(Disclaimer: I'm not a coach, though I want to be! What you read below is my ideas gleaned from reading, research and personal experience. But I will say...if you give any of these a try -- they will work! ;--) )
Hard to believe we are almost into June, isn't it? Despite May being one of the better months of the year to run, it's also become one of the busiest months on my personal calendar. As a result, I only managed to run seven times during the month for a total of 42 miles.
On a positive note, I did complete the Indy Mini on May 2 and a week later ran 28:00 to set a new 5K PR, so it was at least kind of productive! I was planning on running a 5K this weekend but my back has been really stiff for the last couple of days, so I decided to bag it. I ran 3.2 miles today and was so stiff and sore I could manage an 11:06 pace. Ugh.
With summer starting, I've begun reassessing my training and I am still hopeful about breaking two hours for the half later on this year. Though I haven't been running a lot, I've done my best to keep up on blogs I enjoy, and a few people have made a run at their half PR already in 2015. Some have made it, and a couple didn't, but still had good runs that put them in position that it could be done.
One thing I've noticed in reading some posts is that some people who are good runners take multiple shots at a goal, like, say, breaking two hours, and fall short, but never change up how they do things. Improvement comes from finding what works for you but also breaking out of your comfort zone.
When I set my PR of 1:42:36 at the Indy Mini in 2007, it was the result of four months of consistent training at about 25 miles per week, and I was so strong that day my final 5K (miles 10-13.1) and 10K (miles 6.9-13.1) were very near my PRs for those distances. When I set my marathon PR of 4:07 at Chicago in 2005, it was while working with a coach that gave me some great training advice, including having me run three 20-mile training runs. Those were huge, and I'll explain why.
But let's talk about a few things that you can change up that might make a big difference as you move towards your goal race.
*Pick a fast track and a big field. I was reading a blog post recently by a runner that had wanted to break two hours, and in two straight halfs this person missed their goal by less than 15 seconds. In the post this person mentioned two things that caught my eye: one was that the race had a huge hill at the end, and the other was that some of the course was a crushed gravel trail. And, the race only had a few hundred participants, so this person spent time running alone.
None of those things are conducive to a PR race, are they? Try to find a paved, flat course for your goal race, and while you don't have to run a "mega" race, do some research. Look at past results of a race you have in mind and see if previous races had a decent sized group of people in the time frame in which you want to run. Then show up and work together...did you know that running directly behind or at the shoulder of another person (not side-by-side) improves your efficiency by 10-15 percent?
*Only have one goal at a time. If you are training for a marathon, train for a marathon. If you are training for a goal race half, train for that. See where I'm going? It's always good to run tune-up races on the road to a marathon, but your expectations should lean towards how that race helps you run the marathon, and a half is a great measuring stick for that. Still, if you are in Week 12 of a marathon training cycle and you try to have a breakthrough half, that's going to be hard.
That's because marathon training is hard! And the longer you go into a marathon training program, the less bounce your legs are going to have. Most training programs are a circular process that taxes our bodies and includes just enough recovery to keep us going. Sure, you could try to taper, but cutting mileage in the middle of a marathon training cycle makes some people nervous. In the end, a week or 10-day taper into a half would have little to no effect on your marathon, but is it worth the risk?
*Train fast. If you want to race fast, you have to train fast. That doesn't mean you have to find a track to do speedwork, but to pick up speed, try throwing some fartleks in the middle of your runs, or up the tempo every so often for a minute or two. Or do a hill workout...the great Frank Shorter calls hill workouts "speedwork in disguise". Find a hill, run a couple of miles warm-up, run reps on the hill, then run a couple of miles to cool down.
If you do decide to head to the track, look online for some pace calculators that will tell you how fast you should be running your repeats. One of my favorites is McMillan Running. One mistake we all make, me included, is running repeats too fast or too slow. Look to nail your times, and you will get a lot of confidence.
*Forget the LSD. Breaking two hours in the half marathon requires a pace of 9:10 per mile, but a lot of people don't run that fast in training. If you don't do that in training, how can you do that in the race?
When I ran my marathon PR in 2005, I was being coached by a woman named Lisa Menninger. You can read up about Lisa here. One of the things that makes Lisa a good coach is that she didn't start running until she was in her 30s, so she gets it when it comes to balancing running with work and family. In fact, if I decide to work with a coach again, which I will probably do soon, I may go back to working with Lisa. She is that good.
Anyway, one thing she had me do was run three 20-milers (as I've mentioned). One reason was to instill confidence in the distance -- which it did -- and the other was for more endurance (and it worked). She instructed me to also run several miles -- usually 5-7 miles -- in the middle at or below race pace. When race day came, it all worked, and while I didn't reach my goal of breaking four hours, it wasn't for lack of preparation.
*Go long, go often. That is the perfect segue into this tip. You don't necessarily have to run the entire distance, but you should come close, and come close more than once. That means you should run 11-12 miles a couple of times before your goal race. And if you are really experienced, push that to 14-15.
By now you are saying to yourself...dude, what about injuries? If I do these things, won't I run a higher risk of getting hurt? It's possible, I guess, but I'm not telling you that you should go all-out and run 50, 60 or even 100 miles a week. What I'm telling you is that it doesn't hurt to change things up and step above what is comfortable for you. That's where results come from.
And not only that, stepping up your training brings you lots of things, the biggest of which is this...
*Confidence! When you step to the line, you don't want to be saying "man, I hope this happens", you want to say to yourself "I've got this!". And the more you push the belief of what you think you are capable of, the more confident you will feel on race day.
The great marathoner Khalid Khannouchi -- who twice set the World Record in the marathon -- would finish his Sunday long runs by going the last 2-3 miles 10-15 seconds below his marathon race pace. Which meant he was finishing his runs at a 4:20-4:25 pace! Khannouchi once said that the night before he would do those runs he would have so much anxiety about it he couldn't sleep and would sometimes get physically ill.
But you know what? It gave him a confidence that made him one of the best closers the marathon has ever seen. If you search out some of his races on YouTube, you see the other runners trying to just hang in there and maintain a pace, while Khalid is pushing the pace and dropping the hammer. Running that way in training meant that he knew in a race he could reach down into that well further than anyone he was racing, and that is pretty powerful.
In running, confidence is power, and if you throw a few of these wrinkles into your training, you'll take a lot of newfound confidence to your next race!