How I Trained To Qualify For The Boston Marathon

After being extremely pleased with my performance at the Lehigh Valley Marathon last fall, I decided to set the bar higher and chase a Boston qualifying time this year. When the idea first came into my mind last fall, I thought, “Maybe I’ll do a spring marathon to keep building up my speed and endurance and hopefully BQ in a fall race.” Then with the passing weeks and months and growing determination, my thoughts changed to, “What if I just try to BQ in the spring?…” And so I decided to pursue the latter, because the competitor in me simply could not wait until later in the year.

That’s when I started diligently reading as much as I could about how to qualify. I researched different training plans and read articles upon articles related to my goal. I knew training throught the winter would be very tough for me. I am a South American girl after all. I knew a lot of my miles would have to be done on my treadmill, but I decided to be a Treadmill Warrior not a Treadmill Worrier. If I wanted to succeed with my goal, that is what I had to do.

After finishing my 4th marathon, the N.J. Marathon

Although I continued running after Lehigh, it wasn’t until late January that I decided I would really go for it and signed up for the New Jersey Marathon. I was all in. I invested in a training plan that gave me detailed workouts and paces to shoot for. Being a coach myself, I decided to use it as a guide and changed things up as needed. For example, I did not do the total mileage that the plan asked me to do. There was just no way I could run 60 miles a week. I just don’t have the time for it. My mileage peaked at close to 50, but for the most part it was in the mid 40s. If a goal pace run felt too hard, I eased back. I allowed myself to take it easy and I didn’t push more than I had to. I think that’s a mistake I see a lot of runners do, they run fast and hard all the time. In order to reach the physiological changes that your body needs for maximum performance, it’s not necessary to empty your tank all the time.

All smiles after seeing my family at mile 15!

I ran 6 days a week which seemed like a lot at first until it became part of my routine. During the week it was usually 4-6 mile runs, 2 days of easy runs, 1 tempo run or goal pace run or Vo2 max run, a few hill repeats, and 1 long run. I did four 20 milers, which I believe gave me the mental toughness on race day of, “Hey, you did this a few times already. You got this.” Would I recommend it to everyone? Absolutely not. It was an experiment for me. It worked for this training period but it may not always be the case.

I cross-trained and lifted weights at least 2 days a week, right after a run, with core work about 3 days a week. Since figuring out that my right side is definitely my weaker side, I made sure to strength it to become more balanced. Movements such as single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts and side planks became part of my routine. I also worked on balance by incorporating my Strongboard into my workouts.

I got treated at Santiago Chiropractic towards the end of my training. I do admit that I started after feeling some tightness on my right vastus lateralis. The issue quickly went away, but then my left gastrocnemius started aching. I was fortunate to be able to make it through the marathon with no aches at all.

Getting treated at Santiago Chiropractic Associates.

I suffer from gastrointestinal issues, so I knew I would also need to do some research and experimenting in that area. I had a tough experience during Lehigh and I definitely did not want to sideline my goals with something I could control. I had been using Honey Stingers for a couple of years but the gummies were not very convenient during races. I decided to switch to gels and opted for the Acai Pomegranate flavor. I consumed a gel packet every 3 miles during the race and that worked out perfectly. I stayed well hydrated by drinking water at almost every water station.

With all the biomechanics studying and research I’ve done over the past 7 months, I switched from my Nike Pegasus to minimalist shoes. These type of shoes encourage natural foot splay, foot flexes and lessen ground contact for improved running performance. Minimalist shoes can help improve proprioception by activating the small muscles in the ankle, heel and feet. I don’t recommend anyone just jump in and start running long in these type of shoes, but if you start out with shorter runs and slowly increase them, you can learn to appreciate what they can do for your running.

These are the main tips I can give someone and they were some of the major changes I made in my training. If you have specific questions about anything, feel free to leave a comment or to email me and I’d be happy to help you!

I did not stay at a hotel the night before, mostly because I wanted to eat dinner at home and sleep in my own bed. My mom drove with me early that Sunday morning and even thought there was a slight back up entering the parking lot to the racetrack, we were able to get a spot easily.

The marathon itself was a really great experience. I actually did not study the course map too well because I thought there was going to be more boardwalk running, but most of the course was actually on the streets. It started at the Monmouth Racetrack, went north to Monmouth Park, then right through Long Branch and down to Asbury Park where we turned around and headed back up to finish in Long Branch.

There was a bit of a bottleneck after crossing the start line but after that first half mile, it got better. My favorite parts of the course were Monmouth Park, where some local residents pumped music from their loudspeakers and hung out on their front lawns with motivational signs, early on that Sunday morning to cheer us on. The energy in Long Branch was also infectious. Again, lots of signs, and cheerful faces either waiting to see their loved ones run by or perhaps just being out there to support strangers. There were lots of miles were there were no spectators, but since I was so focused on just running my race, it didn’t affect me too much. I do recall a young male spectator who held up a sign around mile 16 that said, “Touch here for power!” and I made sure to give it a tap!

The last mile will always be memorable because it was when I kicked into second gear somehow, hoping to leave everything on that course, on that boardwalk. I was so sure that I did not get into Boston at that point, but I decided to finish as strong and as fast as I could. And I sure did. I was warned about the headwinds that can plague the coast, but I was so focused on getting to the Finish Line that the winds never bothered me.

I would definitely recommend this race and since it is mostly flat, it would be a good one for either a new marathoner or someone chasing a Boston Qualifier. I did not make it to the expo and had a fellow running club member pick up my bib, so I cannot comment on how that was. The long sleeve t-shirt was nice although I would have preferred a tech material to cotton.

Having the support of my husband, my son and my mom out on the course was the cherry on top to a wonderful race. I do wish I had dialed back my pace a bit in the first few miles (and around miles 15-19), so that is definitely something I will keep in mind for my next marathon!

I’m so proud of the hard work I put in to accomplish my first Boston Qualifier marathon. Most importantly, I’m proud I got it in my home state!

Some of my cheerleaders.My Why!

Have you run the NJ Half or Full Marathon and if so, what did you think of it? Would you run it again?

I got my BQ in my home state! I got my BQ in my home state!

~Julia

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Can strength training help you become a better runner?

In order to be a well-rounded runner, strength training should be part of your arsenal just like speed work and hills. Some of the benefits include maintaining lean muscle mass, minimizing muscle imbalances and increasing core strength.
Besides your typical dumbbells, you can also incorporate kettlebells into your workouts. They help increase cardiovascular health without putting too much strain on your muscles. The explosive, quick movement that’s required during kettlebell training boosts your heart rate, strengthening cardiovascular health while increasing muscle strength, posture and core.

Post run strength training

Another plus of strength training, especially if you’re looking to lose weight or change your aesthetics, is that it helps burn fat hours after your workout. It’s very important to be aware of your form at all times during exercise. This will increase the exercise’s effectiveness and safety. One of the best tips I give my clients is to visualize the muscles that are doing the work as you perform each exercise to really understand the purpose of the movement and get more out of it.

Single-leg movements are a crucial addition to your routine as they clear up mobility and imbalances between each side of your body. Training your body to move in different planes of motion can help reduce injuries and increase running performance.

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Strength training sessions don’t need to last long. Fifteen minutes of doing the right exercises can be enough. If you feel that lack of time is your issue, think of which runs you can reduce to incorporate more strength. For example, combine a run with a strength training workout by doing a 30 minute run and a 20 minute strength training session instead of your usual 50 minute run. Instead of a 30 minute run, do sprints for 15-20 minutes and then do a strength workout.

Do your best to mix in strength 2 times a week. Give it a few weeks and notice how you feel. Trust me, it will make a big difference! In order to be a stronger and less injured runner, you need to put in more than just miles. Besides picking up some weights on a consistent basis, it’s also imperative that you prioritize rest and sleep, as well as proper nutrition and stretching.

Below is a great workout to do on your cross-training day or to do after a short run.

20 minute strength workout

What is your favorite strength training movement? I currently like squats and bicep curls 💪🏼

Let me know if you try the workout above! Have a great day 🙂

Julia

Lehigh Valley Marathon Recap

Training for this marathon was an incredible experience as a Mother Runner. I really feel like it helped me bond with Frankie in a special way. I love the fact that now he asks to go for a run in the stroller. It helped us connect while he learned more about a sport that Mommy loves. And bonus for him, he got to spend time outside experiencing all  that Mother Nature brings- maybe even a brief bear encounter.

About 2 weeks after I finished the Superhero Half in May, I started contemplating signing up for a full marathon. I figured that since training for 13.1 had gone so well, I could push myself to attempt training for 26.2 while raising a toddler.  Some days it was really hard. I was tired. I was cranky. And some days Frankie was. But I’m really proud of the fact that I didn’t miss any runs. I had to modify the mileage sometimes, but otherwise I was able to complete the training plan I had created for myself (based on Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 plan). I will blog more about my training in a future post.

When I shared my goals with one of my mommy running friends, she mentioned she was doing the Lehigh Valley Marathon in PA and that I should consider doing it too. This small marathon with a descending course that starts in Allentown and ends in Easton is actually the second fastest marathon in the country, helping many runners qualify for Boston each year.  Since it’s less than 2 hours away from me, I thought it would be a convenient one to do.  I didn’t really know what sort of goal to give myself. The last time I ran a full, it was NYC in 2014 where I was recovering from ITB and had to deal with crazy wind on race day. I gave myself a range of 3:50-3:45 after feeling really great with the outcome of some of my long runs. Fast forward to late August and two weeks before the marathon, and the weather looked very promising. I told myself that that was my green light to try to run my best marathon and break 3:45. If I could do that then maybe I could start thinking about “chasing Boston” in the near future.

I booked a room at the Holiday Inn in Allentown and they were kind enough to give me a discount in exchange for my honest review on my blog. The location was great as it was less than 15 minutes away from the start, which took place at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. My mom and Frankie were with us so we got a room with two Queen beds and requested a portable crib for Frankie. The room was clean and spacious enough for a quick one night stay for all of us.

Packet pick-up took place in Bethlehem at the Arts Quest Center, across from the SteelStacks. What an awesome place!  It used to be the old Bethlehem Steel plant and now is an event venue. It was so beautiful and just something completely unique. We arrived around 3pm and got my bib and swagbag and then walked around the old plant and took some photos. Then we headed to the hotel to check in. Once we arrived there, Frankie, my mom and I stayed in and rested. Frank decided to go out and explore a bit. He texted me saying he found a beer festival just a few blocks away. Definitely a fun thing to run into for my supportive spectator! I was a little sad that I couldn’t enjoy the festival but I was happy he had something fun to do!

We ventured out in the cool evening to find a place to eat and decided to check out an Italian place a few blocks away. It’s been a tradition for my past two marathons that I order gnocchi the night before, so that’s what I did. We finished dinner and headed back to the hotel to let Frankie run around in the lobby a bit before bedtime.  Unfortunately I did not sleep very well due to nerves (and Frankie being up late).

I woke up the next morning around 5am and got ready. The fridge didn’t seem to keep my food very cold, which I think led to some issues later. I brought a peanut butter sandwich and a smoothie and had those along with a cup of coffee.  I pinned my bib on, put my shoes on and left around 6:15 and was dropped off by Frank who said he’d see me at the half-way point with my mom and Frankie.

I waited around until the official start took place at 7:10am. I ran into another one of my running friends and we wished each other good luck. My Garmin decided to do a restart just as I needed to hit Start so it was off by 2 minutes. The first few miles had some big downhills and I tried to keep myself at a comfortable pace. It was very picturesque, with a cute covered bridge within the first 2 miles. I actually caught up to my friend and we ended up running most of the race together, until around mile 20 when I had to hold back.

I was feeling really great the first few miles, but I think it was around mile 8 that I started getting side stitches- which I never get! I ignored them and tried to keep focusing on running and the beautiful scenery.  We got to mile 12 and saw my family but my side stitches were pretty strong at this point. My stomach was hurting pretty badly and I thought maybe I should stop and try to use the bathroom. I told myself that I would try to keep going a couple more miles to see if the pain went away. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening. I had been hydrating the days before and was drinking water at every water station during the race. I was taking my salt tabs and my Honey Stingers like I had practiced. I immediately remembered the fridge was not very cold. Maybe that was it? Oh great, I thought. I have perfect running conditions, I trained so diligently and now I may not beat my goal. Maybe I’ll just try to break 4 hours, I thought.

I kept struggling through the next few miles but it was really nice to see my family again a few miles later. A few times I was tempted to run off into the woods, but I told myself, “You are tough. You are strong. You can push through this.”  So then we got to Mile 20. And it was rough. Really rough. We ran past a tiny abandoned cottage that looked like it should be in a fairytale.Then all of a sudden, I see Frank beaming at me and holding a sign that Frankie had made, “Go Julia! Frankie is napping but he sends artwork!” It was the perfect thing to hear and see to give me a little jolt of energy. At this point my friend was feeling great so he took off and I hung back. I knew I couldn’t speed up but I told myself that I would force myself to maintain my current pace. I got to mile 21, then mile 22, then mile 23, then mile 24. I was soo close. I really could do it. I looked at the time. “Wow, I really could get under 3:45 maybe,” I thought. Then it was mile 25 and it seemed to last forever. There was a windy right turn that we had to make just before the Finish Line. I was afraid to look at the time on the clock but I did anyway. It said 3:42-something which meant it was really 3:44-something since my watch was off by 2 minutes. My stomach was hurting so badly and I could feel so much tension in my face but I charged through the last yard, caught sight of my family cheering me on on the sidelines, and sprinted across the finish line with a pained look on my face. I looked at my watch and wasn’t sure if I did or didn’t break 3:45.

My legs were so cramped up at this point that I couldn’t even bend down to sit and rest. Frank found me and helped me down but it wasn’t long til I had to visit the porta-potty.  I wasn’t hungry or thirsty but I knew I needed some electrolytes. My father-in-law got me a beer and magically that brought me back to life a little bit. Frank looked up my time on the athlete tracking site and told me that it was 3:44:49- I had pulled it off!  We then headed to 3rd and Ferry Fish Market for a celebratory lunch where I enjoyed a much needed burger and beers. Bonus that they offered 10% off to the marathoners.

Overall it was a really nice Marathon- it’s small, scenic, with plenty of shade and well-organized. The fact that it benefits people with disabilities is also a big plus.

My quads were very beat up from all the downhill running and the miles done on a tow path. I rested for 4 days and then slowly started working out and running again. I have a 10K this Sunday and a Half Marathon on the 21st. I’m really hoping for new PRs in these distances too. I’ll keep you posted!

Xo,

Julia

5 Tips for Exercising in the Heat

July tends to bring super hot temperatures here in North Jersey and if you’re training for a marathon that means having to be outside often in scorching, humid conditions. I have had some tough runs in the heat but made it through them by training smart and drinking plenty of water. Whether you have a long distance event in the books or are doing an outdoor workout class, here are some tips to help you survive the heat.


1.) Hydrate… a lot.  Drinking before or after is not always sufficient. When temperatures are high, it’s best to also hydrate during your sweat session. I recommend carrying water with you so you can reach for it easily. I wear a hydration belt on my long runs but if you’re a class-taker or gym-goer here’s a stainless steel bottle (only $15!) to bring along with you. It’s also important to replenish electrolytes, so a post-workout sports drink is essential for that. I like Nuun Active tablets. They have pretty clean ingredients and the flavors are not too overpowering.

2) Wear light-colored, sweat-wicking clothing. Save the dark colors for fall and winter and pull out your white tank tops and grey shorts. Avoid cotton as it will just stick to you, weigh you down and possibly even irritate your skin. I love MPG Sport for their affordable and cute tank tops for women. There are also times when you just have to workout in your sports bra, and you know what? That’s totally fine! There are some really cute ones at MPG too.

3) Keep It Brief. There will be times when you will need to cut it short or split up your runs or workouts. I usually have to do 2 runs- one in the mornings with Frankie while it’s still not too hot out and another one on the treadmill while he’s napping. It can get done- you just have to be flexible.

Stroller running around town

4) Wear sunscreen! Make sure you protect your skin, even on cloudy days. I always keep a bottle of sunscreen in the garage by the running stroller. Wear a hat or visor and try to stay in shady areas.

Running in shady part of Patriot’s Path

5) Take a cold shower. Although I usually do this after a workout, some people will also do it right before. It may also help wake you up if you have a super early morning wake up call.

Train smart and enjoy these last few weeks of summer. Working out in hot conditions definitely helps toughen up my mental game, so take away what you can from the tough workouts. They’ll make you a better athlete!

Today I did my long run, I have a few chores around the house, then we’ll be visiting my best friend and her family for a BBQ and kiddie play time, and then I’ll be back home finalizing some workouts for my first week of Small Group Training Classes which I’m SO SO excited about!

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

xo,

Julia

There are affiliate links included in this post that I may earn a small percentage from should you choose to make a purchase- at no additional cost to you.

Conquering some fears at the Jersey City Challenge 

Last Saturday, I woke up with almost no voice, not quite sure if I was going to be accomplishing what I had signed up for many months prior. I was supposed to do my first obstacle race, the Jersey City Challenge, but I was still getting over a cold and now had lost my voice. The hubby was sure I was going to say we should just chalk it up as a sunk cost, but I told him to give me til after breakfast. And so…I had my coffee and breakfast and said, Let’s do this!

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel during the race. Would I start coughing and have to stop? I decided it was worth it to at least get there and see how far I could go. 

It was a chilly, rainy day as we arrived in Jersey City. We brought a backpack to check in (for $5) with a change of clothes and where we could leave our wallets and phones. That was a nice thing they offered and we didn’t mind spending a few extra dollars for it. The bib pick up was slow- surprisingly there was only one person trying to help everyone. Although they do highly suggest that people pick up their bibs ahead of time, that’s just not posible for some of us non-locals. Hopefully they realize this and make it easier for next time.

I had not intended to do this race for time. I didn’t even wear a watch. However, I knew that chances were high that I’d get stuck behind people in front of me so I made sure to sprint between obstacles to give myself the best workout I could.

The penalty for not completing an obstacle was 30 jumping squats. The obstacles included barricades, cargo nets, walls of different heights, and a pyramid that had to be climbed. There was also a reverse wall and a rope climb. Oh and we had to jump over a cop car and taxi cab. I chose going on top of the cop car- that felt pretty badass.


 Prior to running it, I was fearful that the walls were all going to be super high and that my fear of my heights would get the best of me and I’d had to skip some, but it turned out to not be the case. It must’ve been partly due to the adrenaline that I felt- I got through all just fine and was really proud of myself. I climbed the rope all the way up and rang the bell! I even got half way through the rings which were set up on monkey bars (and so I did my 15 penalty squats). Those were among my top two highlights of the race.


There were also other CrossFit-type obstacles like box jumps, kettlebell swings, sandbag carries, heavy jump ropes and bear crawls. The heavy jump ropes were super hard! There was also a balance beam and I ended up having to get help from the City Challenge Staff because it was super tricky. I think that if I took my time and didn’t rush through it, I could’ve done it a little better. 


So my lack of voice or any other doubts or discomforts didn’t hinder me. Would I do this event again? I think if a group of my friends wanted to do it, I definitely would again. A bonus was that there was no gross mud involved. After all, their motto is, “Think outside the mud!” It’s one of those things that you do for the experience. To test your strength and your fears. To have fun! It was not something I cared to do for time.  I’ll leave that to my running races. 


Xo, 

Julia 

Easy Treadmill Speedwork

Hello friends! Happy Tuesday. I have to admit, my running has been slacking the past 2 months or so, and except for the run we did while traveling in California last month, my mileage has been pretty nonextistent. 

Trail run in Sausalito, CA in February.

So what’s the best way to get out of a running slump? Signing up for a race! The hubby and I will be doing our local St Paddy’s 5K on Saturday. Obviously not aiming for any PRs, but just looking to get our groove back a little bit. I think that with Spring being right around the corner, I’ll be more motivated to get Frankie out in the BOB too!


Here’s a nice and easy speedwork workout I created. You can increase the easy and fast running if you’re training for a longer race.

Run 1/2 mile at a comfortable/easy pace. For me that was 8:30 pace.

Then alternate with a very easy jog for .2 mile (for me that was 9:31 pace), and then a sprint for .2 mile (for me that was 6:58 pace). Repeat for 2.5 miles (for a total of 3 miles).

Today I will be doing some barbell squats and core work and get back to running tomorrow.

Follow me on Instagram to see how I do on the 5K! @thepetitefastinista 


Xo,

Julia

Running happy 

I had back-to-back running days this weekend and loved it. I didn’t get a chance to do my once a week run last weekend so I was glad I was able to get these in. 

Saturday I did the same 5K loop I had done the past 2 times and shaved 2 minutes off my previous time (which was 30 minutes). I’m finally starting to feel like my old running self! 

   
I finished the run by doing a few sprints up and down my driveway. And can we just say how cute these leggings are? I got them from my local Athleta store recently.   
Later that afternoon, I did another workout:

1 round of

15 burpees

1 power clean (65#)

5 front squats (65#)

20 double unders

3 pull ups

3 toes to bar

Then, rounds 2-4 I did 15 deadlifts instead of the clean/squat movement. 

On Sunday, the hubby and I were supposed to go to CrossFit but overslept (thanks, daylight savings time!) so we went on a quick 25-minute run instead. The legs were feeling tired but I managed to make it through without any stopping 🙂

Today is my mom’s birthday, so there will be some indulging and I’ll probably take a rest day. 

Happy Monday to all! 😀