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Sub-3 Plan of Attack

When I was up in Rochester for my 50 miler, I stayed with one of my favorite fast birds and total girl crushes.


Jen is ridiculously speed and does not shy away from chasing seriously impressive and crazy awesome goals. After running with her in Seattle and spending a weekend in New York hearing about how she went from a 3:14 marathon pre-pregnancy to a 2:51 after giving birth to her adorable daughter, I’ve got my cowbell ready to cheer her on at the 2016 Olympic Trials. If this girl wants to be there, she will be. 

While I’m not even close to Jen’s speed, I can totally relate to one of the reasons she has faith in her ability to make her running goals a real thing: untapped potential. 

Jen can look back at every training cycle and identify one or several things that were missing. Imagine what happens when she does everything right? Big things, great things, trials things.


This is exactly how I feel about Eugene and my marathon PR. When I was gearing up for a Spring marathon last year, I had no idea how quickly I would be able to return to the sport. I took my first stride on Christmas and slowly built my distance back up. I didn’t do a step of speedwork until a month before Eugene and my weekly mileage totals were somewhere between pathetic and subpar for the majority of the Spring.

When I look back on this seriously abbreviated training cycle, I can point to several holes in a matter of seconds. But I still slashed 20 minutes off my PR and ran a 3:08 on that perfect day in Oregon.

photo 2

My Sub-3 Plan of Attack is about filling these holes, making my training cycle focused and as perfect as possible, and working harder and smarter than ever before.

Obviously starting with recovery and cautiously rebuilding a solid base. No garmin. No speedwork. No serious training until I no longer feel a twinge of any off-ness with my rib.

Once  I’m back to full health and  my base is solid, it’s game on. I’ll get into the dirty details about what my weekly training will look like in another post, but for now, here’s my game plan for crossing a marathon finish line with a “2” in front of my time:

16 week training cycle.

I am very skilled at convincing myself that a minimal number of weeks is totally sufficient training for (insert race distance and goal time here). 8 weeks to 50 miles. 3 weeks to 50k PR. 4 hours until marathon. Not this time. For four full months, 100 percent of my training will be run for my A Goal.

Run a high (but safe) weekly mileage.


I love high mileage running. It makes me faster, it makes me happy. But I have a limit as to what “high” is before I risk severe physical and mental burnout. Ultra training helped me realize exactly what volume my legs and body can handle before injury twinges start to pop up and the words “but I don’t want to run” become a daily occurrence. 100+ miles a week is fun and all, but it’s not sustainable at this point in my running career. 75-85 miles a week seems to be my sweet spot and the rough total I’ll work with for this cycle.

Train fast.


I know, duh, right?

But instead of sporadic visits to the track based on which friends are doing intervals, speedwork for the entire 16 week cycle, quality long runs with a plan, tempos, hills, track. They’re all getting starring and strategic roles in this season of marathoning.

Train smart.

Embracing rest. And rest days. And step back weeks. And recovery runs. And ugh…I may detest rest, but I will begrudgingly admit that it’s as vital to marathon training as all of the fast running mentioned above.

Race strategically.


If presented with the choice between running a marathon and running a 10k, I will choose the marathon every single time and I will try to choose it every single weekend. But while nothing makes me happier than running 26.2 miles around random cities across the US, the physical gains I reap from these race days are pretty minimal (if not detrimental to my race fitness). 10ks (and similarly dumb/painful shorter distances), on the other hand, when used for tempo running and quality speed work, do help me get faster. My Spring race calendar will be light on endurance races and heavy on short, local races to use as fast training runs.

Lots of miles with fast friends.

No question that I became a better runner in 2012 because I chased terrifyingly fast guys all over DC.


Example: I met Erik, a super speedy sub-3 hour marathoner, on the trail at the Dahlgren 50k and proceeded to invite myself along to nearly all of his weekend long runs this Fall. Thank you, Erik, for never “accidentally” telling me the wrong time and meeting place for your runs.

Training with faster runners can be downright scary but once I got over the initial terror, they’re some of my favorite miles and a guaranteed way to crush some PRs.

Run trails to keep my feet and heart happy.


The hardest thing about choosing to chase a 2:59 marathon instead of ultras, was giving up miles in the woods for road running. While the bulk of my training needs to be on pavement, I’m going to mix it up with many easy runs on the trail so I don’t spend every Saturday long run lusting after the dirt. Added bonus: the soft surfaces will help keep my feet and legs healthy during a tough training cycle.

Core work.


All pilates, all the time. Core stability and improved flexibility absolutely helped me drop time in 2012 and I have no interest in toeing any lines this year without the help of my friends at Fuse.

As soon as the bitch rib situation is totally cleared up, it’s back to the studio for as many classes as Fuse will let me attend in a week.

Lift heavy things.


Strength training helps improve running economy, correct muscle imbalances and prevent injury. Also, I hate it. But I hate the thought of not meeting my sub-3 goal even more. So hello weight room, please be gentle.

Nail the other stuff (stretch, foam roll, sleep more)

If I can spend 24 hours a week training, I can probably find another 45 minutes to keep my muscles flexible, happy, and injury proof.

Limit my last calls.


I’ve coped with this injury by frequenting my neighborhood bars several nights a week. With no morning workouts to rest for, it’s been pretty easy for my friends to convince me to stay until the bartenders are kicking us out with a broom. While I’m obviously not going to do something completely unreasonable and pledge to quit beer, vodka and Andre, I can promise to spend less time on a barstool and more time in my bed. I like to be social, I like the idea of a 2:59 marathon even more.

Eat like an endurance athlete and not a twenty-something single girl with no culinary talent.

This is not a resolution to cook more. Tried that, didn’t go well. Not enough batteries in the city to keep my smoke alarm functioning. But it is a resolution to be more mindful about what I’m fueling and refueling with and when I’m doing it.

Accept that failure is possible.

I sincerely believe that I have a sub 3 marathon in my legs. I’ve also been racing for long enough to know that shit happens with training and racing. And no matter how great your plan of attack is, not everything goes according to plan.

In an ideal world, I will be ready to train my ass off for a Spring marathon. But it very well might not happen. Or I might train and have a terrible race day. Or I might have lost more fitness in the last two months than I’m willing to admit.

I am the Queen of dumb redemption racing and setting unreasonable expectations for my goals. It took me almost two years to break 3:20. Not because I was not physically capable of running that speed, but because my race execution kept sucking and instead of taking the time to figure my shit out, I’d sign up for a redemption race three weeks later. And then I’d do something really brilliant like ride the Ironman Lake Placid bike course 24 hours before the race. And then shockingly not perform well. TRUE STORY. And then I’d get sucked into actual Ironman training and racing and not be able to marathon again for months.

So yeah. None of that idiotic behavior is welcome this time around. Smart training. Smart racing. Smart readjusting of plans and goals.

So that’s the Sub-3 Plan of Attack.

Most of it seems pathetically obvious: full training cycle, don’t be dumb, do speedwork, stretch, rest, take the neighborhood bar off speed dial.

But the fact that it’s so obvious is kind of exciting. Five years ago, 4:41 marathoner Emily would have laughed in your face if you told me I’d run a 3:08. But now a 2:59 marathon seems totally doable because there are so many obvious training wrongs that I can right.

I may not want to embrace dull stretching routines, early bedtimes, and following a *shudder* training plan.

But I will embrace the shit out of filling all of these holes in my marathon training. Because there’s nothing I want more from 2013 than that sub-3 goodness.

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39 Responses to Sub-3 Plan of Attack

  1. dude, show me where the trails are out here. i need more trails in my life too. badly.

  2. Running with faster people IS terrifying. I checked out a running club this past Thursday in my neighborhood and they were 2+ min/mile faster than me. However, if I want to get faster I have to chase them down. Cheers to 2:xx!

  3. I need to stop being so afraid to run with faster people. At least on shorter distances. I don’t push myself nearly enough. Once the quad injury is resolved of course.

    The Kidless Kronicles

  4. Great plan all around. You are right – so much untapped potential! Yes, it all seems obvious, but people fail to see the obvious (we’ve all been there). Good plan, I’m behind you 100%. YOU GOT THIS!!

  5. Very exciting! I cant wait to read about your progress :)

  6. You are my hero. So much of this spoke to me- I basically need to print it out, tape it to my fridge and make it my new mantra! Clearly, you kick ass and are going to dominate the sub 3 marathon. :-)

  7. Exciting stuff, Emily! Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to follow along! :)

  8. if anyone can do it, you can. get it girl!

  9. Great post and outline of how-to on the goal. Good luck!

  10. you’re going to kick ass. and in the meanime, we’re all inspired to tow the line and get our rears into line too! Here’s to a new year full of running, fun running and achieving goals :)

  11. Have you considered asking someone to mentor you? I don’t think you need a coach (because I have a feeling that someone telling you exactly what to do probably wouldn’t work), but maybe someone you can hassle with questions/ask for opinions about your training, and someone who will keep you in line if you get crazy ideas in your head.

    Good luck, and nice work on putting the goal out there, too!

    • You’re exactly right. I had a coach once and I was not good at listening to everything he told me to do, but it was helpful for me to have someone to tell me not to be stupid. I’ll work on finding a similarly positive influence for this training cycle!

  12. Sub-3. Damn.

  13. This is AWESOME! I’m on the same page for 2013 – in 2012 I raced so much and so many different types I didn’t really get GOOD at anything. Good luck with your focused training and you will totally sub-3!

  14. I love “accept that failure is possible”!! I want to break 4 hrs this year for a marathon. I was minutes short with the Chicago Marathon this year. Am I damn capable to go sub 4 hrs? Yes. BUT there is soooo much that can happen and not happen between now and October. You are awesome girl!

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I am chasing a sub-4 this year, and this is exactly what I needed to see. I need to have that same laser focus to get there. It’s so exciting to see you set this goal. I know you’re going to get it!

  16. Awesome Plan!! Go get it!!

  17. I know you can so totally ace this plan and run 2:59 (minimum!). Oh yeah, you forgot to add one tiny wee bit to that plan: blog and update us! ;p

  18. Looks like a great plan of attack! I just put together my first 50K training program and it looks quite a bit like this — but you’ve got some great ideas I will try to incorporate, like running with faster people. (Tried that one this weekend and it was scary and challenging and fun!)

    Keep that focus (and zen-like state of uncertainty and acceptance of the journey), and kick some serious sub-3 ass this year! Can’t wait to hear all about it.

  19. Oh, two quick thoughts:
    1. Yoga? Guaranteed stretch, and some bonus core strength-y stuff.
    2. Instead of boring weights, some sort of small group training class? I’ve been doing kettlebells for 3 months now and it’s been an intense, challenging, whole-body weight workout that doesn’t get boring. Especially great for posterior muscle chain (hamstrings, glutes, back, shoulders).

    • Yoga and I don’t really get along. But I SHOULD try it again for the stretchy benefits. And I do love the idea of doing small group training instead of hitting the weights solo! I’ve actually already schemed with a friend to try and make it happen. Thanks for the suggestions!

  20. This looks like a great plan – one that I might borrow, modify (i.e., make easier) and use myself. Thanks!!! You and 2.59 are going to happen!!

  21. This is why I enjoy reading your blog! Your ambition to run faster and to constantly improve is inspiring. I know you faced a setback with your rib injury but, I think you will come back stronger than ever. Go Emily Go!!

  22. AWESOME plan Emily!! super focused in all the right spots. I think the Saturday Long Runs might start calling your name this Spring!! Not an easy task to make that first digit on the finishing clock a “2”, but I know you can do it!!

  23. You have certainly got the action-plan down. What an unbelievable athlete you are!! I’ll be cheering you on!

  24. I love your blog! I’m not working towards anything as difficult as a sub 3 marathon, but I AM trying to shave a half an hour off my marathon time and this is all great advice, especially the bit about chasing the fast runners. Good luck!

    • A half hour? BAD ASS. I love it. Good luck to you too! I can’t wait to hear all about you nailing it.

  25. Love this blog. I have to agree…the best way to get better is to train with faster, better athletes than you. It’s a great measuring stick and goal to help move you forward. Good luck for 2013.

  26. I’ll look forward to seeing you carry this through! That was an amazing, inspiring post. You can do it!

  27. Ugh…that sounds like so much WORK. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to just have a baby? If Jen went from 3:14 to 2:51, wouldn’t that make you go from 3:08 to 2:45?

    Really and truly, though, I know you can do this. And I’m very excited to watch it unfold.

    • Considering I am not responsible enough to take care of a puppy, I think I’ll stick to track work and stretching instead of experimenting with childbirth. But thanks! I’m excited too. Feel free to slap some send into me whenever you see me acting stupid.

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  30. I remember reading your recap of the 3:08 marathon and being in awe. You ran SO fast the last half – especially those last few miles. I was totally amazed that you were able to do that despite not having a full training cycle.
    I think your plan sounds great…speedwork got me down 32 min from my 1st to 2nd marathon (3:54 to 3:22) – I know it’s a lot harder to drop chunks of time the faster you get, but I think sub-3 is going to 100% happen for you. You are one of the most dedicated, hard-working runners I follow.
    Looking forward to following your training =)

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