Last Sunday I ran my first half marathon in almost two years. From someone who ran almost exclusively half and full marathons for seven years, I had turned my focus towards the 5K and 10K distances. I for sure needed the mental and physical break from the grind of marathon training and my focus on BQing, but I also wanted to see what I could do at the shorter distances. It was super fun to establish new PRs (one was from over 20 years ago!) at those distances; however, by mid-2018 I was ready and hoping to run another half… only to be prevented by that lingering foot injury suffered in Spring 2018. But finally! The day had come, and I was ready to toe the line. Listen, I had forgotten how long racing 13.1 miles was. Whew, that was far.
I freaking loved it.
Read on for a summary of my training cycle and the race recap.
I can’t remember a training cycle where everything went smoothly; where I did (or attempted) every training run and didn’t have to take at least a few days off for a ding (foot, calf, piriformis). But I was eight weeks into this training cycle with my body feeling super healthy when I got my first Bloop. I was scheduled to run a small 10K with my church. It was supposed to be a fun fellowship thing where I would put in a solid effort and use it to take my temperature fitness-wise — but nothing crazy. Well, I got it in my head that I couldn’t let my pastor beat me, so when the race started and he went out at a pace about 30+ seconds faster per mile than I planned on running the race, I was determined to keep up and not lose. Anyway, I ended up running the first two miles too fast in 90 degree heat, and from then on the race became a struggle to the finish where I ended up suffering calf cramps at mile 4 – yes, mile 4 – and destroyed the bottom of my foot with a blood blister that exploded under a large callus due to the the heat friction. I will spare you the photo. This resulted in me having to take five days off…But I did beat my pastor. (Hmmm. Now that I write this, perhaps the more spiritual thing would have been to let him beat me? Maybe there will be spiritual growth next year. Ha.)
The following week I was wrapping up my long run with my blistered foot feeling manageable, when I stepped into a pothole and rolled my ankle. I know. With only five weeks of training left, I saw my ortho about both my callused and blistered foot, as well as my ankle, and he cleared me to run the race but said I had to take a minimum two weeks off afterwards. Deal.
And then the final surprise. Two weeks out I came down with a stomach virus that left me having to miss non-running workouts and struggling through crampy and dehydrated running sessions.
These were not major setbacks, but just enough to be annoying and requiring me to be more flexible than I wanted to be with my training. I was dead set on running this half marathon, so the show went on. I guess it was a good test of my resilience and determination which I would definitely need in the race.
So just as I had not run a half marathon in almost two years, neither had I done a taper! I didn’t do a full two-week taper as I tend to feel less logy at one, but there was a slight decrease in intensity and mileage at two weeks out. And let me tell you, by that last week of training I was over it. Taper couldn’t get here fast enough. After my last long run that Sunday I settled into a familiar routine; it really is like riding a bike. I rested, got a good sports therapy massage and cupping done, tried to do some visualization, and kept my runs short and mostly fast. As we have done for my previous races, Trainer and I prepare a certain way for me (my body) to go into the race, so the focus was on conditioning and form. We slowed up even my warm-up so I could focus on technique. I have a specific dynamic warm-up that I do before my regular solo runs, and then an extended warm-up if I’m doing any running/speed work with Trainer, so here’s a video showing part of my extended warm-up and then some of the work we did (shoes off for the last part!). I have to learn to fix my face. Sheesh.
I did experiment with a couple things this training cycle. One was in my nutrition. I had begun cramping on my long runs at about 8 miles, and while I was used to cramping in my races (I have cramped in every race over a 10K starting at about mile 10), I had never cramped in my training runs. This was new and not gonna lie, freaking me out. A running friend suggested coconut water and adding more salt into my diet, and that worked perfectly.
The second experiment had to do with mileage. I like to stay in the 30-33 miles per week range. Something about that “30” number is satisfying. However, my legs weren’t feeling as good, so Trainer said to cut it down to no more than 27 miles per week. What?!? For a half marathon?!? BUT this did seem to work well. I was worried I wouldn’t have the endurance, but as I will note in a post next week, I don’t think my endurance is the issue. My legs feel a lot fresher at 27, so this might be the new norm.
I love this race. It’s somewhere between a big and small race and best of all are the easy logistics. No shuttles, plenty of parking, start and finish line in one place. If there’s one bummer, there is a lack of crowd support since a lot of the race isn’t on main streets, but that doesn’t matter too much to me.
I went into the race with three goals:
C-Goal: Course PR (2:06)
B-Goal: All-American Standard (1:59)
The course has the hills up front, so I knew I just had to survive the first 8 miles. I decided to start with the 1:50 pace group and hold on for four miles, which with normal slowing down, would put me in the 1:55ish range.
Things were going well through the first five miles with my mile splits being 8:17, 8:20, 8:14, 8:23, and 8:34. Difficult but doable. Then I made strategic mistake no. 1. at the water stop. I took way – I mean, WAY — too long fumbling with my gel, and then I dropped my iPod TWICE. That mile ended up being at 9:23, and this is where I lost the 1:50 pace group. Ran solo for a little bit and then hooked up with the 3:50 marathon pace group which was a few paces ahead of the 1:55 half marathon group. I had the best pacer ever! Miles 5-8 are a gradual uphill, and while not steep, it is unceasing. Our pacer kept our spirits up and let us know when we were closing in on the top and kept reminding us that we’d have a nice downhill for a couple miles after. I wish I knew his name; he kept me encouraged and calm and in good spirits. After reaching the summit (yay), I settled into the next three miles. I was tired but since it was a slight downhill, it was manageable Miles 6-11 were at 8:46, 8:47, 8:48, 8:44, 8:47. Finishing sub-1:55 seemed almost guaranteed, and my pace at the mile 11 mark was 8:38.
Alas, starting at mile 9ish I began to feel the familiar tingling in my calves that precedes my guaranteed calf cramps. Finally at mile 11 they stopped me dead in my tracks and I just had to walk to let them subside. For miles 12 and 13 I had to drastically adjust my gait and take breaks until I crossed that finish, and those last two miles were an ugly 9:44 and 9:51. Boooo.
But come on…1:56:35 after a two-year sabbatical? On a somewhat challenging course? I’ll take it! I reached my B and C goal and was thisclose to my A Goal.
So a fun thing happened after I crossed the finish line: I met up with an IG friend! Most of the people who follow me/I follow on IG are people I have never met IRL; we simply follow each other because we’re runners. But I recognized him right away, and sure enough, there was his wife (who I also follow) crossing the finish line sooner after me. Super cool.
Then a surprising thing happened. I ended up going to church since it was just up the street. Trainer goes to the same one, and after I texted him my time, he told me to come through. I had sweats in my trunk so…why not?
And then finally…I did what I have been wanting to do for weeks: I ate ALL THE FOOD. Indian food, reuben sandwich, salt and pepper potato chips, pasta, cupcakes, macarons, carrot cake, pecan blondie, all smothered in coco-whip (and vegan of course). I wish I had gotten pizza, but I was too lazy to drive out. Oh, well, Surf City is in February, and I’ll get pizza then. Lots of pizza. Already thinking about the pizza.
All-in-all, a great way to re-enter the half marathon distance.
And I am ready for more.
Age Group: 4/74