I spent years working toward my goal of running a Boston qualifying marathon time. Recently, it all came together for me at my 21st marathon, the Phoenix Marathon, where I ran a 3:28:56, over six minutes faster than the BQ application cutoff for my age. This race was obviously a PR for me, but I was shocked with how much I was able to improve over my three most recent races culminating at Phoenix.
First, I PR’d at Chicago with a 3:42. I credited a fast course, good weather, improved training (mainly Orangetheory and running hills at altitude), and a stronger mental game. (My previous PR of 3:44:46 was achieved way back in 2012; for my thoughts on what went on in the five intervening years, check out my slowdown story and my thoughts about getting back on the BQ wagon.) Two months later, I PR’d again at Kiawah with a 3:37, an unexpected five-minute improvement. Again, I credited a fast course, good weather, new mental strategies, and my altitude training. But I also ran negative splits for the first time in a long time, and I felt like that made a huge difference compared to Chicago. Then less than three months after that, after training back at sea level, I PR’d and BQ’d at Phoenix with 3:28:56, a whopping eight minute improvement over Kiawah, and a 13 minute improvement over Chicago in less than five months.
As someone who thought that Chicago might be as good as it gets in terms of race conditions, that 13-minute improvement was unfathomable — especially without significant changes to my training. (During the buildup, I frequently Googled “What is a reasonable marathon time improvement?” and “How long does it take to BQ?” Here’s my answer!) So what made the difference?