Friday, December 16, 2016

Ready to Race!

It's the Friday before my first-ever half-marathon on Sunday, and I've learned a surprising amount during my last week of training.

Let's rewind a bit, to last summer when I finally decided to commit to some real triathlon goals, the first being to do a 70.3, and I chose O'side 70.3 on 1 April 2017.  Given my difficulties with the run, I added an interim goal of a half-marathon race, and I chose the Holiday Half on 18 December 2016.

Initially, my run training had three simple goals:
  1. Become physically able to do two hours running without pain.
  2. Improve my metabolic capacity.
  3. Improve my speed (to spend less time running).
To accomplish these, I initially chose a two-pronged training approach:
  1. Do long, easy runs to build up leg tolerance and contact time.
  2. Do short, hard intervals to build speed and metabolic capacity.
This approach worked really well, permitting me to make major injury-free gains:
  • I regained the 10K speed I had about 8 years ago (yeah, I had really slacked off on the run training).  
  • I became able to run well over an hour with minimal mechanical discomfort (muscles and joints were OK, though I was huffing and puffing like an old horse).
Implicit in this improvement was getting my cadence up to reduce the impact and muscle recruitment associated with each stride.  My running went from "thud, thud, thud" to "tap, tap, tap".

One thing I avoided during this phase was training for a "run-walk" race style.  I freely gave myself permission to walk when needed, but never as a planned part of my race.  Typically, I'd walk for 30-60 seconds at the turn-around point in my run just to be sure I could do it well enough (many injuries occur when returning to run speed after a brief walk).

Last Sunday I finally did my first 10 mile run (two laps around Lake Miramar, 9.8 miles actual).  I intentionally started out easy, and I comfortably held a 10:00 average pace. But about 8 miles in I realized I had some extra gas in the tank, but was unable to pick up my pace!  It seemed my legs had decided they wanted to stay at the 10 minute pace, and they weren't going to change.

It seemed there was no way I could break 2 hours on my race.  A 10 minute run pace (with no walking) means a 2:11 finish.  To break 2 hours I'd need a 9:00 pace, a full minute per mile faster, and I didn't see a last-minute 10% improvement being a realistic expectation.

Since this week has been my taper week, my runs have been shorter, so I decided to see if I could make them faster, to let me do a little more work on both pacing and my metabolic capacity.  I did a 5K Thursday evening with the intent to do the first 1.5 miles as a best-effort sprint, then return at whatever pace seemed sustainable.  Despite some serious fatigue at the end of 1.5 miles, I still averaged a 9 minute average pace for the total distance!

So I'm left with two significant questions: If I start the race at a 9 minute pace, will my legs lock in to it, and will my metabolism support it all the way to the finish?

I think I'm going to go for it, and let myself briefly walk when/if needed.

The main reason for this decision is that this half-marathon and 70.3 are steps toward my goal of doing at least one full-Ironman in my life, preferably before the end of 2017.  Which means my run must enter all-new territory: The only way I'll survive 26 miles after a 120 on the bike will be to run fast and efficient, to get to the finish line before it falls apart either mechanically or metabolically.

I seriously doubt I'll be able to endure more than a 4 hour marathon after a 120 mile ride.  If it's not at least that fast, then it will likely be hours slower.

A 4-hour marathon is roughly a 9 minute pace.  If I can get close to that Sunday, then it should be an achievable marathon goal.

Run speed is my new best friend.

Update: I did 2:13:49, about what my training predicted.  But I hadn't trained on hills, and I beat myself up a bit on the first 4 miles, going way too fast downhill (6:30) and struggling too hard uphill.  By mile 8 I was power-walking up each hill.  So getting this result with all those mistakes tells me I should be able to reach sub-2:00 on a flat course.

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