Sarah Jackson ran the race of her life at the Austin Marathon.

On a warm, humid morning last Sunday at the Ascension Seton Austin Marathon, Austin native Sarah Jackson,31, ran the race of her life, ducking under her previous personal record of 2:56 set at last October’s Chicago (under much better conditions) and winning the race with a new a personal record of 2:55:17. There were many factors that led to Jackson’s success, and she shares them with Ready to Run.

RTR: You started running the Austin marathon 14 years ago, right? What have you learned along the way?

SJ: I signed up for my first Austin Marathon my freshman year in College. I had joined the A&M Triathlon team that fall, and some teammates convinced me that training for a marathon during our Tri off season would be a good idea. So, of course I agreed to it and ended up finishing in 3:23 and qualifying for Boston. I was hooked after that! I have learned so much along the way. The biggest takeaways though are 1) Running with others makes training so much more fun! 2) If you want to get faster, run faster on quality workout days, but it also means slow down on easy days to let your body recover!! That’s been the biggest challenge, but so important for staying injury free.

RTR: I’m guessing your PR of 2:56 in Chicago was set in cooler weather, and obviously a faster course. What factors led to such a great race on Sunday?

SJ: The Chicago weather and course in 2019 made it a great opportunity for a fast race. Unfortunately, started that race way faster than what I should have and crashed around mile 13 or so.  I was so upset with my Chicago performance. I knew I had to rebound big from it. I trained with determination and focus and was able to hit paces that I’ve never done before in previous training cycles. That, along with some amazing teammates to push me through all the workouts, led to a great race!

RTR: Tell me a little bit about your build up. Talk about your workouts, mileage and maybe a couple specific training runs where you knew you were really ready. Also do you still include swimming as part of your training?

SJ: I took a week off of running after Chicago then got right back to it. I rolled with the fitness I had accumulated over the summer into the Austin training cycle. I had some injuries along the way, so my weekly mileage was a bit inconsistent. When I couldn’t run, I swam around 2.5 miles to stay aerobically fit. Injury free weeks, I would average around 60-70 miles per week. Workouts consisted of variations of repeats (mile, 1K, 2 miles, 5K, etc.), fartleks, hill repeats, and then long run workouts on Saturdays, normally with longer threshold work. I also go to Crossfit two times a week for strength work. After a sacral stress fracture a year ago, I find it extremely important to add strength-work in addition to all the miles.  I knew I was ready for Austin after setting a four-minute PR at the 3M Half Marathon in January and feeling great doing it!

RTR: Did you taper during race week?

SJ: I took a less aggressive approach to tapering this race. I was coming back from a minor injury right before taper started so I only dropped a few miles two weeks out, then a few more the week of the race. Workouts were still pretty intense during this time, but I took my easy days extra easy. I was a little worried because this approach was new for me but turns out it worked!

RTR: Do you make a habit of eating anything on marathon race morning? Speaking of race morning, it was already in the mid-50s and climbing. Yet you set a PR! Did the relatively warm weather affect you?

SJ: Marathon breakfast is always oatmeal. I like it because it’s easy to digest and filled with lots of good carbs. I also take Spark as my pre-workout and drop an extra Nuun tablet in my water on race morning, especially knowing it was going to be high humidity and relatively warm on race morning. I felt fatigued from the warm conditions on Sunday, but I adjusted my pace and really dialed into my nutrition on the course so weather wouldn’t get the best of me. I run best in the cold, but I’ve also lived in Austin my whole life and know how to run in humid, warm conditions!

RTR: Did you have a given strategy going into the race? Did you go out conservatively?

SJ: My strategy going into the race was to start conservative. On this course especially, it can wreck you if you go out too fast up South Congress and down South First Street. I knew if I started smart, I could reel in some competition later in the race.

RTR: How did the race unfold for you? Did you feel good at the halfway mark?

SJ: I didn’t feel my best on race day. I just felt okay through the half-way point but then really started to feel the struggle around mile 20. I was supposed to close the last six miles and I hit the wall pretty hard. Luckily, I was able to maintain a somewhat steady pace and get to that finish line with a PR.

RTR: I understand you were not 100% aware that you were winning it. However, when did you realize that you were having a really good race?

SJ: I knew I was in third place for a while, which was mostly how I pictured the first half of the race going. My plan was to start picking it up after the half-way point, but soon after I passed second place around mile 13, a teammate on the sidelines told me I was in first. I was shocked because I hadn’t seen the first-place girl (Keri McEntee) anywhere in sight, but later found out she dropped out of the race around mile 14. I told myself that was it, I had to go get that first-place finish, so I pushed till the end!

RTR: Looking back on your race, what did you learn to do right when running a successful marathon?

SJ: Looking back, I learned that mental preparation is key to a great race: Visualizing yourself on the course, how you will overcome obstacles along the way, what the pain will feel like and how you will push through it, how it will feel to cross the finish line achieving your goals you’ve worked so hard for, and so on… I did this the whole week leading up to the race and so when race day came, I was ready for it all.

Note: Jackson plans to compete in the 2020 Amsterdam Marathon in October with a goal of hitting a new personal record time of two hours and 45 minutes.

Upcoming Races: Saturday, February 29 at 8:00 a.m., the Bobcat Bonanza 5K, at 4950 Jack C Hays Trail in Buda. Saturday, February 29 at 8:00 a.m., the Mardi Gras Mad Dash Austin 5K/10K at San Gabriel State Park, 305 East Morrow St. in Georgetown.