Some people just give us the bare minimum when they fill out the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire. Others give us the real detail we’re looking for. Thanks to Sara for going the extra mile and really sharing her story!
Sarah Bard @sarahjbard
Age (at the time of first BQ):
Weight (at the time of first BQ):
At which marathon did you get your first BQ?
Tell us a little about the race.
Boston was actually my first marathon ever – I went to Wellesley (half way point of the course) – received an entry in 2006, ran, and had a very rough race. I had a hard time wanting to ever run again, let alone run a marathon after that. But in the summer of 2008, after a couple years of living in Montana and hiking lots, but running little, we found ourselves moving to Chicago.
As Chicago is known as a good “first-timers” race, I thought it was a great opportunity to try to redeem myself at the marathon distance (and by that I mean, finish without spending the entire second half wanting to die), and if possible, qualify for Boston so I could return to that course and have a positive experience there.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the race, but I do remember being a bit surprised by my finishing time. My first marathon/Boston, I ran a 4:02. As I noted, my goal for Chicago was to have a good experience at the marathon distance, and IF POSSIBLE (as a very secondary goal), squeak in a BQ (at the time, 3:40 for women of my age group). I surprised myself by running 3:15.xx and was on my way to Boston the next spring.
How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ?
Did you run in college or high school?
What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?
I have no idea, but I had run 3 seasons through high school, and just xc in college.
How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?
I’m not sure, but probably trained around 40-60 mpw for 16 weeks leading up to Chicago
Approximately how many races did you run in that year?
Not many, maybe 5 or so, local 5k – 10k distances
Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?
Yes, I hadn’t REALLY trained for a marathon before, so I bought Hal Higdon’s book. Instead of following one of his specific programs though, I looked at them all and tried to find what was consistent across all levels: primarily the long run. I used the other days as a guide, but was flexible to my work schedule and my body’s tolerance. However, I stayed true to the long run and made sure to increase steadily over training and to always make the time/effort to get that in each week.
Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?
Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?
I’m a terrible cross trainer. So, no.
Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?
I don’t recall doing any specific track workouts – and at this time I had really been away from the “workout” scene for about 2 years (since graduating from college).
However, like the long run, the other consistent aspect of Higdon’s training schedules is a workout, often a tempo. So, if I was feeling good/recovered, I would try to get in a tempo or a progression each week. Often I didn’t plan these out ahead of time like I would in my training now. I didn’t say: today is 8 miles of tempo at x pace. Instead I would say, ok, I’m going to start my run, then I’ll see what pace I’m at. I’ll try to pick it up each mile, until I feel like I’ve gotten in a good effort. We had just moved to Chicago, and the lakeshore path (and it’s marked mileage) was great for that. Over the course of training, I’d just try to make it a little further than I had the previous time at an uptempo pace.
Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?
I think the most helpful thing anyone can do is educate themselves. There are a lot of training regimens out there, a lot of people giving advice about what worked for them. However, you’re the one in your body and while it’s good to have someone pushing us and our expectations, it’s also good to be open to learning what works for ourselves specifically (and that may change over time).
When I started moving up in distance, I read a lot. I still read a lot. It’s good to know your options and it’s good to know what other people have done that has been successful. Because honestly, a lot of training is being confident in what you’re doing. So while I do think there are key things to help someone achieve a marathon goal (workouts/long runs) – both of which make you stronger and able to better tolerate what you’re asking your body to do – I think that training regimens can vary greatly across runners. Over the past 10 years, I’ve learned that my body likes reasonably high mileage, but I’ve run with other women who have faster marathon PRs than I do, and they train at weekly mileage that is about half of what I run. Am I wrong, are they right? It’s not that straightforward.
Maybe in the early days that would have made me nervous and second guess my training, but I’ve learned that we’re all different and can be successful training in a variety of ways.
Also, if you’re new-ish to marathons: don’t try to rush your training! It’s hard to play the long game, but I started conservatively with the marathon distance and it really helped over the 7-8 years that I focused on that distance. Be thoughtful about your previous running experience and build! Find hard workouts, but adapt if you need to. Take easy days. If you’re body isn’t responding, seek advice and don’t be afraid to reevaluate.