For the past twelve weeks or so, I’ve been training for a half marathon.
I initially planned on running an actual half marathon this Sunday in Atlantic City. However, I waited too long to register and it filled up. I also had an appointment to get the Moderna vaccine this week, and I didn’t want to commit to a half marathon on a specific day without knowing how I would react to the vaccine.
More on the vaccine later. But in the meantime, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my progress in the training block and my prospects for the half marathon time trial on Sunday.
Changes to Recovery Runs
A few weeks ago, I read Out of Thin Air, and this led me to make a few changes to my training routine. Two of those changes involved how I approach my recovery runs.
First, I moved them almost exclusively to the trails near my house. This has helped me slow down on recovery days, and I think (hope) that the varied terrain is making me more resilient. This eliminates some of the repetitive motion of continually taking the same exact stride – as well as some of the monotony of running the same loops and streets.
Even with fairly substantial elevation gain in these runs, I can keep my average heart rate to about 135 to 140 bpm. For me, that’s solidly in the easy zone. The tradeoff is that I end up running slightly fewer miles. In an easy hour on the road, I’d probably cover 6-7 miles. In an easy hour on the trails, I run closer to 5 miles.
Second, I started running a few strides at the end of each run. I usually run a set of 4 strides – each consisting of approximately 100m of striding and then an easy recovery jog back to my starting point. There’s an open field near the trails, so I usually do these on grass or on a dirt road. There are no distance markings, so I guesstimate the distance by counting my paces. Approximately 30-35 paces (60-70 steps) should be in the ballpark of 100 meters – give or take a few.
Initially, these were slow on recovery days. If I was coming off a hard workout, I would struggle to do these strides much faster than 5k pace. But after a few weeks, they’ve gotten much quicker. The first 100m is usually a bit on the slower side, but they quickly pick up. The first time I did these, the pace (measured by Garmin’s instantaneous pace, so taken with a grain of salt) was around 6:30/mi. Now, I’m consistently hitting 5:30/mi. Given the short distances, I don’t know that the paces themselves are all that meaningful or accurate. But they are definitely much quicker.
By emphasizing a quick hit of speed at the end of my recovery days, I think this has left me better able to hit my workouts on my harder days. I know a lot of people get lazy and leave strides out of their running, but give it a try. It’s five minutes well spent.
Progress on Workouts
I had three main workout types in my plan – a day of intervals, a tempo run, and a long run.
On the intervals, I started with a high volume of 5k pace (up to 8x1k) and then transitioned to mile repeats at 10k pace. I kept sliding the length of the intervals up and the pace closer to my threshold pace. In the last 6×1 mile workout, I hit an average pace of 7:29/mi. Two weeks later, I did 3×2 mile repeats at 7:38/mi. I also noticed that these were trending quicker, and once I warmed up I’d run a little faster than my first repeat.
Meanwhile, my tempo runs were solid. I started at 4 miles, and the first two weeks were a bit shaky on the speed (~8:00/mi). But the next four weeks I nailed them. I went from 4 miles (7:43/mi) to 6 miles (7:39/mi) over those four weeks. That final tempo run, despite speeding up in the last two miles, definitely wasn’t an all out effort. After that, I was really confident I could hold my goal pace (7:40-7:45/mi) over the full distance.
Finally, there were the long runs. These were hit or miss. Some days were great, and some days were a struggle. Most weeks, these included some miles at marathon pace tempo. I found 4 miles to be manageable, but the one time that I tried to include 6 miles I was struggling by the end. On a couple of these long runs, I ended up beating my half marathon time from last year. Ultimately, I think these have made me much more comfortable with the idea of running 13 miles – since they were all 14-16 miles – and will have prepared me well for marathon training in the fall.
A 10k Time Trial Tune Up
I also decided to throw in a 10k time trial as a tune up race.
I had thought about running a real race, but I couldn’t find one in person. There’s a great April 10k near me, but it was still virtual this year. Maybe next year.
The advantage to doing the time trial, though, was that I could run the race during the week instead of on the weekend. I dropped my two workouts (the intervals and the tempo run) and ran the time trial instead. This let me keep my long run on Sunday.
The time trial itself went off perfectly. I managed to finish in 46:10, an average pace of 7:26/mi. This blew away my previous best of 50:22 from last fall, and is stronger than my 5k performance back in January. That’s a good sign that I’m improving.
My pacing was pretty good. I started out at 7:30-7:35/mi, figuring I could bring it down if I felt good. I only had two half mile splits (7:41/mi and 7:37/mi) where I let it slip and floated up above 7:35/mi. And I managed to finish strong – with split paces of 7:13/mi, 7:07/mi, and 6:52/mi for the last 1.2 miles.
At the end, I did mess up by trying to kick a bit too far out. I thought I could kick the last quarter mile. I managed to really up the pace at the 6 mile mark (to about 6:15/mi), but I only made it .1 to .15 at that pace. I fell off for the last few meters back to around the pace I had been running.
All in all, I was thrilled with the effort. I know I could eke out a little more, especially if I had been running a real race with other people. It would have been nice to break 46 minutes. But this 46:10 effort translates, according to the VDOT calculator, to a 1:42:29 half marathon (7:49/mi pace).
Looking Ahead to Sunday
Now, all that’s left is to take it easy this week and get ready for the time trial on Sunday.
I did an easy, shorter long run last Sunday. I plan on running every day this week, but dropping the mileage a bit. Instead of a workout, I’ll do a short tempo run (2 miles, with a warm up and cool down) at goal pace. My mileage last week was 38 mpw (down from a peak of 46) and it’s a little crazy to think that this “easy” week included more miles than every single week last year
My goal was to run 1:42 to 1:43, and I think I’m well-situated for that. My easy goal is 1:45, and I have no doubt I can manage that. It was roughly six months ago that I ran my first half marathon (blowing up and finishing in 1:57), and I’m amazed at how much progress I’ve made in that time.