Running at "pace", as Hal Higdon puts it

Can my training get me here in 2014? 

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.2 miles

Today’s workout, per my training program, was 3 miles at “pace.” I like Hal Higdon’s site because he leaves nothing to interpretation. He explains it clearly on the training schedule page: “What do you mean by ‘pace?'” I mean “race pace,” the pace at which you expect to run the half marathon. That of course prompted me to ask myself, what I am targeting for race pace?

I ran my last Half in 2:08:47 which is approximately a 9:49 pace. In order to break 2:00 I would need to pace 40 seconds per mile faster. That’s a stretch for me, but crazier things have happened. My 2:08 finish in 2012 was a full minute per mile improvement over my 2011 time. Still, I have little expectation that I’ll break two hours this year. As a practical point, I have slipped in my race performance and didn’t break 9:00 on any of my 2013 10K’s. It will be interesting to see if my recent rebound, coupled with a focused half marathon training regime, will make a difference in May.

This morning was busy and that forced me to wait until 10:00 AM to start my run. My wife said that rain was expected mid-morning, so I decided to do my 3 miles @ “pace” on the treadmill. I chose 6.3 MPH which, if sustained for 13.1 miles, would yield a 2:03 finish time. I am feeling much stronger since last weekend, but I still have far to go before I can manage goal pace throughout a long run. The race pace training plus the weekend base runs will theoretically bridge my stamina and endurance enough to at least break my 2:08 PR.

Tomorrow is my second Sunday base run and I plan to meet the Runsketeers for 6 miles of fun. SIOC will be running Boston in April and needs to cover 17 miles tomorrow. We plan to meet at her 11 mile point and do the rest of the distance as a group run. TPP is still battling a respiratory issue and is forgoing a five mile race tomorrow in favor of our easier paced run. It’s supposed to be cold on Sunday, so I need to figure out the right combination of gear. I’m dreading the hills on the Bethpage trail, but I know there’s no easy path if I want to reach my goal time.

Why bad runs don’t really matter

The long unwinding road

Both Saturday’s relay and Sunday’s half marathon “Week 1” training runs were disappointing for me. The good news is that it really doesn’t matter. Running is one of those things in life that can lift your spirits or temporarily disappoint you. But as long as you aren’t suffering a running injury as a result, there’s really no excuse for feeling badly about one or two bad experiences.

That’s why I’m looking forward to getting out tomorrow. I rested yesterday and took an additional recovery day today. It’s still winter-y cold outside, but at least it’s sunny and the snow is gone. The Hal Higdon Intermediate Half plan says that I should run 3 miles, plus strength training, on Wednesday. However, the Emerging Runner Training Plan says that I should run 80% of the prior weekend’s longest run on Wednesdays. So that’s what I’m doing. I do appreciate Hal’s attempt to add more diversity to the training schedule, so I may add in a small amount weight or core training.

I gave myself a break on speed training today, but I will resume that next Tuesday. Without weekday access to the track, I can either do treadmill intervals inside, or run 400’s along a road that’s adjacent to my street. That long road has a slight grade when running south to north, but SIOR says that shouldn’t matter. I’ll need to figure out how to manage recovery periods if I choose the street route because I’ll need to start each repeat at either the beginning or end of the road.

Wisdom of the (running) crowd

 

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.2 miles

I found it interesting that three knowledgeable runners (Carla, Karl and SIOR) have all recommended a mid-week long run as part of a half marathon training plan. I generally run shorter distances in the middle of the week. My excuse has always been a lack of time. But people with schedules busier than mine seem to get them done. Here are strategies I heard this week that I will take to heart for my training:

Carla: “The key for me ended up being doing at least two 15+ milers. and another 7-10 mile run during the week. Plus a 10k, 15k, and 10 mile race, and progression runs in the buildup phase. In effect, more overall mileage. And more of it at hoped-for race pace.”

Karl: “It’s all about stamina and endurance. Speed is largely innate. The stamina (tempo and progression runs) and endurance (long and easy runs) workouts allow us to maintain whatever speed that we have over longer period of times.”

SIOR: “I would run speed work on Tuesdays, a longish run on Wednesday (7-9 miles), and easy runs on Thursdays and Saturdays. Then when all is said and done, I would sign up for a fall marathon.” [Editor’s note: SIOR is a troublemaker who knows I will never run a full marathon.]

Right now, seven mile mid-week runs are a challenge, but once I get my base closer to double digits it could be managed. If I’m going to go out for four miles anyway, what’s another half hour? And now that I’m comfortable with using the treadmill for speed work, I won’t have the excuse that I can’t run weekday intervals due to restricted access to the track.

Today’s workout was another treadmill run. I had planned to run slowly in deference to yesterday’s speed session, but I ended up doing a more intense workout. I hope that by resting on Friday, I’ll be properly recovered for Saturday’s relay. I keep telling myself that it’s only a two mile leg, but going all-out for 17 minutes (if I’m lucky) will seem like a very long time.

Half Marathon training, your opinion is requested!

 

Today’s workout (elliptical): 40 minutes

According to Athlinks, I’ve run thirteen 10K’s, eleven 5K’s, four 4 milers, four 8K’s, two half marathons and a 5 mile race. There are a couple of other races that Athlinks doesn’t list, but for the most part, that’s my racing history. 10K is my favorite race distance because it requires both speed and stamina. Unlike 5K’s that allow me to go all-out because I know that it will be over inside of 30 minutes, 10K’s require a much more strategic approach.

10K, or 6.2 miles is also a friendly distance. Even if I’ve slacked off on my base training runs (likely), I can generally get through a 10K without much race specific training. In those cases, I don’t come close to PR’ing, but I can manage through the distance. Half marathons are a different story. There’s something about double digit distance running that requires me to really focus on my training. The toughest run I ever had was my first half marathon. It was so bad, a race volunteer offered to call a doctor as I crossed the line.

That experience taught me a lesson about being prepared. I’d thought I’d be okay running my usual 6 miles or so on Sundays, then upping that distance to eight and nine miles the two weekends before the half. It didn’t help that I’d also acquired a knee problem at that time, but I blame my poor race performance on my failure to plan.

My Plan

I fared much better the next time. I realized that building a proper base was the key, so I dutifully headed to Bethpage every weekend and ran increasingly longer distances. I ended up improving my time by 15 minutes the second time I ran a half. The chart above shows the Sunday long run distance plan I created and followed. I updated the schedule to coincide with this year’s dates leading up to the Brooklyn Half.

NYRR “Moderate” Plan

NYRR’s does a good job sending updates about the Brooklyn Half to people who are registered for the race. The last email redirected me to their site where they’d posted three free half marathon training plans. The categories are Conservative, Moderate and Advanced. I’m not apt to follow a plan that prescribes training through the week, but I was interested in the weekly long run distances. I created a second schedule around the Moderate guide to compare it with my current plan (see above).

I did well the last time by increasing my long run distance about a mile a week, topping out at 12 miles the weekend before the race. The NYRR plan steps up and down, with a decided taper near the end. I assume NYRR knows a lot more than I do about this stuff, so there must be a reason for reducing the long run distances near the end. I’m reluctant to change from what worked for me last time, but maybe I should consider following the Moderate plan.

I will take advice on this, so please share your opinion.

I’m bound for the Brooklyn Half

Got my ticket

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.25 miles

I love the idea of running adventures, but nowadays I rarely venture more than a few miles from my house for a run. This is mostly due to time constraints and schedules. I’m fortunate that I live in an area that offers numerous nearby options, especially for trail running. But over the 5+ years since I’ve become a serious runner, I’ve only run two races outside of Long Island (NYC and Cape Cod, MA).

Last year was not my best in terms of racing. I only ran eight competitive events and I wasn’t particularly competitive in most of them. Unlike the prior two years, I didn’t run a half marathon, just three 5Ks, three 10Ks and a 4 mile race. Looking back, I wonder if the half marathon base training I missed last year correlated to my mediocre race times throughout the rest of 2013.

Well that won’t be an issue this year because I have registered for the NYRR Brooklyn Half. This is new ground for me and I’m really excited to participate. I tried to get into this race the first time I was ready to run a half, but I was locked out. Subsequent to that, I’ve run the uninspiring Long Island Half a couple of times. Runner’s World called the LI Marathon & Half a “Golden Oldie” that has aged well. I now have to question everything I read in that magazine.

The things that excite me about the Brooklyn Half:

1. It’s in Brooklyn.
2. I get to run past the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Grand Army Plaza.
3. I’ll finally get to run in Prospect Park.
4. Five miles of the race is a straightaway down Ocean Parkway through the heart of Brooklyn.
5. It finishes on the Coney Island boardwalk.

Both my Runsketeer buddies are running this race along with 20,000+ others. This will be the biggest race I’ve ever run and my first NYRR event. I’m also excited that I’ll have motivation to do those 10+ mile runs on weekend mornings at Bethpage to prepare for the distance. The race is in May so that training will start before spring.

Sunday’s biggest challenge

Today’s run (treadmill): 25 minutes

I planned to conclude my half marathon training with a run around the neighborhood this morning, but the weather didn’t cooperate. No problem really, I just wanted the pavement experience when I worked on my stride. Instead, I went for a fast run on the treadmill, pacing about 15 seconds per mile slower than 5K race pace for 20 minutes, and then stepping up to full race pace for the last five.

I didn’t love starting as fast as I did this morning. My methodology for early morning treadmill runs has been to run slowly for the first five minutes, and then step up my speed every few minutes until the end. Today I just went for it, and after three minutes I wondered if I could sustain that pace for 22 more. I told myself that I run faster in races over longer distances and I’d get used to the speed. That’s exactly what happened.

My experience last Saturday, when I began to feel negative about the run, was eventually corrected by the acknowledgement that most running difficulties (not counting injuries) are more mental than physical. I need to keep that in mind on Sunday when the going gets rough. And it will. I ran this course last year and I’m aware of certain mistakes I made. I hope to correct them this time. Nothing left to do now but rest and stretch. Three days and counting…

Test at Bethpage: Gatorade G Series FIT Perform 02

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 7.35 miles

Nice bottle, but no thanks

I had a mid morning appointment today and that forced me to get out for my run before 7:00 AM. My plan was to get to Bethpage and run the bike trail, covering at least seven miles. I’d rested on Friday because I wasn’t feeling great, and I hoped that would give me a performance boost today.

I brought along a bottle of sport drink with a very long name: Gatorade G Series FIT Perform 02. It’s an electrolyte mix that’s meant to be consumed during a workout. I was testing this mix to see if it’s something I should carry during my half marathon. I’ve learned that satisfaction with performance supplements, like gels and drinks, varies greatly from person to person.

Almost from the start, I could tell that I wouldn’t be burning up the trail today. I had none of the energy I usually expect for these long, early morning runs. I thought it would be a good test of the G Series mix, and a good gauge of my ability to cover 7+ miles when starting with an energy deficit. As I started my Garmin, it chirped and showed “Low Battery.” Like my watch, I hoped I had enough power to get through today’s run.

Considering my low energy, the first couple of miles went by fairly quickly. The temperature was hovering around 30 degrees, but the winds were strong, especially on the way back. I reached the point where I expected to hear a chirp signaling three miles and when I looked at the Garmin the screen was blank. Later, when I recharged the watch, I saw that the battery had given out after 2.61 miles.

Along the way I sipped from the G2 mix, hoping that it would restore my depleted energy levels. The “melon-pear” flavor tasted neither like melon nor pear. In fact it didn’t taste like much of anything. Since I didn’t have an easy way of knowing how far I’d run or how much time I’d been running, I decided to turn back at a place I could locate on Gmaps so I could measure total distance later.

There were many runners on the trail this morning, mostly running in pairs or in groups. I would have felt lonely except that they were all running faster than me. I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with any of them today. I suspect it was the early hour, when competitive club runners go out for long distances before they start their day.

I wasn’t hurting, exactly, but I never felt strong as ran along. I started taking sips of the G2 more frequently as I got closer to the end. The last 1.5 miles of the Bethpage bike trail has the most pronounced hills and I needed a boost, even if it turned out to be more psychological than real. As I approached the final long hill, I decided I’d just pace it fast enough so that I could call it running. At that moment, a group of sleek, fit, compression-clad men and women ran by on my left, chatting away as if this hill was a bump. How humiliating.

After I finished my run, I saw that the G2 mix contained nothing to help my energy stores. The whole 16 oz. bottle contained only 5g of carbs  and 4g of sugar. I’d consumed about half the bottle, so all I got was 110mg of sodium and 30mg of potassium. And it also made me a little queasy. So this mix will not be accompanying me on my half marathon in May.

I accomplished a good part of my weekend distance goal this morning. I need to cover almost 6 miles tomorrow to make my “weekend 13”. It’s not an unreasonable target, but I hope to feel more energized on Sunday.

Learned my lesson, but can I handle the mileage?

Today’s workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

As I come closer to the anniversary of my first half marathon, I’m thinking about both the training and my increased risk of injury. Most training programs recommend a careful approach to adding to weekly mileage, usually no more than a 10% increase per week. The idea behind this is to prevent overuse injuries that come from running longer distances than your body is ready to handle.

Last year I played my half marathon training by ear, occasionally stepping up distance without regard to the consequences. In my case it wasn’t the aggregate mileage that hurt me, but the fact that I arbitrarily threw in long runs without building up to them. A nine mile run on the trails at Belmont Lake a week before the half marathon created a knee problem that plagued me throughout the race.

This year I’m taking a practical approach to my training and, hopefully, I’ll be better prepared on race day. Since I can’t really increase my mileage between Monday and Friday, I’ll need to step up my long running on the weekends. This weekend I’ll need to total 13 miles, by April 7 weekend I’ll target 18 and, before my taper, I’ll need to cover 21. Easier said than done, but it looks like I’m going to become very familiar with the Bethpage bike trail.

The challenge of fitting in my training miles

Today’s run (treadmill): 25 minutes

This is going to be a busy week. In fact, yesterday I didn’t even have enough free time to post. This morning I eased back into my running routine with a treadmill workout that seemed to go by very quickly. Perhaps it was the distraction of all the things that I need to to get done that offset the usual tedium of treadmill running.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my approach to training for the half marathon. Last year I made the mistake of under-training in March and early April and then over-training in the weeks leading up to my race in May. The result was a woeful performance caused both by a knee problem and insufficient conditioning. I’m looking to correct that this year.

Right now I’m aiming to cover at least 90 miles for both March and April. That plan will have me averaging just over 20 miles per week. The key to this will be my weekend runs where I’ll have time to cover distances greater than six miles on a single run. I really need to figure out whether the bike trail at Bethpage is open because it provides me the most practical way to stretch out a run of ten or more miles.

This weekend will be the start to this training. Ready or not, here I come.

Reality check: back to work and 13.1 training

Today’s run (treadmill): 25 minutes

As I walked through mid-town this morning, I detected the acrid odor of a cigarette. It reminded me that being on vacation had shielded me from that toxic smell for almost two weeks. Well it’s back to work for me today. I’ll miss being on vacation but at least I like work.

The alarm jolted me awake at 3:45 and I debated whether to ease back into work mode by skipping today’s run. With temperatures in the 20’s, it was easy to justify staying indoors. But when you have a treadmill and an elliptical machine, there’s really no excuse not to exercise. I did an easy indoor run for 25 minutes which actually helped both mind and body.

I’m trying to decide an approach to training for the half-marathon in May. Last year I think I misunderstood the amount of base training I would need to meet my expectations for a 13.1 mile race. It was the most difficult run I’ve ever done, but I still felt I that could have done better in terms of finish time. I’m hoping that with a reasonable plan, I can realistically target 2:10. To do that, I’m going to need to do a lot of 10 to 13 mile training runs between now and May.