Athletes, Run

Good Content from: Saucony Athlete Sarah Piampiano

I’m a professional long-course triathlete. I’m running my first-ever standalone marathon this coming weekend with the goal of qualifying for that big race on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. As it is a little bit unique to most of the other runners on the Saucony roster, we thought it would be fun to share my training journey for Houston. Let’s get into it!

To give you a bit of context, the VERY best female triathletes in the world run just under 3 hours for the marathon portion of an Ironman. Over the past few years, my running has progressively improved within triathlon to a point where I have established myself as one of the best runners in the world. In 2018, I ran under 3 hours for the marathon for the first time (off of a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride), and then in 2019 I set the second-fastest time in the world for women that year with a 2:53 marathon at Ironman Brazil.

I’ve always wondered, “How fast could I actually go if I wasn’t swimming or biking first? Could  I qualify for the Trials?”

I’ve never run a standalone marathon, so it’s been hard for me to comprehend how much faster I might actually go. Running a 6:18/mile for 26.2 miles is far different than running 6:35/mile. Still, I’ve been curious.


Matt told me that preparing for Houston would be tricky. He also told me that I had to trust the process, trust my base of fitness and that I likely wouldn’t feel that great about my training. Luckily, I trust Matt — as this message wasn’t exactly confidence building!

There were a number of reasons for all of this:

  • First, I had to give myself time to recover from a long season. In 2019, I raced 12 times, including 8x half iron-distance races (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) and 4x full iron-distance races (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).
  • In addition, I had raced all of my Ironman races over a span of just 7 months, which takes a big toll on your body.
  • I typically need a four-week period to fully recover from an Ironman race, and my last race was on Dec. 1, just seven weeks before Houston.
  • I usually take six full weeks off of training after my last race of the year in order to let my body rest and recover from a long season.  If I was going to do Houston, that would not be possible. The key would be allowing myself enough time mentally and physically recover while also continuing to stimulate the body.
  • And lastly, we needed to build in leg turnover (something that isn’t as necessary for Ironman racing).

Instead of my typical six-week break, I took two full weeks off, and began with some very light training starting in Week 3 (around December 16th).  This would give me four weeks to not only get back in shape, but also build up for the race.

As expected, Matt’s initial words have rung true. During the first two weeks of my build up, my sessions did not go well.  My run stride felt terrible, my efficiency and turnover was low, and I wasn’t hitting the splits.  But I kept my head down and doing the work, knowing that as my form began to return things would get better.

By Week 3, things started improving. I finally started hitting my prescribed paces and my run efficiency was improving. As I head into race week, I’m not in peak run form but I think Matt has brought me into the race in a place where I can at least meet my goal. I’m really excited to run my first marathon.  I’m hopeful that I will get to Atlanta in a much better spot and with some bigger goals in mind.

I’m hopeful this weekend will go well but, no matter what, it has been such a fun project for me. Running is my favorite thing to do, so to be able to focus on it for the last few weeks has brought me so much joy.

Wishing everyone running on Sunday the best of luck, as well as anyone training for Atlanta, Boston or any other race!

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