How I trained to run a sub 3 hour marathon

A few years ago I ran my first marathon in 4:11:08 (9:34 / mile pace). On Sunday I ran my second marathon in 2:55:05 (6:40 / mile pace) more than 76 minutes faster. This post is a summary of a few things I’ve learned to become a faster runner from May 2013 to October 2013.

Long Beach Marathon Start Number

NUTRITION BEFORE MAY 2013
Nutrition is really the foundation for performance and recovery. Until May 2013 I had never paid much attention to what I ate or drank. On an average day I’d eat 8 slices of bread, pasta, pizza, rice, potatoes, hamburgers and little bit of veggies. I would also drink coffee, milk, orange juice and beer. My energy levels during the day were all over the place, so I’d drink coffee to get energy and often had some beers at night. I felt tired, fatigue, had low energy and frequent headaches.

NUTRITION AFTER MAY 2013
In May I decided to eat a lot healthier, inspired by Dr Phil Maffetone, Rich Roll and Tim Ferriss. I cut out all refined carbohydrates, no more bread, pasta, pizza, chips. etc. After this I also cut out milk, coffee, alcohol, soda, fruit juices, most fruits, sweets, potatoes and rice.

The reason for me to do this was to change my body metabolism to burn fat instead of glycogen. When you eat refined carbs, your body produces a hormone called insulin, which slows down fat burning. As soon as you get rid of refined carbs, it takes your body 2 meals before it shifts into a high fat burning metabolism. My energy levels increased, I slept much better and didn’t have fatigue headaches anymore, so this happens very quickly.

Nowadays my meals consist of: veggies like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots etc, salads, tuna, salmon, bacon, chicken, beef, burrito bowls, guacamole, avocados, egg whites, beans, lentils, bananas, nuts, chia seeds, almond milk, coco nut milk, green tea and a lot of water.

Do yourself a favor and take 1-hour to listen to this great Trail Runner Nation Podcast about fat burning and nutrition.

TRAINING
In May 2013 I joined a running coaching and training program in LA called The Coyotes, by Jimmy Dean Freeman and Kate Martini Freeman, both very talented ultra runners. It motivated me a lot to run with a fun group of people and learn from everyone’s experiences. Finding others to run with makes it so much easier to get up at 5am and put your running shoes on. Twice a week I’d run with the Coyotes, then 2 to 3 times a week I’d run with local friends or alone in Long Beach. Here are the miles I ran in the last 5 months: May 160 miles, June 185 miles, July 184 miles, August 228 miles, Sept 297 miles, Oct taper 40 miles. A total of about 1100 miles in 5 months. See more specific run details on my Strava Account. The Nike Run Viking Contest (win a trip to Iceland ) helped push me to run many miles in September.

Running in Canada

HEART RATE MONITOR TRAINING
Want Speed? Slow Down! was another inspiring article for me during my marathon training. I always thought I had to train at a faster pace to become a faster runner. This article mentions the importance of developing the aerobic base first, before attempting hard work. You get faster without the wear, tear and injury using a heart rate monitor as biofeedback device.

In May I purchased a HR Monitor and Garmin 310 XT watch and started training at my maximum aerobic heart rate of 150. To find your max aerobic HR click here. In May I realized to run at this 150 HR, I had to slow down a lot to 8:30 min / miles on the road, and often a pace of 10 to 11 min / miles on trails with hills. It felt much slower than I was used to but I wanted to build a solid aerobic base. In July, after 2 months of running slower, I ran 7:30 min / mile at 150HR. In August, this pace dropped to 7:00 / mile and early October before I ran my marathon this was 6:40 / mile.

The use of a heart rate monitor takes the guess work out of training and helped increase my aerobic speed significantly. In May, June, July and August I only did 1 anaerobic speed work out per week. In September I did 2 anaerobic speed work outs a week.

It was good to know early October going into this marathon that I would be running borderline aerobic, just slightly anaerobic. So I could mostly burn my unlimited supply of body fat vs burning stored glycogen with higher potential of bonking.

Here is an amazing Trail Runner Nation podcast about HR Monitor training that changed my approach to running a lot.

ACCELERATE RECOVERY TIME
Things that helped accelerate my recovery time, relieved muscle pain and soreness, improved muscle strength and increased endurance:

Drinking a lot of water during and directly after long runs

Eating within 30 minutes after finishing a run

Salt and electrolyte pills on 16-20 mile runs during hot summer months

* Ice baths as soon as possible after long runs. Ice baths suppress inflammation and help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles.

Epsom salt baths to relax your muscles and decrease inflammation

muscle roller to get knots out, to improve circulation and prep muscles for stretching

* Sleeping 7-8 hours a night since most recovery happens in the 7th and 8th hour of sleep. This was the hardest part and didn’t happen much since our daughter was born in March.

THE MARATHON DAY
My trainers Jimmy and Kate told me there are going to be things on race day that are out of your control, and not to let this mess with your head. I felt well prepared going into the race.

My Heart Rate monitor broke the moment I turned it on at the start line and the race was 25 minutes delayed because the course wasn’t ready. I guess those were the things Jimmy and Kate were talking about.

My race plan was simple, run 6:40 min / miles until mile 20, then meet my running buddy and pacer Damien and keep this pace or adjust it if needed. Take a gel every 25 minutes and a salt & electrolyte pill every 50 minutes. The gun went off and after half a mile I looked at my watch and saw 6:28 pace, it felt like I was doing 9:00 due to race excitement. I slowed down and it was pretty easy to keep a consistent pace of 6:38-6:40 until I met my pacer at mile 20. This reason this felt easy was that my heart rate was very low. Even though my HR monitor didn’t work, I estimate it to be 150 to 158.

Long Beach Marathon mile 25

I was stoked to see my pacer at mile 20 and started talking for a bit, he told me to shut up and run to save my energy, good call. At mile 22 I took a gel and salt pill and the pill got stuck in my throat, I coughed and nearly barfed while maintaining a 6:40 pace. At mile 24 my quads started to feel heavier and I made the decision to slow the pace down slightly to avoid possible cramping (and losing 5 minutes in the last 2 miles). I only lost 7 seconds in mile 24 and 11 seconds in mile 25, see detailed Strava breakdown below:

Strava Floris Gierman

At mile 25 another Coyote running buddy Jack totally surprised us and he ran with Damien and I to the finish line at a 6:31 pace. It was an epic feeling running fast with the 3 of us and finishing at an official time of 2:55:05, only 5 seconds off from my projected finish time. Happy to see my wifey and kid around the finish line.

Long Beach Marathon

Long Beach Marathon 2013 medal

Ice bath after running to speed up recovery

I took a 20 minute ice bath after the run and my legs felt totally fine. Next on my horizon is the Avalon 50 mile race on January 11th, 2014. My training plan for the next 3 months will include more trail and hill runs at aerobic pace.
** updated – see my Avalon 50 mile race report here.

Learn much more about RUNNING FASTER WITH LESS EFFORT! Many exciting articles in the works, be the first to hear about new posts, giveaways and exclusive content.  

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