Winter Review + Half Marathon Race Report
Monday, February 28, 2011
Hey there, long time no post! I hope everyone has been having a great winter.
As far as health and fitness goes, my winter has been spotty. I've had some setbacks but also some great successes. Over the holidays, I gained back 14 out of the 20 pounds I had lost during marathon training, but I've now lost seven of those pounds. My running hasn't been terribly consistent, but at least I've always been consistent enough to run the long training runs with the group on Saturday mornings and I've been doing speed workouts nearly every Wednesday evening. And since the marathon in October, I've run three great (albeit shorter!) races.
I ran two different 4-mile races late last year. The first was on Thanksgiving morning and I had the pleasure of having a few friends also running in it. It was a nice, fairly flat course, the weather was quite decent, and I got a PR! (36:29) The last time I had run a 4-mile race was over seven years earlier, so it's very exciting to be able to beat a PR I had from when I was seven years younger and well-trained. It helped me realize how my training since late last spring has been really wonderful and put my body at a whole new level, even if my weight has fluctuated. The second 4-miler was a few weeks later near the middle of December. That one was a bit different for a few different reasons. I didn't really know anyone else running except for a couple of acquaintences from the running group. The weather was really horrible with heavy rain at the beginning of the race quickly turning into heavy snow by the end of the race, and the course had some pretty treacherous hills during the second mile. However, I was very pleased that I was still able to pull off a 36:34, only 5 seconds slower than the far easier race on Thanksgiving! So that was really great and I was very proud of myself.
The third race was yesterday, and it was a half marathon. When I ran my full marathon in October, I noticed that my half split was significantly faster than my half PR. It was exciting to see that, and I promised myself to sign up for a half marathon early in 2011 just so I could get a strong PR. My previous half PR from May 2010 was 2:39, and my half split during the full marathon was 2:17, so I knew that if I tried, I should be able to at the very least get a 2:15 if not a 2:11. That was an exciting prospect as achieving an average 10-minute pace in a longer race has been a big goal for me. My long training runs peaked at 12 miles three weeks before the race, and I did several weekly speed workouts focusing on lactate threshold during January and February. I really think those speed workouts were part of the key to my success. A half marathon is short enough to be able to get outside of your comfort zone and stay there, and that's what the focus in the speed runs is all about.
The half marathon yesterday was actually also a 5k, 10k, and full marathon. In fact, the course is a one-mile loop! And it's extremely flat! I'm not kidding, I think the biggest change in elevation is a whopping four feet. This is a race that people much faster than me use to qualify for Boston since it's so flat and quick. My worst-case scenario goal was 2:15 (or if there were serious problems, like my IT band acting up, 2:17) and my best-case scenario was 2:11 or better, so I decided that my strategy would just be to try to stay under a 10-minute per mile pace for the whole race. Some friends from my running group were running it and mentioned doing the first two miles at a 10-min pace, so I decided to stick with them for those two miles. It turned out they were running a bit faster, because after two miles, only 19 minutes had elapsed. I decided at that point to fall back and stick with my original plan, and anything faster than 10-minute miles was money in the bank that I could spend later in the race just in case I felt wiped out. For the most part, I was at a gallop that was half comfortable and half uncomfortable, and maintaining a pace under 10 minutes, though sometimes I would look down at my Garmin and see that I had fallen down to 10:20 or 10:30 for a few seconds. But overall, I ran every single mile in 10 minutes or less. I took a swig of Gatorade faithfully every half mile, and I used gels at miles 7 and 10. As I went into the last mile, I was trying to decide when to really go for it and decided to just start to progressively get faster. I started that last mile at around a 9:45 and turned it up to 9:15 when I was within the last half mile. With .2 miles left, I really started running, with an all-out sprint for the last .1 mile. In retrospect, this last mile is the only place I could have tried any harder than I already did. After most races, I have a ton of "woulda coulda shoulda" things running through my head, but for this one, the only thing I might have changed was getting to that sprint earlier, but even then, it would have only saved me MAYBE 20 or 30 seconds.
As I finished my sprint at the end of the race, I was grunting really loudly, I was really working it! I finished with a time of 2:09:05, far better than I could have imagined! I thought 2:09 would be my goal for the half marathon in May, but now I need to come up with a different goal! A training buddy who came out to cheer me on said that my next goal should be 2:05! Wishful thinking, but who knows? It's amazing to think that I pulled off what I pulled off after spotty training all winter, a bad cold last week, and almost no sleep the night before because my girlfriend was up all night coughing from getting the same cold! What could I accomplish if my training was more consistent and I lost more of this excess weight? I'm really reconsidering what my body is actually capable of and it's very exciting. It's going to be a great spring!