Reflections on this training cycle

I’ve really dithered about whether or not to write this post, let alone publish it. It’s basically me reflecting on this past training cycle so whilst it’s useful for ME, it may be a little too much navel-gazing for you, so please feel free to come back another week!!

I’ve also dithered about posting this because I clearly didn’t PR last Sunday – I melted at mile 8. Which was frustrating because I felt like this had been my best training cycle for a very long time. But how COULD it be such a great training cycle if I hadn’t achieved my goal? Surely the proof is in the pudding!

Proof in pudding
Proof in pudding

I discussed this with the girls over the weekend and they persuaded me that it could still be a great training cycle, despite the lack of PR. As we get a little faster, it gets harder and harder to PR. Initially every race is a PR and we’re awesome but eventually we get to the point where everything needs to come together perfectly to make it happen. Last time I PR’d at Healdsburg, I was new into my running life – it was the first time I ever went sub-two. There was ‘padding’ in my running records. Now, four years later, I’m closer to what I’m actually capable of. I still think there’s a minute or two that I can take off, but it’s not going to be easy. I’d need a flat course, a colder day, less wine…

All of the above to say that I think the below reflections are still valid, but I’ve not forgotten that all the wondrousness didn’t result in a PR.

With that said…these are my thoughts.

Basics

I started the training cycle in mid August, post road-trip, feeling like a tub of lard. I was fresh back from 6 or 7 weeks of traveling when my healthy-eating habits had disintegrated and I was one sluggish lady.

Moi...
Moi…

8 weeks, not 12 weeks

The biggest difference was that this training cycle was only 8 weeks, rather than the traditional 12. I’d been running all summer but slowly, for fun, exploring…never very long or very hard. I was initially totally freaked out about the missing 4 weeks, but it also took some pressure off. I’d do my best and I’d see what happened.

In retrospect,I think the shorter timescale both worked for and against me. The shortened timescale meant that every week counted – therefore I was more focussed and I enjoyed it more.  On the whole, I came out of each week feeling stronger. However, once again, my race fell apart due to lack of endurance so maybe I needed those extra four weeks to build up endurance!

More longer runs

Usually I only do 12 or 13 mile runs. This time I did several 13 milers, two x 14 milers, 1 x 15 miler. That built confidence. I’ll add in more longer runs to my next cycle. Also, I really enjoyed those longer runs!!

Fast Finishes

This was the first time I added fast finishes to my training. I did three. One was 13 miles with the last 3 at goal pace. One was 15 miles with the last 5 at goal pace and one was 13 miles with the last 5 at goal pace. I seriously loved doing those runs and it definitely built confidence. I hoped it would build endurance but obviously not as much as expected. However it definitely taught me what 8.30 pace feels like and how to hold it! Useful skills.

Track

The other big change was running on a track. I’ve always included interval sessions in all my training plans but I’ve run them all on the Bay Trail that runs round my town. This time, I made an effort and drove pretty much every week to the High School track in San Mateo. On most other weeks, I ran at the less-than-perfect track around my local park (where the corners are pretty much 90 degrees).

The High School track was a revelation. I NEVER expected to love it but I seriously did. I love running in circles, apparently. I love feeling like an Olympian as I dash around. I love studiously ignoring all the High School football and soccer players training in the middle. I love the floodlights. I love running hard and stopping my watch on each lap. I seriously have loved it and I think it’s made me a much better runner. I have NO idea why running on a track would be more effective than basically the same workout on a concrete trail but apparently it is.

I need more photos of me running on a track.
I need more photos of me running on a track.

Running with friends

The other delight of this training cycle was running with friends. I got to do two long runs with Jen and two long runs with Lisa. In addition, Lisa and I met most weeks at the track and ran together there. It’s just been so nice, especially on the long runs. Those miles have flown past. I need to prioritise this more in the future.

shoreline img_3667

Cross-training

The first four weeks of the training cycle included at least two days of cross-training…namely cycling as I ‘trained’ for the Tour de Tahoe. It was a bit of a hassle fitting those long rides especially into busy weeks, but I think it was great to get that cross-training in at the start of the training cycle. I did much more cardiovascular exercise but without the strain on my running legs.

img_3655

After the ride, I did very little (i.e….zero) cross-training and that was a shame and something I really regret. It was nice to have the additional rest days (three per week) and actually I wonder if those rest days kept my legs fresh for running but I’d like to find cross-training activities that fit more easily into my life for at least one of those rest days in the future. (I did promise Grace I’d start swimming once Healdsburg was over…)

What didn’t work as well?

The thing that bugs me the most is that lack of race endurance. In both my 10k and this half, I faded 2/3 of the way through the race despite (in this case) some longer, fast-finish runs. I can only keep working on this.

Taper Week

I definitely didn’t rock this. My last long run was the Sunday before the race – 13 miles with 6 at goal pace. It was rough. I did hold the pace, but I felt pretty awful at the end. My legs were toast. So I purposefully scaled back my taper and did two very, very easy runs that week, nothing else. I have no idea if that was the right thing to do.

My nutrition throughout the training cycle was pretty decent (not perfect, come on) and I was happy with my weight on race day. However I definitely didn’t focus on nutrition enough during Taper Week. I probably shouldn’t have had that extra glass of wine the night before. I do NOT think it contributed to missing my goal but I think it shows a lack of steel will to PR! (It was very nice though).

Race-Day nutrition

Gels are horrible. I did not like my gels during the race. I planned to take three, at miles 4,8 and 12. In the end, I took one at 4 (which took me a mile to get down) and one at 9 which was horrible. I definitely need to try different race-day fueling options because I think my Gu days are numbered.

If you made it this far, congratulations!! I know it’s a lot of drama for a middle-aged hobby-jogger’s failed PR attempt but it’s been helpful for me to get it down on ‘paper’ so thanks!!

16 Comments Add yours

  1. dlubi says:

    Congrats on sticking with a very challenging training plan and racing strong! You are doing great, and that PR will come next time!! Awesome you learned so much during this training period too – that will really help next time! (Congrats on the great track workouts!)

    I am always looking for new ways to get faster myself, so here are a few things I picked up along my training that may or may not be helpful to you for your next training plan… (in no particular order)

    – incorporating more cycling or swimming is great for overall endurance as well as strength and active recovery (swim/ride some days rather than run)

    – the workouts where you build from slower, to moderate, to fast paces are helpful learning to finish strong! (& getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable)

    – long tempo runs can be broken up as intervals to allow some recovery so you aren’t racing too much before the race (There are lots of fun ways to practice running hard on tired legs – ie, you can avoid some of those long runs).

    – practice race day nutrition (electrolytes & sugars)

    – taper week needs to be taper week & always listen to your body (maybe skip the 13mi tempo runs during taper week)

    – recovery is really important

    – trust your training & know you can definitely race 8:30min/mi for a half marathon!

    I am trying to learn as much as I can about endurance training & racing, so I am happy to chat more anytime!!! (& happy to give more examples & explanations)

    Congrats again on all your great training & racing!!! Awesome work!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yes to all the above, thank you!! xxx

  2. Layla says:

    A couple things stood out to me, and Danielle already pointed them out… First, maybe it was too much to do a tough 13-mile run one week before the half. Second, your race fueling: You hit the wall at mile 8, which is also the time you had planned to eat another gel, so I wonder if your body was already needing that energy boost closer to mile 7. When it didn’t get the gel by mile 8, your body may have started going into conservation mode. (I also plan for three gels when racing a half — at miles 3, 7 and 10. Only the last gel contains caffeine, and I think of the last 2.5 miles as “caffeine time, go time!”)

    That said, I do really, truly, honestly think you can reach that PR. I do not think your goal was too far-reaching. I also do not think you should see this as a failure, because you learned things — especially the fact that you really WANT that PR. You tasted that goal for the first 8 miles. It’s been nearly three years since I tasted my dream goal pace for 14 miles of a marathon, until my IT band gave up. I still distinctly remember those roads, and what it felt like to run with people at that pace, and it’s the one thing that hasn’t left me even when I spent so many months trying to forget it. Sure, you’re upset now, and that’s okay, because it will make your future PR that much sweeter in contrast.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks for the cheering and the confidence in me!! I’m honestly not upset any more – you only have to watch the news to put a missed race goal firmly into perspective 🙂

      Yes, the race fueling was interesting. I think you may be right, that I needed to fuel a little earlier and Gu definitely wasn’t the best thing for me on Sunday. Off to start testing chomps and waffles and other stuff!!

    2. Cathryn says:

      Thanks for the cheering and the confidence in me!! I’m honestly not upset any more – you only have to watch the news to put a missed race goal firmly into perspective 🙂

      Yes, the race fueling was interesting. I think you may be right, that I needed to fuel a little earlier and Gu definitely wasn’t the best thing for me on Sunday. Off to start testing chomps and waffles and other stuff!!

  3. Julie says:

    I loathe Gu! My running friend Tanya is also not too keen on it and during one race she started gagging whilst taking one. That didn’t help me…. I got a fit of the giggles and we both ended up spitting them out by the side of the road. Now, we both do the less is more when it comes to Gu…. The chomps, other nutrition bars, anything to avoid the dreaded Gu gag!
    But Cathryn, this was a great read and honestly, PR or not, every run is a good run as we learn something from it, good or bad. Well done.

  4. Jen says:

    I agree with Danielle and Layla, in particular about the 13-miler a week out, and about the Gu. For taper before a half marathon, I typically don’t run longer than 12 and if I’m doing fast finish, no more than 3 miles at race pace. The week of the race, I’d keep some intensity in there (fartleks and strides are good), but cut back in mileage. Whenever I’ve just done easy runs, it’s always made me feel sluggish.

    If you don’t like Gu, maybe you can switch to sports drink only? I find blocks too hard to chew when I’m breathing heavily/running fast!

    Otherwise, I think you executed your training cycle really well! That PR is just waiting for you!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, I def got some stuff wrong ref that final long run, which is annoying as I did that pre-Kaiser too! I’m going to try chomps too…chomps for everyone.

  5. Grace says:

    1. Are you swimming yet? 🙂

    2. I hate gels too. All gels. It’s all shot blocks, all the way 🙂 Also, I agree with other folks that perhaps a 13-miler the weekend before is a little harsh on the legs. I really, really think you are close to that PR. You want it. You’re already comfortable being a little uncomfortable. I think you definitely have a PR in you SOON.

    3. I have one BIG thought, and it’s about something that’s often overlooked. You got there at 6.30 so Jen and Angela could run long, right? What did you eat for breakfast and when? What did you eat immediately before the race, and when? Was the weather chilly?
    For Baystate, I ate more – way more – than I thought I needed. I had leftover spaghetti at 5am (“I’m awake, it’s there, might as well eat it or it’s getting tossed”), a packet of instant oatmeal at 6am (“surely I won’t need more than this”), and a Picky Bar at 7.15am (“In 40 minutes I’ll be standing out in the cold and shivering. Need calories”). A shot block every other mile from mile 3 on. And not five minutes after I finished the race, my stomach was growling. Within 1.5 hours post-race I had had a frozen-yogurt bar, half a banana (the toddler stole the other half!), a single-serving packet of crisps (mm salt), another Picky Bar, and an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich. And was still hungry…

    1. Cathryn says:

      1) No but I am thinking about it often and today I investigated an indoor pool because I do not like cold water even in California.
      2) I shall try shot blocks and I shall also avoid tough runs the weekend before in the future.
      3) I think you make an excellent point. I had a bagel with cream cheese at 5.45 ish and I think I had something before the race but not that much, really. I shall build Eat More into my next plan. I never object to eating more.

  6. Please don’t apologize for navel gazing! I loved the blow by blow account! Even at my very elementary level of walking I have started consuming books on training, usually for running but I’m sure the theory must apply to walking as well. I find it all fascinating. So don’t hold back on the gory details!
    Lots of good thoughts in the comments as to why you petered out at mile 8 – but you’ll never know for sure. You might just have reached a plateau in your achievements and it’s taking longer than you want to get to the next level. So I guess you’re going to have to just keep plugging and see.
    To me your time was pretty fantastic anyway.
    So all in all congrats on a great training period and great race and thanks for the great reads after the race!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks for all your comment!! I think ‘just keep plugging away’ is basically it, with some reflection on the awesome advice in other people’s comments. What’s YOUR next goal??

      1. Next goal: I want to walk a 10K in the spring at a slightly faster pace. Being a novice at the age of 76, I have no idea what kind of progress I can hope for. Age groups are good! I’m sure you have read B.J. McHugh’s autobiography, My Road to Rome. So inspiring! xx

      2. Cathryn says:

        I haven’t read that! But I’m super excited about your 10k goal!
        Have a look at this…a training plan for walking a 10k. It may work for you? NO worries if you don’t like the look of it.
        http://halhigdon.com/training/51125/10K-Walk-Training-Program

      3. Thanks for the link! My plan resembles the Hal Higdon plan. I like his website and his sensible and encouraging approach. I also took a peak at the half marathon walking plan. 🙂

      4. Cathryn says:

        Ooooh you’re hooked!

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