We recently caught up with Desiree Linden, the fourth-place finisher at April’s Boston Marathon, John Honerkamp, a coach for the New York Road Runners, and Mike Wardian, a sub-2:20 marathoner and former national champion at the 50K and 100K distances, and got their top tips for making breakthroughs as a runner.
Unfortunately there is no big secret. Breakthroughs happen when you consistently put in uninterrupted work day after day. Have a plan that sets you up to hit your goals. As you work through the training runs and workout sessions, you’ll gain fitness and confidence that you’re prepared for the big race . But don’t be a slave to what’s on the page and be sure to listen to your body. Staying healthy is key. Listen to your body and learn what pain to push through and when your body is telling you it needs rest and recovery. Trust your training. Even if you didn’t hit every workout, your plan should be building your fitness. Running is a process so you may not see all your gains immediately or all at once, but keep putting in the work. It will pay off down the line.
Take risks—calculated and safe risks, of course. Take a leap of faith. Take a chance. Run an extra few miles. Go with a faster competitor in a race. Run a different distance. One related story about taking a risk took place when I was a junior at St. John’s. My college coach, Jim Hurt, was tired of me going out in the back of the pack and using a solid kick to win lesser races or to place top 5 in bigger races. At the 1996 Big East Champs, he gave me permission to finish dead last in the 800m race if I was in 2nd place at 400m. Al Royster of Seton Hall was known for taking races out hard. I stuck to Al with the thought that I was going to “rig” and get last. We passed 400m a little over 50 seconds and my 400m PR was 48-49 on a relay. Well, with 100m to go I realized that I was still in second and Al was starting to tie up. I ran 1:48:03—my PR prior was 1:49.5—for the win, beating six All-Americans. This time also qualified me for the NCAAs and the U.S. Olympic Trials. Glad I took that risk. A more boring answer is to do all the little things: stretching, eating well, sleeping, hydration, easy runs, massage therapy, etc. The little things add up to big results.
I think the biggest breakthroughs that I have had have been from consistent training. Working hard every day to get better than the day before and not missing days or doing huge miles one day and then nothing the next. Running is terrific in that you get better by running and the more you run the better it feels. I also know for me that I need to do some type speedwork /workouts to see big improvements which lead to breakthroughs.