benefits of the hill work might not immediately translate to a huge PR since Pittsburgh is also hilly, when you get on a flat and fast course you are bound to see a major breakthrough.

    Also I think you would really enjoy some aspects of a 10k focus. Right now with the 5k there are almost no other bloggers focusing on that distance. So there really isn’t a comparison trap to fall into. Sure sometimes I have felt like I need to be logging 50+ miles to keep up with you, but then I remind myself that my focus needs to be speed work, not endurance and I go back to doing my thing. Also it would be a good time to try out a new training philosophy. But whatever it is you choose to do next, I’ll be here cheering you on!

  4. Great recap! You say you didn’t really have any breakthroughs, but I think that switching to a more intuitive training mode is a breakthrough! Allowing yourself the flexibility to change your schedule depending on how you feel is a skill, and feeling mostly confident in your flexibile training takes guts ­čÖé You’ve had a great training cycle, and I’m looking forward to hearing how you do at Pittsburgh!

    As for what you’ll blog about post-‘thon: I’d love to read about your for fun running! And what lessons you take away from watchless, data-free runs!

  5. I like this a lot. I am happy you found your happy/relaxed place mentally. I have the hardest time relaxing. I am always concerned with something. ­čÖé I can’t wait to hear about your “free” running. What that might be like…I may try it someday.
    Also, I love the 10k!! It is a great distance! I have thought about training for shorter distances over the winter this year so I can have a good speed base next year going into training. Plus, there are always 5/10k’s in the winter around here…longer races are hard to find.

  6. I’m happy that, despite not trying anything new for you, you were able to find some peace in this training cycle and are looking forward to figuring out what’s next during your break. Sometimes it’s about enough rather than more, and I think this is probably one of those periods for you ­čÖé

  7. I completely missed your post about letting go of your time goal and went back and read it. I’m glad you made a decision that you feel good about and are running this race on your own terms and being flexible with how the race goes. I think that will set you up well to really enjoy the race and run the course as a victory lap to celebrate all the work you did in training. It’s also awesome that you adjusted your training and got to a really good place with what works for you. If you’re happy with your journey through this training cycle, that’s all that matters, and you’ve already won! FWIW, the forecast is 44 at race start, climbing to 67 by Noon with sunny skies (per Weather Underground). There’s not much shade on the course, so take it easy in the sun! Please email if you want to try to meet up: jenniferkentpgh @ gmail. The easiest option would be before the 5K if you’ll be there. I’m not running but will be there with my dog to cheer everyone on. If I don’t hear from you, good luck and enjoy the experience!

    1. Oops! Somehow I was thinking the race was this weekend! That’s the forecast for *this* Sunday. But they usually have the hour-by-hour forecast up a week in advance.

  8. Really incredible training cycle. I think you’ve figured out a formula that is right for you and that will leave you satisfied after the race is over.

    I wouldn’t worry about the blogging thing at all. There are a million running blogs on the Internet that we could all read. We check in with you not because you’re a runner but because you’re Hanna! You will find plenty of interesting things to write about even without a specific running goal you’re working towards!

  9. I keep trying to decide if I run better with structure or intuitively. I’m glad you’re kind of going back and forth, too. I guess it comes down to the season – sometimes I want more structure, and sometimes I need to just run how I feel. I think your training has been so amazing lately; running intuitively is going to be good for you, and you can trust yourself because you’ve got the experience and mileage behind you for support.

    Confession: even though I love racing, it’s SO nice to take some time off from it. I actually look forward to my racing breaks more than races sometimes!

  10. You have had such a strong training cycle and your mindset towards the race is awesome. Monday was a tough day at the Boston Marathon for so many runners. I was at mile 14 and saw a lot of people struggling from the 3-hour marathoners on. It’s so hard because you spend so much time training, that if a race time is your sole goal for the race, it can be really demoralizing to not hit it. still enjoying the race and incredibly proud of what they were accomplishing, even if it wasn’t their “A” race goal. Your approach is setting you up for a great day to be able to be proud of not just what you run on May 1, but for all the running you have put in and how far you have come.
    I sure hope you continue to blog even when you aren’t focusing on a particular race!

  11. While they may not have felt like breakthroughs I feel like your hill work & several very strong long runs sounded like some proof in the pudding so to speak that you were making huge strides.

    So many people seem to LOVE the 10K distance. I think I’ve run like 2. My plan was to focus on the 5K distance this summer, before HM training in the fall. Maybe I’ll see about some 10Ks too. A long run of less than 5 miles just doesn’t really seem like a “long run”. Haha.

  12. First – don’t worry about future blogging – you always have unique insights to share. Second – you have had a great training cycle. Even if there wasn’t a major breakthrough you still had two PRs on tough hilly courses and were hitting sub-8 tempo paces like it was no big deal. But I think that mentally you have had a major revelation in your approach to training and running – and I think that is the thing that will stick with you in the future. My next race is a half marathon in September so I’m planning on just running when I feel like it and without any pressure with maybe a fun 5K or 10K thrown in. And hopefully plenty of trails.

    1. Thanks so much! The feedback I keep getting is that people disagree with my assertion that I didn’t make any breakthroughs, so it’s really got me thinking about how I came to that conclusion. I guess because I’m comparing to some other runners I know who are setting massive PRs in every distance – that to me is a “breakthrough” because they have really graduated to a new level of running fitness. While I’ve set PRs, they have been more modest, and while I have had my share of breakthrough workouts I don’t feel that much faster overall. But then again, maybe that too is premature – the training proper only ended 11 days ago so maybe I just can’t see all the gains I’ve made yet. In any case, I’m still happy with the progress. While making huge breakthroughs is exciting, it’s also ephemeral, and as progress is not linear sometimes we have to accept small gains rather than big ones. Learning to be happy about small gains is one of the big journeys any runner takes.

  13. You have had such an amazing training cycle and I know I’ve been able to see a true impact from that training on your perspective in life. It’s crazy what training for a marathon will do for you AND how each cycle is meaningful in a very different way in your life. I know each one that I’ve done so far has taught me something different and I’m so eager to learn from the next one coming up too.

    And I love that you let your time goals go! I also think it’s so important to take the pressure off of ourselves – I mean it’s not like we’re elite runners and our money depends on it!! This is what we do FOR FUN and we need to do everything in our power to keep it fun ­čśÇ Time goals are great to have and think about but we can’t let them run our lives or ruin our spirit. I really can’t wait to hear about your marathon experience because I know it will be another great one for you!

    1. Thanks Charissa!! Ahh, I just love your comments. You get me.

      I’m glad we’re on the same page about running attitudes. To be completely honest and frank with you: I think a lot of us just take ourselves a little too seriously sometimes. One day I realized that I really, truly don’t want to be that girl who is preoccupied with her paces and times. It’s exhausting to be that way and quite frankly it’s also exhausting to read the social media of others who are that way. I know FIRST time marathoners who spend the weeks leading up to the big day freaked out that they won’t meet their time goal, and I want to tell them the same thing I had to tell myself during this training cycle: WHO CARES. You’re running a freaking a MARATHON, do you not realize how awesome that is? How about putting the ego aside for a minute and just enjoying the opportunity to do something that everyone else in your life considers seriously impressive? Does 5 minutes here or there really matter that much? I know a lot of runners. Fast runners, slow runners, “medium” runners. And one day I realized that the fast people aren’t actually happier than the rest of us. Nothing magical happens when you reach a certain pace. The happiest runners are the ones who celebrate their own accomplishments and just enjoy the privilege of being able to run at all.

      OMG. Sorry. Total soap box, aka “the ramblings of a recovering time goal a holic”

  14. You had a great training cycle! Don’t sell yourself short. Even though you may not have had what you think is a break through… I definitely think you have had a few. PRing twice in a single season is DEFINITELY a breakthrough. I think you always realized what works best for you in training and maybe loosened up a little about your running. These are all great things that will not only help you on race day, but also into the future.

    As for blogging, I’m sure you’ll find things to talk about. Do a series on new running places you are going or hiking that you are doing (didn’t you just get a new pair of hiking shoes?). Don’t worry about what you’ll write about. Just post cat photos… everyone loves those! ­čśë

    1. Thanks Kerry!! Hiking adventures will DEFINITELY be on the blog! Now i just gotta get my butt in gear and start planning some!

  15. Thanks for the shout out! I truly, truly believe that by releasing yourself of time goals, you will have a good race. That happened to me at my last half – I had a goal in mind, I knew where my fitness was, but at the end of the day I wanted to race well and enjoy the race. Letting go of goals releases you from self-imposed pressure and stress (which I think both you and I have the personalities to put pressure on ourselves) and it also removes arbitrary limits.
    The change in training perspective is most certainly a breakthrough, and that’s a far more meaningful and powerful breakthrough than an increase in mileage or pace. Your body will follow your mind.
    As for blogging – running for fun is something to talk about! Running is life’s great metaphor and teacher for many of us, and lessons are not only learned in the crucible of marathon training but in the everyday runs. And running is also only part of life – there’s hiking, learning, living, etc.
    Now go taper well and get ready to own PGH!

  16. Training intuitively sounds great! I think you will have a wonderful race and adjust that time goal it as it unfolds ­čśë Pittsburgh looks to be a tougher course than a lot of runs out there! It’ll be good to run it without feeling a lot of pressure to hit something specific.
    I will be on a break all summer pretty much. I hope to get to hike and do some other fun things I can share, but I am going to take it week by week, and see what happens.
    You start running a 10K season and you will be wining them for sure, speedy! ­čÖé

Comments are closed.