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Half Marathon Training Goals and Training Woes

Posted Sep 25 2012 8:07am

My summer half marathon training has been . . . strange, to say the least.

Back in June, I was itching to run a half marathon. I was feeling like a fast runner for the first time since I started running in 2009. I almost spontaneously signed up for the Fairfield Half in Connecticut before realizing how annoying it would be to get to without money to stay in a hotel the night before and without my own car (which I now have, but didn’t then). But I was feeling really positive about my running and I wanted to run a half.

I signed up for the Newport Liberty Half Marathon which starts and ends right in fromt of my office, just a few minute jog from my apartment. Convenience + flat course + familiar territory + no commute. The PERFECT RACE.

After my surprise PR of 2:06 in the Queens Half Marathon last year, a race I wasn’t officially trained for (it happened to fall during the third weekend of marathon training), I became curious about what type of half marathon I could run if I actually trained the right way — with interval speedwork, tempo runs and whatever other jargon I see on my Twitter feed every day.

Maintaining my 9:30 pace felt practically easy that day, which was absurd to me. I ran my first half marathon in 2010 on my 27th birthday, the NYC Half Marathon , in 2:18. Much of that run was brutal, but I wanted to finish in under 2:20 and I was happy I did. Later that year, I ran the Divas Half Marathon . My public goal was 2:15. My secret goal was 2:10. I finished in 2:14.

Dori running 2010 NYC Half Marathon

I ran a few other halfs over the years. One was a couple of weeks after my first (2:24) and the others were part of marathon training ( Gretes and Staten Island ), so I was taking them especially slow. But like I said, after the Queens Half last year, I wondered. I wondered if I could hit a sub-2:00 half marathon.

I didn’t tell anyone for a long time because it seemed like such a reach. But when I did start telling a few people, I got encouragement. Everyone thought my goal was attainable. Well, if it was, I knew I needed to “train for real.”

Earlier this summer, I started a “real” plan for the first time with strategies like speedwork intervals and tempo runs. While I trained for races before, my training consisted of running X miles X times a week. I never pushed speed, did hill work or attempted tempo runs or Yassos or anything.

My intervals actually started off really well. Tempo runs, not so much. It turns out that whatever pace I start at is where my body levels, so if I want to run faster, I need to start faster. Not a big deal. But in the second or third week of my training, I went to the doctor for some pain that had been bothering me for a couple of months and as it turned out, I had bursitis caused by a bunion and I had to take a few weeks off running. When I came back to my running, I decided to forgo the speedwork and just get the miles in. I worried the increased pounding would aggravate my bunion.

But there was another problem. Every run was impossible. I even have a post drafted here called “Why is Running So Hard?” because every run, even shorter 3-milers, felt impossible. I was pushing as hard as I could and my pace hovered near 11:00. Running wasn’t fun and suddenly I was slower than I had been in a long time. With every short run I’d think, “This 3 miles feels harder than my entire marathon .”

That is not OK. It’s understandable for a few runs to feel harder than 26.2 miles, but every single run for weeks? Should not be.

That was drastic change from April when I surprisingly PR’d in a 10K and in June when I placed second in my age group in a 5K . How did my running get so much worse when I was actually trying to train properly!

I managed to get a few runs in, but they were all miserable. I even ran 12 miles in Cape Cod after I got engaged , on the most gorgeous, serene, fun dedicated bicycling and running path. It runs over 10 miles each way and it was ideal for a long run. I went for 12 that day, having completed an OK 10 the week before. The run was slow, my pace was close to 12:00 throughout. It sucked, but I did it.

I was frustrated, but keeping on with my training, and then something else happened. I was on a 5 mile run one morning and about halfway through my back started hurting. A lot. I took a shortcut on my way home because I needed to stop running as soon as possible, it hurt so badly. I rested for a few days and then when I went out for a 3 miler, it happened again.

So once again I was sidelined from my training for an injury. There really is ALWAYS SOMETHING. (In case you’re new here, in the past I suffered knee injuries and a hip injury.) It’s absurd. I’d been to the doctor for this before last winter, and she said it was a muscle strain. I knew I just needed rest and cut back on all activities.

I ran the Fitness Magazine Mind Body Spirit Games 4 mile race (I haven’t recapped it yet along with two other races – I hope to catch up) and did 6 miles first. It was a gorgeous day to run in Central Park, and because I was cold and excited about just having won free Birkenstocks (will explain in that recap!), I started off around 9:30 and stayed there. My back started hurting after 5 miles, but it wasn’t too bad and I was able to do well in the race, finishing it in 37:01.

The real problem came the next morning. I woke up with the worst back pain I’ve had since I went to the doctor for this back in February. I wanted to run this half marathon so badly, and I knew the only way would be to just rest all week. So I rested. It was hard for me to not go to Refine all the time because I love it so much, and it was hard for me not to run when I want to train for my race! But I know that my back feels better each day I do nothing.

Three days before the race, I got a $49 intro massage at a Massage Envy that happens to be located right between my apartment and my office. I usually go to my amazing sports massage therapist in Manhattan when something is bothering me, but I wanted to save money and I wanted convenience. Luckily, the massage therapist I had there was fantastic.

And I kept resting. If you’re like me and working out is just a part of your life — an important part of your life — you know how hard it is to do no workouts for so many days. But I had my goal — which admittedly had changed.

I knew I didn’t have a sub-2:00 half marathon in me. I didn’t think I could PR at all. At this point, I just wanted to run a race with as minimal pain as possible. This half marathon begins in front of my office, runs a block away from my apartment, goes through Liberty State Park and ends back by my office. In other words, the race is entirely on my new home turf. I walk down and cross over Washington Blvd every day, so running ON it would be awesome. I know this because it’s been awesome every time I have ever run through city streets, especially the ones I am most familiar with.

I was Gchatting with Theodora the week of the race. She told me she and our friend Rebecca would be running between 9:30 and 10:00 that day, and asked if I wanted to run with them.

“I’ll see how I feel when the race starts,” I told her. “If I feel bad, you’ll be way too fast for me. If I feel good, I might still try to PR.”

I didn’t tell her I might still try to sub-2:00 because I threw that goal away. But a PR is a PR and I am a different person on race day. I actually realized recently that it is racing I love, not running. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate running. I like it as an option for a workout I can do quickly in the morning without the hassle of going to a class. I like it as an option for a workout I can do anywhere. I like it as an option for exercising outside.

It’s an option.

But racing, I ADORE. It’s not an option, it is an addiction, I am always signing up for races (a terrible habit since I get injured or lazy and then don’t go to them sometimes). But I love it. The only reason I might ever do another marathon is because of the high I get from the race. I just wish I enjoyed the training more.

Dori running 2011 Richmond Marathon

It’s obviously so psychological, but I really am a different runner on race day. When I run, I have trouble pushing myself but when I race, I have trouble not pushing myself. When my friend Kai suggested I run a race not to to try PR but rather to “just enjoy it,” I realized that’s not why I do it. I enjoy it because I can push myself, achieve some goals and feel really happy about them after. I like knowing what I am capable of and seeing my improvement over time.

Like I said, I am a different runner on race day.

And I will leave you with that for now. My Newport Liberty Half Marathon 2012 recap is coming very soon. That’s actually what I thought I was doing right now, but clearly I got off track.

Until then, here are some unrelated good reads:

Buster Bluth "I'm a MONSTER" Arrested Development

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