From 3:51 to a 3:19 without a coach….the pros and the cons

In 2011 I set out to run my first marathon! It was actually my first race since cross country in high school. I had never run a 5k, 10k, or a half. Before I decided to do this marathon I actually had the mentality why would I pay to run when I can do it for free. I just wanted to do one marathon, kind of like a bucket list thing. I thought it would be fun to be able to say that I trained and finished a whole marathon.

My longest training run for Wisconsin was 16 miles. I had an 19 mile run planned, but I had to miss it. I did almost all of my training around the same pace. I didn’t keep a training log or anything so I really don’t remember what my weekly mileage was. I really had no idea how to fuel.

Here is a before and after from my first marathon 🙂

102_7471                                                     102_7494

I finished the Wisconsin Marathon in 3 hours and 51 minutes. The last 6 miles were not pretty, but I was so proud of myself for finishing. When I finished I had no thoughts of doing it again…I had thrown up right after (not pretty) and was dead tired! It wasn’t until the next day that I thought… I can done better, I want to try again.

Thus began my love for racing and the marathon. There is just something about pushing yourself, training for a race, running with amazing people, and finishing…it just keeps bringing you back for more.

In 2014 I ran my fastest marathon…3:19 at Richmond.


This brings us to the age-old question….should I get a coach?

I have run 6 marathons and improved my time by 32 minutes without a coach…that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted one though.

I thought it would be fun to list a few things that I have done to help me improve my time and what some of the pros and cons are to having a running coach.

Tips to improve your marathon time:

1. Run more. This may not be for everyone (it kind of depends on the mileage you are already running) and should definitely be done gradually. I know that for my first marathon the longest I did was 1 16 mile run. For my next one I added an 18 and a 20 mile run. My last training cycle was the most I have done with 2 18 milers, 2 20 milers and a 22 miler. I really think this helped me. I definitely had to do this gradually. My body does really well until I get in the upper 50’s (miles per week), then I really have to make sure I am doing all the extras to stay healthy.

race1 My husbands first, my second marathon and my kids first kid marathon!

2. Run faster and slower! If you want to race faster, you need to train faster….that is pretty obvious. I added tempo runs and speed workouts to my training. BUT…you also need to run slower. This can actually be hard. It is easy to fall into this “comfortable” pace that is not too hard but not too easy. While this is ok to do, it is also important to take at least one day and make sure you are going easy.

3. Practice fuel and hydration. Some people have no trouble with this at all and some (like me) have a ton of trouble finding fuel that works for them. It is important to practice on your training runs so that come race day you are not guessing. It wasn’t until my last marathon that I really found something that works for me.

4. Choose the right race for you. There are several factors that go into this. Location is one. For some it is easier to not worry about travel so close races work better. Size is another. I learned this when I ran my 3rd marathon. It was a small, trail (it was a flat trail) race. Something about being in the woods by myself from mile 21-26 did not work for me. I really love a sorta big, but not too big marathon :). You might also want to look at the terrain. Are there a lot of hills? You may also want to consider the season. i have learned that because of where I live winter training is hard! It doesn’t mean I don’t train in it, it just means that expecting a spring PR might be a little much. If I do a spring marathon, I do it knowing that most likely my training will not go quite as planned.


Those are just some things that helped me. Now onto a coach.

I think having a coach is great if you want to do it, you just have to decide what is best for you. It kind of comes down to how much you want to spend and how you want to spend your money…. everyone is different here. Running is one of those things that can be a very cheap hobby, but it can also be a pretty pricey hobby.

Personally, there are a lot of times that I would LOVE to have a coach. Especially on days where I am deciding what speed workout would be good for my next race or how many reps to do or what speed to do them at. There are also a few reasons why I don’t have one. One is flexibility. I will often change my running schedule to fit my life schedule. I would feel like if I was paying a coach then I should do it exactly the way he or she says. If my coach had to adjust my workouts I would wonder if I was getting the full benefit from it. Also money comes into play for me. That is just simply a matter of priority. I could put money towards a coach, but that would mean run less races or cutting back on something else. For now I am happy with what I am doing. If I ever do decide I want to go with a coach I have 2 in mind that I would LOVE to have!!!

There really are A LOT of pros to having a coach!

1. You do not have to try to figure out what workouts you should be doing. How many mile repeats? What pace should they be? It will all be laid out for you.

2. A coach can also help provide answers as to why a workout didn’t go well and what you can do to improve.

3. A coach can help motivate you. This is a big one. Training for a marathon can be long and definitely has some hard weeks. Having someone to encourage you and reassure you is a big plus!

4. A coach can help prevent injuries. They can give you stretches and strength workouts and are usually better at knowing when you need to pull back. That line between training hard and getting injured is pretty thin and it can be easy to cross :).

I hope these tips help as we are getting into warmer weather and race season!!!!

I have my first 5k of the season tomorrow!!!! 🙂

Happy weekend to all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who is racing this weekend? Where and how far?

Do you use a coach? If not, do you wish you did?



  1. says

    This is so great!!! I love that you don’t have a coach and all the lessons you have learned since your first marathon. I cringe to think about some of the things I did (or didn’t do!) when I was training for my first. I have to say that I love my coach and she is there to stop me from overtraining. I also am constantly tweaking my workouts but she knew that was the deal going in. I have kids and plans get screwed up…there’s also this weather and, if I can wait for a sunny day to run my 20 miler, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do! 🙂
    Good luck with the 5K!!! I am sure you will KILL IT!!!

    • Jen says

      Your coach sounds great :)…and she is obviously doing a great job!!!! There are definitely times that I really want a coach! I will totally switch my schedule to do a 20 miler on a nice day :)!

  2. says

    Great tips for running a faster marathon! I ran my first in 5:07, but last month I ran a 4:04 marathon. Congrats on your 3:19! You made an incredible improvement since your first marathon!

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