Jeannette Faber: Personal Best
When racing the marathon distance, there is only so much training that one can do to prepare. Anyone who has raced a marathon can tell you that one key component to improving at the distance is to actually run one. The lessons learned about racing over 26.2 miles and how your body responds can best be learned by doing. And while most marathoner’s hope that they will improve a little with each race, it is the rare individual who can lop almost a half-hour off their time – especially when their PB is already at three hours. Enter 29 year-old Jeannette Faber. Almost four years ago, Faber (nee Seckinger) moved to the Boston area from Portland, OR. An All-American while at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, the distance specialist began running marathons after college and had some early success, running a 3:05 at the 2006 Portland Marathon and winning the 2007 Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica where she set a new personal best of 3:00:57. When she joined the B.A.A in 2008, she knew that she was capable of more and immediately set about training to improve. Since then, she has continued her impressive streak of setting personal bests in each of the eleven marathons that she has run. She will be looking for number twelve on January 14th.
While no one who has seen her compete would question her determination or her work-ethic, still it would have been almost impossible to predict how far she would come in just three short years. Faber now boasts a PB of 2:36:58 which she ran in a warm Chicago Marathon this past fall. Her time earned her an Olympic Trials “A” Qualifier (she had already met the “B” Standard several times) and the distinction of being the top American finisher. But Faber is getting used to collecting accolades. Each marathon has brought with it not only a new personal best but also a new honor. She twice earned the title “New England’s Finest” by winning the Hartford Marathon in 2009 and 2010. After the 2010 race, feeling like she had more in the tank and itching to test herself against the top U.S. Women, she entered the New York Marathon – racing another marathon in 4 weeks time.
Risky – perhaps – but Faber was confident that she was ready to run well and she did just that – lowering her PB to and placing as the fifth American woman in the U.S. Marathon Championship, which was being hosted by New York in 2010. In reflecting on her decision, Faber recalls “The Hartford marathon just didn't play out as I had hoped it would that year. I wanted to break 2:40 and knew that I was in shape to do it, but it didn't come together for me on that day. I left the race feeling that I hadn't given it everything and that unsettled feeling made me hungry for another chance. It was pretty silly to pick another marathon that was only four weeks away but I had a strong gut feeling that it would work out in the end. The hardest part of that whole experience was making the decision to run NYC when everyone thought it was crazy and they didn't believe that I would run any faster on the tougher course. Coming away from that double I learned some really good lessons: it's important to trust your own judgment, strength and fitness stay with you longer than you might think, and even if the first half of a marathon feels miserable there is still hope for the second half.”
In addition to the marathon, Faber has recorded numerous top-ten finishes at U.S. National Championship road races and other elite-level races. She is most proud of her performance at the 2011 Falmouth Road Race. “I've run Falmouth three times now and each year I surprise myself. This year I was coming off of a short break following the 10K in Eugene and had already switched to marathon focused work. I didn't think that I would be able to run so fast but I actually went through the 10K mark in Falmouth faster than I ran on the track in Eugene. Additionally, I felt that I raced really well that day and fought for the 7th place/5th American spot. I definitely plan to return to the Cape again next year.”
Falmouth, her fall 2010 marathon ‘double’, her 2:36 at 2011 Chicago, and her improvement in general are remarkable by any standard. What is it about her training that has led her to this point? Faber believes that there are two things that have enabled her to progress from a 3-hour marathoner to an Olympic Trials Qualifier: “The first is consistent training as I have been hitting between 50 and 100 miles per week over the past four years with only small periods of time off for general rest and recovery. I have been fortunate enough to avoid serious injury and this has allowed me to continually go from one training block to the next without interruption.”
“The second component to my success has been the teams that have guided me along the way. In 2006, in Portland, I joined a women's running club named Team Athena and it really sparked my interest in competitive running. One teammate in particular had run in the Olympic Marathon Trials before and she helped me to believe that it was a possibility for me as well. When I made the move to Boston I was drawn to the BAA because of the number of women they had qualified for the 2008 Trials. I knew a team with that depth would provide great training partners, and it definitely did! With so many women to workout with my times quickly began to drop at every distance.”
Having recently relocated back to the Portland area, Faber misses the camaraderie of the training group that she had here in Boston. “My husband I moved out here this summer and decided that this would be a good opportunity for me to train full time. My background is in photography and I still shoot a bit on the side, but my daily focus is on training. Not being able to run with these [B.A.A.] ladies …has been the hardest part of the move back out west.”
And training is taking up a significant portion of her time. “My typical training week consists of between 70-105 miles and two to three strength sessions. I've slowly worked my mileage up over the years but I am still a big believer in being able to run well off of 70-80 miles a week, especially for the shorter distances. In addition I will incorporate two to three strength sessions where I focus on the core and upper body muscles. I think being strong and having good form is one of the best ways to stay healthy. My other key to avoiding injury is to listen to your body and keep easy runs easy. I have no problem doing an 8-9 minute per mile shuffle when I feel that my body doesn't need to go any faster, and taking a day off every now and then is also important. I have to laugh right now as I'm dealing with my first sidelining injury. I've been relatively lucky for the past seventeen years avoiding all of the common runner's afflictions and now, with only four weeks to go before the Olympic Trials, I am reduced to working out on the elliptical and the bike. If I don't laugh then I might cry.“
A competitor to the core, Faber remains intensely focused on the trials despite the bump in the road. “I have mixed feelings heading into Houston as I've recently been forced to stop running due to pain in my foot associated with plantar fasciitis. My plan is to cross train for a week or two and then run what I can in the final weeks leading up to the race. I still believe that I will be able to deal with this issue and have a strong race at the trials, but this is certainly going to have an impact on my goals and expectations. For now all I can do is cross train in a smart way, nurse my foot, and keep a positive attitude on the situation.”
“Aside from the fact that I am currently dealing with injury I am not really changing anything specifically for the trials. My training leading up to the race in Houston looked very similar to what I did leading up to my race in Chicago, until it was recently hampered by the foot pain. Now we will take it day-by-day and make the best decisions we can.”
While she has never been to Houston, Faber is preparing for a fast race on the flat, loop course. The set-up lends itself to her race strategy which is “pretty much the same one I use for every marathon, run the first half in a predetermined time and then race the second half in an intelligent manner. I always hope for negative splits but I don't think I've ever actually accomplished this. Before the race I will talk with other women and find out if anyone is targeting a similar time through the halfway mark. It would be nice to have a buddy to work with for the first half. “
Her recent training, which included a focus on the track last summer, should help her in Houston. She switched to the shorter distances with the goal of improving her speed for the marathon. To give herself something to shoot for, Faber looked to the 10k qualifying time for the U.S. Track & Field National Championships – 33:40. She checked that one off the list early in the season and ran several of the local Twilight Meets in May and June. With her experience on the oval, she is looking forward to the course layout at the trials. “I've haven't actually raced a marathon on a loop course but I am pretty excited about this one. A number of friends and family members are traveling to Houston to watch me race and it's a real relief that they will see me numerous times over the 26.2 miles. In addition, I'm pretty excited that the course is flat and should be fast (if the weather cooperates). While I think that I'm a decent hill runner, I tend to compete better on flat courses.”
Faber is taking a relaxed approach as she prepares to race. “I don't stress too much about the race or any of the details as it's all pretty simple once the gun goes off.” And her goals are straightforward: “1) Another personal best time; 2) Use the incredible depth of the women's field to propel me to a good race - I'm a pretty competitive person and I really hope to use this to my advantage in Houston. I can't wait to get out there and race with the best women in the country.”
And what about after the Marathon Trials? Now that she lives in the shadow of Track Town, USA (Eugene, OR), the answer seems obvious. “Shooting for a qualifier (in the 10k last summer) was just a way to introduce a goal into that training segment and so when I ran 33:22 at Stanford in May I think that I really surprised myself and Terry! Racing the 10K, and even the 5K, turned out to be more enjoyable than I had expected and I really look forward to switching back to shorter distances after the Marathon Trials.”
In addition to accomplishing her goal of improving her speed, Faber also gained experience competing on the track at the national level – experience that she is hoping to leverage this summer. “Unfortunately the 10K race at the US Track and Field National Championships was not a good one for me. I went in hoping for another PR, something close to 33 flat, and ended up near the back of the pack in 33:50. I think a huge factor in this was that my husband, Chad, and I were in the middle of our cross country move and there was plenty of stress on me that had nothing to do with running. On the positive side I do believe that it was a valuable experience that taught me how the pace of championship races can be extremely erratic. The whole field went out fast in that 10K and my plan to run even splits went out the window in the first 800 meters. I certainly hope to return to the Track and Field Championship this year and take another swing at it.”
“After Houston I plan to take two weeks off from running and really give my body the rest it needs. It will have been almost a year since my last big break (of more than a few days) and so I will try to enjoy every minute of it. In early February I will begin training again for the shorter distances as I attempt to earn a spot in the 10K at the Olympic Track Trials. I believe that I will have to drop about 20-30 seconds from my current 10K PR in order to do this so we'll be looking to run a qualifying time in March or April.” With her marathon success as the precedent, look for her 10k times to drop incrementally.
As she completes her marathon training and looks ahead to track, Faber is excited about the possibilities and grateful for her time in Boston. “I have no doubt on how much the BAA has been instrumental in my success and I would like to thank the coaches and my teammates for three wonderful years!” And as she reflects on those years she advises other runners, ”Work hard and believe that there is always room for improvement, but also be happy with what you've already accomplished. Enjoy the journey.”