Monthly Archives: June 2015

How to Run Steamtown Like a Champion: Q&A with Heidi Peoples!

“The marathon is a beast of a race, and training should not be taken lightly. It takes dedication and a strong commitment to training.” Heidi Peoples

Welcome to Heidi Peoples, 3-time Steamtown Marathon Champion, 2-time Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon with a PR of 2:39:48, and Run SMART Project private coach! Heidi has graciously agreed to answer training and racing questions from members of our local running groups here in the Philly area as we prepare for the Steamtown Marathon on October 11th, 2015.


Heidi’s wins at Steamtown came in 2008, 2010, and 2012 and she set the course record with her PR in 2010. While her fall racing plans are not yet set, she is considering several races that would provide an opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Trials for a third time. Steamtown is not a trials qualifier, but it is still a possibility as Heidi has twice run both Steamtown and the Philly Marathon during the same year. Heidi is also considering Chicago and New York as options.

Heidi joined the Run SMART Project coaching staff in 2011 and has many success stories coaching runners of all levels. You can check them out here:

We have scores of local runners who will be racing at Steamtown this year, and many of us are chasing PRs and BQs. I’m sure we will be hanging on Heidi’s every word as we gear up our fall marathon training plans in search of any possible advantage in training for and racing this speedy downhill point-to-point course in Scranton, PA.

Here’s the Steamtown Marathon course profile from the race website,

Steamtown Profile

Heidi’s post, Preparing for Downhill Races is an absolute “Must Read” for anyone racing Steamtown, Boston, or any other downhill course and it’s a great intro to our questions below.

OK, so let’s get started with the Q&A! The Facebook post below is how we first received the questions from our local runners. Heidi replied via email, and then we spoke over the phone to follow-up on a few topics and to talk more about Heidi’s coaching and her plans for the fall racing season.

FB Screenshot

The questions fell into three categories, Training for Steamtown, Racing Steamtown, and General Training Questions:

Training for Steamtown

Lynn: How do you do the downhill training for Steamtown or Boston if you don’t have those same lengths/miles of downhill to train on nearby?

Heidi: You have some options. You can also enter a half marathon with a similar elevation profile. Once or twice before the marathon, you can a drive to an area which does have a long length of downhill. Another, less time consuming, alternative is doing hill repeats over a shorter distance.”

Lynn: What type of MP (Marathon Pace) long runs do you do, and do you incorporate the hills at the end of them or do separate hill training workouts?

Heidi: For my long runs, I have also been incorporating hills, tempos, and speed – I focus on one of them when I train.   Incorporating hills into the long run is very helpful, especially finding a route with long downhills first. Scranton is full of hills, so my runs usually include them.”

Tim: Did you have a favorite “go-to” hill workout when training for your three Steamtown wins?

Heidi: “I have a nice 10-mile loop starting from my doorstep. It starts with a gradual incline, but has a significant drop, and finishes with a slight incline. I like to accelerate a lot on the downs, and make sure I am ready for the uphill at the end.”

Follow-Up: During our phone call, I asked Heidi for a few ideas on how to incorporate hills, tempos, and speed; she provided several examples:heidi.freihofers06

  • Incorporate a 3-mile tempo into a long run.
  • Do a 3x2k or 2x2mi tempo on a downhill stretch.
  • Do 3 x1 mi at Threshold Pace downhill.
  • Do 800 intervals on a shorter downhill stretch.
  • Mix downhills into a Marathon Pace workout.
  • Do 400 repeats at a faster pace.

On a week when combining a quality pace workout into a long run, the second quality workout of the week could be adjusted to be lighter, 2×2 minutes at Threshold or Interval pace during an easy run for example.

Racing Steamtown

We know there are some fast times out there to be had, but we want to do everything right to take advantage of that opportunity on race day:

Terry: How have you approached Steamtown’s course pace-wise – both in terms of plan and actual outcome?

SteamtownHeidi: With Steamtown the golden rule is do NOT try to bank time in the first half of the race. Even though the race begins with downhills and ends with a few uphills, it is best to keep an even pace. During my best Steamtown race, I felt like I was holding back for the first half of the race. Once I hit the 13.1 mile mark, I started increasing my pace.”

“For my first Steamtown race, the early downhill miles seemed too easy, so I ran a little too hard in the beginning, and felt the effects around mile 20. My second time around, I ran my marathon PR. I learned from my mistakes and ran very close to an even pace. When I run a race, I was told to visualize that I am running the distance I have left. For example, at 13.1 miles, I try to pick up the pace and become a half marathon runner, with a 10k left, I tell myself I am racing a 10k. This helps me focus on the distance I have left.”


Tim: Did you run negative splits for your PR? If so, by how much?

Heidi: “I do believe I very slightly ran faster for the second half – I think I was 1:20 at the half, but I am not certain of this.”

Tina: How do you plan for the hills at the end after running downhill for 20+ miles?

Heidi: As long as you have done your hill training and do not run the first half of the race too hard, they are not too bad. You will have a lot of crowd support along the way to help boost you up them as well. With each Steamtown I have done, I knew at the 18-mile mark whether or not it was going to be a good race.”

Laura: How do you fuel, during training, leading up to the race, and along the course?

Heidi: This really depends on personal preferences and food choice. There are several ways you can get the same nutritional values from food. I try to reduce my sugar intake a few weeks before the marathon. I focus on eating a variety of healthy foods and making sure I get enough protein to recover from long runs. During my long runs, I experiment on what type of nutrition I will do for the actual race – that way I am prepared on race day.”

“During a marathon, I drink at every water stop alternating between water and Gatorade/PowerAde. After every 40 minutes of running, I take a gel – my favorite is the vanilla PowerGel because it does not seem as thick as most gels. After the race, I focus on eating protein to repair and replenish my body.”

General Training Questions

We had a few great questions on getting back into racing shape after giving birth and on training in general:

Claire: Do you do any strength training or drills to stay injury free?

Heidi: “I did not do any drills until recently, but I do believe they help. High knees, jumping exercises, squats, and lunges are a few of the ones I do now. I have always incorporated core training focusing on each abdominal group.”

Marita: What helped you the most postpartum? What did you do to help you recover safely for you & baby?

Heidi: What helped me the most was continuing to run throughout pregnancy. I was fortunate to be able to run up until the day I gave birth with all of my children.   I never looked at the pace I was running or did any speed workouts, and ran for time. After giving birth, I really tried to listen to my body. Mentally, it was difficult not to run. I tried to return to running gradually, but as soon as possible.”


Tim: In your experience, what is the biggest change the typical recreational runner can make in their marathon training to get to the next level?

Heidi: The marathon is a beast of a race, and training should not be taken lightly. It takes dedication and a strong commitment to training. It also takes a considerable amount of mental strength. To get to the next level, runners must make sure they do their long runs and incorporate speed workouts. The biggest mistake I see is people allowing themselves a short period of training to prepare for the race.”

Follow-Up: During our call, I asked Heidi, “How long should an experienced runner rest after a marathon before starting quality workouts again, including someone running back-to-back marathons?”

Heidi replied that two marathons per year is ideal if you are racing them all-out each time. You can’t race all-out every month; micro-tears occur in muscles that may not be obvious, but they require adequate recovery. After a marathon, take two weeks off. Do non-impact training if you wish to continue with some type of training during the two weeks of rest following the race. Gradually get back into it.

Finally, if someone is interested in having you coach them for Steamtown or for any other race, how can they do that?

A HUGE THANKS to Heidi for sharing her experience and expertise in training for and racing Steamtown or any other marathon for that matter! I’m sure it will help many of us conquer the hills of Scranton this fall, and if you really want to take it to the next level, contact Heidi about private coaching!