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Archive for the ‘Half marathon’ Category

It’s the Tuesday before my next big race on Saturday, a half marathon. I’m doing my typical pre-race freak out. By “freak out” I mean there’s no hand-wringing, no crying, no tantrums, just a mild case of pre-race jitters that has me asking — yet again — “What have I gotten myself into?”

After a year of focusing on the full marathon, I thought it was a good idea to pick a race that I could run for “fun.” For the location, for the scenery, for the sheer joy of running someplace new on a closed course. So I chose a race put on by “Destination Races,” the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon. It runs through the vineyards of Santa Barbara county from Santa Ynez to Solvang. Sounds perfect, right? Well, yes. I think it will live up to its claim of being a gorgeous destination race. There’s just one little problem: me. I thought I could sign up for a race for “fun” and not care about my finishing time. I thought I could be happy soaking up the views and not care whether I clocked a PR. I told myself that even if I did care about my finishing time, I could look at it as a race where I cared less about the finishing time itself and more about where that time put me in relation to the rest of the field of 40-to-44-year-old-women-who-chose-a-race-that-has-a-wine-stop-on-the-course.

Yet again, however, running and racing have taught me some things about myself:

  • I’m competitive, not so much against other people, but against myself. I do want to get a PR, and I do want to better myself in comparison to the field (not because I care about beating other runners, but because I revel in improving my overall performance).
  • I enjoy training more than I enjoy racing. One might wonder why I sign up for races then, but the fact is that I like having a goal race on the calendar. I like having a training plan that builds up to a race. I like crossing off each workout on the plan.
  • I take each race a little too seriously. I don’t race that often, so when I do race, I care a lot about how that race goes. I use each finish time to gauge how the training is going and whether or not I am improving over time. (I think these things are true about many runners, it just took me a little while to realize all this about myself).

So why the heck did I sign up for a race with an elevation profile like this:

elevation profile Santa Barbara Wine Country

Of course not every race is going to be pancake-flat and “fast.” And the hills are what make for some of the best views along this course. It’s just that if I care so much about my time, I probably shouldn’t have chosen a race with total climbing of 764 feet! I have no clue how to pace myself when the first seven miles are basically uphill and the last six miles are basically downhill. I could run by how I feel, rather than by the pace on my Garmin, but if there’s anything else I’ve learned about myself it’s that I would run a lot slower if I just ran by how I feel! I am a very poor judge of pace, going out too fast at the start and running too slow thereafter. I can run “naked” for the occasional training run but I want and need my Garmin for a race.

(Just for the record, don’t think that I have ignored the course elevation profile until now. I have been hill training specifically in preparation for this course. I live in the “Heights” for goodness sake — I have run a hill or two in my day. And I have been quite dedicated to the training plan. If you look at the calendar last month, I worked out on every day but one. Some of those days were 15-25 minutes of strength training only, and were “rest days” from running or biking, but I did some form of physical activity every single day).

I’ve been running and racing for three years now. During that time, I have only run two official half marathons, my first ever big race, the 2012 OC Half in 1:55:10 (smashing my goal of a sub-2 half), and a training run/race for a full marathon, the 2013 Spring Blast Half Marathon in 1:53:34. I ran the first half of the 2013 Mountains2Beach full marathon in an unofficial time of 1:51:01. I believe I am capable of a time in the 1:4x range, given the right course and given the proper training and taper before the race. And I need that 1:4x as a confidence booster to prove to myself that I am capable of training for running a Boston Qualifying time in the full marathon. To BQ with a 3:44:59 in the full, the McMillan Running Calculator says I would need to hit a 1:46:54 in a half.

Maybe the gorgeous views of the Santa Barbara wine country will help me fly up and down the hills to a PR, maybe not. What I need to do now is re-focus on my original goals for the race. I thought I could enjoy a race for the scenery. I think I can! I thought I could set aside the goal of a PR to focus on doing my best in comparison to the field. I think I can!

Do you ever run a race just for fun? Just this past weekend I ran the iCureMelanoma 5K with my 9-year-old, and I have to say it was a lot of fun to run with her and not worry about my own race time. But unless I’m running with my kids, I run for the “fun” of pushing myself to a personal best.

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My next big race on the calendar is the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon on May 10th. I figured it was totally fair to make Mother’s Day weekend all about me and my race, right?

That means I’m in the thick of training for that half, which then rolls right into my training for my fourth full marathon, the Santa Rosa Marathon at the end of August. I ran my longest run on the half marathon plan — 12 miles in 1:56 — last Sunday. For my current plan I’m running four days a week and cycling two days a week (once on my own and once at spin class). I also incorporate strength training two to three days a week for about 20 minutes each session. Pushups and I are still acquaintances but planks are my new best friends.

My training plans are my own personal mash-up of the Half Marathon Finish It Plan (free to download from that link!) from Train Like a Mother and the Intermediate Full Marathon plan from Smart Marathon Training:

    

Crossing off each workout on the training plan gives me a lot of satisfaction, and having a plan keeps me accountable. I can tell you there have been a few days recently where I would have opted not to work out had I not had a solid plan to stick to and a serious race looming on the calendar.

Do you have any races coming up? What training plan do you follow?

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I wore my Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS watch for the Spring Blast Half Marathon on May 11 (race recap here). I had fun uploading the data to Garmin Connect online and analyzing the race splits. As you might recall, my target race pace was 8:35 per mile, and I came in overall at 8:40 per mile. The chart below says I came in at 8:37 due to a 3 second difference between my Garmin running time and the race official’s stopwatch, and between the 13.1 miles on the course and the 13.17 I actually ran as I navigated the course and dodged people on the path (I didn’t think I did much of that but obviously enough to add 0.07 — a little over a football field in length — to the course):

GPS Garmin Race Splits

Overall I’m happy with how it went. In analyzing these splits, I can tell that wearing a GPS watch helps me a lot. If I don’t wear one and don’t pay attention to my average pace for the current mile, I go out way too fast in the beginning of the race when I feel fantastic, and I don’t push hard enough when I start to lose steam toward the end. For the half marathon, knowing my mile splits helped me keep more of an even pace. In fact, when I checked to see if I negative split the run, I found I came in at nearly even splits, taking just 15 seconds more to run the second half of the race than the first.

You can tell by the mile splits above that I felt really good through about mile 9, then started to lose steam at mile 10 as I was going up the slight incline, then picked up speed on the way back down for mile 11, slogged through mile 12 at about 15 seconds behind the goal pace, then gave it my all for mile 13 at 6 seconds ahead of pace, and sprinted to the finish at 40 seconds ahead of goal pace.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t obsess over my race splits or beat myself up over what I could have or should have done. It’s simply interesting to look back over it and see how the splits compare to how I felt during the race.

Do you wear a GPS watch for training runs and races? I love my Garmin and I wear it most of the time, but I make sure to take it off occasionally and just run naked.

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One of the nice things about the small, timed races put on by Rocket Racing Productions is that the organizers take digital photos and make them available to download for free from Facebook. Free race photos? Posted within a day of the race? Yes-please-and-thank-you-very-much! Even better, I think these just might be some of my favorite race photos ever. Decent form, some newly toned muscles, and a smile on my face at the halfway point (6.55 miles, approaching the aid station, chucking my visor because my sunglasses were fogging up, and turning around my race belt to chuck my water bottle and replace it with another from the aid table):

Happy to be at the halfway point

Happy to be at the halfway point

A nice midfoot strike!

A nice midfoot strike!

Looking strong, feeling good!

Looking strong, feeling good!

Ready for my close-up!

Ready for my close-up!

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Yesterday morning as I pulled out of my driveway at 5:55 a.m. to head to the Spring Blast Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, I still had a major case of race jitters. Usually my race jitters flare up the day before a race and I manage to beat them back into submission by race day. Not so this time. I had to resort to an out-loud pep talk with myself in the car: “You will do your best and that’s all you can do. You are nervous because you’ve trained so hard and you want this to go well. You haven’t tapered for this race, and it’s ‘just’ a training run. I know you want it to go well because that will boost your confidence for the full marathon, but really your goal is to do your best, enjoy the race, and not push yourself to the point of injury.” The self-talk sort of worked to calm my nerves, but not completely, as evidenced by my need to thank the nice people of Carl’s Jr. for the use of the restroom at 6:20 on the way to the race. And my need to visit the beach bathroom when I got there. But once I was parked in the right parking lot and made my way to where the race started, I did finally pull myself together and get my game face on.

I feel like I’ve been running and racing for a long time, but in reality it’s only been two years since I challenged myself to run 30 miles in 30 days. In those two years since, I’ve come a long way. Just last month I ran 133 miles in 30 days, and the month before that, 141 miles in 31 days. Still, I haven’t run many races. I ran my first half marathon just over one year ago at the OC Half (race recap here), and my first full marathon last November at the Santa Barbara International Marathon (race recap here). So, this Spring Blast Half Marathon would only be my second half marathon.

The race is a small event put on by Rocket Racing Productions, which is headed up by two runners themselves, Michelle and Mark. They put on low-cost, timed fun runs in Southern California about 5-7 times per month. That’s what’s so great about it — when I searched for a local half marathon taking place on the day of my scheduled 13-mile run, I easily found a match! And you can’t beat the price at $31 for the half, $42 for the full marathon option, $23 for the 10K and $34 for the 30K.

Parking is free in the lot at Sunset Beach behind the Travelodge. The race starts at the Huntington Beach multi-use path.

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

The 12 racers checked in with Michelle at 7 a.m. and Mark started the race with a countdown promptly at 7:15. There were no bibs or timing chips (a stopwatch is used to time the race from the starting call). I made a point to check out some of the other racers so I would recognize them on the course and I could give them a thumbs-up or a “great job” to cheer them on the way. The lack of people cheering along the course is the one downside to the race (well, that and the occasional smell of lighter fluid from the beach campers). The beach path is open to everyone and you would never know a race was going on. I love a smaller race but I’ve come to appreciate the energy boost I get from random strangers along the way! Thank goodness a lovely young woman saw some of us booking it at mile 7 and she called out: “You guys are amazing!”

The half marathon course consists of two 6.55-mile out and back loops on the course (the full marathon is, you guessed it, four 6.55-mile loops). While that might sound a little dull it wasn’t at all and it really helped break up the race into manageable pieces. The run out was into the slightest of headwinds with a low bridge at mile 2.5 and a little uphill to the turnaround cones. That meant that on the way back it was payback time with a speedy run back to the bridge and the flat course back to the aid station at mile 6.55.

All the goodies at the aid station

All the goodies at the aid station

I’d left my own special bottle of Fluid (with a cute little bow on it to identify it as mine) but there was plenty of water and Gatorade along with gels, bananas and granola bars on the aid table. I took my own green apple PowerGel with caffeine at mile 6.

After starting the race out at about an 8-minute pace I quickly reined myself back in to 8:35, the targeted pace for the training run. I kept up with that pace pretty well most of the way and only started to struggle on the slight uphill from mile 9-10. Once I hit that second turnaround near mile 10, I got a little boost from the downhill but it got harder and harder to keep pace. That’s where the pep talk started again (this time in my head). “Don’t give up the pace now. Keep going. Only 3.1 miles left. Leave it all out on the course. You can do it. Push yourself!” For miles 10 and 11 I pushed to keep it between 8:35 (target) and 8:47 (my pace from my first half marathon). At mile 12 I gave it my all for a big push to the end. I tried not to even look at my Garmin and just go as fast as I could go. I wanted to come in overall somewhere between 1:52:36 (an 8:35 pace) and 1:55:10 (my time from my first half marathon). I ended up hitting 1:53:34 (an 8:40 pace) for a PR by a minute 36 seconds!

While the race course was relatively easy, the race for me was tough. I pushed myself hard to hit the pace and it took all I had physically and emotionally. Of course I felt terrific emotionally when I finished, and even felt pretty good physically too. No injuries and just the usual hobbling soreness, part of which I fended off with an ice bath in this:

Nature's ice bath

Nature’s ice bath

I hit up the aid station for a banana and a granola bar and I chatted with Michelle and Mark, who both happen to be racing at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon too! Good luck guys and thanks for a great race!

Happy Sunday everyone (and a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother runners and triathletes out there!)

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Just a quick post to shout from the rooftops that today’s half marathon went well for me! I came in at 1:53:34, which is a PR by 1:36 over my OC Half Marathon time one year ago. It turned out to be a good decision to run the Spring Blast Half Marathon as a training run.

One red-faced but happy finisher!

One red-faced but happy finisher!

The target training pace was 8:35 (marathon pace) and I came close to that with an average of 8:40. I can tell you there’s no way I would have run that fast if I had not been racing.

I feel good and am resting up now but will post a full recap and review sometime soon!

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Should you throw in a half marathon or a shorter race in your training for a full marathon? Or a 10K in your training for a half? The authors of Run Less, Run Faster do not recommend it, because runners often get swept up in the excitement of the race and end up running it faster than the targeted training pace, or running farther than planned for the scheduled training distance. I, however, have a 13-mile training run on the calendar for Saturday, and the targeted training pace would leave me with a PR in the half marathon (I ran my one-and-only half at the OC Marathon last year in 1:55:10). I am not worried about running faster than the targeted training pace of 8:35; in fact I am hoping the adrenaline of the race and the fun of running somewhere new will push me to hit the pace. [Edited to add: I ended up running the Spring Blast Half Marathon at an 8:40 pace in 1:53:34 for a PR of 1 minute 36 seconds! You can read the race recap and review here.]

A “B” goal race tucked into the training for an “A” goal race can do several things:

  • Shake off the cobwebs and get you ready for the big race.
  • Allow you to practice your race day preparation: carb-loading, breakfast before the race, clothing, gear and fuel.
  • Boost your confidence if you do relatively well.
  • Show you where you can improve from your mistakes in the “B” race so you don’t repeat them on “A” race day.

The trick is to choose your “B” race wisely.

  • Chose a race that is as close to the planned training run distance as possible. You might think you’ll run a 10K and tack on an extra 3 miles to get your 9 mile training run in, but it’s not easy to do. I’ve done that once after the La Habra 10K and it was not easy, nor was it exactly wise to race my hardest then slog through three more slow miles just to get the mileage in. I didn’t injure myself but I’m not sure I did myself any favors either. That said, I still don’t regret it.
  • Find a race that mimics the “A” race course, if possible. The last 6 miles of the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon run along the beach boardwalk in Ventura. For my “B” race this weekend, I’ve chosen to run the Spring Blast Half Marathon along the beach boardwalk in Huntington Beach. You better believe I’ll be using the opportunity to visualize those last six miles along the beach as I run Saturday’s race.
  • Don’t go for something new. It’s a bad idea to pick a trail race, a mud run, or an obstacle run if you’re training for a road race. Only the opposite might be true — I imagine it would be fine to run a “B” road race if you’re training for a trail race, although it would be a shame to miss an opportunity to practice racing on the trails before the big day.

What not to do:

  • As I mentioned above, it’s not a good idea to give the “B” race your all-out effort, above and beyond your goal training pace. You risk injury and if even you are not injured, it will take you longer to recover from the run than it would have if you stuck to your goal training pace. Now, if I happen to hit the targeted 8:35 for 12 miles and still feel pretty good, I’m not promising I won’t give it a little kick at the end. 😉
  • Don’t try out new gear. We all know it’s never a good idea to wear new clothing or gear on race day and you should not be tempted to break that rule for a “B” race training run. I got these beauties in the mail today, but I won’t be putting them on for Saturday’s race:

 

Brooks Adrenaline 13

Wouldn’t the green be perfect for a “Spring Blast” half marathon?! Still, I refuse to be temped.

What about you? Do you incorporate a “B” race into your training for a longer distance race? I have even been known to throw in a triathlon or two into my training for a full marathon.

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