Half-Marathon Training: Week Eight

nyc_half_w8I can’t believe I’m at week eight already – the first two months have zipped by but it’s clear from my recent runs that the program is working. The speed sessions have given me the ability to produce an extra kick when really needed and the long runs have gradually increased my stamina.

The biggest challenge this week will be the ten mile run at the weekend, but this should not present any major difficulties following my recent 9 mile run and provided I follow my typical run-day preparations. My training plan prescribes a tempo run on Tuesday, followed by a typical 5 mile effort on Wednesday. Monday and Thursday will again be reserved for strength and cross training, incorporating cycling and swimming respectively. Saturday is going to be a short paced run, followed by that long 10 mile effort on Sunday morning. As last week, I may switch the order of the two weekend runs depending on other commitments.

Although I have maintained a consistent level when it comes to the bicycle cross training, the workload during swimming practice on Thursdays has increased each session. I expect this to continue as my coach pushes me to learn the basic strokes and develop both kick and arm strengths, so I am curious to see how this effects my running.

9 Miles

9miles_001This weekend promised to be a tough challenge, featuring a 9 mile run – the farthest distance I have ever undertaken and something I would never have believed possible a few months ago. Thankfully, the weather cooperated to a certain extent and by the time I set off from my building at 7:45 this morning there was no snow on the ground and just a light fall from the sky.

Wrapped up in my tights, long sleeve undershirt, wooly hat, and windcheater, I made my way to the West side of the park and the starting point for my 9 mile run. The plan was to complete a full circuit, returning to the start point on the West side. From there, my path would take me down the West side for a second time but differing slightly in that it cut across Terrace Drive and returned up the East side to finish by the Guggenheim. The course was extremely undulating, with at least a half dozen long uphill drags to test out my stamina and strength throughout the run.

The first few miles went by quickly and easily, and I was in line with my typical run pace by the time I hit three miles. Taking advantage of the relatively easy East side from 86 St., I upped my speed and made back some time that would help me on the tougher Harlem Hills section to come. By the time I completed the full loop, I was well on pace for my target time and still felt as though I had plenty of gas in the tank. The second trip down the West side was a little tougher because of the two long inclines, but the downhill stretch around the 70’s helped to move my time back within the target range.

As I turned onto Terrace Drive and passed the (mental) 8-mile marker, I knew I had it in me to finish within my target. Despite the tough uphill finish around the boathouse and past the Museum of Modern Art, I still had enough energy to sprint the last stretch and sneak across the line in just under 80 minutes.

On the jog home I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud of what I had accomplished. When I think back to those early days a year ago, just starting out and barely able to complete a full mile without a walking break, today’s achievement felt like something special. To do it inside my 9 minute mile pace just made that bit sweeter.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Seven

nyc_half_w7This week steps things up again after a relatively easy week six. Despite the race on Sunday, there’s no real rest until Friday. According to the training plan, Monday is focused on strength and conditioning. With the addition of swimming to Thursday’s list of activities, I have backed off the bicycle a little and will swap some of that time for pool time to allow me practice time. Tuesday is another speed session, with 8 quarter mile sprints interspersed between 9 quarter mile jogs. Wednesday’s easy run also increases from 4.5 miles to 5 miles.

Saturday and Sunday are reserved for a short 4 mile run and a longer 9 mile run – notable in that it will be the longest distance I will have ever run. Although the schedule calls for them in that order, I am flipping to two days to free up some personal time. I can’t see there being any harm in juggling runs like that; although the forecast is predicting snow for the weekend, so who knows how things will pan out.

Gridiron Classic

gridiron_001This morning’s Gridiron Classic took place amid perfect conditions in the park. It’s days like this that make outdoor running a treat and help me produce exceptional performances that continue to improve upon my previous best.Today’s race was scheduled to start at 9am, slightly later than typical race schedules but the opportunity to grab an extra hour in bed was very much appreciated.

Starting on the East side around 68th St., the course wound up the East side and across the 102nd St. transverse. The initial stretch took in a slight incline as the path approached the museum and then leveled off until we turned southbound on the West side. My split times were looking good through the first half of the race, hitting the first mile at 8:20 and the second mile at 16:30. I knew I had plenty in the gas tank for a short 4 mile course and was looking to produce a fast time, somewhere below 33 minutes.

Even though I have run the park on a number of occasions, for some reason the hills on the West side really took a lot out of me over the remainder of the course. I definitely clawed back some time on the downhill stretches, but with at least two long drags in the second half of the race there was very little opportunity for me to pull more time back and set a really blazing speed.

I covered the third mile in 8:15 and as I approached the finish at West 68 St., had barely enough left to cross the line in just under 33 minutes. Despite the struggles, it was still my best time and pace for a race in the few short months I have been running. That’s all I can really ask for at this point.

Swimming

swim001I have always loved the water, but oddly enough have never learned to swim. I am pretty comfortable in depths where I can touch the bottom and when using a floatation device such as noodle beyond that. On a recent trip to Brazil I thoroughly enjoyed getting tossed around by the high surf (waves running up to 15 ft at times), primarily because my anxiety was kept relatively in check due to the general shallowness of the water. On a couple of occasions I have pushed myself to swim outside my comfort zone, in depths where I could not touch the bottom and without the aid of a flotation device. Although successful, it took a lot of effort and required me to keep moving at all times.

The problem, like with so many beginners, is that I get very tense and feel like I have to keep moving otherwise I feel as if I will sink. Unfortunately, I never learned the basics of floating nor how to execute a simple kick or stroke. Instead I flail about using all my energy but without really getting anywhere. Over a distance of a few meters that may work, but drop me in the middle of a lake and ask me to swim a half-mile to shore … not a chance!

Jess and I had discussed swimming lessons a while back and I looked around for opportunities. I eventually found an instructor whose rates were excellent and whose schedule matched mine. Following a cross training session last Thursday, I met him at the pool for an assessment and he proceeded to put me through my paces for an hour. He made the lesson very interesting and also helped my to feel extremely comfortable in the water, more so than I ever have in the past. Tomorrow is my first full lesson and I expect a thorough workout, so I am reducing my cross training and strength sessions to a minimum. I don’t want to over-train but will continue to work on my upper body strength with some weights until I can feel the swimming has a greater effect.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Six

nyc_half_w6Week six eases off a little in terms of distance and intensity. The training plan asks for a tempo run early in the week and two easy 4 miles efforts and the start and end. Luckily for me, the monotony of 4 mile treadmill runs is broken up this weekend as the NYRR Gridiron Classic takes place on Sunday morning. Meanwhile Saturday’s long run is only 6 miles.

This week also see’s a slight change in my cross training schedule. As I mentioned previously, I have started taking swimming lesson’s and that will take the place of the bicycle portion of Thursday’s strength and conditioning session.

The first five weeks of training have been a significant increase in my general workload and have taken an increasing amount of time out of my schedule. At times it’s a challenge to fit everything in, so I am going to have to start paying attention to non-running related activities to make sure they do not get neglected.

Easing Off

easing_off_001Today’s run was supposed to be 8 miles, but given that my legs were feeling like lead and my knees were a bit sore, I decided to ease off a little and stop after only 7 miles. Towards the end of the run I actually felt alright, but didn’t want to push it too much and risk injury now that I’m only six weeks away from the half-marathon.

I had also introduced swimming as a new element to my training plan, and it’s possible my body was going through some adjustments at the time. Better to play it safe and get back on track the following week.

Speed Work

speed_work_001I have found that Wednesday’s are my least favorite training day, mainly because of the intensity required for the speed work on that day. The other three runs in a typical week are paced runs, starting at 4 miles and increasing in length on Sunday’s. Paced run’s are quite easy – I tend to take them at about 80% effort, raising my heart rate to the high 140’s for the duration. The purpose of these runs is to log miles, build stamina, develop good habits, and ultimately condition my body and mind to deal with the rigors of long distance running.

Speed work is a different animal. Running at the same pace all the time builds stamina for distance. Speed work is a valuable tool in a runner’s training arsenal, and is the only way to condition the body to run at a fast pace. For anyone interested in improving their race times (and that includes myself), speed work will add an additional gear or two to the runner’s motor that they can use during races.

For the purposes of the half-marathon, my speed work consists of alternating quarter mile stretches jogging and sprinting. The following table provides a guideline for pace setting during speed work:

Distance Pace
200 meters 112-115%
400 meters 108-112%
800 meters 105-108%
1 mile 103-105%

 

My typical run pace is 6.66 mph or roughly 9 minutes per mile, which is equivalent to 2:15 for a quarter mile. Using the high end of the speed pace guidelines, I should be running 400 meters at 7.46 mph or approximately two minutes. Just for fun, I actually round that number up and set my sprint speed to 7.5 mph. for the jogging intervals, I tend to drop my pace to 6.3 mph to aid my recovery and ensure I have something in the tank for the next sprint. In addition, I increase the workload every other week by adding one extra quarter mile sprint.

Now that I am on week six, my interval training consists of nine quarter mile jogs surrounding eight quarter mile sprints – total of 4.25 miles. By the end of the session I am completely wiped out, I literally have nothing left in the tank. It’s a good thing that the next two days on my training plan consist of circuit training and a well deserved rest.

Note: speed work is great for improving running times, but it can also be the cause of a wide variety of running injuries. Speed work should only be added to a training plan once the runner has developed a sufficient level of strength and stamina to support intense athletic activity. The training program described here has been tailored for my personal goals. Please consult a certified coach or medical professional before embarking on a similar training plan of your own.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Five

nyc_half_w5Week four required a little more effort than the first three, but that does not mean I get to take it easy now. Rather, the training plan for week five continues to increase the workload as the second of my incremental increase weeks before a smaller workload for a week. As always, Monday and Thursday focus on strength and cross training. Depending on how I feel, I will do two circuits of the strength program or 30 minutes on the bike and one circuit.

Tuesday’s run is again 4.5 miles, while Wednesday’s speed work alternates quarter mile jogs and sprints. Given that my typical run pace is 6.7 MPH, I take the quarter mile jogs at 6.3 MPH and the sprints at 7.5 MPH. Saturday is a 4 mile run, followed by a lengthy 8 miler on Sunday morning to round out the week.

I have some personal engagements this week, so will have to work to move things around so that my training does suffer. I try to take my runs at least 24 hours apart, but have some flexibility when it comes to the strength programs.

Snow Fun

snow_fun_001Today was a day of firsts for a number of reasons. Up until this morning my training program has enabled me to take all my runs on the treadmill at my gym. I don’t mind running on the treadmill, but had set myself a limit of 6 miles. Anything over that and I figured I would be better off outside – provided conditions cooperated. With a 7 mile run on the cards for this morning, I felt like that was too much treadmill and I would get more out of running in the park. Add in the wintery mix of snow and sub-zero temperatures that descended on the city this weekend, and this was lining up to be a real thrill ride! Luckily, the conditions in the park were not too bad, thanks in part to the previous days New York Road Runner’s Manhattan half-marathon that went ahead, if only as a fun run.

I got up around 7:30 AM and decked myself out in my cold weather gear – long sleeve Under Armor shirt and Snoogi tights, in addition to a knitted hat and gloves. The park itself is just over 6 miles around the full loop, so I backtracked a half mile in a slow jog as a warm up – allowing myself to finish reasonably close to my exit. The route itself was familiar, having recently completed a similar loop during the Joe Kleinerman 10K. The Harlem Hill was a bit of a slog, as was the long drag in the East side. In both cases I managed to keep going, without the aid of pacemakers that a race situation provides – all the while motivating myself with the knowledge that completing the run would be a large step in my training and preparation for the half-marathon.

In the end, I completed the 7 mile run in 61 minutes – a couple of minutes better than my typical pace of 9 minutes per mile. I felt good at the end, the cold conditions definitely made it a little easier than a run in hot or humid weather. My recovery times continue to get better, with my heart rate and breathing having returned to something close to normal by the time I doubled back and exited the park. I even managed to jog back to my building from the park, rather than walk as would normally be the case.

Mentally, I had overcome a big obstacle in managing a long run by myself. With many more to come between now and November, today’s run gave me the confidence to push on to the next level.