Saturday, January 2, 2016

How I got faster in 2015

2015 was the best year of running I've had since I started racing 10 years ago.

10K PR, October 2015
It’s easy for beginning runners to improve. Usually runners see major gains during the first several years, but then the law of diminishing returns kicks into effect, making PRs less frequent and smaller in size. This is particularly true for racing at shorter distances, where shaving just a few seconds off of one’s time becomes challenging. Therefore, I see 2015 as "the exception" and not the rule. It's highly unlikely that I will have another year like this again, so I wanted to document what worked for me.

This year, I set six PRs:
  • 20:51 in the 5K (38 seconds PR)
  • 30:08 in the 4-miler (8 seconds PR)
  • 43:56 in the 10K (17 seconds PR)
  • 1:37:33 in the half marathon (4 minutes, 7 seconds PR)
  • 1:35:08 in the half marathon (2 minutes, 25 seconds PR)
  • 3:35:29 in the marathon (4 minutes, 31 seconds PR + BQ)
With the exception of the marathon and the 4-miler, all of these PRs occurred within the October/November timeframe. What did I do differently in 2015 as opposed to prior years of running? 2015 was not my highest mileage year-- in fact both 2010 and 2014 were higher in overall mileage. Here are what I consider to be the key factors.

I trained differently.
After having spent years and years doing the same tempo runs and the same interval workouts, I finally broke out of that patten and gave my body new training stimuli. While different training approaches work for different people, I think that one thing is true for everyone: variety is key! Not only did my training approach change in 2015, but I rarely repeated workouts. There were a few workouts that I did maybe 4-5 times this year, but that's it.

Here is a comparison of my training log from 2014 vs. 2015. Note that in 2014 I ran two marathons, but in 2015 I ran only one marathon in the spring.

2014 Training
2015 Training
The overall training volume is almost the same. The difference is how I ran the miles. In 2014, I focused more heavily on tempo runs and long runs. In 2015, I focused more heavily on intervals and hill sprints. Particularly in July, there was a 4-week period that was very hill intensive, sometimes combining hill repeats with mile repeats and tempo runs. The major differences in 2015 I see are:

  • Lower weekly mileage during the second half of the year allowed for more quality speed work
  • Shorter intervals at a faster pace (e.g. 1 minute, 2 minute as opposed to 800's and 1200's)
  • More varied workouts
  • Fewer tempo runs
  • Lots of 5Ks in the heat-- one per month from April to September
  • More combo runs (e.g. hill/tempo, hill/interval, tempo/interval)
  • More consistency in monthly volume, even though overall volume is slightly lower

I trained consistently, without illness or injury.
I was able to train consistently throughout the entire year without any time off for illness or injury. In the past, I have never been able to keep up with injury prevention exercises because there were too many of them, and they took too much time. So in 2015, I focused on my left hip. It's my weakest area, and the first thing that starts to hurt. I did strengthening exercises for my left hip only about 3 times per week, lasting about 3 minutes. I didn't do any core work this year or anything else. I find that if I take on too much, I end up getting overwhelmed and ultimately ditching the exercises altogether. 

After the Richmond half marathon, a lot of stuff hurt, so I was diligent about foam rolling and I got two massages. I also took an entire week off, as prescribed by my coach. I also finally have a shoe system that works. Nike Lunarglide for long runs, Mizuno Elixir for long speed work, Mizuno Sayonara for short speed work, and Mizuno Inspire for short easy runs.

I focused on the process, not the outcome.
Even though I of course love setting PRs, I was more focused on the process of racing than I was the result. I learned to take risks, to experiment, to be bold, and to have a more relaxed attitude about racing in general. I used to get extremely anxious and uptight whenever a race approached, and now a race is "what I'm doing this weekend" and not something to get all worked up over! During races, I was more focused on pushing hard than on what my watch said, and I didn't spend mental energy focusing on things I didn't like. I embraced training and racing in the heat. I focused on running by effort instead of by pace, so I was never upset about being slower during summer races.

I had the help and support of great people.
The combination of having two great coaches-- a McMillan coach to help me with the physical side of things and a P.h.D in sports psychology to help me with the mental side of things--has really helped me succeed. And of course, having Greg support me all year even when he was unable to run was hugely valuable. I had all of these people in 2014 as well, although I didn't start working with the running coach until July.

I'm hoping to squeeze out a few more PRs in 2016, particularly at the marathon distance where I think I have the most room for improvement. I look forward to more healthy, happy running this year!

B & A Trail Marathon - a BQ by 4:31

PRR Festival Twilight 4-miler in 80+ degrees!
The Richmond Half Marathon


  1. First, nice job on all of those PR's! Secondly, thanks...hadn't heard of fun to check out new tools. I love how you approached and implemented on the areas you identified. You clearly are seeing results (in PR's and in lack of injuries), so great job!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I've been using RunningAhead since 2008, and I really love it.

  2. Nice work lady!! I love your reasons and agree they are key. Consistency is hugely underrated among many in our sport. I find it's incredibly important as that momentum builds and rolls into one good race after another. Focusing on the process, not the outcome is always a challenge for me. I LOVE the process but I always have my mind set on that goal number and its something I'm trying to fix. Great post!

  3. You hit some great points here! Running ain't anything fancy and fun and variety usually equals success. And 6 PR's?!? Holy cow, major props!!

  4. Super impressive! Having followed your progress for many years, I am overjoyed to hear about your success and, more importantly, joy in running. Would love to know what hip exercises you did as that is my trouble zone too.

    1. It's from the core strength series of videos that McMillan Running puts out, I think you have to subscribe to see it. It's called the Jane Fonda, and this video is similar to the McMillan one: But that guy lifts his leg too high- don't go as high as that!

  5. That's a SERIOUSLY impressive set of PRs. It's been really awesome to see you race so well all year and get that solid BQ you've worked so hard for.

    1. Thank you! It's nice when it all comes together!

  6. Wow! Incredible progress! I love those graphs, what an awesome visual of the work you were doing and seeing the difference is just great! Thanks for stopping by my blog so often! I need to set aside more time to visit other blogs more! Happy Running!

    1. Your blog is great-- I enjoy reading what you are up to. Happy new year!

  7. What a great post! Congrats on a great year and for sharing your training details!

  8. Great job in 2015! And very encouraging! I'm trying a new training plan this year that sounds similar to what you did in 2015...which gives me some confidence....Thanks for sharing. - Scott

  9. You had an incredible year in 2015! You've definitely come a long way and I enjoy reading all of your accomplishments. Here's to even more accomplishments in 2016!

  10. Terrific blog, Elizabeth!! Nice to meet you in our new RA Team 7! Look forward to reading more. I have a blog as well with lots of race reports there...we can share when we post new items. Mine is at My analogous summary of 2015, my single goal for 2016 and a 50K race report are near the top. Look forward to a good year!!