at the races Race Weekend, Training, Nutrition: 26 Replicable Steps from a Runner with a...

Race Weekend, Training, Nutrition: 26 Replicable Steps from a Runner with a fresh 8-Minute PB

LEADERS OF THE PACK: Lawrence with esteemed racer Rachel Hannah, victor of the Glass City race.

Last week I ran the Glass City Marathon in 2:49:22. It was my fifteenth marathon and almost an 8-minute PB from September, 2022. I ran my first marathon in 2015 and have mostly been running two marathons-per-year ever since. I even did three virtual marathons during the COVID years (I’ve done eighteen marathons in total if you count those). I’ve completed all six world major marathons and ran Boston twice! I’ve worked hard over the years to get faster and improve my times, but it’s not a linear journey. I’ve seen some good improvements—followed by challenging races. I spent three years trying to break 3-hours in the marathon, so I know that big PBs don’t come easy. After looking back on this race buildup, I have come up with twenty-six steps that helped me unlock my best marathon yet.

The Training.

26. Easy days, easy: After seeing Molly Seidel’s training runs on Strava, I noticed that her easy pace was close to mine. I’m not running marathons in the 2:20s or winning Olympic bronze medals, so this was eye opening: I was doing my easy runs too quickly. Over the last year I’ve really focused on slowing down my easy days and doing true recovery runs. This has made a huge difference in my race day outcomes.

25. 1-2 workouts per week: I mostly follow the training plan provided by Eric Bang at BlackToe Running. I do one speed workout per week and one tempo run (sometimes integrated into my long run). I’m part of the BlackToe Running Race Team. Running with a group or with friends is super helpful to get through harder runs!

24. Doing races instead of workouts: I love racing so I replaced some workouts with races. It’s a lot more fun to practice speed and also allows the opportunity to practice controlling race day nerves. I did Robbie Burns 8km, Chilly Half, Achilles 5km, ATB and Spring Run-Off before my marathon PB.

23. Staying consistent with training: Life happens, but I always try to keep to my running routines, even when I am busy with other things. Sometimes runs have to be modified or mileage reduced—but consistently getting my runs in is a priority for me. 

22. High running volume – I run usually between 100km -130km each week during marathon training, with usually a lower week of mileage every 3-4 weeks. I have been running marathons for about eight years. When I first started, peak week was about 70km and this past training block I peaked at 148km/week. I have built this weekly mileage up slowly over many years to avoid injury and help my body adjust to increased training loads.

WHERE THE BOYS ARE: Lawrence, in a lead pack, often running her marathon with half marathon racers.

21. Physio/strength exercises: I had a somewhat minor calf injury over my marathon buildup this spring. I saw a physio (Nate Tsang at Athletes Care) and he was an amazing help! I did the prescribed exercises to help recover and build strength. While I didn’t always want to, it helped me get over the injury before race day and still maintain my training.

20. Recovery: I started doing regular foam-rolling and using other recovery tools like my TheraGun. This really helped me reduce muscle soreness during training.

19. Tapering: I prefer a one week taper where I significantly cut back on my weekly mileage and focus on rest and recovery. I keep the speed of my runs the same, but significantly reduce the total distance.

The Nutrition.

18. Run Fast/Eat Slow: I always have a batch of SuperHero muffins on hand (from Shalene Flanagan’s Rise and Run cookbook of the Run Fast/Eat Slow series). They are great pre-run snacks and super tasty. To make sure I am fueling properly, I also make other recipes from her cookbooks—I love the Marathon Lasagna before a race or a long run. I always try to make sure I am getting enough calories in me, especially when running a lot. I pack lots of snacks to eat during my workday and usually eat a large dinner (made by my wonderful fiancé Ryan).

17. Limit alcohol: I don’t cut out alcohol completely, but I am mindful of my consumption. I will enjoy a few drinks after a big weekend workout/run or race, but generally don’t drink alcohol during the week or the night before a long run/workout. I usually cut alcohol out completely 1-2 weeks before the race. I also did dry January this year which further reduced my intake during training.

The Race Prep.

16. Pick a good course: I did my research this year to find a race that didn’t have a lot of travel required as I wanted to race closer to home. I needed a break from travelling around the world for a race. I found the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, which was driving distance from Toronto, offered a “fast and flat” course and registration was cost effective. Finishing the race in a football stadium further sold me!

15. Find some friends to run the same race as you: After selecting the Glass City Marathon, I convinced a few of my friends/teammates to also run it. One of my friends then convinced others to run (including Rachel Hannah, who won the race and set a course record!) Running races are much more fun when you know others participating!

PB&J: Personal Best, and Joy: Lawrence, enjoying her breakout race, happy as a clam.

14. Recruit a cheer squad: Luckily, I have a very supportive fiancé who agreed to travel to Toledo for his vacation to watch the race. It’s nice having a supportive audience. He even drove to a few locations on course to cheer and take photos! 

The Race Weekend.

13. Make a playlist: I prefer running with music and I always curate a new playlist to keep me pumped up during the race. See below. This is one of my pre-race rituals.

12. Carb load: I start drinking Gatorade or another electrolyte beverage 2-3 days before the race. I slowly up my fluids over those days and also ensure I am getting in lots of carbs. I often eat sweet-potato based foods or other simple carbs like bagels, pastas or thin crust pizza. I also reduce my intake of fruits and vegetables in these 2-3 days to try to prevent any digestion problems.

11. Race layout: I always check to ensure I have all my gear ready to go the day before including singlet, shorts, shoes, sunglasses, socks, arm sleeves, hat—etc. I lay everything out and take a photo for good luck. I also check the weather (for likely the 100th time at that point) to make sure I have everything I need if there have been any forecast changes.

PREP WORK: Lawrence always lays out her race gear the night before, and takes a picture for good luck.

10. Race plan: I always review my training and think about what pace is reasonable based on how training/workouts went in the lead-up to the race. I often pick a more specific pace I want to run, however, this race I set a broader 10 second range to try to be within at each kilometre marker (3:55 – 4:05/per kilometre). 

The Race Day.

9. Eat a familiar breakfast: The morning of the race I ate a toasted bagel with peanut butter and had a Maurten 320 Caffeine drink mix. I even bought a toaster at the local Target because my hotel room didn’t have one. I know I can easily digest these items and I regularly had these foods during my training runs/races.

8. Wear super shoes: I switched from running in regular trainers to super shoes in 2018 and I will never go back. Right now, I am loving the Nike Alpha Fly 1 and they are my go-to race shoe.

7. Get to the start line early: I don’t like feeling rushed so I make sure I have plenty of time to get to the start area and use the port-o-pottys.  

The Race.

6. Use gels: I carry my nutrition in my short pockets in easy to reach places. I use Maurten 100 gels (caffeinated and non-caffeinated) and I try to take one every 8-10km.

5. Find other runners to work with: At the Glass City Marathon, I was lucky to have some half marathon runners to pace off in the first 15-16km of the course as we followed the same route to that point. I was then able to get into a pace group with other marathon runners at about the 17km-18km mark of the course. Runners in my group took turns leading and pacing which was super helpful when there was a bit of wind and as the race progressed. It was really fun to work with a group and it made the time go by quicker.

4. Mentally prepare for it to get hard: No matter how many races I run, I always think that maybe this time it will be easier. It never really is. Even in this race, I was feeling better than usual at 35km, but I still had to push myself and keep a positive self-dialogue going to manage the discomfort and keep my pace. I repeated my name to myself and took on the role of internal cheerleader (something I learned from Deena Kastor’s book). I also focused on holding the pace for 1km at a time in the last 7km. This worked as I ended up running a small negative split which I have never done before.

3. Engage with the crowd:  I smiled and waved at the crowds whenever I could. Sometimes I will even go in for a high five if I can. It definitely helps to boost energy, even if only for a brief time.

2. Smile for the cameras: A friend/teammate (the great Mo Buckley) taught me this and I try to smile whenever I notice a photographer on course.

The PB feeling of elation of a sub-3 hour marathon.

1. Celebrate your accomplishments: Regardless of running a personal best, a personal worst, or somewhere in between, I always celebrate the race. I work hard in training and any day I finish a marathon is a good day, regardless of the outcome. After running 15 marathons, I had one of the best races of my life at the Glass City Marathon, so I made sure to celebrate it! 

Sounds Good to Me: Here are 10 of my current favourite marathon playlist songs:

  1. Sandstorm – Darude
  2. Bloody valentine – Machine Gun Kelly
  3. The best – Tina Turner
  4. Lil Bit – Nelly
  5. I feel good – Pitbull
  6. Running up that hill – Kate Bush
  7. Long time running – Tragically Hip
  8. Till I collapse – Eminem
  9. Get outta your mind – Lil Jon and Trick Daddy
  10. Naatu Naatu – from the movie RRR