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Race Autopsy

November 15, 2011

Every time I come to the end of a goal race, thus marking the end of a training cycle, I like to dissect the training and the race. It helps me look dispassionately at what how I trained and what I can improve in the coming year.

While I usually discuss what went well in the training cycle, in this instance I need to discuss what did not go well, as that will have some bearing on what did go well. Therefore, please allow me to regale you with:

What went wrong in this training cycle?

  • It started early on, just with the fact that I didn’t training when I would have liked to or with the base of fitness that I would have liked to. I had been in physical therapy for a while following the Great Shin Splint Debacle of 2010, and as a result of that had gone through many weeks in the summer when my total miles didn’t add up to more than 25. That’s very unusual for me. It’s also unusual that though I ran a few “long” runs of 10 miles or so, I didn’t notch a single run above that distance during the summer months, meaning that by the time we started training at the end of August, I had to build up all my double-digit run endurance pretty much from scratch. I also had to build up my mileage back up to 30 or 40 miles per week. That’s not hard work–just mileage–but it had to be done slowly, especially for a runner coming back from injury.
  • Speaking of injury, I didn’t come back from that as quickly as I’d hoped. Even a couple of weeks before my goal races–oh, let’s face it, the day before the Halloween race–I still had pain in my shins. I was hoping to have conquered that by now, but it hasn’t happened. That’s probably because
  • I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been about cross-training and stretching. I started out well, but I really like running more than yoga and biking. And so by late September I was mostly doing abdominal work once a week, and by October it was out the window completely. I’m sure that hasn’t helped my healing.
  • In addition to all those things, we switched boats mid-stream, and I’m fairly sure no coach would recommend you ever do that. We started training with a schedule inspired by the Run Less, Run Faster book–three workouts a week, no junk miles–but after a few weeks Little G was feeling tired, and I was scared of the injury risk imposed by putting so much of my training load on the long run. So we scrapped that schedule and knit together our own, which we followed for the last half of our training season.

What went well in this training cycle?

  • In spite of all these things, therefore, I’m somewhat happily surprised to say that my pace during my training runs was dead-on what it should have been. I was targeting an 8:15 pace for the half, and for the most part, that’s what I was hitting, especially as the season progressed and my legs got stronger and the humidity dropped. Though the 1:52 I ended up running is a good four minutes slower than I needed to notch a personal best, and therefore about twenty seconds per mile too slow, I still think if conditions had been better, or if I hadn’t had to stop at mile 12 to help someone else, that I may have had the necessary speed for a PR.
  • The bridge work early in the season prepared our legs to be fast. Little G and I did these together, with one of us starting out first and the other following, so we wouldn’t feel the need to keep the same pace. I liked that we ran up hard, then walked down–I think the freedom to walk protected our tender legs and feet from injury.* It’s true–hillwork is speedwork in disguise. We’ve both said that in both half marathons we’ve run, we have felt strong and fast on the bridges, and we credit the early-season bridge work.
  • Though others may have frowned upon it, I’m glad we changed to a better schedule. First of all, this put is in a more balanced position, where our long runs were only half of our weekly mileage. Secondly, it put those easy runs back into our routine where we could go back out and run just for enjoyment, without looking at the clock.

How was this training different from training I’ve done before?

  • I’ve never done hill repeats like this. I used to do the bridge at the beginning of my long runs, just going over it to give variety to my runs. Or I’d storm over it as hard as I could, over and over again. This kind of work, where I went at it hard, walked down, and then tried to keep my intervals within three or four seconds of each other, was new. And we did tons of them–ten to twelve, some nights. It was exhausting work, but good.
  • Like I said, we’ve never changed schedules like this before, but I’m glad we did.
  • We did fewer long runs than I usually do in training for a half–just two 14s! When I set my PR in 2009, I did two 16 milers and two 18s. I know, most runners would think that was overkill for a half marathon, but there’s a lot of confidence in running that far and then getting to race day knowing you ONLY have to go 13. But again, this is a function of both Little G and I coming off of injury. We just didn’t have that many weeks to come back from a summer of very limited running.

What will I do again?

  • The hill repeats–can you tell I found those useful?
  • I liked some of the interval workouts from the first schedule we tried, so I might borrow some of those for my next schedule, but a 4-day week of running works best for me. I like to run Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Little G likes to run Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Eventually I would like to add a fifth day but I’d like to be better healed before I do that.

What did I do wrong, and what will I do differently next time?

  • I didn’t do enough race-pace tempo runs. The shorter intervals are necessary to develop speed, but the race-pace runs are necessary for me to feel that pace out. I stink at knowing what my own pace is, and I end up having to watch Garmie like a hawk so I know how fast I’m running. I’d still probably do that to some degree since I end up speeding up during the race (you can look at my mile splits and see that) but at least I’d know what an 8:15 mile feels like, sustained over 8 miles.
  • I’d prefer not to train for a half marathon with only ten weeks of room. It’s certainly doable, and I’m happy that with only that many days, I logged a 1:52. But I would have liked to have four weeks of base building before a respectable sixteen weeks of training. That would have given me room for more tempo runs and those longer runs I missed.
  • I need to do a better job of refueling after the longer runs. Now that my migraines seem better controlled through medication, this may not be as much of an issue, but both Little G and I are putting together post-race lists so that we’ll never be caught post-run without an orange or a can of soda.

What have I learned?

  • That my body is still responding to training.
  • That running isn’t the most important thing in my life. I love to be fast, but I’m a mother, a wife, and a servant of God. So while I’m willing to schedule some hard workouts and some crazy long runs, I will not put this sport first. If that means 1:48:56 is my half marathon PR for life, that’s okay.
  • That some of the fun in running for me is to see the stars, to talk to my friend, and, sometimes, to be alone while I sweat. I cannot work hard all the time. I don’t love speed enough. It’s good to know that.
  • I love the half marathon distance. I’ll probably run another marathon someday, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a maniac. The half is where it’s at for me. In fact . .

What’s next?

. . . is quite possibly another half marathon, maybe even quite soon. The delight of the 13.1-mile distance is that you can train and race it a few times within a season, because it doesn’t drain you the way a marathon does. So Little G and I are thinking of finding another local race to try. This isn’t about redemption because we didn’t log a personal best or anything like that. It’s just that our next big event isn’t until early March, and we’d like to race again sooner than that. Little G was planning to run the marathon in Houston, and that seems unlikely to happen now,** so we want to assuage our disappointment by running a fun half together somewhere soon. We’re both almost giddily happy with the possiblities.

In addition to that, I’m planning to run our local Thanksgiving Day race for the first time, as well as our local Christmastime 10k. Both of these are fun events, which I’m not planning to set personal bests at, though I will do my level best at both.

*The last two of the bridge interval sessions asked us to jog gently down the bridge. Practicing running downhill is important, but it is also an enormous stress on the joints.

**Little G is still finding that running long distances, and especially racing long distances, is extremely stressful on her still-healing right foot. She is reluctant to go all the way to Houston just to find she cannot appropriately race 26.2 miles, and I can’t say I blame her. We are considering finding a fall marathon we can race together in 2012.

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