I spent my summer and fall of 2013 generally devoted to one long term goal -- run the Huntsville Half-Marathon. This was not overly ambitious, as I'd run it before in 2010, leading up to the full Rocket City Marathon a month later. My true goal was simply fitness... I wanted to feel better, and thought I'd likely drop some weight if I succeeded. The race goal was a more tangible target to focus on.
Just Begin...I started off following the Marathon Rookie schedule that I'd used for marathon training in 2010, since I'd had previous success with it. That 16 weeks of training in 2010 had resulted in 15 lbs of weight loss. They had all found me again by 2013.
For the first month, my only self push was "go run tonight". That's it... no self imposed pressure on how fast, no comparisons to my own history of better runs when I was deep into previous training. I used my Garmin hardware to track all the runs, but I paid little attention to my pace and pulse measurements.
Starting the second month, I noticed from my Garmin stats that I was improving even if my pace times were not showing it, because my pulse rates were coming down for the same paces and distances. Less effort was required to finish the same work. And then, one night my Garmin me that the 5K run I'd just finished was actually my best 5K time ever, and did I want to mark it as my new 5K Personal Record.
Hey, It's Working...
Thus began more serious training runs. The high of hitting a PR pushed me into a new 5K PR each week for the next two months. Also, once I stumbled into my first 10K PR, I followed those with new PRs each week.
At this point, I had dropped 25 lbs fairly linearly, but then plateaued. Going forward was a long plateau, but did result in another 5 lbs coming off by the end of the third month.
Given that I was not intending on running a full marathon, once I hit Week 8 with a long run of 14 miles, I adjusted to a new schedule that I'd been reading about in a Brad Hudson book. This meant more runs (5 to 6 per week versus 4), and it mixed in occasional hill sprints and intervals. It also specified more specific running paces, "easy pace" versus "moderate pace" and "hard pace". This meant no more pushing for training PRs, since most training runs were "easy pace". However, it did lead me to pay better attention to my pulse rates, so that I could learn to equate pulse ranges with those pace types. Also, the hill sprints included at the ends of the shorter runs primed my brain to not be afraid of sprint finishes in my races.
My first interim race was the Talladega Half-Marathon in September. During the race, I mixed in a few intervals during the middle miles, as well as used some hill sprints when there were hills to cross, and a strong sprint at the finish. The point of the mixing during the training was to utilize fast-twitch fibers in the leg muscles to do what they do best, rather than being used by the bulk of the slow-twitch paced running. I mixed these techniques into the race run itself for the same reasons.
Talladega was my new half-marathon PR by 9 minutes, effectively a full mile to me.
When the Huntsville Half finally arrived in November, I took another mile off my time.
Success!Even if my race times had not been personal improvements over my previous running burst in late 2010, I still achieved my true goal -- 30 lbs dropped overall. Thus, I can mark the effort a success.
My key takeaway from the experience, though, was limiting my focus initially. Since my first goal was "just get out there to run", I had early successes to feel good about. Had I set my bar too high at the beginning, I could easily have been discouraged by my paces, and by how hard 6 miles felt back then.