I have never considered myself a year-round runner until a few months ago. In college, when I started running, I dedicated time to running with the university running club during the Fall and Spring and time to basketball during the Winter and Summer. I graduated and left campus last year and this year I ran and trained consistently over the Summer for the first time.
The last time I ran 13.1 miles or even a 10 mile or longer training run was over 2 years ago. I no longer play basketball as often and consider this training cycle as a transition towards thinking of myself as more of a longer distance runner and half marathoner after focusing most of my first few years of running on improving in the shorter distances. It was also special to help my mom train for her first half marathon, which we both ran.
I can look back at these training recaps later and apply what I learned to future half marathon training plans. Most importantly, it is not so much about me, but about sharing my journey with you for insight and inspiration if you are a runner or considering to run your first half marathon!
Goal Finish Time, Peak Mileage and Long Runs
My goals changed so much during the whole plan. At the beginning, I set a goal finish time of under 1 hour and 45 minutes. Almost 3 years ago, I ran my first half marathon in just under 2 hours. I was still very unsure if I could maintain the goal pace (about 8:00 min/mi) for the whole half marathon distance. I wondered if I was training right and if that finish time goal was too aggressive. Some of my runs aimed at that pace went great and some went poorly, but I understand that training has its ups and downs. I still did not want to place too much pressure and expectations on myself, so I lowered my predicted goal race pace to between 8:20 and 8:30 min/mi.
I learned that, a beginner can likely complete a half marathon on 20 miles per week or less and a peak long run of 10 miles during training (like my mom did), but as you become experienced and your time goals advance, running a higher weekly mileage of say 30 to 40 miles or more and peak long runs of say 12 to 15 miles or more during training can help build endurance and running efficiency that carries over to a better half marathon race finish time.
As I mentioned in the previous training recap post, I started building up too late and did not reach as high mileage as I wanted to, 25 miles. I capped my long runs at 10 miles, because I read that long runs should be kept to between 20% and 40% (preferably around 30 percent) of weekly mileage in most cases, although it can vary.
Tune-up Races and Dress Rehearsal
I was also concerned about the hills on the course. I ran a few of my long runs on the hilly portion of the paved trail that the race was held on. There is one short big hill at the beginning and the rest of the hills are gradual inclines and declines. I planned to use a 10K race as a tune-up race, but could not find a one in my local area. In week 16, I ran my last workout as a simulated 10K race at goal half marathon race pace (a conservative 8:30 min/mi goal at the time) on the race course.
Tune-up races or shorter races like a 10K or 15K before a half marathon are optional, but beneficial because they can serve as a “dress rehearsal” for the half marathon race.
Purpose, Types of Runs and Food Intake
The purpose of a taper week is to cut down on volume, but not intensity, in your training week. For example, you run your planned training runs at the targeted paces, but the number of intervals or repetitions, run distance and overall mileage that you have peaked up to is cut down that week.
For me it was just like a cutback week that I practiced during training, but the purpose was different. A cutback week earlier in training gives you breaks as you are building up mileage or intensity to allow time for physical recovery. A taper week before a race, like the half marathon, allows time for physical recovery too, but also helps you to peak or be in top shape for the race. I ran most of my runs at an easy pace and cut back on the number of stride intervals and miles at race pace. I tapered down and stopped strength training before about one week before the race to allow time for recovery too.
Food intake is a personal preference. I slightly reduced the amount of food I ate since I was training less and I was less hungry, but I made sure to eat enough to maintain my weight since I can easily lose weight, not necessarily good, if I lower my food intake too much.
During the week leading to race day, I made sure to not sit down too much and went for walks. I alternated between short easy runs and active rest days until race day. I focused on eating foods that are familiar and easy for my body to digest, for example, oatmeal, smoothie bowls and salads. I prefer to slightly increased my carb intake, but not so much my calorie intake, in the last 3 days before the race.
You don’t need to carb load or increase your calories to the extent you would need to before a marathon, but a good strategy is to eat familiar foods as usual, but more portions of the carb-dense easier to digest foods.
2 Days Before Race Day
I picked up my race bib at an event organized by the Florida Track Club, where Former Olympic marathoner Brian Sell came to speak and I got to meet him! I love his story and he is very down to earth and relatable to me. He grew up playing other sports, took up track and cross country in high school and university and focused on the long-distance track events like the 10,000 meters before transitioning to become a marathoner with Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. He finished in 3rd place in the Olympic Trials Marathon in NYC in 2007 to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics for Team USA where he finished in 22nd place.
1 Day Before Race Day
I ran an easy 1 mile shake out run with 2 intervals of 10-20sec strides at slightly faster than race pace to stretch out my legs and practice quick leg turnover.
Shake out runs the day before or sometimes two days before a race, even as short as 10 minutes, are a personal preference and can help to manage your race nerves and prevent staleness going into the race, especially if you were sitting for a long time in a car, bus or plane while traveling to a distant race.
The day before the race, I prefer to eat my last “large” meal for breakfast or lunch and eat a smaller meal for dinner. Breakfast was a smoothie bowl, lunch was homemade veggie rolls and dinner, my last meal before the race, was a romaine salad with maple mustard dressing and hemp seeds and baked sweet potato fries with oil-free hummus. Like always, you have to make sure to drink enough water.
Pre-Race Fuel and Plan for Intra-Race Fuel
It’s personal preference whether you want to eat something before the race or take in fuel during the race. I learned that your body can store enough energy to carry you through the half marathon without having to fuel (take in carbs) as long as you are adequately fueled beforehand. You do need to make sure you are hydrated, to what extent depends on race conditions, and take in enough water or electrolytes before the race and along the course if needed.
You should practice race day nutrition, find what works best for you and not try something new on race day.
On race morning, I did not eat anything, just as I practiced during training, and drank green tea (steeped in water) mixed with Clean Machine BCAA’s and coconut water.
Plans For The Race
- Get water or Gatorade from water stations if needed. I could have practiced it better during training, because normally I don’t drink any fluids during runs.
- Avoid starting out to fast.
- Split the race into 2 main parts: 10 miles and the last 3.1 miles (5K). Find right pace in first 5K, maintain that pace for rest of first 10 miles and give everything left in last 5K. You can split it (or not) however which way you prefer.
I got to the race, did some active warm up exercises and hung out with my mom near the bathrooms before the longer lines formed so that we could use them as much as we needed before the race. The weather was in the 50s at the start and warmed up to the high 60s later on. I jogged to the start line area and stood a few steps back behind the 1hr45min time pacer. The pace groups were in 15 minute intervals: 1hr30min, 1hr45min, 2hr, 2hr15min, etc.
Mile 1 – 7:52
I ran behind a group that formed around the 1hr45min pacer. I thought I was starting out a little too fast, close to 7:45 min/mi pace on my watch, but it was feeling good and manageable so I kept at it.
Mile 2 – 8:15
We turned into a road up to a turnaround point and from there I was fading farther and farther behind the 1hr45min pace group. I worried that I did start out too fast and should have sticked with the slower pace I had in mind. I then decided to run by feel and settled into an 8:00 min/mi pace.
Mile 3 – 8:01, Mile 4 – 7:54, Mile 5 – 7:56
The pace felt comfortable so I stuck with it. The only issue was at mile 3, I started coughing every so often. Not exactly sure what caused it, but it was something I experienced during training runs at times when my throat was dry or if I did not drink enough water. I was fighting it for most of the rest of the race.
Mile 6 – 7:59
There were water stations every 2 miles or so. As I ran by the halfway point water station, I grabbed and drank gatorade while approaching the turnaround point. I learned to grab the paper cup by pinching the opening together with your index finger and thumb to form a spout. I drank some and I spilled some on my shirt.
Mile 7 – 8:03, Mile 8 – 8:00, Mile 9 – 8:03
At mile 9, I grabbed gatorade from my second and last water station. I didn’t drink much of it, because it began to feel a little irritating in my stomach. I probably should have grabbed water or just swish and spit it out instead, because I didn’t feel the need to drink to fuel, but rather to clear my throat.
Mile 10 – 8:06, Mile 11 – 7:55
Things started to hurt around mile 10, my right shoulder, the back of my neck and my right hip. I started to work hard at that point and used my strengths to give the last 5K everything I had left.
Mile 12 – 7:35
It was during this mile that I looked down at my watch and realized that an under 1hr45min finish time was still possible if I picked up the pace, so I did.
Mile 13 – 6:59
I turned the last corner of the course onto a straight flat path to the finish line. I spotted the 1hr45min pacer, a far way in front of me. It was my chance and that’s when the magic finish happened. I sped up to near 6:30 min/mi, close to my 5K pace. I caught up to the pacer and passed him!
Mile .1 – 1:11
I ran as fast as I could to the finish, finishing the 13.1 miles in 1:43:49 according to my watch and in 1:43:59 according to the clock time. I accomplished the finish time goal and could not believe how I did it! Never underestimate your potential!
PR: 1:56:41 (Feb. 2015) to 1:43:59 (Nov. 2017)
It was a small race with only about 100 to 200 runners, no one spectating along the way, except at the water stations and finish line. Some people ran with headphones, but I did not because I practiced not running run with them during training. During my first half marathon in 2015, I ran while listening to music and it really did help me stay motivated during the potions of the race course where there was not a whole bunch of crowd support. During this race, I ran more in tune with my mind and thought of some of my favorite running quotes and inspirations when things got tough or started to hurt. One of my inspirations is Shalane Flanagan, who won the NYC marathon just the week before this race and I remembered some of her quotes during the race:
“If you have the courage to fail, then you have the courage to succeed.”
“Don’t be afraid to dream of achieving the impossible.”
…and something she said at a 15K race I ran last year:
“Don’t give up. Run until your teeth sweat.”
After the race I walked around for a bit, caught my breath and drank some water and gatorade. I tried a short shakeout jog to cool down, but my legs were too sore so I just ended up waking. I stretched a little and waited for my mom to cross the finish line. She finished her first half marathon in 2 hours 25 minutes and said that she ran the whole thing except for a few bathroom breaks along the way!
I grabbed some banana halves from the refreshment table and ate some dates that I packed with me on during the car ride home along with a scoop of vega protein powder in water to drink.
I spent the rest of the weekend by the beach on the east coast in Jacksonville, FL. I found some great plant-based vegan food spots, including European Street Cafe and Delicomb, and treated myself a cinnamon roll and 2 donuts, including a maple coconut bacon donut from Sweet Theory Baking Co.
The night after the race, I did not sleep too well, because my head felt very hot with a headache either due to exercise tension or not drinking enough water. It improved as I drank more water during the day after the race. I must drink more water and I know can! For many years, I carried a water bottle with me wherever I went and drank a lot of water, so I will start doing that again. The soreness in my shoulder was gone after a day, but the soreness in my hip took a few more days to leave.
Things to Improve
- Drink more water
- Build up to higher weekly mileage
- Strengthen core and hips
What’s Next: Plan for rest of 2017 + Races in 2018 (Tentative)
Rest of 2017
Offseason! Focus on base-building, increasing weekly running mileage with mostly easy runs, strength training and other cross training activities. I plan to join the Florida Track Club, a local running club with a certified running coach that hosts a run most days of the week, including track workouts and races, and can cover travel costs to distant races.
- Jan 1: Frank Shorter 1 Mile (Gainesville, FL), to determine optimal training run paces.
Focus on 5K and 10K, improve my pace and times in those races.
- Mar 3: Race the Tortoise 5K (High Springs, FL), was the first race and 5K I ran and it will be 5 years since then, tune-up race for 10K.
- Apr 8: Run The Good Race 10K (Gainesville, FL) goal time under 40min to maybe qualify for a seeded entry at 2019 Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K (Tampa, FL).
Offseason to base-build and further improve endurance and running strength in preparation for half marathon training.
Focus on Half Marathon, A goal: under 1hr30min B goal: sub 1hr40min or 1hr35min
- Oct 13: Tampa Bay Whiskey Run 10K or Half Marathon, as possible tune-up race.
- Nov 17: Philadelphia Half Marathon, would be first out of state race, to travel and visit a new place. Have to plan things out money-wise, because I would also like to attend the 2018 Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore (as blogger support). Backup plan is to run another local half marathon (I live in Florida).
In 2019, I may move up in distance and train for my first marathon. It depends on how I progress in the half marathon. I want to be the best half marathoner I can be first. I already decided that I definitely want to run the 2020 NYC Marathon, it will be the 50th anniversary of the race and it is on my birthday Nov. 1st!