My high school cross country coach told me that you see your biggest improvement in the second year of running. I could definitely understand why, unless you are just a natural born runner, which most people aren’t. But I would never imagine that I would see such a huge improvement after running my second..half marathon. In the Carlsbad Half Marathon, my first race of 2010, and first one as a proud member of the Brooks ID program, I ran one of the smartest and fastest races I could have ever imagined. Official results: 1:28:53 (PR), 6:47 min/mile; place: 6/143 AG, 102/7105 overall. Flashback two months ago after my first half marathon: 1:38, almost 10 minutes faster! My goal for the first race was to break 1:30 and I was on pace to do so for the first 7-8 miles, but flopped. My goal for this race was to break 1:35, much more reasonable. What happened instead? Not only did I shatter my goal of 1:35, but I reached my goal from the first half. I think there are a lot of factors that contributed to my success, which I will get into below, but some of the things that helped was: not getting discouraged from a disappointing first half, ‘getting back on the horse’ and just running, longer runs with less speed work, and of course, being encouraged by runners from all over. As always, I’m very grateful for the last part.
Training Program..or Lack thereof
In preparation for my first half marathon, I was recommended a great training program, ‘Ryan Hall’s Half-Marathon Training Plan’. I followed the plan very closely including intervals and found myself able to run very fast for about 5-7 miles. However, come race day, I was on pace to break my goal until mile 7 or so, which got me thinking, ‘I need to stop running fast for a short distance, but focus on what I’ve never been good at: distance’. So I opted not to follow any particular training program this time. What also spurred me to do this was that I didn’t think I would have been able to follow every workout. The holidays were coming up, I knew I would be visiting home and running would be even harder then. So what I did during this time was run a little bit less, but I tried my to increase my mileage and build up on the base miles I ran for the past couple of months. And although my times were significantly slower during these runs, I was still able to use the speed I have had for most of my running career.
The Carlsbad Half Marathon is the first race of the Half Marathon Triple Crown series in San Diego. After running the 5K during the AFC Half Marathon (third race in the series) in 2009, I had decided that I would try and accomplish that for 2010. Goal 1 of 3 accomplished!
From what others have said about the race and reading the race description on the website, the Carlsbad Half is a very scenic, fast and (fairly) flat course with fast times and a perfect place to PR. Although I wanted to improve over the last race, this sounded like a race where I should run really fast, which just added to the pressure. You’re running along the ocean for most of the race and you could literally distract yourself by looking to your left or right. The support is also very good too, live music throughout the course and spectators dispersed, not just at the start/finish. I have to agree, although they were not necessarily cheering for me, individually, hearing others around us was a lot better than trudging along, isolated on an empty road.
What I’m noticing more often about bigger races: parking is really bad! It was about 30 minutes before the start of the race and I was still in my car, only 1 mile away from the destination, but stuck behind a bunch of other runners trying to get to the parking lot. I finally got into the parking lot with 15 minutes to spare. I used my jog to the starting line as my warm-up, which was good enough for me. I also had a granola bar and banana for breakfast during the drive, hoping that was enough for the race. What was new for me was that the race was going off in waves. I was put in wave 2, but the 1:35 pacer was in wave 1 so I snuck into their group and hung out near him during the start.
The race got under way and as usual, I spent the first couple hundred meters getting myself in position, running around people. But eventually, I got settled and felt pretty comfortable. There were quite a few people running with the pacer, but I was able to run next to his side for a while. One advice I was given about this race (which could be used for any race) was to not get out too fast and you’ll be able to pick up the pace later on in the race, when you still have gas in the tank. I noticed the pacer talking to one runner a couple of times, giving her tips during the hills and declines. For a second, I thought about leaving one earbud off, just to hear what he was saying, but chose not to. We hit a 7:12 first mile, just under pace to hit 1:35.
It was a lot hotter during my first half compared to this one. In fact, the weather was probably perfect for running, with the exception to a little bit of wind in the beginning. Because of the heat in the first half, I stopped by each water station to try and stay hydrated. This time, I had a full bottle of water before the race and although I needed to use the restroom before the race, I decided not to stop for anything during the race. I did get some water after mile 10, but didn’t get to swallow much of it. Since heat wasn’t an issue and I had enough water before the race, I saved a lot of time not slowing down at each water station. In fact, I used them to: pass others who did slow down to get water and speed up from the cheering and energy from the volunteers and spectators. They were passing out water, energy drinks, gu, and even oranges at one station.
On My Own..Sort of
I was with the pacer for the first couple of miles when all of a sudden, he stopped on the side of the course! What had happened before was the girl he was ‘coaching’ had fallen back. For a while, I thought to myself, ‘what should I do? Should I slow down so they could catch up, or just go on my own?’ I decided to just keep going and see how I would fare on my own, a very risky move on my part. Another reason why I decided to just keep going was that I still felt really good. Before the race, I was freaking out about trying to run 13.1 miles at 7:15 pace since I hadn’t been able to do that on my runs for quite some time. But everything was working out: weather, breathing, and hydration.
I looked around to find someone else to run with to make sure that I didn’t slow down or fall back too much. But what was happening was the person I was running with kept falling back. I was trying to help out by slowing down slightly to try and get the runner to catch up. What it could have also been was that I may have picked it up just a little bit. So what I did next, (which I still can’t believe), was surge a little bit and run next to the person in front of me. I actually did this for most of the race and it worked out beautifully! I was catching up to people, passing them and just getting faster as the race went on; as opposed to slower like my previous race. All of this wouldn’t have happened if I had started too fast, which I wanted to for a split second. When the race started, I looked up and saw a lot of people in front of me and I thought, ‘can these people really sustain that pace?’ They may have, but I was able to catch up and pass a good number of them along the way
At mile 8, I thought, ‘only 5 miles left, this is easy; I’ve been doing 5 mile runs for the past couple of months!’ I had also planned to take a water break at mile 10, so I had something else to look forward to. So once I got to mile 10, even though there was still a whole 5k left, it felt to me like I was coming down the finishing stretch of a race. I felt that I ran such a great race so far, I wouldn’t be too sad if I started to fall back at this point (probably a lie..) Just before mile 13, I had started to feel pretty winded, but not to the point where I had to stop, but the way you feel at the end of a tempo run: fast, but relaxed. I was breathing a lot louder than before though and I did start to slow down until a girl runner had just caught up to me. I didn’t really feel like getting ‘chicked’ , so I started picking up the pace and at this time we turned to the finishing stretch where I started my kick. I passed one or two more runners and then cruised it in. Right before I crossed the line though, I saw the clock just turn 1:29 and I thought, ‘is that right?’ I was so happy with the time, I forgot that it was the gun time rather than the net time: 1:28:53, even better!
I would have been happy to hit 1:35, but to run almost 10 minutes faster than my last half never even crossed my mind. I know sub-1:30 is a pretty tough time to hit, no matter how much and how hard you train. When I tried to hit that time in my first half and failed miserably, I didn’t think I would ever get close to that goal time for a while. Now that I’ve broken that time barrier, what do I do? 1:25 or just try to run the same way I did this time and see what happens? Most likely, this was a onetime thing where everything clicked, which means a race like this doesn’t happen all the time. I have a 5K, the Carlsbad 5000 and my next half, the La Jolla Half Marathon both in April. I probably need to find something else to do during that 2 month gap or else I’ll go crazy. I really want to try getting out and running some trails in addition to running longer miles to build up my base.
My take away from this race: don’t dwell on past races, keep training hard and just run smart. That last part is something I haven’t done in a while but will definitely strive to do in the future.