Marathon Training Tips from Local Superstar Kristen Heckert

Kristen Heckert, runner for New Balance Chicago teaches full time, coaches cross country, runs nearly 130 miles a week, and has a 2:38 marathon PR. Even though she seems to have 36 hours in her days, Chicago Athlete wanted to get her marathon training tips.

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You may have heard of her when she finished as the 16th female at the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Or maybe you saw her name in headlines when her New Balance team came in first at the 2017 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k. Or, you’ve seen her at high school cross country meets. Chances are, you know the name, and know she’s amazing.

Every day, Kristin Heckert gets up early in the morning, meets her coworker at Plainfield South High School, and the two teachers run for about an hour before the school day starts. Then, she teaches for eight hours, runs with the boy’s cross country team after school, and gets in even more miles after that. Each week, Heckert logs about 130 miles.

It wasn’t always like that though; she started running cross country in middle school simply to just follow her brother’s footsteps, and continued at Murray State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Upon graduation, though, Heckert didn’t feel fulfilled with her seasons, and took on the half marathon.

“I totally loved it … it gave me a lot of time to think and reflect during the longer training runs and races,” Heckert says.

She then started training with Michael Lucchesi and New Balance, who eventually became her husband. In 2011, she ran her first marathon, and fell in love. She has run nine marathons since.

“It’s by far my favorite distance,” Heckert says.  “The challenge of it; all the training for one race and knowing it’s going to go well if you put in the time for it.”

Clearly Heckert does put the time in for it, and it pays off. At the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, she ran her fastest marathon at 2:38:54. However, she realizes that she is a high mileage runner, and not everyone needs as intense of a training plan to be successful.

“For first timers, the most important thing is to learn being on your feet for a long time,” Heckert advises. “It’s daunting to cover 26.2 miles, so do your long runs, based on distance or time, to get used to it.”

She also suggests running on various terrains to help get your legs used to the pounding they’ll feel on race day.

In fact, Heckert agrees with the common advice of “don’t try anything new on race day,” specifically in the nutrition department. She stresses the importance of practicing with the water and Gatorades provided at the aid stations, and trying different gels and fuel options to see what works best for your stomach.

“I really like UCAN; I’ll do a mix of their pre-workout and electrolyte drink because it gives you slow burning sugar so you don’t have spikes. I also like their recovery drinks for after long runs,” Heckert shares. “You need to figure out what you like though, so those little things don’t inhibit your race.”

For those who have never tackled a long-distance race, tapering might be a new concept. Heckert and her team really cut back their mileage about two weeks before race day, by adding a few extra rest days and lighter workouts.

However, she also finds adding a few medium runs and a speed workout the week of the race to be extremely beneficial; it reignites the faster paces, and on race day, makes it feel easier and more natural.

Building your own training plan can be difficult, especially for first timers. That’s why Heckert really stresses the importance of finding friends or a group to run with.

“I love running, it’s a stress reliever for me, but if I don’t have someone to meet up with for the long runs, it’s a lot harder to get myself to do it,” Heckert adds.

She suggests looking at local running stores for groups, or asking coworkers to run with you before work.

Heckert is again training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2018, which is by far her favorite race.

“The people there are so wonderful, and my whole family is in the Chicagoland area so they can come watch,” she says. “Plus, since most marathons are during the school year, not having to travel is a big plus.

In past years, Heckert has put a lot of stress on time goals; this year, however, she is working on enjoying the process and training in order to be in the best shape on race day.

“I get hyper focused, and if one mile isn’t right, I spiral out and don’t enjoy it.” Heckert adds. “But I know I do my best every day, so when race day comes this year, I really want to just enjoy the experience.”

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Holly's running career began in high school; after being bummed about not making the volleyball team her sophomore year, she decided to join some of her middle school friends on the cross country team. She also did track in the fall, where the 1600 m race was her niche. Since then, she has run many distance races, and is going for her first marathon at the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon this October. She graduated from Illinois State University in May 2016 with a degree in journalism, and is working towards her Master in Arts in New Media and Marketing.

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