If you’ve just run your first marathon, you might relate to the common “never again” sentiment as you struggle to move your Jell-O-like legs. But once the soreness wears off and you’re basking in the glow of your achievement, it’s natural to wonder how much more you’re capable of.
Regardless of age and experience level, many repeat marathoners share the desire to crush their personal best. Perhaps that’s running it under four (or even three) hours, or qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon. Whatever your running goals, you’ll definitely feel inspired by these goal-getting tactics from marathoners just like you.
How 10 Runners Scored Their Marathon Personal Best
1. Train with ladder formats, tempo runs and hills.
Victoria Webster, 33, Houston, TX
“After running a nearly 25-minute PR (from 4:08 to 3:44) in my second marathon, I realized that if I put more effort into what I was doing, I could get faster,” Webster says. In addition to increasing the frequency of her weekday runs and losing a few pounds, she also did intervals, ladder formats, tempo runs and hills. “I also started training with people who were faster than me,” she says. Changing up her regimen paid off and brought her PR down to 3:01.
2. Focus on improving shorter distances.
Anne Callaway, 32, New York, NY
“I was once told I would never be able to run a marathon because I am bowlegged and one leg is longer than the other. This only gave me more motivation,” Callaway says. She proved them wrong by running four marathons in four years with a personal best of 4:32. After hiring a run coach, she learned how to race based on effort level. Improving her pace and running mechanics during half-marathons and shorter distances helped Callaway set a 3:58 PR in the 2016 New York City Marathon. “I couldn’t believe it!” she says.
Photo: Courtesy of Steve Maliszewski
3. Recover more, run less.
Steve Maliszewski, 45, Houston, TX
“I chased a Boston qualifier for about two-and-a-half years, coming close two out of three times,” Maliszewski says. Instead of turning the intensity up on his training schedule, he worked on building good recovery practices. “If I didn’t meet a certain pace on a run, then I just dusted myself off and moved on to the next run. This helped me go from a 3:42 to a 3:09,” he says.
4. Chase down a friend.
Jocelyn Bonneau, 32, New York City, NY
It took Bonneau more than three years and four marathons to finally run a sub-4 at the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon. “I hired a coach who not only helped me create a training plan, but also helped me get through my mental roadblocks,” Bonneau says. She also started running regularly with a friend who was faster than her. “There is nothing like peer pressure and the company of a good friend to get you moving faster,” Bonneau says.
5. Fake it ‘til you make it.
Brit Davis, 47, Longmont, CO
Davis had no idea what the Boston Marathon was about until a friend told him he was close to qualifying. So he got more serious about his training and started incorporating tempo and hill workouts. Soon enough, Davis realized, “I could hold faster paces for longer.” In just a little over a year, he finished with a 3:13 at The Woodlands Marathon. “I learned the value of self-confidence and that I’m capable of much more than I know.”
6. Realize that not every run is going to be great.
Meggie Smith, 31, Los Angeles, CA
Consistency was key for Smith, no matter how good or bad the workout was. “Not every workout or run had to be ‘great’ or ‘better,’” says Smith. “What I needed to do was string together a bunch of good weeks or months that turned into something great.” With hard work and perseverance, Smith finally got a BQ at the 2013 Eugene Marathon.
7. Improve your nutrition.
Cipriana Cuevas, 32, Brooklyn, NY
Marathon PRs are made in the kitchen as much as they are on the track. Cuevas went vegan and made healthy changes to her lifestyle to help her reach her goal of qualifying for the Boston marathon. “I also increased my mileage from 35 miles per week to 55 plus, while working with a run coach,” Cuevas says. “This helped me go from 4:27 to a 3:33 in one year.”
8. Go for slow runs.
Lauren Ross, 26, Houston, TX
Sometimes the key to being a fast runner is to go slow and easy. Ross learned the hard way when she injured herself from running too fast (yes that can happen). “I had to sit out my next three marathons, including Boston,” she recalls. But today, Ross feels stronger and appreciates slow, easy miles. “I know they’re loosening up my muscles, building my endurance and allowing my legs to get ready for the next hard workout,” Ross says. Four years later, she’s gearing up for her first Boston Marathon.
9. Strength work, strength work, strength work.
Kristie Barbee, 54, Houston, TX
Running takes more than just speed and endurance. For Barbee, it takes strengthening the muscles around her joints to prevent injury, too. “Since I’m older, I needed strength work on my hips, glutes, hamstrings and inner quads to protect my knees,” Barbee says. Now in her fifties, she’s a faster, stronger and better-conditioned runner.
10. Shorten your training plan.
Luca Grisa, 38, Brooklyn, NY
For previous races, Grisa’s training plans would span 16 to 18 weeks, but when he shortened it to just eight weeks, he hit his best stride. “My coach’s main idea is that people who run regularly can forgo the first four to six weeks of marathon-specific workouts since the legs are already used to running,” Grisa says. This strategy kept Grisa fresh and injury-free. “It ultimately helped me meet my goal and run a 2:58 at the 2015 Chicago Marathon.”