A few weeks ago, my friend Kara managed to qualify for the Boston Marathon AND set a whopping 28 minute PR at the Ottawa Marathon, which she ran in 3:36:36 (surpassing the Boston Qualifying time of 3:40 for our age group). Qualifying for Boston is a huge goal of mine, so I virtually sat down with Kara to learn some of her training secrets…enjoy!
Profession: Registered Dietitian
Where you live: Syracuse, NY
Official race time: 3:36:36
Previous best marathon PR: 4:04:40
Kara! Take me through your training plan. How many weeks did you train for?
I followed Hal Higdon’s 18 week Advanced 1 training schedule. I basically followed it except some days I would switch around, and I didn’t I didn’t always do the hill repeats.
What was your long run schedule like?
His schedule has you do a long run every weekend with 2 buildup weeks, then the 3rd week your long run is shorter, and this continues throughout the training. This plan also works in three- 20 mile runs for your longest runs. This was the first time training that I was actually able to fit in all three! I did however change and for my second 20 miler I decided to increase the miles to help with muscle memory and to get an idea of my pace for race day. So instead I did 24 miles for that training run. It really helped with my confidence on race day.
Did you incorporate speedwork into your plan? If so, what did you do?
The plan I used did incorporate speedwork 1x/week. Each week you would alternate either a tempo run or a hilly speed workout. I have to admit I didn’t follow these exactly. I kind of worked more on doing tempo runs 1-2 x/week, but I did manage to do some hill work. I also normally did my longer runs at a slower pace, but this training period I really tried to push the pace throughout my long runs as well, for at least a portion of it.
You’re a dietician and I know you’re a healthy eater – did you make any tweaks or changes to your diet during training?
Prior to starting to train for this marathon I made the decision to start eating meat again after being a vegetarian for 12 years. I started to incorporate lean protein sources into my diet such as chicken, turkey burger, white fish and tuna. This made a huge difference in my energy levels and my ability to maintain my muscle mass during training. I also stuck with eating 5 meals/day, usually consisting of some type of protein/carbohydrate combination at every meal. This really helped fuel my throughout the day and I was able to continue to increase my muscle mass even thought I was doing so much running.
What did you eat the night before and morning of the race?
We went out to my favorite restaurant in Canada, East Side Marios. I had my standard pre-marathon meal: salad, bread and butter, and a plate of pasta with spaghetti sauce and some chicken in it. Before I went to bed I ate a muffin I bought at Tim Horton’s earlier; whole wheat raspberry, sooo good! I have done both of these things every year I run Ottawa. In the morning I had bought these whole wheat “bagel thins”, I managed to eat 2 of those with some peanut butter on them. Bagels some times are too much for me to chew so these were nice and thin and light. I usually try to eat a banana as well but I was too full. Also, LOTS of water!
Take me through race day.
The morning started off very cool, and looked like it was gonna rain. Wake up was 5:30 for the 7 am race start. My husband walked me down to the start line and stayed with me until we started. He stayed down on the course the whole morning to cheer me on which was a huge motivator. He kept telling me he knew I would qualify for Boston. Any who, the weather stayed perfect the whole race. No rain, and no sun, just cloud cover and a cool 55 – 62 degrees. The first half of the course was new to me with some rolling hills throughout and some steeper hills, but nothing too challenging that would actually slow my pace. I saw my husband at the halfway point which was nice, he hopped up and ran with me for a minute and told me he loved me. The second half of the race was all familiar to me so I felt like I could really pick it up at that point since I knew what I was getting into. The course remains flat and you run mainly on this beautiful canal, only consisting of a couple hills all prior to the 32 K mark, again nothing too challenging. I tried to hydrate as needed without drinking too much since I didn’t want to have to make a porto-potty stop, and I used a chocolate GU 2x during the race. First at the 14 mile mark, which was later than I had planned but it helped to give me the continued energy I needed. I took another one at 20 miles even though it really didn’t sound good I knew a lot could happen in those last 6 miles and I didn’t want to take any chances. The runners on the course were amazing and very supportive. There were many words of encouragement within the runners on the course which also motivated me to keep my pace. There is something very motivating about passing men who look very fit and having them tell you “great pace, looking strong”. Also the spectators in Ottawa are amazing, and are very frequent throughout the entire race to offer words of encouragement. Your name is printed on your bib so you get a lot of people shouting your name, again another huge motivator that kept me going. Also, one thing to note is that I didn’t use my iPod during this race. I have before I and I feel it actually hurts my time. I am better off being able to listen to the crowd support for my motivation and just being inside my own head helps me going. Getting close to the finish line was amazing; they count it down with big signs starting at the 800 meter mark. The crowd support is unbelievable at this point, there is no slowing down. As I approached the 300 meter mark I could see the finish line, I knew I was going to qualify, and I knew I ran an amazing race, so my eyes filled up with tears! I ran as hard as I could, seeing my husband one last time right before I finished I shouted out “Hey you wanna go to Boston”, he smiled back and said “Yes but finish the race first”. So I crossed with my arms held high. I felt amazing and actually felt like I could have kept running.
How did you celebrate?
For starters, a nice long hot shower! Then got in some cozy clothes and lounged around our hotel room most of the day. I did do some stretching and took a quick soak in the hot tub, but was too worried about my hydration so I didn’t stay in long. We went out to dinner at Hard Rock Café that night which was OK, but nothing to write home about (grilled chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato fries). Then we pretty much called it a night since we were tired. The day after we went to Pure Gelato, which is the best gelato shop in Ottawa and I got a huge gelato (½ Chocolate Hazelnut, ½ Peanut Butter) sooo good! We also did some sightseeing around Ottawa.
What did you do during this training cycle that you think helped improve your speed the most?
It’s hard to pinpoint what it was that helped the most since I did so many things different than I have ever trained for. My nutrition was much more consistent by eating complete sources of protein, and I always made sure I had some type protein shake after my runs for muscle recovery. I’d probably say it was also the VO2 training that I started 4 months pre-marathon. In addition I also maintained strength training 3x/week. My muscle mass is higher, and I just have felt so much stronger and that really translates to what you can push through during a race.
What are your running/racing plans this summer/fall?
I’ve got a 15K and a 10 mile race planned for July, which will just be for fun and not for racing. I’ll be running with my sister so I just pace with her. I’m thinking maybe a fall marathon but haven’t decided on one yet.
Can you come to NYC so we can run a race together? 🙂
YES! I’ve always wanted to run through Central Park. I”m so jealous you get to every day! Please name a race and I am on my way! (I’m serious!)
Congrats again, Kara! Can’t wait to run with you cheer you on in Boston next year! 🙂
Question: What’s the best training tip you’ve ever received?