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One Lesson That Helped Me Run A 23-Minute Marathon PR

I started chasing a Boston Qualifying time in 2003. Back then the only running I’d ever done was suicides during basketball practice in high school. So naturally when I decided to start running, I set the marathon as my first goal. I had heard talk of the Boston Marathon and it was only an hour drive from where I lived at the time, so I figured it was a good option. Then I learned you had to qualify to be able to run.

I signed up for a qualifying race, trained, ran the race and walked the last mile thanks to my foot blowing up with plantar fasciitis. I fell short of a BQ by ten minutes. So began my quest for a BQ that took me through eight marathons in eleven years, my times getting slower with each attempt. Finally I crossed the line of the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2014 in a time of 3:25 and nabbed my BQ.

In all of my marathons prior to 2014, I would start slow for the first three miles, usually 30-60 seconds slower than my goal pace. Then when I hit that 5K mark, I’d speed it up a lot. I felt good, so why not? I would start to run a pace that was often 10-15 seconds faster than my goal marathon pace, thinking “Maybe I’m in better shape than I thought? Maybe I can blow my goal out of the water?!

Related: Why Your First Mile Is The Most Important

I would happily run along for 13 miles, feeling pleased at my faster-than-expected pace. Then somewhere after mile 16, I would fall apart. From there the race was a slow, painful slog to the finish. My pace would slow to goal pace, then 10 seconds slower than goal pace, then 30 seconds slower and then I’d walk for a bit. Pretty soon I was nowhere near goal pace. The dream of a BQ would run out of reach.

There was a clear difference with the way I approached pacing my 2014 marathon. I started slow, as I had in the past, but instead letting the pace get away from me in the middle miles, I ran right at my goal pace or slightly slower until I reached the halfway mark. During that time I had to constantly tell myself to “rein it in”, “run smart”, and not try to “bank time.” I didn’t get carried away with the thought of running faster than what I had trained for. I stuck to the plan.

I kept running goal pace until around mile 16. With 10 miles to go I let my body flow with a pace that felt good and that pace happened to be much faster than my anticipated race pace. Miles 16-20 were my fastest miles of the marathon, my third fastest mile split was mile 25 and my final mile was 46 seconds faster than my first mile. I ended up negative splitting the marathon, running the second half of the race was six minutes faster than the first 13.1.

I ran my plan. I knew what my body was capable of and I didn’t get carried away with the “What if I can run faster?” thought that had been my demise in so many marathons before. This plan brought me across the line with a 23-minute PR.

Related: How To Negative Split A Run

Run Far Girl

Run Far Girl

Sarah Canney is author of, freelance writer, running coach and creator of Run Far Gear and Rise.Run.Retreat. After running on the roads for nearly 14 years, Sarah recently transitioned to trail and mountain running and is an avid snowshoe runner. She is mom to three little ones, whom she homeschools. Sarah is also a passionate fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock, where her son, Jack received care as an infant. After a nine-year battle with anorexia and bulimia, Sarah has reached a point of peace and freedom and openly shares her journey to recovery. You can also find Sarah on Twitter and Instagram as @runfargirl.