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No matter who you are, there are learning curves when it comes to training for and racing the marathon. Even Jordan Hasay—the second-fastest American woman ever at the distance—still considers herself a student.
“I need the experience,” Hasay said during a phone interview with Women’s Running prior to lining up for the 2019 Chicago Marathon (Editor’s note: She dropped out of the race due to a hamstring injury). “People forget I’ve only run three marathons. I need to learn more from the event in order to make the Olympic team.”
It’s not to say she isn’t off to a strong start. In her first three marathons, Hasay is three for three so to speak: third place at the 2017 Boston Marathon, third at the 2017 Chicago Marathon, and third again this year in Boston. She has a personal best of 2:20:57, and when she lines up in October, she hopes to set a new American record—breaking Deena Kastor’s 2:19:36 finish at the 2006 London Marathon.
After Chicago, it will be on to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on February 29 in Atlanta, where the top three finishers will compete at the Tokyo Games, which would be Hasay’s first Olympic team, should she qualify.
Even though she hasn’t quite figured it all out just yet, here’s some of the biggest training and racing wisdom Hasay has gathered so far:
Identify your bigger picture. While it’s important to enjoy the process and build fitness day by day, when you’re looking at the major goals you want to accomplish, map out a route that takes them all into account.
Hasay, 28, was coached by Alberto Salazar at the Oregon Project before he was banned for four years for doping violations, then announced that former marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe would now serve as her “coaching advisor.” Aspirations the for Hasay include winning a major marathon, setting records, and making the Olympic team. And just because a major step on the way to one of those goals is coming up in February doesn’t necessarily mean the others have to wait—some are also a means to an end.
Successful marathon training cycles build on themselves—if a runner can stay healthy through them, the consistency and the learning process lead to breakthroughs.
“It’s nice to run fast, try to win, and set records, but experience and having good buildups are also important,” Hasay said. “And no buildup is ever the same. To some extent, it’s a guessing game still for me.”
Honor your training needs. Hasay spent most of 2018 injured. She sustained two fractures in her left heel during that time, which led to withdrawing from the Boston and Chicago marathons.
On the upside, she discovered that chasing more weekly mileage or plotting a longer marathon training cycle may not manifest in her best performances. She had a shortened cycle heading into the 2019 Boston Marathon but still finished third in 2:25:20, which told her a couple of things: first, that taking longer training breaks won’t hinder her performance; and second, that even if she cut down or altered other aspects of training, good long runs build confidence.
She’s been keeping the mileage around 100 miles a week as opposed to the 120 she once sustained in preparation for other races.
“That’s the main thing for me—my long runs need to go well,” she said. “During Boston, I knew my speed wasn’t there, but my long runs were right where they were before I was injured. That gives me a good sense of calm.”
And Hasay also utilizes more cross-training in her routine than she did when she first started preparing for marathons.
“I’m trying different training—I’m not exactly doing what I did that led to injury,” she said. “This time I’ve done more base training that incorporated the bike and swimming. I’ve learned I can do a lot of cross-training and still be really fit.”
Challenge your strength. Hasay remembers when she first turned pro, after graduating from the University of Oregon in 2013, thinking she already had strength training mastered. It makes her laugh now.
“In college we did like ‘10-minute abs,’ where all the girls would just make up exercises,” she said. “It was more for the looks, probably.”
She quickly realized that although she was a top runner, her body was weak.
“I couldn’t lift anything,” Hasay said. “I can deadlift 205 pounds now.”
Lifting sessions are usually about one hour twice a week, with lots of deadlifts and box squats, as well as sessions that include dynamic jump circuits and core work. She lightens up the weights when she’s in heavier marathon training.
“It can really help you get through the marathon,” Hasay said. “In Boston I was breathing hard but in my first two marathons it was my legs that went first. Now my glutes, quads, and hamstrings are so strong from lifting—it’s my muscles that carry me through.”
Keep your perspective. Plans are good to have, but only if you are willing to adapt them to your real-life circumstances. When Hasay raced the NYRR Mini in June, she knew it wasn’t going to be her best day. She also didn’t want to skip a competition that doubled as the women’s 10K road national championship this year, so she lined up anyway.
“I had a few things going on, but mostly it was a virus or a flu thing,” Hasay said. “I ran awful in New York.”
She placed 20th in 34:25. Then she tweaked the top of her left foot (she now refers to it as her “bionic foot” because, “there’s nothing left to injure there,” she said, laughing), which led to scratching plans to race the half marathon at Grandma’s in Duluth.
“It wasn’t a key race,” Hasay said. “I just want to be smart and cautious after all the injuries last year.”
Remember, the road to achieving true marathon success is long—and it’s all about that bigger picture.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Nov. 20, 2019.