I had two different coaches that I was working with. My long-time friend, Viet, who was a long distance coach at the collegiate level, and a work associate, Ellias, who coaches running groups at the marathon. Both were great to work with and helped in different ways.
Viet had me training in certain heart rate zones and had me focus on tempo runs. This type of technical training was new to me, and in the end I did not focus too much about heart rate zones, but did run a tempo run every week as instructed. Typically they were about 5 miles.
Ellias charted the long run progression for me which I followed very closely. He made two charts actually, an regular chart and an aggressive chart. I chose the aggressive chart. These long runs started at 7 miles and slowly built up to 21 while pulling back a little every 3rd week or so.
The first long run hurt the most as I had not been running more than four or five miles at any one time. I was not sure how I was going to make it through his schedule and was discouraged. I decided to trust the process and focus on not getting injured.
The next run was easier and at a faster pace. This was a nice surprise. As it ends up all the long runs, except for a few, became easier and were run at a faster pace. I believe the tempo runs had something to do with that even though my tempo pace was not increasing.
A week before the tapering began I had a few breakthrough runs! A fast 21 miler and a much faster tempo run. I felt ready and prepared. It sort of just snuck up on me. It was great to have a process to follow. I put my trust in Viet and Ellias and their advice allowed me to finish my first marathon in 18 years. It was not a PR, but it was close and within my goal range. I was happy.
If anyone wants to take on this distance then find someone you trust who knows you, or at least the kind of runner you are. Trust he process and focus on staying healthy enough to toe the line. I believe the hardest part of the marathon is showing up.
I'll try to post more as I go for a Boston qualifying time over the next few years.