Friday, February 21, 2014

Stonebridge Ranch Half Marathon Recap

Last Saturday was the Stonebridge Ranch Half Marathon sponsored by PlayTri in McKinney, TX.  I planned to run this race as a make-up for the race that never was. I wrote down a rough training plan at the beginning of the year that I didn't stick to.  I didn't do any speed work.  I ran hills once.  Most of my training was done on a treadmill.  My longest training run was 9 miles done the weekend before.  Overall, I was not feeling too positive about this race.  It's tough training for a winter race.

After acknowledging my poor training, I had very little goals for this race.  I wanted to run as much of it as I could and finish while still standing.  The course itself was hilly, so I knew I may have some slower than normal miles.  The only thing I was looking forward to was the perfect race conditions that were forecasted.

The race start was scheduled for 7:30 am. I arrive a little before 7 am.  The temperature was in the mid 30s. Since it was a little chilly, I stayed in my car for a few minutes and mentally prepared.  Then I got out and went for a half mile warm-up jog and stretch.  I finally got around to finding the start line around 7:20.  I ran with my phone in my FlipBelt, so I was able to see a couple of last minute "good luck" messages.

The Stonebridge half was a small race.  200 runners finished the half.  We waited at the start line for about 5 extra minutes before the race was off.  The first 2 miles were uphill.  I knew this going in and focused on not letting it get to my head.  I knew it was okay to take the first few miles slower and speed it up later.

After the first big hill, I was warming up.  My fingers were no longer frozen.  I was able to keep my pace around 9:40 which was my goal for the Dallas half when I was at peak training.  Around the halfway point, there was another uphill.  I took my time and walked a while taking in a Shot Blok and reset my iPod which was repeating songs I already heard (frustrating).  I muscled my way through that long hill.  I took another quick walk break right after passing the mile 9 sign.  I was running basically alone at this point as the pack had spread out.

After that last break, I decided it was time to finish strong. I started picking up my pace slowly. I caught up to some people in front of me and focused on passing them one at a time. All the runners were really nice as I passed and we cheered each other on that we were almost done.  My feet were aching, but I was feeling strong. 

For the last quarter mile, the finish line was in sight.  You could see it in my smile.  I was ready to be done, but also excited because when I looked at my watch, I was within PR time.  The temperature had climbed close to 50 so I was burning up.  I spotted my mom right in front of the finish line waiting for me, which helped me finish strong.

My dad caught this perfect finish line shot with the race clock in the background reading 2:09, 2 minutes faster than my previous PR.  I was shocked at my performance that day.  I'm feeling confident with proper training, I will be able to get that sub-2:00 half this year.  I was also so thankful that my parents came out to support my running.  It means so much to me, even though they tell me I am crazy half the time.  

Finishers Medal

I got home and checked out my race splits on my Garmin.  I'm happy to announce that only 3 of the 13.1 miles took more than 10 minutes.  I can't believe the improvements I've seen in my running over the past 2 years.

Overall, the Stonebridge Ranch Half Marathon was a great race for me.  It reminded me why I love running.  I personally like the small, local races, so I give this race a thumbs up.  Now, I turn my focus to the Zooma half that I signed up for in April.  Can't wait!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

So You Want To Run a Half Marathon?

I had the idea to write this post a month ago, but life got in the way a bit (sorry!). I have a number of friends and co-workers who are planning to run their first half marathons this spring.  A few have asked me for training advice, so here are some of my top tips, all in one place.  If you are looking to run a shorter distance, most of the tips can still be applied.

1. Sign-up now!
Do you lack motivation?  My advice is to pick a race you are interested in before you start training.  This race should be about 3 months away to give yourself enough time to prepare.  Now, pay that race fee today so you can't change your mind later (Bonus: races tend to be discounted if you sign up early).  After you've hit submit, write it on your calendar in big, bold, colorful letters.  Tell your friends, your mom, your dog, that random guy you see at the coffee shop, and anyone else who will listen.  This will help you stay accountable and finish that race.

2. Set a goal to finish.
Don't set the bar too high if this is your first race.  The best part of it being your first race?  No matter how long it takes you to cross the finish line, it's an automatic Personal Record.  But you have to cross that finish line!  When I ran my first half, my training focused on being able to finish the miles without hurting myself.  I did not worry about my pace, that comes later.

3. Make a training plan.
If you are training on your own or with a buddy, there are a ton of resources online with training plans.  I suggest looking at a couple and then making it your own.  Try to give yourself at least 12 weeks (3 months) to train.  If you already run regularly, you may be able to get by with 8-10 weeks, but 12+ weeks is still recommended.  For the half distance, I suggest committing to run at least 3 times a week.  Here are my favorite beginner training plans.  Half Higdon Novice Plan and Jeff Galloway's Beginner Plan.  Local running stores/clubs should also have training groups if you need group motivation.

4. It's okay to walk.
It's okay to walk.  During my first half, I walked nearly a whole mile because my legs needed a rest after some hills.  I was still moving, and that is what was important.  Jeff Galloway is a strong supporter of the run-walk method (see his link above).  I still like to walk through the water stops, so I can hydrate and catch my breath.

5. Fuel is your friend.
I had no idea about Gu's or Energy Chews when I did my first half.  I just remember someone handing me a red gummy thing at mile 9 of my first race that made me feel a ton better.  I've learned since then that any time you run longer than 1 hour, you should be fueling your body.  My fuel of choice is Clif Shot Bloks because they are easy to carry and chew on the run.  Make sure to experiment before your run so you don't cramp during your race while trying something new.

6. Chafing is your enemy.
Don't wear a new outfit on race day.  If you don't already own good running clothes, go buy some dri-fit fabric shirt and shorts (no cotton!).  During your training runs, make sure your skin isn't rubbing and making you uncomfortable in different places.  I won't go into details, but if you are still having issues, consider investing in some BodyGlide.

7. Consider new shoes.
If you are planning to train in your 5 year-old worn-in tennis shoes, you should rethink you plan.  A good pair of running shoes is important to prevent injury and help with your running form.  If there is a running store nearby, go get fitted by one of their employees.  A good running store will watch you walk, determine what type of pronation your foot has, and suggest some shoes that will support your foot best.

8. Start slow.
This applies to both training runs and your race.  It is easy when your legs are fresh to want to run really fast, but remember there are lots of miles ahead.  Pace yourself and save that extra energy for when you need it at the end.

9. Know the race course.
I suggest running a local race if it is your first.  Then, if possible, go practice running different parts of the half marathon course.  This way, you won't be surprised on race day that there are 3 miles of steep hills (*cough Bearathon cough*).  Also, it will put your mind at ease on race day if you are already comfortable running those roads.

10. Listen to Your Body
Rest is just as crucial to training as is the actual running.  Make sure to listen to your body.  I've written about it before.  You don't want to get burned out mentally or injured physically.

11. Have Fun!
Enough said.  Trust your training, you are going to do great!

Hopefully these tips will help you throughout training.  Do any runners out there have other advice?  Let me know in the comments.  Happy running!