How I Cut an Hour Off My Marathon Time

July 3, 2023

Getting into marathon running is no easy feat, let alone cutting time once you make it to the 26.2 mile distance. San Diego Track Club member Jillian Rodriguez did just that. Dive into her story about how joining the track club transformed her life and relationship with running. This story is sure to inspire you to set your sights on your next goal.  

A woman running around a bend on a quiet country road.A woman running around a bend on a quiet country road.

A Bucket List Marathon

In 2019, I couldn’t fathom what kind of people ran marathons, but I knew I wanted to run one. Even though I go to the gym, dabble in many sports, even jog on the weekends, I couldn’t imagine running 26.2 miles. I could barely imagine running more than 8!   

I enjoyed running cross country track in high school, but in the military, I was obligated to run to pass my military PT test. That’s when I lost the joy of running. After the military, I faced new challenges, like becoming a mother, and that took priority over my inconsistent running habit.  

As a mother, I felt guilty for putting any time or money toward my hobbies because it felt like taking resources away from my daughter. But in 2019, thanks to early bird pricing and a fortuitous Facebook ad, I signed up for the 2020 Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon.

I thought of the race as a bucket list item, a one-and-done, been-there-done-that goalpost but partway through training, the marathon was canceled due to COVID-19. Without knowing if or when the race would be rescheduled, I stopped training consistently. Two postponements later, the marathon was officially rescheduled for October 2021.  

A woman running across a city bridge. A woman running across a city bridge.

Hooked On Running

In true newbie fashion, I made every mistake I could have. I began training again with no rhyme or reason. I didn’t know how to fuel or why runners need to taper before race day. I didn’t know to go up a half shoe size to accommodate swelling and I suffered through blisters thinking it was normal. For better or for worse, I maintained a “no pain, no gain” mindset. 

When race day finally came, I ran my first marathon in 4 hours and 17 minutes. I was so proud! After two years of waiting and anticipating this race, I was elated when I reached the finish line.  

I predicted that once I ran a marathon, I could cross it off my bucket list and never do it again. Instead, I realized that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Even when I felt the post-marathon pain and soreness, the joy and pride I felt over this accomplishment superseded it all. I enjoyed the discipline needed to train and felt more fulfilled with a race to look forward to. It gave me a sense of excitement that I could not ignore.  

Two people running on a wide city sidewalk with palm trees behing them. Two people running on a wide city sidewalk with palm trees behing them.

Joining a Running Club

In pursuit of a Boston qualifying marathon time, I trained hard for another marathon, but I still came up 42 minutes short of qualifying time. This race humbled me. 

When I found out about the San Diego Track Club, I skeptically considered joining. At the time, I thought that running clubs were for beginners or non-serious runners but despite my doubts, I joined their 2022 Rockin’ and Runnin’ Marathon Training Program. Little did I know, this would be one of the best decisions I ever made. 

I sat on the bleachers during the first session program. I hadn’t had any breakfast, I was wearing the wrong size running shoes, and I didn’t own a GPS watch. I had so much to learn about fueling and training. When I saw the cohort for the Boston 2022 Training Program looking so cool in their Boston jackets, I realized that the SDTC running club was for everyone: amateurs, seasoned runners, even weekend joggers like me. 

That season I ran with the B group of runners and even though I hated those track workouts, my running improved with every session. Fully committed, I worked my life around Track Tuesday and at the very last track workout of the season, I moved up to the A group.  

Members of the San Diego Track Club running around a track taking up every lane. Members of the San Diego Track Club running around a track taking up every lane.

New Marathon PRs

The 2022 San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon was in June, and this time I had a full training cycle under my belt. I felt good at the start of the race, but at mile 5 my knee felt off. By mile 13 I was in serious pain and by mile 16 I was audibly wincing. I knew that if I stopped running, I wouldn’t be able to start again, so I kept moving. With 10 miles to go and a massive hill ahead of me, I had to dig really deep to keep going. Despite the pain and my slow pace, I finished the marathon in 3:43, a personal best by 34 minutes.  

This got me thinking. I was only 8 minutes from a Boston qualifying marathon time. Motivated by the possibility of running the Boston Marathon, I took the summer off from running to get healthy. 

Once I was ready, I registered for the Long Beach Marathon in October 2022. I trained for 8 weeks and on race day, I did what I thought was previously impossible—I finished in 3:19 and earned my first-ever Boston Marathon qualifying time. That was the day that everything changed because I realized my self-imposed limits were untrue. I was so happy that I cried. 

Members of the San Diego Track Club running on a track at dusk.Members of the San Diego Track Club running on a track at dusk.

Qualifying for the New York City Marathon

After that, I was always looking for the next goal. Unsurprisingly, I set my eyes on the New York City Marathon. The qualifying time was 3:15 and with my newfound confidence, I believed that I could get there by training smarter. That’s when the phone rang. My friend offered their California International Marathon (CIM) bib because they wouldn’t be able to use it. I questioned whether it would be smart (or even possible) to recover from my previous marathon, train for another, and taper within two months but I said yes anyway.

I felt strong on race day and chose to conserve my energy for the end of the race. That strategy helped me cut 9 minutes off my previous time. I finished the CIM marathon in 3:10! Not only did I qualify for the 2023 New York City Marathon, I got accepted to run it too! This November I will join thousands of others running the 2023 New York Marathon and I could not be more proud.  

Members of the San Diego Track Club running along a city sidewalk.Members of the San Diego Track Club running along a city sidewalk.

The Running Community 

I entered 2022 as a solo runner and accepted that I would never qualify for the Boston Marathon. In 2023, I had my whole club behind me. I found my tribe and besides qualifying for two major marathons, now I know that anything is possible. In 13 months, I dropped 67 minutes off my marathon time, but my victories are not my own. They belong to the San Diego Track Club as well, because I could not have done it without them.

I had such a profound experience that I joined the Board of Directors so I can help more people find their confidence through running. I believe there is power in groups and if you want to improve your running or meet new goals, I implore you to look up your local running club. It might just change your life! 

About the Author

Jillian Rodriguez is a fitness enthusiast, mom, Army Veteran, and a proud San Diego Track Club member. She recently added amateur bodybuilder to her list of accomplishments and is working on breaking the myth that marathoners can’t have muscles. She hopes to be a lifelong runner, venture into trail and ultra-running, and complete some of the World Marathon Majors. If you don’t see her running all over San Diego you might find her on the tennis courts, hiking a local trail, stand-up paddling the La Jolla caves, boxing, kickboxing, or at the gym!  

Injinji proudly partners with the San Diego Track Club to foster the running community in our hometown of San Diego. Join the Injinji Strava Club to connect with runners all over the world and keep up with the blog for more tips and tricks.