Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Things I Learned from Last Week's Half Marathon

Finally, on Thursday I began to get over my disappointment from an awful finish in the previous Saturday's half marathon.

Gail finished in 2:18:01, which is a new PR for her. I finished at 2:03:04, which is about five minutes off of my PR. I ran out of energy at around mile 11 and spent the last 2.1 miles watching dozens of runners pass me on their way to the finish. This was very tough emotionally and it weighed on me for several days. But, I've moved past the disappointment and realized that there is a lot that I learned from this half marathon.

First, I learned that race management is just as important as training. Gail and I had driven the course and were prepared for the hills. But, we didn't think about using knowledge about the course to develop a strategy for running the race. This was an incredibly deceptive course, dropping almost 200 feet in altitude over the first three miles. That means that everyone came out fast, incredibly fast for us. The bulk of the field started out at a 7:30 pace and both Gail and I finished the first 5k at an 8:36 pace. I was feeling great at that point, which had me thinking that a finish below 1:55:00 was possible. So I maintained that 8:30 pace even as we regained that altitude (plus 300 more feet) over the next five miles. That climb plus the rolling hills starting at mile 7 sapped all of my energy just when there were two miles left to go.

The second thing that I learned is that my taper before the race had me in great shape for the start. In the two months leading up to the race both Gail and I were logging 30 - 32 miles a week pretty consistently. My training includes substantial hill work on Mondays and speed work on Wednesdays. Three weeks out from the race I began dropping the weekly mileage to 25 miles, then to 20, and then to 10 the week of the race. The first week I dropped the hill work and I dropped the speed work with 10 days to go. The week of the race I ran 3 miles over a flat course on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Because of the rest I continued to feel pretty good through mile 7. This contributed to the false sense of security that led me to maintaining too fast of a pace during for the first two thirds of the race.

Third, I learned that I have to hydrate at every available station during the race. Up until now, I would pass on the available water and sport drinks out of fear of having to stop and use the bathroom. Fighting that urge is an awful, awful feeling when you are chasing after a new PR. Part of my problem starting at mile 11 was that I was dehydrated and for the last two miles I was dying for something to drink. Taking advantage of every available drink station is something that I'll do from now on.

Finally, I learned that my nutrition needs just as much attention as training and race strategy. During this training cycle, I allowed my appetite to get the best of me too many times in the past three months which resulted in predictable cycles of over / under eating. After two months of this, I was finally getting it under control in the three weeks before the race. Then, during my training taper I put on 6 pounds, which I related to over eating. Thus, in the final 10 days before the race I was way too calorie conscious, which ultimately led to storing far less energy than I needed for the race. Moving forward, I'm being much more careful to match my days calorie intake to my calorie expenditure as measured by my Garmin Fenix3 watch. Then, during the taper before my next race I will be in a better position to ensure that my energy stores are filled to capacity. Given that my next two races are a half marathon in late October and a full marathon two weeks later (my first), getting the nutrition aspect right will be vital.

Thanks to my friends, family, and most importantly my wife Gail - for being so supportive with what is becoming one of the most important parts of my life - my running.

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