Training Lately: Highs, Lows, and Half Marathons

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Much to talk about in today’s training check-in, so get your readin’ eyes ready cause this is the only picture you’re getting out of all of it.

This past week of training was a case study in highs and lows. Now that I am in the heavy, marathon-specific 3rd mesocycle of my training, my main focus has shifted to high mileage and loading my legs up with cumulative fatigue. I logged 53.75 miles this week and plan to peak at 63 in a few weeks, so that means a lot more easy running during the week. I ran 6 times this week with two key workouts: my long run, and a marathon-pace-turned-tempo run.

My plan for the tempo was for 9 miles with 6 at goal marathon pace. What I ended up with was a tempo run at slightly under goal half marathon pace and the best run I’ve had in a long time. After two unremarkable warm up miles, I launched into the workout. I could tell I was slightly faster than an 8:20-8:25 pace, but it didn’t seem like the 7:59 my watch told me it was when the next mile chimed in. So I made what I thought was a conscious effort to slow down, and I honestly thought I did, but then the next mile chimed in – 7:54. Buoyed by the fact that my effort level was getting more comfortable but I was still maintaining a fast pace, the thought flashed through my head: what if I could run all 6 of my tempo miles at that pace? And so it was game on. You can’t un-ring that bell. I knew I should probably slow down to get the MP practice I was supposed to be getting tonight, but now that I had that momentum and felt so strong I just couldn’t give it up. I kept the effort even, feeling perfectly fine and well in control the whole time, and it just kept getting better: 7:55, 7:48, 7:45, 7:40 (!) . With warm up and cool down included, my overall average pace for the 9 miles was 8:19, which is my half marathon PR pace.

I keep having to pinch myself that this workout really happened. 6 sub-8:00 miles in a row and I barely had to push for them. I felt like I could have kept going for a few more miles at that pace, no problem. I wouldn’t say it “felt easy” but maintaining that pace took remarkably less effort than it usually does. This was just the workout I needed at just the right time, as I’m at that point in training where things just grind along and every run feels the same as the one before it and I wonder if all my hard work is actually doing anything to improve my fitness. It was a huge confidence booster not only that my training must be paying off at least a little bit, but that the sub-1:45 half marathon I’ve had my heart set on really is within my grasp – I just need the right nice, cool race morning to come along so I can finally snatch it.

On the flip side, this weekend was the first time in quite a while that I had a long run I didn’t feel great about. It wasn’t bad, it just…wasn’t awesome. It was my first 18 miler of this training cycle, and I did the Lincoln Memorial Drive hills workout I’ve done a couple times for my long run this winter – basically, there are three main hills along this drive and I run back and forth between them, doing reps on each one, to get my long run miles in. I don’t go crazy on the reps, just try to keep an even easy pace, and I add a lot of flat miles to the run with warm up and cool down (in this case, I actually did 7 miles of non hills, and that doesn’t include traveling between the hills). The idea is to build strength and simulate a course with constant rolling hills, since we don’t have anything like that here.

The previous two times I did this as a long run I felt so awesome and strong at the end, but today, I just felt tired. It rained the entire time, and it was a late Sunday morning and my motivation to go out for my longest run in a year was at an all-time low (and that’s saying something, because my motivation for long runs is ALWAYS low). My average pace was not faster than the last time I did this workout, or even the first time I did it. It was decent, but I had been hoping I would have improved since last time. I’m hoping this is just the cumulative fatigue at work. Besides, we all have off days, right?

Now, onto other news! Big things are a-brewin’ this week: Sunday, I’m running my first race of 2016 and my 10th half marathon. It is a hilly course so I thought it would make a great tune-up race for Pittsburgh.

I haven’t decided how I want to run this race, and I probably won’t decide until I cross that starting line on Sunday. On the one hand, I should use it as goal MP practice – I really need more practice at that specific pace, especially in a race environment and on hills, and at this point in training I can’t afford the extra recovery time that fast PR effort would require. On the other hand, part of me wonders if I should treat it as a long tempo run and race it truly by feel, no watch-checking, so I can come away with a more authentic picture of where I’m at fitness-wise right now. Especially after that confidence-boosting tempo run that showed me a 1:45 half is closer than I thought. I keep going back and forth, so I’ve given up trying to make a decision now and I’m just going to see how it goes on Sunday morning.

No matter what I decide, after this weekend I will have a much clearer picture of whether or not my marathon goals are a realistic possibility – a thought that is both exciting and terrifying. I’ll also get a sense of how I handle hills in a race environment. Even if race day weather is wonky, or some other day-of factor throws off my performance, I think I’ll still come away with a good idea of whether or not I’m in over my head with my marathon goal pace. So there are definitely some nerves going into this weekend, as I feel it will be a turning point of sorts in my training. But I’m also excited – it’s been 10 months since I ran a half marathon I actually felt trained for, and I’ve really missed racing these past few months!

The other good news is that in order to rest up for this weekend’s race, this week will be a de facto cutback week for me and I am really looking forward to that. I’m taking an extra rest day and I’m planning about 38-40ish miles for the week.

 

Next weekend we are going to visit my family in Iowa for the Easter weekend. I have to confess that the primary purpose of the visit is running-related. Remember the hilly route I ran as my 10 mile long run in Week 1?

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…okay I lied, the picture at the top wasn’t the only one you’ll see in this post

I want to go back and run it as a 20 miler. I’m oddly excited about it – it will be a nice change in running scenery, I’m excited to see how I’ve progressed in 12 weeks of training, and I think a super hilly 20 miler will help me feel really prepared for Pittsburgh. Also, I’m looking forward to having a little getaway. Even though I just got back from vacation, I already feel like I need another vacation.

And then, after that, I’m running another half marathon on April 2nd. Since this is a week before I start taper, I’m likely not going to try any funny business and will probably tack on some miles and treat it as a long run with goal MP practice. The race was $12 and it a mile from my house, and it’s where I set my PR last Spring. I can’t not do it.


 

Whew! That was a lot of jibber jabber. So as you can see, there is a lot going on in the next 4 weeks taking me into taper. Oh my god, it’s only 4 weeks until TAPER? It’s crazy how training is so long and monotonous for so many weeks and all of a sudden it just starts flying by. Pretty soon this is all going to get REAL!

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30 thoughts on “Training Lately: Highs, Lows, and Half Marathons

  1. You are definitely on the home stretch now! I know that I would try to PR – but I am not a good person to take running advice from LOL! Probably the best thing is to see how you feel on the day and if a marathon PR really is the big prize.

    1. Honestly, if it weren’t for all the the hills (I saw the elevation profile and it makes me nervous), I think I would definitely try to PR. My PR is a year old and is really close to my goal marathon pace, so hopefully I’ll eke out a small one no matter what 🙂

  2. WOW! That tempo run. That is AMAZING! All of your hard work is REALLY paying off. You are in the home stretch!

    My 18 miler felt the same as yours this past weekend. Just meh. I think the cumulative fatigue is now here and is very real and I would imagine that my next 4-5 weeks are going to feel much of the same. Tired and meh. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I asked for it – that’s what Hanson’s says it’s going to do! But I think your 18 felt meh because your legs are tired – you are following much of the same philosophy as I am right now – and that means you are on the right track 🙂

    Excited for you to run your 10th half!!! I am looking forward to reading about it.

    1. Haha it sounds weird but I’m kinda glad the cumulative fatigue is here. It’s not fun, but I was beginning to worry I was doing something wrong that I didn’t feel super worn down yet 🙂

  3. Your tempo run was so killer, Hanna!!! I’m excited and so happy for you that training for this cycle has been such a positive experience so far. Yeah, there are the blah runs, but those good ones definitely leave you with a good high 🙂 Good luck at your half this weekend! Maybe start the first two to three miles at marathon pace and if you’re still feeling good, start kicking it in gear. I think you’ve got a good PR in you, but I know it all can come down to how you feel on race day too so go with your heart on that one.

    1. Thank you Charissa! I think that’s a good strategy. I probably can’t go wrong starting the first few miles at an 8:30 pace – it should feel easy in a race environment, and it’s not so slow that I can’t make up the time later and still PR. Let’s hope the hills don’t get the better of me!

  4. Congrats on such a great tempo run! I think it’s better when you go in not expecting such a great run, and then it happens organically, because it feels like such a good thing afterwards 🙂 Good luck this weekend!

    1. Thank you! And I agree, sometimes our best runs are the unexpected ones!

  5. That is an amazing tempo run, Hanna! To feel that strong and hit a 9 miler at your half marathon PR pace in the midst of a 50+ mile week must be a huge confidence builder. So happy for you to see your training paying off.
    My 18 mile longs runs always seemed to be my hardest long runs during marathon training. For me, I think part of it was mental – 18 is looong, but doesn’t have the same “excitement” as a 20 miler. And cumulative fatigue at this point of your training is really starting to hit. These runs are going to help you kill it at the marathon and rested and fresh legs.
    Good luck this weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing how you decided to run the half! I cannot believe your April half is only $12!!!

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head about the 18 miler! I don’t think I’ve ever had an 18er I felt awesome about, either. You’re right that it’s such a meh distance. It feels so much longer than 18 but so far away from the satisfaction of 20. Thankfully I only have one on the schedule this cycle…well, my half in two weeks might become an 18er with extra miles, but if 13 of those are a race that makes it much more bearable!

  6. Woah! 53.75 is serious stuff! And 63–oh my goodness! You know, I do wonder if adding more easy runs and less speed during peak weeks would help me. Your tempo run sounds amazing–I would have done the same thing to keep at it. Runs that go like that are just magical and very hard to let go once they happen. Give yourself a break on the meh bad run–you had a huge mileage week and must be feeling the effect of all the cumulative miles and fatigue. I think you had a killer week! I look forward to hearing what happens at your race. Have fun and good luck!

    1. Thank you! I think taking out some of the hard work would definitely help with the additional mileage. It has definitely helped me – at least right now as I am adjusting to super high mileage and the onset of cumulative fatigue. I think I may slowly add more hard work back in as I approach my peak weeks, but that means I have to go back to taking my easy/recovery runs much slower.

  7. Great job. It sounds like you are killing your training to me. I can’t imagine the cumulative fatigue at your higher distances. I am in the thick of it now–not fun. I have 2 more long runs, then taper!! wahoo!!
    I would probably go faster than MP for the half, but shy of a PR, because of the training…does that make sense?
    I am eager to try a couple of halfs this fall and train for them. I haven’t tried for a PR in one–I have always been in marathon training so I held back a bit.
    You have some exciting weeks ahead!!

    1. Boston is coming up so quick! Your strategy of faster than MP but shy of a PR would make sense for me except that, due to the age of my PR, they are basically one and the same! So hopefully that means I’ll just get the best of both worlds this weekend. Fingers crossed the hills don’t derail me!

  8. Your marathon is so close! I feel like I was just reading your early weeks! I always go out way to fast in my half marathons- even when I say I am not racing. Running by feel sounds like a great idea- another thing I have troubles with-ha! Good luck!

    1. Thank you! I know, right? Where does the time go? That’s okay, I’m really eager to race. 18 weeks is such a long time and I just get so ready to be done by this point.

  9. I wonder if pushing the pace on your tempo run is why you felt kind of blah and tired on the long run. I know sometimes we run by feel and just push it and enjoy ourselves, but our plans are plans for a reason. It’s not necessarily bad that you pushed on that tempo run because it ended up being AWESOME and it really showed you what you’re capable of! But your legs may have needed more recovery time than they could have before that 18 miler. Either way, you had a solid week!

    1. I think it’s very possible! My tempo run was later in the week than I usually do speed work and one of my easy runs in between was probably not as easy as it should have been. Oh well, live and learn!

  10. I remember seeing your amazing tempo run and being extremely excited for you and jealous at the same time! I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one who is never excited for long runs. Good luck at your half this weekend!!

    1. Thank you! Ugh I hate long runs. I hear people talk about how it’s their favorite part of training and I’m just like “……….”

  11. Congrats on that amazing tempo run! Your hard work is clearly paying off and now you’re just a few weeks from the race. Like someone said above, a great tempo run could have contributed to a less than awesome long run, but you still got your long run done AND you did it on hills, nonetheless. Those sort of tough long runs are great for building resilience and mental toughness, which is so valuable for the marathon. Good luck at your half this weekend!

    1. Thanks so much Laura! I agree. It is sometimes a downer to not have a good long run, just because it’s drilled into our heads how important they are, but sometimes the best thing to come out of the long run (or any run) is that you got it done. During my rainy 18er I kept reminding myself that during the last miles of the marathon, I’m going to look back on this moment, so I want to remember finishing strong and not giving up!

  12. Omg your tempo run! I would totally try to PR because I’m stupid and like to do stupid things like that. Honestly, I think you’re coming into way better shape than you may have thought you were going to be for Pittsburgh. For what it’s worth, when I went sub 1:45 and got my 1:42 half PR… I had a really kickass 11 mile run with 6 at tempo (2 up, 3 tempo, 1 easy, 3 tempo, 2 down) and my tempo paces were hovering at 8:00 and felt effortless… It was “The” workout for me that made me think I might be able to go sub 1:50… And little did I know 6-8 weeks later…. 😉 juuuust saying.

    1. In full disclosure, unless something feels really off on race day I will definitely want to PR, just because my PR is so close to my goal marathon pace anyway (the PR is a year old now). I hope your projections are right…the hills just scare me! Running a hilly marathon at a more modest pace is one thing, but trying to run fast on hills does me in every.single.time. I guess we’ll see!

  13. Wow congratulations on all your hard work! I’m training for my first full marathon right now and am nowhere near as prepared as you. I’m struggling to get in 30 miles/ week. Keep up the great job- I’m excited to keep reading your updates!

    1. Thank you so much!! When I ran my first full the highest mileage I ever hit was around 43, and I had a great race and got to that finish line just fine. Do what you can, try your best and you will surprise yourself on race day! 🙂

  14. Only $12 for the half!? Wow. I would have signed myself up for that too.

    Honestly, if I had had that 9 miler like you did, I would probably go for a PR & chalk it up as extra fatigue which is the point of the training plan. I mean, it sounds like you could really do it which would be such a confidence boost. But, that’s just me & my ultimate goal of a sub 145 half getting the best of me. Haha

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