The last long race I ran was the Fairfield Half Marathon (Fairfield, Connecticut) in 2003, which I completed in 1:29:16 (6:50 mile pace) on about 40 miles per week of training. In the intervening years, I have run shorter races, many with my two sons who are competitive runners, but it has been 10 years and I am itching again to test my abilities. One learns and improves through testing ones abilities, discovering strengths and weaknesses, and experiencing success and failure.
So I set a goal to run the Fairfield Half Marathon on June 23, 2013 (10 year anniversary) with a target finish time of 1:20 (6:00 mile pace).
To achieve my goal, I must design a plan to take me from where I am today (about 40 miles per week of training, 10 years older) to a 1:20 half marathon in five months. Think it can be done? Although I am confident that barring any injuries, I can do it, I won’t know until June 23. On December 26, I ran a half marathon training run in 1:35 (7:15 mile pace), so I have work to do.
Why do I need a plan? Why not just run? A plan will help me travel from point A to point B, allow me to measure progress along the way, learn about what works and what doesn’t, and enable me to make adjustments to the plan if I am not progressing to my goal. A plan also helps me hold myself accountable. Yes, if I have a planned workout and I don’t do it or unjustifiably modify it, I have no one but myself to blame if I fall short of my goal because I did not execute my plan.
My plan is to:
- Have fun, explore and learn, and be focused on the goal
- Build aerobic base through increase of weekly mileage from 40 to 60 miles
- Ensure I can run the half marathon distance by increasing my long runs
- Lower my pace from 7:15 to 6 minutes per mile through tempo runs and threshold intervals
- Follow a hard/easy days and hard/easy weeks modality to reduce risk of injury and aid in recovery
- Increase my strength and lower my risk of injury through core exercises and strength training
- Enable recovery through sufficient sleep, good nutrition, and taking a rest day when necessary
In my next blog post, I will publish my plan to create transparency and accountability.
Once I have a plan, I just execute. Simple, right? Adhering to a plan requires commitment without being dogmatic, the ability to balance what is absolutely necessary to achieve the goal and what is nice to have. I am not an elite athlete, I work and commute 80 hours a week, I have a family with children (including two sons who run), and I have hobbies and the need for downtime. And with any journey like this one, I will learn things about myself that I didn’t know and will have to adjust and adapt the plan if necessary. And it may even become necessary (let’s hope not) that I may have to modify or abandon my goal (last February I experienced a foot stress fracture and had to stop running for three months).
How do I know that my plan will help me achieve my goal?
- I will track and measure my progress using an online tool (read about tools to track your workouts here).
- And I will participate in a less than handful shorter races to test my fitness relative to my goal (I am putting money in the bank to achieve my goal, every race represents a withdrawal so I will do maybe 1 or 2).
From past experience, I know it will be important to track my workouts holistically, that means running, core exercises, strength training, cross training (other sports/aerobic activities), sleep, recovery, weight changes, heart rate, injuries, mental and emotional states, and so on.
Analyze and Adjust
Measuring progress will help me determine whether I am on track to achieve my goal, and importantly confirm what I am doing right and identify what is not working and has to change. Achieving goals requires commitment and discipline to adhere to a plan, and also to adjust and adapt quickly if something is not working (often the plan can be fine-tuned to improve the probability of achieving the goal).
I won’t know until I cross the finish line of the Fairfield Half Marathon on June 23 if I have achieved my goal. Yes, I will be able to assess my probability of running 1:20 in the weeks leading up to the race, and on the morning of the race, I should have a reasonably high confidence that I can do it or not. In 2003, I hit the wall at 12 miles and started to walk when a runner who passed me encouraged me to finish, and I did in 1:29:16. So anything can happen.
Hopefully I will achieve my goal. Whether or not, it is important to retrospect following the race about what I learned from the training, the race itself, and the recovery period following the race. What worked well that I want to repeat. What did not work well, and importantly why, and what can I do different. My ability to retrospect will be driven by my willingness to be truthful with myself, to be willing to explore and admit that I made mistakes, and to learn from this experience and apply these lessons learned.
This is also a good time for me to plan for my next adventure and think about goals…you understand the rest.