This past summer on a bit of a whim, I signed up for another half marathon. It had been about 2 years since my first one and I was ready to get back in the saddle. I went to a conference for work and they really stressed being your best self both professionally and personally. I started reflecting on things that made me happy and decided to just go for it and sign up for another race. I really like having a goal, running itself makes me happy and this pushes me to do it when life might otherwise get in the way. Something that helped me pull the trigger is that the race was literally 5 minutes from my house. And a wonderful surprise was Eric, my husband, decided to do it with me! He has run in the past, frequently doing a local 4 on the 4th race (crazy hilly and always super-hot) but this would be his first half marathon. After the race, I realized some key differences between my training for my last race and this one.
Last time I did a lot of my short runs either on the road, on the treadmill, or in a local park. I really hated the treadmill, it was just so boring and I never felt like I got a good run out of it. I much preferred getting outside and going on the road. It’s much more stimulating and you can’t beat fresh air.
This time around, I did my weekly runs at a local track. Starting in the summer vs. the winter means I was able to run everything outside which is amazing. I know that running in circles too much may not be the best but it has helped me to run at a much steadier pace.
Using my Nike Plus Tracker/Running app, I could see that previously, I would start and finish really strong but have a very significant dip in my pace for the middle. Or I wouldn’t push myself and have a ton of energy left at the end. I started timing my laps on my phone so I could see if there were any big changes lap to lap and address it right away. I think that running on the track has helped me establish a natural pace that I can now use when I am on a trail or the road.
Scoping out the Race Course
In addition to running on the track, every week I went down to the state park where the race was to get my long runs in. I had a map of the course and ran it from the starting point. It is so valuable to be able to know exactly where the hills are (even though they are minor) in addition to the mile markers. Something that is interesting about this course is it goes through multiple different types of terrain. It starts in the park and you run on dirt paths through campgrounds and picnic areas. Then you have a section of well groomed trail in the woods, which is totally shaded (sweet!). After that you pop out on the roads in Madison for the majority of the middle miles. Being able to check this out and run it consistently has given me the chance to get a feel for the conditions including the wind, sun, elevation and smells (low tide – its real). For my last race, it was in Annapolis so I never got the chance to check it out before race day.
Running Without Headphones
When I was reading through the rules for the race, headphones are specifically banned so I have been training without them. Which seemed crazy to me at first! How was I going to stay motivated? In Maryland I would listen to music and podcasts on my long runs to help pass the time. I really thought it was going to be a struggle to go without any kind of music. Now that I’m running without them, I think headphones may have been holding me back. Once I got going, I would just putz along to get the mileage in without focusing on my form, pace or how I felt. I had a pretty short stride and was probably running hunched just because I wasn’t paying attention. Now I am really feeling the run. I can check in more easily and if I can dig deeper, I do. If I notice poor form or some strain, I can adjust. I no longer need to be distracted while I run. Obviously after a while, my mind will wander (perhaps writing the outline for a blog post…) but I can snap myself in and out as needed. This has allowed me to keep a more consistent pace but also challenge myself and now I am going much faster. Much of my long runs had an average pace around 12:00 min/mile, some even slower. Now I am consistently in the 10:00’s. I don’t feel like I am training any harder, but rather, I am getting more out of each workout so I am progressing.
Having a Buddy
For my first race, Melissa of EatontheRun
peer pressured encouraged me to sign up because she was racing. I then got my friend Erica to join as well. Even though there were a bunch of us running together, we all had different paces and locations – Erica was living about 7 hours away from me at the time. So the vast majority of my training was solo.
Having Eric running with me was a big change. Not only does this help with motivation during the run (we get competitive with each other) but it makes it much easier to stick to our schedule. We plan our evenings around our workouts. Being on the same page makes things so much easier so there isn’t any FOMO – we can plan fun things for our rest days together.
Being afraid of missing things did get me in trouble last time. I got lax about following my training schedule in the final couple of weeks and ended up missing a lot of runs. My internship was wrapping up, friends were getting married/graduating and I was trying to prepare for life post internship in the real world. This time, I had Eric to really anchor me into the schedule.
Making a Time Goal
Last time all I wanted to do was finish. I wanted to run the whole thing and didn’t care how long it took. I ended up walking really only around the aid stations because I can’t handle drinking/eating while running. So I was happy with that.
This time, I decided to make a real concrete goal. Having a benchmark makes it easier to determine what a reasonable goal is. So this time, I set out to finish in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes which breaks down to about an 11:30 average pace.
Well the race went really well. It was a bit chilly and started a bit late but it was a beautiful course and we had nice weather. We did miss our goal by about 2 minutes, but it was still better than my last one by 15! I am really happy with how it went, especially because we only trained for 9 weeks and Eric was brand new to this distance.
It was a great race and after a little hiatus, we signed up for another one this April! We are already so much faster starting out so I’m expecting some significant PRs in our future.
How has your training evolved over time?
All of this is based off of my personal experience as I don’t have any formal training to instruct others. If you are working towards a fitness goal, just be mindful of what tactics seem to work and if anything has changed since you started. Being adaptable is a great way to get the most out of you training and in general, your life.