Swim: 3,000 m/96,745 m
Bike: 40.6/923.8 miles
Run: 15.5/303.3 miles
Yesterday I finished up the fourth week of my 18-week half marathon training plan, and it’s been quite a ride so far. My running earlier this year followed the same basic formula – go out and run hard. That worked fine and my times had been dropping steadily, but the structure of the new plan has really focused me and added a new level of intensity and forethought to my running. (I’m following the FIRST plan outlined in the book “Run Less, Run Faster”.)
Let me say first that I love having a plan. I don’t have to think about how far I need to run or what pace I need to hit. It’s all spelled out for me in detail. (Of course, hitting those paces is not always so easy!) Some workouts have been easier than others, but I like knowing that they all have a specific purpose and that completing them as specified is making me a better runner.
Here’s a look at what I’ve discovered in the first few weeks:
The speed workout: These, by far, have been the hardest of the three weekly runs. In each workout I’m essentially running a total of 3 miles in the 6:00 – 6:20 range (the pace depending on the interval distance), with short recoveries between sets. Including warmup and cooldown, the sessions are about 6 miles total. For me, those paces are pretty much all-out – I’m not necessarily thinking about the pace I need to hit, but rather just going as hard as I can for the interval. I can generally hit early sets dead-on, or even faster, but I start slowing down as the session wears on and that can be frustrating.
It’s worth noting that I’ve been doing these workouts on hot, humid summer mornings, so some performance loss is to be expected. But the true indication of your ability is what you can crank out in the later sets, when you’re fatigued and ready to throw in the towel. Last week I actually did my speedwork on the treadmill because I wasn’t able to make it to the track in the morning and the afternoon heat was unsafe. In that case, it was easy for me to hit all the splits at a faster pace than recommended, even reaching into the sub-6:00 range. But, in general, the track is where I need the most improvement – a fact that makes sense because it’s where I’ve spent the least amount of time in my running career.
The tempo run: On the opposite end of the spectrum from the speed sessions, the tempo runs have generally been the easiest. My goal each week is to run the prescribed distance – between 3 and 5 miles, not including warmup and cooldown – at a hard pace, and I’ve been faster than the goal pace each time. It’s a hard effort, but it’s a short enough run to allow me to really open up without becoming too fatigued. These have been the most rewarding workouts as I’ve produced some of my fastest runs ever.
The only problem is that I’m often pretty exhausted at the end of the run, even though it only lasts about 35 minutes. It makes it mentally challenging to tackle a brick workout afterward, although this week I made myself go for a short ride after cooling down for about 20 minutes. So, not technically a brick, but still a solid 70 minutes of exercise.
The long run: It’s here that I’ve run into a bit of a gray area. My prescribed long run pace is 7:40, but I’ve generally been able to hit them faster, including my 9.5-mile run a couple weeks ago at 7:26. Part of me says that if I’m able to run these distances faster, why shouldn’t I be? I’m not training to run at a 7:40 pace, I’m training to hit in the 7:20s in my half marathon. But another voice inside says that the training is intended to increase aerobic fitness, so taking it a little slower on the long runs is what the body needs. I don’t run with Garmin to help me keep pace, but my goal is to aim for 7:40 on the long runs even when I feel like I can go faster.
Yesterday I hit my 9 miles at 7:39, but the distance was broken into smaller pieces with different characteristics. The first 4 were completed at 7:53 while pushing my daughter in the jogging stroller, the next 2 were a little faster at 7:48 as I covered some of my ‘hood’s bigger hills, and the last three were even faster (7:13) to help make up the slower times from earlier in the run. I found to it be a good strategy to break up the run like this rather than set out for 9 miles of the same pace.
Shoe update: After phasing in my new Saucony Kinvaras over the past few weeks, I am now using them on all my runs. They feel even better now than they did at the beginning – I guess they needed a short break-in period. I’ve been paying close attention to how my feet and legs feel after runs in case the shoes – which have a lower heel and less padding – start to cause issues. But they seem to fit my stride pretty well, a fact that was illustrated when I was pushing the jogging stroller yesterday. My stride was definitely affected and not as smooth, and I could tell that my feet were hitting the ground differently. It didn’t feel quite as smooth and efficient, but I guess pushing around a loaded stroller will do that. It felt great to finish up the run without the stroller at my normal stride.