How I Ran a Sub 3:30 Marathon

I’ve always been a runner, but I haven’t always trained. Before 2020, I had never done any training. Every run I did, I ran at the fastest pace I could manage on the day. 

In October 2019, I ran my first marathon. My training included what I mentioned above, but with some guidance from a running plan that I sourced from Google. Even still, I wasn’t equipped with the proper know-how to follow it properly. The only training I remember doing was a month before the race when I met Chris. I did a few hill repeats! Somehow, on the day, I managed to run 3:47hr. I can only put it down to a lifetime (27 years) of keeping fit.

From there, I kicked started my run training journey. Initially, Chris gave me some guidance on heart rate (HR). At the time, he was training for TUM 100miler, so I did a lot of slow(ish) long runs with him. It was great for my heart rate training and great fun. 

From 2020 through to early 2022, I did a lot of trail running and trail events, with a brief stint of 5 km training in the winter of 2021. This helped to build some speed into my running. 

The thing about running Ultras is that the training includes a lot of aerobic (Z1-Z2) training. Over the 2+ years, I built a good foundation (base) of fitness. However, building aerobic fitness isn’t an overnight matter. It takes a couple of years to develop and many years to mature. 

Between 2020 and 2022, I ran the Taupo 100 km, Tussock 32 km and 50 km, the Northburn 50 km (trained for 100 km) and also trained but didn’t do the Hunua Hillbilly 60 km. All these events required long slow training runs with fewer interval-type sessions. Through this training, I built the aerobic fitness that helped me in my 2022 Marathon. 

When I started doing ‘slow’ training runs, I averaged 6:45 – 7:30 km on runnable trails while trying to keep my HR in Z2. This was a blow to the ego. But, I discovered that I am the type of runner who likes to do things to a T. Initially, I didn’t have a steady state, so I would walk a lot. But, at the end of the run, my HR was always really low. Over time, this changed. I got into a steady Z2 state which meant less walking and more continuous running (except up big hills).

Fast forward to 2022. I completed the Northburn 50 km and ran four other peaks in the South Island (mountainous terrain) before taking eight weeks off from heavy training. I got COVID in about May. Once I recovered, I started road running on the Hibiscus Coast through the winter. I decided it was time to do the Auckland marathon again. 

Training for the Auckland Marathon

I started training for the marathon in mid-June. Where did I start? With Park Run!

In early July, I ran a hard effort at the Millwater Park Run to see where I was with my speed. I achieved a PB of 20:51m. I attributed this result to the consistency of my training over the past year and the fact I hadn’t done a 5 km run in such a long time. 

From there, I went on to do my first-ever 10 km race in Orewa in June. This race was more about assessing where I was at with my speed and my fitness (i.e., not racing it). Following this event, I put in a 6-week 10 km training block before the Tāmaki River 10 km. Within six weeks, I improved my time from 48:31 to 43:12min and earned myself a new 10 km PB! 

After my race effort at Tāmaki River, I took a recovery week. I switched up my training by going for some swims (my favourite recovery activity), a trail run and some walks. 

The key to getting faster is recovery. Having a break after races is important, physically, mentally and emotionally. Allowing space in your life for other activities keeps running exciting. I don’t often feel like I should be running/should go for a run.  

The natural progression from here is to train for a half marathon. Right? 

After my week-long break, I worked towards the North Shore half marathon (4th September). Again, I did a 6-week training block. This time, I swapped the intervals from a 10 km pace to a half marathon pace. My previous half marathon was back in 2015, so I felt a little anxious about racing at this pace for this length of time/km. Amazingly, on that day, I had a great race. The course – an out-and-back course – is very challenging. It includes three beach runs, some grass and hills. I put my trail running background into practice and came away with a new PB of 1:39 hours. I was stoked!!

And then the fatigue kicked in!

It was time to begin the final training block for the Auckland marathon. Truth be told, the entire block leading up to the marathon was challenging. The week following the North Shore half marathon, I was not in a good space mentally. I was fatigued AND had some PMS stuff going on. To cope, I decided that more training would make me feel better, but it only made me more tired and irritable.  

Before the marathon, I had planned on achieving five long runs, ranging from 2 hours to 36 km. Some of these runs went to plan, and some didn’t. 

Training Diary

10th September – A good 2hr run. My pace, HR and nutrition went to plan. (Run mileage – 40 km)

17th September – A 28 km run that was all hard going. Nothing went to plan, apart from completing it. I was tired from an early start. The tiredness pushed my HR up during my tempo blocks.

Even though marathon training is more about pace, your HR is still important. When it’s high, it means your body is working hard to maintain that pace.

I had gels on this run, which may have contributed to the high HR, but this is unclear. My feet hurt from my shoes. This was both uncomfortable and distracting. As soon as I ticked over the 28 km, I stopped. I was ready for a recovery week. (Run mileage – 70km)

19th September – I went back to basics. I did some easy aerobic runs and a few laps at the Blue Lake 24hr event. This was a refreshing change mentally and physically. Because the runs weren’t workouts, I only had to focus on my HR and the scenery around me. (Run mileage – 45 km)

26th September– This was a good week and my biggest week milage-wise – 87 km. I did a 32 km training run with tempo-paced blocks. I felt good leading up to this run (normal fatigue), and I decided to use gels for my nutrition. Eeek! My HR soared, and I also needed to go to the loo. Sh*t! I figured my HR spiked due to the gels and not fatigue, so I chose to ignore it. This decision was neither my smartest nor my dumbest, but it was learning. I discovered that the gels I was using were not for me. (Run mileage – 87 km)

3rd October – I was meant to achieve another 32 km week, but I chose to push it out a week due to my PMS and the high mileage the week prior. (Run mileage – 48 km)

10th October – I had a good week of training. My nutrition, HR and pace were all in sync. It was a great feeling, mentally. It was supposed to be my first week of tapper but instead was a 70 km training week. (Run milage -74 km) 

Taper week – I was feeling much better. Nothing too exciting to report apart from the fact I had figured out my race nutrition (Tailwind) and brought some new shoes (Hoka Carbon X). I even managed to get my long run (75 min) for the week done in the heat, which I was pleased about. (Run mileage – 32 km) 

Race week! I was so ready!! Mentally, emotionally, and physically. After a few short runs to dial in my tempo pace, I was race-ready. The race was epic!! 

What Got Me Over the Finish Line?

Overall, a myriad of things got me to sub 3:30hr marathon

  • Having a coach (not a training plan)
  • Being consistent and disciplined with my training
  • Racing smart – a critical determining factor in getting fitter, faster and better. 
  • Time – I got fitter, faster, and better because I gave myself a few years to get there. Time takes time! 

Other contributing factors

Managing external stressors

I struggle with PMS, fatigue, and additional stressors that need regular management. Allowing myself time to recover from races/events and training is important. I don’t always do it, though!

Racing smart on the day

Throughout the marathon, I thought about my pace, HR, food, the rain, and my body temperature. I figured out that tipping water over my head was beneficial as it cooled my core temperature. 

Finally, I put my EVERYTHING into my races. I choose not to race too often, which means when I do, I go at it 110%. This approach has pros and cons, but if I am in the best condition I can possibly be in on race day, then all I have to do is go out and do my best. Not somebody else’s best.

If you are prepared, you can get out there and run with self-belief and without judgement or pressure! It’s the best way to run.

So, do the work, go out there and do your best and don’t forget to smile because you deserve to (and it will help you feel a lot better when the going gets tough!). 

2 Comments

  1. Phillippa …. on December 15, 2022 at 8:37 am

    Thank you for the insight into the life of a runner and an athlete Charlotte. Well written and understandable to this non-runner.
    Very proud of you.



  2. Aimee on December 18, 2022 at 9:35 am

    Thankyou for sharing your article Charlotte. You’re amazing!



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