How I Reduced My Half Marathon Time by 40 Minutes: A Physical Therapist's Journey

Eight years ago I ran my first half marathon. I’m not quite sure what gave me the idea to try a distance race since I wasn’t even a runner. Nonetheless, I registered for the NJ Half Marathon on May 2, 2010.

Overall, I thought I did all right. I felt ready, prepared, and finished it.

I followed a basic half marathon training plan:

  • I ran 4 days a week and worked out in a traditional gym setting 2 days a week.  

  • I ran my pre-race 10 miler!  

  • I ran with water!

  • I tried Gu (had spit it out-what a sight), but I used the Clif Bloks energy chews

  • I wore compression socks, updated my running shoes, and learned all about sweat wicking fabrics.

2010 Finish - NJ Half Marathon

2010 Finish - NJ Half Marathon

Race Day - Take 1

Well race day came, and our cool weather suddenly changed to terrible heat and humidity. I started the half marathon and by mile four I was questioning why on earth I was even doing it. I hydrated and ate the bloks, but by mile 10, I was really feeling it. When I finally finished, I felt exhausted, but accomplished. The next day I woke up and could hardly walk I was so sore!! “That’s it, I’ll never do that again”, I said.

Iron Physical Therapy

Flash forward a few years to when I started working at Iron Physical Therapy as a Doctor of Physical Therapy. As part of my role, I get to work closely with great groups of motivated runners. I always speak to them about the importance of incorporating strength workouts into their training for injury prevention and optimal performance. I figured it was time to put my money with where my mouth was, so I signed up for another half marathon.

Half Marathon Training - Take 2 (Running + Crossfit)

My main goal was to be able to train while still doing Crossfit (constantly varied weightlifting, gymnastics movements and traditional cardio like rowing all done at a high intensity). I counted out 10 weeks and created a training plan from the best options I had seen. I knew I could not do long runs on the weekend because I usually meet a friend at our Crossfit gym. As a physical therapist, I also work non-traditional hours, so it turned that it was best to do my long runs on Wednesdays and take a rest day on Thursdays which was my monster day at the clinic.

Beating Boredom

I first started doing my long runs in the park. Well, this will be fun I thought. WRONG! I was all by myself and bored. I asked a fellow runner in the Iron community if she had any suggestions, and her top tips included listening to podcasts and running with other people. We lived too far away to run together, but I decided to start and end my 5am run at the gym where at the very least, I could meet up with friends afterward. The night before I picked out my podcast based on the length of my run, and it was actually very relaxing!!

Training Challenges

Training was moving right along, but during a 10 mile run, I pulled my calf which made me really nervous at this stage of training. Lucky for me, I work at a physical therapy clinic so I knew just what to do. I made an appointment with one of my fellow DPTs, who fixed me right up. I  did my exercises, and two days later, no problems!

Pre-Race Advice

Once again, I asked some awesome runners in the Iron Community for advice on race day. Here were their last minute words of wisdom.

  • Do what you did during training (i.e., if you didn’t run with hydration before, don’t start now.

  • Go out slow and then make up time later

  • Since the race is two laps, take the first one conservatively so you know what to expect

  • Run the first 10 miles with your brain, and the last 3 with all you’ve got

  • Have fun

Race Day - Take 2

As I started running, I tried to slow down, but adrenaline got the best of me. I was afraid I’d burn out, but just kept going and felt great. Luckily, I had enough in the tank to really push it the last 3 miles, but I will go on record that the last 0.1 was the hardest!!

After I got water, my next thought was just to keep moving. I felt tired, achy, but not so bad. What a difference from my first half marathon!

At the end of the day, I was ecstatic to learn that I had actually shaved 40 minutes (yes) off my previous half marathon time and placed 3rd in my age group. Sweet Redemption!

2018 Finish!

2018 Finish!

Since I started sharing my experience, lots of people have asked me how I made such a dramatic improvement, so here are the top training strategies that worked for me:

How I Reduced My Half Marathon Time by 40 Minutes:

1) STRENGTH TRAINING! Crossfit 4 days/week

  • This was the biggest change I made between my first and second half marathon. Many runners believe that if they just run more, it will get easier and faster. However, in addition to my own experience, I have treated many runners and seen first hand how strength training as well as cross-training with other cardio can have a dramatic effect.

2) Ran 3 days a week (2 short, 1 long)

3) Nutrition! Since my first half marathon, I have become a lot more mindful about what I eat. My diet consists mostly of fresh foods (very little packaged) that I prepare at home. Normally, I don’t eat many starches, but I found including rice or potatoes the night before a long run was helpful.

4) Don’t abruptly stop! Always continue moving after a long run to prevent soreness

5) Make the long run on a day that works for you! It doesn’t have to be a weekend.

6) FInd the right shoes for you. Since my first half, I went to a specialty running store (Fleet Feet Monclair) where I discovered that I do best in a lighter, flatter shoe. I’ve also focused on a more efficient mid-foot strike.

7) Need motivation or advice? Ask those around you. The Iron community teaches me as much as I (hopefully) teach them

8) Try Again! It’s ok to be afraid to try something new or try something AGAIN, but do it anyway. Sometimes you will surprise yourself!

9) Somethinurt? Go see your physical therapist right away. Something small can usually be resolved quickly, and you’ll be right back on the road.

Who knows what’s next!

By Dr. Marnie Wortman

About Dr. Wortman

Dr. Wortman earned her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Richard Stockton College of NJ. She has been a physical therapist (PT) for over 10 years and currently serves as the Director of Iron Physical Therapy’s Midland Park, NJ clinic.

She is a top PT in the area sought after by runners and other athletes who love movement and want to maximize performance.

Dr. Wortman has completed rigorous courses in Active Release Technique (ART), The McKenzie Method, Kinesio Taping, Spinal Manipulation and Graston Technique. 

She's also an avid runner and CrossFitter (who happens to dead lift over 235 lbs).