Lessons Learned

Last Friday I read an interesting quote on Hal Higdon’s Twitter Page:

The days leading up to the half marathon, I was feeling very nervous. The last time I felt this nervous for a race was probably the NYC Marathon. I find that when we race to unknown, uncharted territory, our mental fitness tends to get one heck of a workout. For many first time marathoners, we find ourselves questioning whether we have done enough training to make it through 26.1 miles/42.2 kilometres. Most plans have the long run top out at 30-32 km mark and new marathoners tend to really question what it is going to be like for the last part of the race.

In the lead up to the NYC marathon, I was questioning how much I would hurt in the last 10KM and also wondering if my legs would stand up to the 5 hours of running I was about to endure. For those who are new or did not follow me in 2014, I did have a stress fracture in June, right before  the start of training. Every niggle made me worry and I was very cautious while training. During that training cycle, I also figured out where my IT Band was located 😉

In that training cycle, I obviously learned that I could run a marathon. However I unfortunately was taught a big lesson on nutrition during the NYC marathon and had my first case of GI issues during that race. I also learned that having regular visits to a massage therapist/physiotherapist is key.

For the 9 Run Run half marathon, I knew I had my nutrition down and I saw my physiotherapist on a bi-weekly basis. The training was done and I am at the point that I have zero doubts about finishing a half marathon. That is the thing with marathon training – half marathons seem so easy after all those long runs. The big unknown for 9 Run Run was whether I could a) run a 5:40 pace (I’m usually over just 6:00/km for a half) and whether I could run it without talking walking breaks. My previous PB was 2:07, and for years, I was only able to take off a few minutes off my previous PB in other personal best half marathon races.

My mental game was off big time last week. So much that it triggered my usual race day GI issues the day before the race. I did have to remind myself several times that

a) I never had a problem hitting my paces for any workout during the training cycle. Actually, towards the end I was running slightly faster. For the 2nd half of the cycle, I was able to maintain a 6:38-6:40 pace for my long runs, the fastest they should be when training for a 2:00 half.

b) I completed more long runs that I have ever run before. I usually run 10-12-14-16-18-20 but this time I ran 10-12-14-16-12-16-18-26-20-10.

c) I ran more than I ever have for half marathon training. I was basically doing my “run to complete” marathon training for a half.  I topped at 50KM – usually I barely make 40 in half training

d) I ran multiple “longer runs” midweek and also ran tempo and speed workouts. I’ve never run speed work during half training before and I truly think that this made a big difference. More on that below.

I had to remind myself several times that if I could do all of the above and everything was going so well – why could I not run a sub 2:00 half? I also thought about my athletes while at the XC meet the day before – I’m always pushing them to their limits and figured I should probably take my own advice at running a well executed race.

On race day, I wasn’t as nervous as I usually get and the weather was absolutely perfect. I actually had a race plan and followed that plan to a T. I think I really started to relax by KM 2 when I realized that running 5:40 pace felt easy (I actually had to slow myself down). After 5KM, I thought “just 16 more KM”, and continued reminding myself that there was only X amount of KM to go. As each 5KM increment went on, my confidence increased and I continued feeling that this pace was easy. Maybe the excitement of knowing that the sub 2:00 was definitely in reach created some happy race endorphins? I have no idea. I’m amazed that I was able to run a sub 2:00 but I am significantly more amazed that it felt easy. On a side note, I haven’t run all week as I have a few niggley spots and have felt sore all week. So maybe race endorphins do exist?

I learned some pretty big lessons from this half marathon. The biggest lesson I learned is that yes, training plans do work and in order to achieve the goal that I want, I’m going to have to train for it. I also think in terms of creating plans, I am actually a runner who needs to run more KM at a slower pace, rather than the “Run Less, Run Faster” style plans. Running mostly 5 times a week (with 3 of the runs being at easy peasy pace) seems to work.

Another lesson in training plans is that I am going to need to include speed work in my half marathon plans from now on (and possibly even for the marathon). By speed work, I’m not talking about my usual run two laps and then do 8×400 for a total of 5K workouts. The speed workouts have to be in the 8-12KM range with mile repeats. My speed workouts for the half were brutal but very effective. In terms of other workouts – easy runs were run very, very easy. All KM on easy run day were over 6:00, some being more in the 6:20-6:30 range, which is crucial for injury prevention.

In terms of race strategy, two things come to mind: Running the Commander’s Challenge a few weeks before and ensuring that I run a negative split. The Commander’s Challenge (5K + the Half) presented a great opportunity to run a half marathon at a faster pace and experience tired legs in a marathon. I was not tapered at all for that race and definitely felt fatigued. Having to push through some discomfort helped with that “easy running” feeling on the 9 Run Run day. I also created a race plan for 9 Run Run in which I would run a conservative race pace for the first 15KM, and then go for it in the last 6K that featured that downhill. The moments that I walked in 9 Run Run were to control speed. I did not need the walking break, but I wanted to ensure that I did not go out too fast. I ran pretty steady but did run a negative split. I felt a significant difference in how I felt in the last half – and for once I did not look dead when finishing a half.

The experience that I had training and racing 9 Run Run has led me to two conclusions – that I am going to have to run 4-5x a week to achieve my goals and that I will never ‘half ass’ a training plan again. Of course, this means that next spring’s training for Around the Bay and Ottawa Marathon might look different than my other marathon-style training plans. I have some big goals for Around the Bay and Ottawa Marathon. I am hoping for a sub 3:00 for Around the Bay and a sub 4:30 for the Ottawa Marathon.

I saw on a running friend’s instagram stories that it takes a couple of years to get good at the marathon distance, which I believe to be true. Many of us started with those 5:30-5:40 marathons. Who knows what time I can get if I actually take this seriously……

Maybe bigger goals are in order? 

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