I completed my first half marathon in Houston in January 2016. My original goal was to complete it under 2 hours. However, due to other competing commitment, I could not dedicate as much time to train for the race. The longest distance I had run before the race ended up being a mere 10 miles. Hence, I was definitely feeling the heaviness in my legs when I began mile 11. Regardless, I finished the race in 2 hours and 5 minutes! I have come a long way from the 5K race in 2013 summer when I only ran one mile and walked the rest.
After the half marathon, I all of a sudden felt hollow inside. I lost my routine of working towards a goal and running seems to have lost its appeal. I learned later that runners call it “post-race blues”. Knowing that it is quite common, I resisted the urge to sign up for another race this year, because race training could be time consuming. Instead, I am using another recommended strategy – get 20/20 hindsight by writing this blog post. The strategy that worked well for me is building a good foundation and practicing deliberately on the weaknesses. In this article, I also referenced lots of articles that I found useful for training.
First of all, I contribute the accomplishment to two years of training for shorter distances (5Ks and 10Ks), as I learned through the process that training momentum is especially important for long distance. I did not realize how advantageous it was until I went on a three-mile run after three months of no running post half marathon. I struggled with it! In comparison, ever since the 5K race in 2013 summer that motivated me to start running through the first half marathon in January 2016, I have completed two 5Ks and two 10Ks with no major breaks. I used Hal Higdon training schedule online. In April 2014, I finished the 10K in 58’51 in Minneapolis. In March 2015, with the goal of improving the pace, I followed a more strenuous plan and finished my 2nd 10K in 54’20. After these races, I jumped on the long distance bandwagon and decided to attempt my first half marathon.
Even though I had a solid foundation prior to the training, I made sure to build up the distance slowly and train the endurance without worrying too much about the pace. I definitely had those days when I did not feel like putting on my running shoes, so I ran with a friend to get the mileage in. I tried to hold a conversation with my running buddy to keep myself entertained and to gauge the pace, considering that the recommended pace is at which “you could still talk.” Moreover, I ran outside when weather permitted and explored new trails. The change of scenery along the trail and the sunshine urged me to carry on despite the tiredness in the body. If you ever consider take up running, start with the outdoor trail instead of the treadmill. The nature could be a great motivator. One area that is easily overlooked is to keep the increase of mileage no more than 10% each week to avoid injuries. I learned it the hard way as I had IT band issues after being too ambitious on the distance. As a result, I had to pause for full recovery and was at least two weeks behind on training schedule.
Apart from nailing the mileage, I also crossed trained to add more fun. I took up yoga, included weights, followed 10-minute core exercise on YouTube (FitnessBlender is a great channel to subscribe to), and went to quite a few rowing classes. The diversity not only avoided overworking certain muscles, but also strengthened some others that I might have neglected in running. Exercises such as one side legs raises and bridge exercise are also beneficial to stay injury-free from IT band pains, since IT band is usually caused by weak hips and gluteus. I had fun at rowing classes because rowing is said to be the least impactful on your knees while still building your cardio and leg muscles. The energy in class usually pushed me to go beyond what I usually could do.
Getting comfortable with the longer distance is necessary, whereas reaching the time goal is the cherry on top. Aware of the ambitious goal of two hours, I needed to level up the speed. Although I tried to speed up in the last half mile of every long distance run, it was harder for me to control and maintain the speed when running alone on the trail. Thus, I had some shorter interval runs on the treadmill at a higher speed with slope added. The added slope simulates hill running, which could strengthen the heart and legs. What’s more, I also participated in the long runs organized by the local running club so the overall faster pace will help me. I remember the first time I showed up for the run, the organizer said “the slower group will run at a pace of 9 minute per mile”! I immediately felt hopeless, since it was at least 30 seconds faster than my faster pace. I eventually fell off the pack, but the practice did help. “Effort is only effort when it begins to hurt.” perfectly summed up the approach I tried to increase speed
I am thinking about a destination half marathon in spring 2017 and my goal is to finish it under two hours. To avoid solely using the willpower to keep on going after mile 11 that happened in the first race, I will definitely go above the 13.1 mile mark in the next training. Of course, I will never forget cross-training and pushing myself harder on speed.