Monday, December 21, 2015

A new phase to running: Training for a half marathon

I signed up to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) with one of my running buddies.  It's in early February, which leaves just 6 1/2 weeks until the race.  But I signed up right after the 10k, and basically started training right away.

My training is focused almost 100% on increasing mileage - both overall and in the form of a gradually increasing "long run" each week.  All of these miles have to be run at a very slow and easy pace, to avoid injury while increasing so much.  It isn't very intuitive that running slow will help me run fast, but I am willing to take advice.

My other running buddy and I ran a 5k last weekend, and it turns out the whole lots-of-slow-miles-make-you-fast thing does work okay for me.  I cut over 3 minutes off my 5k time.  She cut a few minutes off too!  And I imagine it's at least partly because of all the ramp-up we did to train for the 10k and the fact that she's maintained that since then (we run a medium-long run together each week, plus a shorter stroller run, and she runs on her own in addition.)

The best explanation I found of the "lots-of-slow-miles-make-you-fast" idea is this: anyone can run fast for a *very* short distance.  It's endurance and stamina that help a person maintain that faster pace for a reasonably long distance.  I totally understand that endurance is important for a half marathon - 13.1 miles is a long way to run.  But now I finally really understand how important endurance is even at a shorter distance like 5k (3.1 miles).

Here are a few shots of some of the beautiful spots I've run to over the last few weeks, now that my long runs have topped 10 miles:

I have ventured inland a few times now too - the beach is gorgeous but it is nice to get a little variety.  I guess I don't take quite as many pictures inland though!  I'll work on that.

SO, what is my training like?
I've gradually worked my way up to 25-30 miles a week, run in 4-5 runs.  My weekly long runs have slowly increased, 8 --> 9 --> 10 --> 12, step-back week then 9.5 --> 14  (I was feeling good - the plan had been 12-13 but I let myself go the extra mile).  I hope to work my way up to about 35 miles a week for a few weeks before the race, and keep my long runs at 13-15 miles other than planned step-back weeks.  And I'm going to run a 10k in a few weeks to better gauge my fitness and speed and help make some pacing decisions for the half marathon.

Pacing on a longer race is tough because if I go out too fast I'll tire myself out and won't make it through all 13.1 miles.  If I go just a bit slower at the start, I should have enough energy to finish strong, possibly even to speed up and really push through the end.  But if I go too slow at the start I'll just waste time that I won't be able to make up for later.  The usual advice for a person's first half marathon is to just aim to finish, and not worry about time and speed.  But this is me.

The last month or so I've let my other exercise suffer, but I'm trying to pick back up at least a little - at least one good core strengthening and one good yoga session per week and a few key lower-body strengthening/stability exercises.  It is hard to squeeze those in with all the running though - and all that other stuff like work, family, and sleep.  I figure these few months my focus is on aerobic fitness, and that's okay.  After the half I'll probably refocus on strength training for a few weeks at least and rebuild a bit.  But for now - I know I can't do as many pushups as I could a couple months ago, but my legs are strong enough to carry me for 14 miles at a 10:30 pace (10 minutes 30 seconds per mile), and my lungs and heart are strong enough to get enough oxygen to those muscles for that distance.  So that's something.

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