Sunday, 12 February 2012

The 2012 First Half Half Marathon or How to prepare to race and earn a personal best

Today I burned a match. In my book of matches, today was the day where I decided to use the override button on my brain and push myself to crack the elusive 1 hour 30 mark for a half marathon.


A brief history of my half marathon race results (just to bring you up to speed)


I started running half marathons in 2004, at the First Half Half Marathon presented by the Pacific Road Runners of Vancouver. For that run, I was a newbie to distance running. I trained to run each mile, walk for 20 seconds. That was fine, and I remember completing it and feeling good, setting myself with a benchmark of 1 hour 42. This would be the result that I would have for about 3 years, in and around 1hour 42 and change. Until 2008. In 08, I would post up a time of 1:37:12, surprising myself with that result, 5 minutes faster than the previous 3 years. 2009 would have me shave only a minute off of my time, 1:36:10. I remember feeling like I left it all out there, but did not make much progress from the previous year.

In 2010, the Olympics were in Vancouver, so my beloved PRR First Half would be cancelled due to security restrictions and venue usage. So instead, I signed up for the Historic Half in Fort Langley, and managed to tap out a 1:30:08, again surprising myself and setting a serious personal best cutting 6 whole minutes off of my time. This was amazing--I was stunned and felt great. I think the Olympic spirit charged me up to put out that PB, and the downhill into Fort Langley along 88th did not hurt me in picking up some speed to the finish.

For 2011 I was recovering from shoulder surgery. I returned to the First Half, and was disappointed to post a 1:31:25, albeit with a metal plate in my shoulder, 6 months after my bike crash. I remember feeling poorly after the race last year, that I had given so much to come up short on what might be considered an easier course than the Fort Langley Climb-a-thon of 2010. Which brings me to this year, 2012.

How to prepare for a personal best result


This year my approach has been different. I have many more long runs in my legs earlier, and the long runs are up to 39kms in prep for the Chuckanut 50. The endurance is in my legs from the long distance, but my speed work has been limited to some short 8 and 10km races called the Fraser Valley Trail Series. No intervals, just trail races. Speed work is necessary in order to go fast and stay fast, and I have not put any time into intervals. Over the last few days, Sean's and my regular runs have been keeping us going through the week, with the races/long runs on the weekends.

So, in order to post up a PB like I did today, going from a 1:42:10 to a 1:27:30 in 8 years, just shy of 15 minutes, here is what I did, Cole's notes form:
  • Experience and knowing the course is a given
  • I have managed to lose 13 lbs since Christmas, managing my sleep and diet--no/less beer, no sweets, smaller portions
  • Drinking lots of water over the last few days
  • Getting to sleep around 10pm nightly 
  • Taking time to rest when I feel like I need it, not pushing myself to train when I am pooped
  • Eating a big bowl of pasta the night before the race 
  • Keeping my legs moving throughout the week, even at lower intensities
  • Taking 4 Sportlegs casules, oatmeal as breakfast, 1 gel before, 2 gels during the race
  • Using The Stick and compression socks and tights to aid in recovery. I ran in compression socks today.
  • Hitting the overide switch in my brain when things get really hard and tough--a brain function that cyclocross has allowed me develop. I managed to do this a number of times today
  • Develop a plan--time goals, pace goals, a ballpark time goal or time goal range. I called these my soft goal, and my hard goals. Today I had this. It helped.
Today I shot for a 1:25:00. I fell short. I feel great about the result. The funny thing is, I started running this half marathon in 2004, dreaming of running it faster. There have been many hard years that have left me dehydrated, sore for days, injured, in the fetal position clutching my stomach, running to the bathroom multiple times, feeling shattered.

Data from the First Half Half Marathon 2012

I feel like I have achieved my dream of running it faster. But now, where do I go? How much faster do I want to go? I ran a 4:09km pace. I did not think this possible a few weeks ago, let alone a few years ago. It is 5 seconds faster than my race last weekend at Derby Reach. That is impressive to me. Mike Murphy ran a      1 hour 13 and change today, good enough for 16th place overall. Today was hard, but now later in the day, I feel pretty good, a testament to my fitness perhaps. Do I look at achieving a 1 hour 25 for real next year? Or 1 hour 23? Right now I am content with my form and result. As I get older, I seem to be getting faster. Or more stubborn.

Today, the weather was wet, warm at 8 degrees, and overcast. Conditions were perfect for running, and I was overdressed with tights, and undershirt, long sleeve, light tights, gloves and a toque. I ditched the toque and gloves, and wished I could have taken off my shirt. The race went well, I slipped with my time a bit coming through the mile markers, but was only a few seconds. I was not too concerned when I did the math to see that I was only 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 45 seconds, down on my time checks, knowing that I was staying within reach of my hard goal. My pace fluctuated greatly over the course, all within about 20 or 30 seconds per km, as I would look down at my watch and see my pace per km displayed before me 3:53, 4:02, 4:09, 4:19, 4:26, 4:15. The day mostly went like that. I had to keep telling my legs to "Move dammit", concentrating on form and consistency. I think that was one of my goals for the day--to be consistent from start to finish. Coming through each mile marker was tough, thinking after each one "I have how many more miles to do?" I knew that if I could get to the halfway point by my time goal, I would be in good shape to set up for a PB. 

KM Time Checks:

5km           = 20:36
10km         = 41:26
Halfway     = 44:04
15km         = 1:02:56
20kms       = 1:24:10
21.1km     = 1:27.30

By the numbers, I ran an negative split half marathon, running the second half faster by nearly 40 seconds. I have not done that before. Aren't people supposed to slow down as the race goes on? For now, I am content.


After the race, the relief of finishing was immense. Crossing the line, I tried to catch my breath, closed my eyes and attempted to keep standing upright without hitting the pavement. I walked over to the Powerade and Powerbar tables to down some shots of goodness to help begin the recovery. At the bag collection, I changed into my dry, comfortable clothes, but had trouble getting my shoes off for the cramps in all parts of my legs: toes, feet, ankles, calfs, hamstrings, quads. I had trouble taking off my race clothes and shoes, and had to walk in circles to keep my muscles from becoming guitar strings. I suspect that the hard effort is the reason that I feel so shattered this evening. Tomorrow and the next day will be awesome days to recover, rest, replenish and recharge.