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.

Great progress, suddenly

Surprising results

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

I think my training program is working. I’ve been encouraged by the improving paces I’m seeing after taking a more performance-oriented approach to my training runs. Overall, my average pace has dropped about 5% since I started training for Cow Harbor. The trend line was getting me closer to 9:00 per mile, but I hadn’t yet reached that goal. That is, until this morning, when I blew right past it.

I wasted no time getting out today, hitting the road about 7:00 AM under very cloudy skies. Going out fast is becoming easier now, although I still suffer through the first few minutes while I hit my aerobic stride. The visual I keep in mind these days is putting my foot on the gas with no letup. Just like in a race, I know that to run faster, I have to think about running fast. Complacency only leads to slow results.

Like yesterday, I used my heart rate as a guide and saw that I was pretty much where I wanted to be. I considered breaking out of my 3 to 3.5 distance range that I typically follow on weekdays. I decided that while I’m developing my speed technique, I’ll take a careful approach to adding weekday distance.

When I reached the last few streets that lead me back home, I decided to step it up even more. No reason to reserve more energy than what was necessary to get me to my driveway. After reviewing the metrics, I saw that I’d covered the last half mile at 5K pace. After mapping the run, I calculated that I’d paced 8:50 overall for the run. That was the fastest training run (excluding speed sessions) I’ve done since early February.

I was both surprised and pleased to have cracked the 9:00 threshold and encouraged that I surpassed my target. Tomorrow may be a good time to start working in a little more mileage while I try to hold the gains. I’m not expecting to repeat today’s performance, but hey, you never know.

Cow Harbor training dissonance

After Bayview, the nightmare begins

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

This morning’s run was my last before Saturday’s Cow Harbor 10K. As I worked my way through my daily route, I thought about the luxury of waking up tomorrow without the obligation of a run. I pushed myself to a reasonable level, mostly after the first mile, and completed the run close to my normal time. I was happy with the workout but, almost immediately afterward, I started to question whether I’ve properly trained for the race.

James Street in Northport, otherwise known as “Widow Hill”, is Cow Harbor’s vindicetis maximus. It’s a half mile of steep road that starts close to the two-mile point in the race. In the past two years I’ve trained on the Cow Harbor course to ready myself for that hill. It’s helpful to know at the start of the race that I’ve run that monster in recent weeks. This year, my training has been less focused. Though I did run some hills over the past few weekends, they pale in comparison to what I’ll face on Saturday.

I’m also thinking about my taper. Some might think it’s overkill to rest two full days before a 10K. But I like  knowing (even if it’s just psychological) that my body is using that downtime to repair and strengthen my leg muscles. I’m debating whether to run through core exercises on Thursday and Friday to give my glutes, quads and hamstrings some extra conditioning. That’s an impact free workout that just might make me feel better about my training so far.

The crossroad of speed and volume

My overall time at last May’s LI Half Marathon was 2:08, which translated to a 9:49 pace. As race paces go, that was fairly slow (even for me). But my 2012 finish time improved almost 14 minutes over the year before. I would have liked to break two hours on the half, but my stretch goal for that race was to break 2:10, and I did that.

To prepare for this year’s race, I’d looked at the challenge of running the half marathon as one of stamina, not speed. Interval training can be an effective way to prepare for a 5K, but I knew that the only way I could achieve a credible time for the half would be to train for distance. A lot of distance. Between mid-March and and May, I spent almost every Saturday morning at Bethpage State Park, doing progressively longer runs until I was satisfied with my conditioning.

This volume training was the key to managing my effort across more than two hours of continuous running. There’s obviously a big difference in training for a 5K versus a half, but what about a 10K? A 6.2 mile race is double a 5K, but not quite half of a half. There’s speed involved, but also enough distance so that endurance can become an issue.

For my upcoming 10K, I’ve decided to focus on pace during my shorter runs, but work primarily on volume and hills during my longer weekend runs. Hopefully, both strategies will meet somewhere in the middle to allow me to run my best at Cow Harbor.

Alarm clock rest day

Snoozing through my workout

I’m sure it wasn’t a subconscious decision, but I forgot to set my alarm this morning and missed my opportunity to run. I wasn’t too disappointed to see that I’d slept 30 minutes late, because I know I don’t get enough sleep during the week.

I have meticulously planned this week’s workouts so that I’ll be close to peaking before Sunday’s race. However, I don’t think that missing today’s run will make too much of a difference. I was planning to do core exercises or some light upper body work tomorrow, but I may swap that for a final pre-race run. The major training has been completed. I’ll know on Sunday how well I prepared.

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.

Committing to the distance(s)

It was a good weekend for running. Two colleagues who always check in with me on their weekend running both reported great experiences. I had a decent long-ish run on Saturday and an invigorating trail run yesterday, on a course best described as nature’s roller coaster. This morning I was pleased to hear that my friend and colleague FS achieved a PR for a 10K race on Saturday. She wasn’t even trying to do that. It was the zen of the run.

My goal for this month was to exceed 70 running miles. After tomorrow’s run I’ll probably come in just at 69. I averaged 73 running miles per month in 2011, plus three miles per week on the elliptical machine. I think I made a critical mistake by under-training on distance in the three months preceding my half marathon. My training mileage peaked in March at 74 and plummeted to below 60 in April. No wonder I struggled in the last miles of that race in early May.

For the first time ever, I’m going to write out a training plan that will help ensure that I cover the distances I need to get my base up where it needs to be. It’s nice to head out the door with no plannned distance. I can cut it short anytime I feel like it. But if I go out knowing that I can’t come home until I’ve reached seven miles, I’ll make sure I do just that.