Training progress through the years

In the process of our recent move, we’ve been going through boxes that we had in storage during the 2 years we were in Houston.  Over the weekend, I came across my old running journals… from college, my 20’s and even one that lasted through my pregnancy.

At the end of one of the journals, I had recapped my races.  From 2002 to 2009, I wasn’t trying to improve.  I ran for fun and usually raced one ten mile race or half marathon each year.

My training consisted of 3-4 easy runs each week, usually about 4 miles each.  For half marathon training, I’d ramp up my long run gradually to 10-12 miles.  I had no track days, no tempo runs, minimal cross training (and no injuries!)

10 mile race at 20 weeks pregnant

So for memories sake, here were some of those prs.

First half marathon (2002)- 2:04

Several ten mile races – from 05-09, all were around 1:23, or 8:15 pace (I was consistent!)

Half marathon in 2007 – 1:51

There was a slight improvement the more I ran, but for the most part, I ran all of my runs (and races) at the same pace (you can see all my races here).

2009 was the year of pregnancy, and my daughter was born the beginning of 2010.  That year, I noticed some faster race paces and I found myself wondering how much I could improve if I really tried.

I incorporated some speed work.  I started doing more weights and cross training.  I slowly ramped up my mileage.

And an amazing thing happened… I started getting faster!

In the fall of 2010, I ran a 1:49 half, and then a 1:45 half in the spring of 2011 and my first full in 3:44, followed by a 1:41 half in early 2012, then a 1:39 half in the fall, and a 1:35 half and 3:32 marathon last spring. Plus handfuls of 5ks and 10ks.

Sidenote- I know this trend cannot continue indefinitely, but for now, it’s fun to continue to improve and see what I can do. And I think it’s important to recognize that these progressions take place over years, not one training cycle.


Here are a few things that definitely helped me.

1) Follow a training plan!

This is obvious enough, but I kind of liked doing my own thing for years.

2) Vary your pace.

I used to run every run at the same pace or whatever pace felt good and easy.  By mixing in just one day of speed or tempo work (and running easy runs nice and easy), you will start to see improvements.

3) Gradually increase overall mileage.

This takes time.  Years, really.  I used to be wiped out after  a long 6 or 7 mile run on the weekend.  My week day runs were never more than 4 miles.  Now my week day runs are usually 6-8 miles, and in marathon training the long run goes all the way up to 20.

4) Add some cross training.

Not everyone agrees with this philosophy, but it has worked for me.  Mixing in some weights, spin, swimming, elliptical or yoga/pilates has made me an overall stronger athlete and definitely improved my running.

5) Include periods of rest.

Sometimes you just need to back off for a week or two and let your body catch up.  Your muscles and tendons adapt more slowly than your lungs to the demands we place on them (unfortunately) so if you don’t give them time to grow stronger, they’ll let you know and break down.

6) Believe in yourself!

Mental toughness is so important in a race!

I’m sure your training has progressed with time as well.  Think back to some of your first distance and pace prs and how impressed you were with yourself!

PS- My friend Tia wrote a similar post recently on running to improve vs just running, check it out for more great tips!

Also, just a few more days to join the Fall 5 and 10 series or the virtual coaching group!

So what’s your story? How have you seen improvement over the years? What things have helped you get there?


62 thoughts on “Training progress through the years

  1. This post gives me hope as I am trying to get faster. 🙂

    I have noticed a real improvement in my running in the last year. I started strength training and I really think that has helped a lot.
    Natalie recently posted..Slow Down!!My Profile

  2. It has been choppy for me this year. Started the spring off strong and just can’t seem to find my groove now. I know I will get there again. I am a cool weather runner and I know once the temps start to go down, I will get better.
    Kristina Walters @ Kris On Fitness recently posted..Sister In IronMy Profile

  3. I love reading your blog Laura! It has totally motivated the new-runner in me. You have so many awesome accomplishments!! And now I’m off to buy a notebook to keep track of my training. What a fun discovery! Have a wonderful long weekend.
    Amy @ The Little Honey Bee recently posted..Highlights of the WeekMy Profile

  4. I definitely have seen an improvement about in my times once I stared to do all that you listed above. My first half marathon in 2007 was 2:02. I had no idea about tempos, pace, etc. I’m running more miles, with different workouts and just have an overall belief that I can do more. Great tips!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..August 2013 in ReviewMy Profile

  5. Great post Laura! I’ve definitely seen improvements in my running! I’ve gone from my first 5k being 38 minutes to 29 minutes. My first half marathon was 2:43 to my current PR of 2:23. I’m not super fast but I have seen improvements and that’s encouraging! 🙂 Of course if I would do more speedwork than I’d see even more improvements lol!
    Mindy @ Road Runner Girl recently posted..Fitness Friday…August 30th Edition!My Profile

  6. What fun – so very cool to see how much you have improved! I think that you have lots more years of the trend continuing – all those tips you included have made a huge difference!!
    Kim recently posted..Friday Funnies Are Back!!My Profile

  7. This intrigues me and after the running coach course, it really has me re-thinking my running. I always talk about (ok, not always out loud, but in my head) a new PR or a goal time for my races. But I don’t follow any strict plan anymore. My first 2 halfs I did, but then I just sort of fell into a general pattern that sort of mimicked those plans – minus the structured speed and strength work. I also find that as I get comfortable and run for fun, I tend to vary the miles and speed a lot less unless i’m running with my friend, then it’s my temp run basically. And of course I’m bordering on injuries constantly.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..Thursday Thoughts from Sunrises to Weight LiftingMy Profile

  8. How fun to look back over your journals and see how far you’ve come. What I love is that you are truly just getting started–I think you’re on your way to becoming an absolutely amazing runner!

    My path has been anything but straight–started in triathlon and did very well, then had kids, injuries, and fell in love with running. I had two years (09 and 10) where I seemed to PR constantly, and then an injury sidelined me again. Now more than two years later, I’m excited to try to crack one more marathon PR and then settle into some trail racing. It’s so nice to have a sport that can ebb and flow with our lives.
    misszippy recently posted..Puppy loveMy Profile

  9. What a fun post! I love reading how other people improve! I’ve only been running for 3 years but so much has changed. When I decided to run my first marathon I joined a training group. That was the best thing I’ve done for my running career. Speed work helped me go from a 1:51 half to a 1:40 in just a year and a half. I’m stil hoping to finish a marathon in under 4 hours. I have my third try in Nov!
    allie recently posted..Just Think.My Profile

  10. How awesome to be able to look back at your improvements. I love that you have this beginning base of a love for running that you’re now building on. Can’t wait to see where it takes you!

    I think running for running is the best way to describe me.
    Carrie @ recently posted..Friday FiveMy Profile

  11. I started trying to get faster almost from the beginning. When I ran my first 10k it was the first time I’d run over 6 miles. At about my 3rd or 4th race ever, I met a woman who told me about the local running club and I started doing track workouts, so I started to see huge improvements.

    Still, because I deal with the asthma, my times have gone up and down, no matter how hard I have trained. I did take almost an hour off my marathon time from my first to my PR, from 4:10 to 3:16.

    Of course, all this is past tense. For a long time I did just run for fun, but recently started really training again, though my goals are much slower now.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..19 Random Things About MeMy Profile

  12. First, I can’t believe you were 20 weeks preggo in that picture!! Second, this is a fun post. It inspired me to go back and look at my progression…I may do a similar post in the future (if you don’t mind)!
    Corey recently posted..Track LoveMy Profile

  13. I think I need to do a better job of tracking runs and sticking to a training plan. I think constantly running half marathons and no other distances is finally taking a toll on my motivation as there is no ‘change’. I like how you pointed out that your progress took time and it wasn’t just with one training cycle, I need to remember that 😉
    lisa j recently posted..5 for Friday- all things MinnesoooooootaMy Profile

  14. I totally agree, cross training has made me a better runner. I can’t wait to get back out there next season and do more speed work and continue to improve. I’ve only been running for a few years, but I know there is a lot of work to be done. I not-so-secretly hope that training with a jogging stroller in the near future will be helpful too, hahah
    christa @ growing up ginsburg recently posted..B-I-N-G-O!My Profile

  15. I think its awesome you’ve been seeing so much improvement! Wow, totally impressive! Keep on doing what you are doing, because its working!
    Before I had to mostly stop running because of an injury this year, I previously had a period where I wasn’t training smart and then I went back to training smart and putting the miles in. It made worlds of difference, in fact I dropped 45 minutes off my marathon time at one point with only 2 months of correct training vs. what I had been doing before. So I agree, good training plans, putting the mileage in makes a world of difference!!!
    Kristy recently posted..Running with my Tendon InjuryMy Profile

  16. Awww! Thanks for the shout out! You have come SO FAR and I know you have not reached your potential yet. And you are right, progression can take years- not just one training cycle. Sometimes while I’m doing a workout I try to think more big picture and remind myself that the work I’m doing now won’t just help me for my upcoming marathon but for also for the one two or three marathons from now. 🙂
    Tia @ Arkansas Runner Mom recently posted..Finding the Balance- Mommy Guilt vs. Inspiring our childrenMy Profile

  17. I love your logs! I’ve never kept a log and have been running for 25 years! I actually just started daily mile this year, so that should be fun. I LOVED your pizza tutorial. I can’t wait to try it. Pizza is my fave post race treat, but it’s gotta be good pizza worth the calories.

  18. I couldn’t agree more with #6! Your head can make or break a race!! I had a similar experience with ramping up my speed after my kids were born. I was on a mission to get back into shape and then once that was accomplished I just kept striving for MORE! Congrats on all your hard work. It’s awesome when it pays off!!
    Allie Burdick recently posted..10 THOUGHTS ON THEME PARKSMy Profile

  19. it’s also really fascinating that you saw huge improvement AFTER having a baby! i ran a half-marathon pr a year after having a baby, and i think it’s because suddenly my time was more limited so i had to make good use of the time i had!
    Amanda K. recently posted..Guest starring Mary VirginiaMy Profile

  20. I am so jealous of your cool training journals!!!!! I am very similiar in that for a long time I just ran for run. I never did races though. From right after high school until about 4 years ago I just ran 3-5 miles easy and every day. I never did any speed, mileage increase or cross training (except chasing my kids around)! I also could not imagine paying money for something I could do for free :)….
    Enter a desire for marathon #1. I trained…but just in miles not any other speed work. Since then I have slowly added miles and speed and started faithfully taking a day off. I have gone from 3:51 to 3:36 and hope to get close to 3:15 this fall for the marathon!
    Jen Floyd @ milesandblessings recently posted..A quiet run & my marathon shoe!!! & my 1st giveaway!!!!My Profile

  21. I love looking back at my training logs. When I feel like I have no improved or am even going backwards it helps to see where I came from. Your progression is amazing and I hope that I see a big improvement in my marathon this fall! I’ve been really focused with training this cycle so here’s hoping for a nice drop!
    Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted..Hartford Marathon Training Week 10My Profile

  22. Inspirational post Laura! I’ve had a bit of a blah week running-wise and the negative thoughts were creeping in, but your post makes me feel much better – thank you! It’s important to look at the long term and not get impatient.

    I bought a diary this year and love recording my runs and all the data in paper format – such fun to look back on. Hopefully one day I’ll have as many as you!
    Sherry recently posted..The Return to Judge’s BayMy Profile

  23. This is so cool! I have so much junk from HS & college that my mom saved, but I would LOVE to have training journals from back then! (Not that I kept them…) You have made awesome progress – way to go!
    Sarah recently posted..What I’m Into, August 2013My Profile

  24. Your post gives me hope and motivation. I’m a relatively new runner, and would like to have faster times, but I’ve not been following a specific plan, or doing any speed work at all. (My “plan” sounds alot like what you described your running to be like in the early days.) Thanks for sharing your story!
    Jen M recently posted..Having a bad weekMy Profile

  25. I really enjoyed reading this post! It’s always encouraging to read about the improvements of runners – especially ones that started out at about the same pace I started out. Gives me hope that I, too, can continue to improve and get faster throughout the years. You’ve been running a lot longer than me, though!
    Kayla recently posted..Facing Your Fears and Giving it Your AllMy Profile

  26. It’s incredible to see how far you have come– your progression with races and training is amazing and inspiring.

    I’ve always been a runner, but didn’t run distance (anything over an 800m LOL) until 2009 and more serious in 2010 and 2011. It’s crazy to think about how I trained a few years ago and how I train now. I run more often, I run further, I do more specific training, and I race more varied distances. Even in the past year I have noticed many differences in my training, and it has paid off!
    Laura recently posted..Wineglass Training Week 6: over half way!My Profile

  27. Hi! I have been following you on IG for a little while and just checked out your blog today and I love it! I am a mom to a two year old boy and my first and second half marathon times were quite similar to yours. I have been GREATLY improving my times since I started cross training and strength training and my love for fitness lead me to becoming a certified personal trainer. I start my first job tomorrow working for a conditioning center! I am very interested in following your running journey as my goal is see my pace increase into the 7:00-7:50 range and I would also like to train for my first triathlon in the next two years. I am running my first full marathon next spring 🙂 Thank you for inspiring me to achieve personal greatness as a mom! You are wonderful.

  28. I love looking through my old running logs – it’s so cool to see how much my running has changed over the years. And it’s uncanny how similar our paths were, in terms of improving race times. Now you’ve jumped way ahead of me, but that’s good – it gives me someone to chase : )
    Michelle recently posted..Back to School, and Back to (Sort Of) TrainingMy Profile

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