5 steps to shave 30 minutes off my marathon time


That is exactly what I need to qualify to the Boston Marathon. Last year, I ran my first marathon in Pittsburgh in 3:31:43. This was nowhere neat my Boston Marathon Qualifying Standard of 3:05:00. This year, I plan to run my second marathon. It is exactly the same race, but this time I will try to shave 30 minutes off my time to quality to Boston. Here is my 5-step plan to accomplish this task, let’s hope it is enough!!

1. Faster cadence and better form

Last year, I was following a very long (30-week) training plan, but I injured my right hamstring 16 weeks before the race. It took me 6 weeks to come back to a regular training schedule, and another 4 weeks for the pain to subside entirely.

My physical therapist told me that what felt like a hamstring injury was actually a lower back issue caused by a weak core and bad running posture. He also told me that my cadence was too slow and my muscles were too tight, and gave me some pointers to improve my form.

I started doing more core strengthening exercises, stretching better, foam rolling, doing running drills,  and taking rest days seriously,  and I have focused on keeping proper form and fast cadence during my runs. Increasing my cadence hasn’t been easy. I have gone up from 155 steps per minute to 175, and I am consciously trying to push my normal-pace-cadence all the way up to 180.

I am happy to report that I have been injury free since then. I hope my improved form and cadence helps me continue to be injury free for a long time, and to be more efficient on race day!

2. Smarter race

Last year, I was hoping to finish under 3:30:00. I probably could have, but I made a total noob mistake. Since I was feeling great at the beginning of the race, I stuck around the 3:15 pacer for around 15 miles. At some point, I realized I couldn’t keep up any more, and then  I hit the wall. The last 10 miles were absolute hell. I just wanted to stop and wait for someone to pick me up. I did my fastest mile in 7 minutes, and mile 25 took me more than 10. Starting out too fast was a terrible mistake.

You can see how I hit the wall on mile 16, the last 10 miles were tough

This year, I have a better idea of what to expect. I have run a number of half marathons since, and I have learned to appreciate the importance of saving some energy during the beginning of a race to be able to finish strong. I am going to prepare a detailed plan for the race (involving negative splits and taking into account the big climb on mile 12), and I am going to stick to it. A smarter race on its own should be able to buy me a few minutes.

3. More miles

The third step is a pretty straightforward one: running more.

In part because I was a new runner and in part because of my injury, I was not able to get enough miles before last year’s race. For most of the training cycle, I was running between 10 and 20 miles per week, and I felt this lack of mileage on race day.

Since then, I have significantly ramped up my weekly mileage. By November of last year I was running around 30 miles per week, and I intend to bring up my weekly mileage close to 40 before race day. This might still sound like not enough to some people, but I feel comfortable with it given all the cross-training I do.

4. Better training plan

Last year, I didn’t really know what I was doing. After signing up for the race, I read a couple of online articles and made my own plan. It wasn’t a very specific plan either. I just scheduled longer and longer runs on Sundays, and I winged the rest as I moved along. I tried to run more miles and increase my pace every week, and I included a good measure of cross-training and the occasional hill or track workout. But it was a very unstructured plan.

I still don’t feel like an expert, but I’ve put a lot more thought in my new training plan. First, I’ve gotten to know my body, my strengths and my limitations much better. Second,  I was able to work for a few months with coach Bill Hessert who explained to me some things about how to train. I’ve come to understand that running just to add miles is not always a good idea, running workouts should have a specific purpose, and I have come up with what I believe is a much better structured 16-week training plan.

5. Healthier habits

I never realized how bad I treated my body for years: from hardcore partying during college, to smoking like a chimney, to constant work-or-school-related all-nighters, to terrible nutrition. I am much better at taking care of my body now. I rarely drink alcohol, I sleep 7-9 hours almost every night, I have improved my nutrition considerably, and I have significantly reduced my smoking.

I didn’t really start to work on my nutrition until the moment I signed up for my first marathon. Before, I used to eat out regularly (often fast food), I would order large pizzas and finish them in one sitting, eat unhealthy snacks all day, and drink sugary drinks. But what I have come to realize is that the problem was not just all the crap I was putting in my body, but all the nutrients that I was missing. You can eat like a pig and still be malnourished.

I have switched to preparing most of my meals myself. I cook a large number of microwaveable meals every weekend to eat during the week. I eat breakfast every morning. I eat fruits, and veggies, and whole grains. I control my portions and macros. Even if I eat out I have learned to make the healthier choices. And I make sure I consume enough fuel to power my workouts.

I always feel a bit ashamed when runners find out that I have been smoking for 15 years. Despite the social stigma, I really enjoy it and had no intention to quit, until I realized that qualifying to the Boston marathon would be much harder than expected.  I haven’t stopped completely and I don’t know if I ever will. However, I was smoking 1 pack per day a couple of year ago, I was smoking 3 packs per week last year, and, since last May, I have been smoking 1-3 cigarettes per week on average.

I feel better than ever. My digestive system is ridiculously regular. The only time I was sick last year I caught a cold, but it lasted less than 2 days. All the chronic pains that I was developing are completely gone. I forgot how heartburn and stomach aches feel like. I feel strong and energized all the time, and I’m confident that this will reflect on my finish time!


Author: brunosalcedo

Can't spell Bruno without a run. I do game theory between long runs.

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