A couple of days ago a reddit user linked to the BQ(Q). That has brought a lot of traffic, and a few new responses to the BQ(Q). Dan here is one of those responses. Thanks, Dan, for the great answers, I think there’s a lot to learn from your methodical approach to the race!
Age (at the time of first BQ): 27
Height: 5′ 10″
Weight (at the time of first BQ): 155
At which marathon did you get your first BQ? What was your finishing time? Tell us a little about the race.
Baystate Marathon 2014 in Lowell, a small yet popular Boston qualifier race for Massachusetts locals, in 2:57:09. It’s mostly a double loop along a river—a few small hills to keep your legs interested, but generally extremely flat and designed for fast times. I’d run Chicago and NYC before (2011 for Chicago when I had no idea what I was doing in 3:32, and 2013 for NYC, my first BQ attempt, in a disappointing 3:13) and wanted a small-town marathon for which I didn’t have to expend any energy just getting to the start line.
I ran the first miles very conservatively (I negatively split the race by about 1:10) and eventually fell into line with two guys who were looking to finish around the same time as I was. We ran together for about 20 miles, switching off leading and drafting off each other to fight a strong headwind that was with us for almost half the race. Having those guys there was enormously helpful. I had to let them go at mile 23 (they both got 2:55), but I never would have been able to keep it up without them. I had one slow mile (7:21) at mile 23, but toughened up and finished strong. I was much less sore immediately after and in the days following than in previous marathons, but apparently I did look very pale upon finishing, according to one volunteer.
How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ? Did you run in college or high school?
Nearly three and a half years of dedicated running, though I had run a few miles a week on and off since high school as part of a general fitness routine. I never ran track or XC (which I regret).
What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?
About 4700 miles since I started logging miles in June 2011. Maybe 500 – 800 more in my life before that.
How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?
Almost exactly 2000 miles. It was going to really bother me to not have that round number before toeing the line, but I got there.
Approximately how many races did you run in that year?
I ran eight races before my marathon, mostly in the spring. Four 5ks, one 5 miler, one 15k, two half marathons, and one oddball 3.5 miler, the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, solely to defeat all of my coworkers.
Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?
I made up my own plan. I set myself mileage goals for the week, decided on a long run and a workout, and then filled in easy mileage where necessary. I tried not to have a single day when I was just running five miles or fewer. I hit 70 miles per week as often as I could, and peaked at 75 mpw.
My strategy for the BQ was in two parts: in the spring, I got in the best 5k shape I could, breaking 18 minutes for the first time in my goal race, while keeping up a 16-mile long run every week. After that, I eased off the speed work and started piling on the miles throughout the summer (I participated in the Summer of Malmo thread on /r/advancedrunning, which was a fantastic motivational tool and a ton of fun. I didn’t race in the fall except for a tune-up half marathon. Every step I took in running shoes leading up to the marathon was in service of the marathon. If your goal is a BQ and you’re right on the edge like I was/am, you can’t afford distractions.
Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?
I didn’t have a club or a coach then, but I do now (the club has a coach that sets track workouts once a week). I wish I’d have a group to train with—running the actual race with other competitors was so helpful, and I imagine training with a group would have produced even better results.
Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?
No. Running more is nearly always the answer. I’ve reduced my mileage for the winter, though, and sometimes stop by the weight room after the treadmill.
Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?
One workout per week, and a progressive long run, which maxed out at 20 miles with the last 9 at marathon pace. While I don’t think the long run should be the sole focus, these were hard runs that definitely prepared me better than slow 22 milers last year. I only did a single 20 miler, one 18 miler, and most of my long runs were 17 miles. My workouts were usually long repeats (1600m or more. One week I did “The Michigan,” which was very challenging and a lot of fun, a mix of track intervals and tempo miles.)
Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?
Before the race: Get in really good 5k/10k shape over a period of at least six months. Get times that predict you’ll smash your BQ requirement. Then put in a lot of miles consistently. Don’t go for a bunch of four-mile runs and then do a 24 miler on Sunday. Run a mid-week long run, do a workout most weeks, have a really good long run for which you’re not just plodding along, and then balance the rest of your easy miles. I was always a little fatigued throughout my 16 weeks until I hit my taper, which was the second best feeling in the world (the first being the BQ itself).
During the race: find people to run with. If your marathon is windy, you can shelter each other by using pace lines. If there’s no wind at all, work together to keep yourselves on pace. Don’t let each other go too fast or too slow. There’s a huge psychological benefit to working together, as well. It takes so much of the burden off of you.
After the race: enjoy your success, get ready for the greatest race ever, and don’t forget to fill out this survey.