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The Switch Back

Two things went wrong in Andrew’s race in Arizona:

  1. Fitness. He was ready to go 6 weeks before the marathon but then he pulled his hamstring and got pneumonia, and then put his rib out coughing and didn’t run a step for far too long before race day.
  2. Mental. There’s a switchback between miles 14-18 that felt really isolating, and that’s where his wheels fell off.

Obviously he couldn’t help the sickness and the rib injury but the hamstring pull was avoidable. I don’t believe in speed work, tempo runs or hill repeats for newer marathoners. He decided to do a pickup to “boost his fitness” at the end of a routine 4 mile run one night and that’s when he heard the “pop!”

I think that The Marathon deserves huge amounts of respect. That distance? Turns us inside out, gives us a couple of spanks and a wink before it leaves us for dead.

People ask me how I cut my marathon time from 4:15-3:06 and this is my answer:

I ran more.

I did more running.

More miles, more days, for weeks, months, years.

I covered more distance.

I taught my body to stay upright for a long bloody time. I didn’t do track work, I didn’t do hill repeats. I didn’t drink protein shakes, I didn’t strength train.

I ran more.

As for the mental aspect, Andrew and I typed out notes to each other during our flight back home. He writes first, and then we alternate back and forth:


The Marathon knows our weakness. During training, it’s our job to strengthen that weakness so that its flexion takes the race by surprise.

Andrew and I are going to do everything possible to get our goals of sub-4 and sub-3. Whoever is ready first will do Vancouver BMO on May 1st and whoever feels like they need more time will do Rock n Roll Seattle in June.

Andrew starts training tomorrow!


Have you ever received finisher’s jackets at a race?

This was the first time! We were so surprised.

What kind of race course do you like the most? Point to point? Out and back? One big loop or a couple of loops?



{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Jen January 27, 2016, 8:19 pm

    Oh my word – miles 14-18 are TOTALLY a mental no-mans land! YES. THANK YOU. I thought it was just me. I FALL APART. Everything is THE WORST and if the race is bad then I pretty much give up on life. I drag and cry and feel like crap and wish for a fast death. I didn’t know this was a thing.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 27, 2016, 8:38 pm

      YES EXACTLY. And in this particular race, they chose miles 14-18 to do an out-and-back. So miles 0-14 are all through the city with the crowds, the scenery, the trees, the bands, the people. And miles 14-18 WHICH ARE ALREADY BRUTAL were all done on deserted boring empty streets, through a parking lot, and back again. I wish we knew this ahead of time. I mean, we saw the switchback on the course map but we didn’t know just how isolated it was from everything else.

  • Helly on the Run January 27, 2016, 8:53 pm

    I love that pic of you guys in the jackets!!!

    I have to agree with everything you said. The marathon def knows my weakness and I just need to do what I gotta do and do it.

    As always, love you suz.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 27, 2016, 9:05 pm

      I do know that some people thrive on the scheduled speed work, track work, tempo runs, hill repeats but for the most part, I’ve noticed that newer marathoners get injured more when they do that stuff. The marathon is all about teaching the mind AND body how to run on tired legs and with a mind that tells us we can’t do it anymore. That’s what we have to overcome, that right there.

  • Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine January 28, 2016, 2:37 am

    I prefer running one big loop for a race whenever possible. Sometimes its nice to do an out and back for part of it where you can see the runners going the other way. We usually get finisher jackets for the Baltimore 10 miler- it’s a nice change from a t-shirt! Excited that it’s time for training to start up again!!

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:44 am

      Yes, seeing the runners going the other way can be really fun, I have to admit.

  • Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets January 28, 2016, 2:48 am

    I got a headband for the Tough Mudder. I love that thing. It gives me nothing but pride.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:40 am

      Oh I need to see a photo of you wearing that thing!

  • Susie @ SuzLyfe January 28, 2016, 4:39 am

    I love a giant loop. Or a point to point. Pretty much anything other than a switchback right along the same course. Unless it is a short one. I always want to ask the race coordinators if they just ran out of ideas.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:38 am

      The worst part of an out and back is turning on a dime around the cone to come back. LOL it always feels like my ACL sprung out onto the race course.

  • Heather @ShoesRun50 January 28, 2016, 6:50 am

    Aw man, I left for vacation and came back to hear that Andrew missed his time goal. That sucks. Good luck to both of you in 2016!

    My marathon also had a switch back from 14.5-almost 22. I was tired of it by mile 16 and completely checked out by mile 20. I stopped to walk for a few minutes at that point and when I started running again it was about a minute slower than my goal pace. I eventually managed to pick the pace back up. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one defeated by out-and-back sections.

    I don’t know that I’ll ever be a 3:06 marathoner (so fast!), but I’m glad to hear that it was just more and more miles that got you there. I’m planning on taking a break from marathons for a couple years and I’m hoping that a couple years of running more miles will do a lot for my overall endurance, even if I am not specifically training for a marathon.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:42 am

      I hadn’t done a full marathon since May 2012 until this past September 2015! And yet I logged 70-100 miles per week in that time (with the exception of when I was pregnant with Callum). Base-building takes a long time for us mortals.

  • Laura @ This Runner's Recipes January 28, 2016, 7:07 am

    Miles 14-18 are where my marathon switched from great to not good to wanting to quit. The Portland Marathon had shirts and jackets, but the jackets were a weird material to take the place of space blankets. So far all of my races for 2016 are point to point, which I’m excited about because everything else has had dreadful out and back sections.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:29 am

      Out and backs are okay sometimes, as long as it doesn’t feel isolating. I do like seeing everyone running back at me and being able to see the front runners. THAT is cool.

  • Megan @ Meg Go Run January 28, 2016, 8:15 am

    It is interesting how every body is different. When I was logging 60+ mile weeks, it wasn’t working for me. I was a slug. I was skinny fat. I was soooo unhappy. When I started running less “junk” miles (because for me, that’s what they were) and added strength training, I went from a 3:38 to a 3:28! I never thought I would hit the 3:20s, I was so happy.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:26 am

      See, that’s cool. I like hearing those stories and more running doesn’t always equal faster times. No, not at all. I think doing one or the other is okay (either run more OR run less and do more strength/speed) but not both.

  • Gretchen | Gretchruns January 28, 2016, 8:23 am

    So you’re saying to train for a marathon, you have to run? And to get faster you run more? Wow..that is mind blowing. Lol!! I’m happy to hear it really is that simple though, joking aside.

    I like big loops!

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:25 am

      Yes, I’m cheeky, I know.

  • Allison January 28, 2016, 8:50 am

    Sister, I feel you. I feel like I could have written post myself. I was a 4:53 marathoner turned 3:06 marathoner with sights currently set on sub-3. I agree – you need to run more, and then run some more. I didn’t start dabbling with speed work until about 3 years ago. I’ve been running for 8 years. So the first five years I ran, it was base building.

    And that damn Marathon. It DOES demand respect. And when you don’t respect it, it beats the shit out of you. When you do respect it? It beats the shit out of you. It has the ability to knock you on your ass physically and mentally break your spirit. But if you can hang on tight and keep going, it also has the power to make you feel like the strongest person in the world.

    The day I ran my 3:06? I was the strongest person in the world. I am holding onto that feeling until I have my day again, and taking the blows it’s been delivering to me since that day. It’s been rough, it’s broken me and beaten me down but you know what else it’s done? It’s reminded me 4:53 or 3:06, I am strong.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:24 am

      K, Allison, that was beautiful. You put it all down so well. And I had no idea you’ve taken that much off your marathon time! WOW. Respect.

  • Heather@hungryforbalance January 28, 2016, 9:40 am

    I have nothing to contribute here (as I am a lame non runner), but I will say that you and Andrew get so much respect from me!

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 28, 2016, 10:23 am

      As IF you’re lame. I love all your contributions, and not only that but I NEED them! Thanks for the respect! xo I am in awe of how you are able to teach so many classes and fit that all in every day!

  • Simona @ eisforexpression February 4, 2016, 12:53 pm

    As I am training for my very first marathon I do know how tempting it is to add some speed training to your runs. And indeed I have to agree with you that most of the time it is a bad idea. The body is already going through so much stress whilst you’re training – it may just not show it for you. However, as soon as you decide to be the Speedy Gonzalez, it will show it in a worst way possible – injury, pain or not being able to stand at the start line at all. This post was a great reminder for me. Thanks!

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com February 4, 2016, 4:09 pm

      Hi Simona! I’m so glad I was able to help! I think it’s good that we all come together and help each other out. I’m always needing reminders!

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