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The First Test: the Worldwide Half

October 9, 2010

This weekend, Little G is off in another corner of the state, running a sanctioned half marathon. The last time she ran in this event, she took her age group. Since we’re between 20-milers, it seemed to be a great weekend to test ourselves and our speed. This weekend also happens to be the second weekend in October, and for the past three years I’ve joined hundreds of runners all over the world to participate in the Worldwide Festival of Races.

This is a free, non-commercial event for runners of all levels around the world. Everyone is invited to train and run together, though separately, wherever you are. Some people run sanctioned events, and some of us run our own courses in our own corners of the world. Some of us print our bibs and run the event very seriously, timing ourselves as we would during an actual race–others run it in a leisurely way, simply enjoying the spirit of friendship and comraderie. For me, in the last couple of years, the event has been a way to test my fitness in the last portion of my training season, one of my final measuring sticks as I come up to my goal race.

Little G and I are trying something new this year. We’re intentionally running the long runs on tired legs. Therefore, when I ran my 20 last week, I’d run six miles the day before, and I felt it. Having a definite time goal in mind for the marathon, though, I still refused to do an “easy” 20, so I forced myself to run the last six miles at goal pace.

This week, I ran seven miles on Friday, and then set myself the goal of running the 13.1 at 8:45 pace today. This falls woefully short of PR pace for me–my personal best at the half marathon distance is 1:48, or 8:19 pace–but I knew that it was probably the best that I could hope for under the conditions, and that it was no use trying to score a personal best in training. Little G and I have a sanctioned race scheduled on Halloween, and I intend to race that race with a little more abandon.

I set out, therefore, at just under 9-minute miles. The pace felt like typical tempo pace–I kept reminding myself to run comfortably hard. After some time the pace took less work, and I found myself working not so much to maintain the pace, but to keep myself from running too fast too early.

My splits: 8:59, 8:55, 8:48, 8:52, 8:37, 8:31, 8:39, 8:34, 8:36, 8:19, 8:09, 8:14, 7:54, and 7:09 for that last stretch.

In the end I ran a 1:51, and I’m comfortable knowing that I ran a good half marathon in the middle of training. I’m sore, and I ran a really hard effort; I didn’t hurt myself, but I did test my legs, and they answered.

I feel like I’m at that point in training where I’ve pushed my body, and it’s responding well. Every time I want to ask it to do something, it wants to do it for me. It’s practically buzzing with the ambition to perform. This is what got me in trouble in the winter of 2008–I went out and raced every weekend I wasn’t running a 20-miler, and by the end of December I was toast. So I’m trying to respect the feeling, remembering that just because my legs feel like they’re made of iron and steel doesn’t mean they are, and that the rest and recovery parts of the schedule become even more important as we come to this latter part of the training schedule.

These kinds of tests–the tired 20 with the late miles at pace and then the long tempo run today–are also useful mentally, because they build confidence. Last week, I was reminded that, though it was difficult to run 20 miles, on race day my legs will be far more rested, I’ll have more adrenaline, and I won’t have to pour my own water. Race day is just entirely different. After all, last weekend I did run 26 miles–just not in one day.

Before I set out today, I was nervous. The thought of running 13 miles at 8:45 pace terrified me, because I haven’t been training for speed, but for endurance. I was sure I’d crash and burn. Running for that kind of distance at that pace not only reminded me that my body can race well, but also makes that 9-minute pace feel absolutely blissful by comparison.

Next week, we’ll test ourselves again, with a planned 22-miler. We intend to run 7 or 8 of those miles at pace. The weekend after will be absolutely restful by comparison: we’ve penciled in a divided long run, 12 miles on Friday and 12 on Saturday.

Here’s to training that prepares us well, for racing and for life.

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