My Consult with a Hansons' Coach

Last week I had a consult with Hansons coach Melissa Johnson White, who I was connected with when I submitted a question on the Hansons Coaching Services site. I had a few specific questions about the plan that Melissa not only answered, but she also gave me a full, motivating coaching session for nearly one hour that was money well spent. If you have questions about your training or just need motivation, I highly recommend working with a coach, even for just one consult like I did. Here are the most notable things I learned from Melissa.

Adjusting for Being a Slow Runner*
The training paces I'm following are the slowest in the Hansons Half Marathon Method book, so I'm spending more time running than faster runners will on the same plan. My initial question was whether I should adjust. Melissa advised that if I were a new runner or struggling with the plan, to run only five days a week instead of six and cut out out an easy run day, or substitute cross training for an easy run. If I were more experienced and wasn't having problems with the plan, another option would be to run my easy runs by minutes instead of miles, assuming a 10:00 pace. So, instead of a 5-mile easy run, I could do 50 minutes. She said I would still be getting all the active recovery benefits but wouldn't have to put in as many miles. Because I'm comfortable with the plan, I will continue to run six days a week but will keep the minute-based easy runs an option if I start feeling overwhelmed. *By the way, one of the first things Melissa said to me was that I should give myself more credit because I'm not a slow runner. I know what she was saying--that there are many people slower than I am--but I'm following the slowest pace charts in the book, so I can't help but think of myself as slow!

Adjusting for Vacation
My vacation falls on one of the peak weeks of the plan. I will be spending the majority of my vacation hiking in national parks and planned to try to keep up as much mileage as I can but make it easy runs. Melissa suggested that one run include fartleks, like 2 minutes of hard running with 1 minute easy, sandwiched in some easy miles as one of my runs. She didn't think I'd lose fitness over the week, especially since it will be an active vacation, but getting a little bit of speed in will help keep my legs fresh.

Adjusting Goal Race Pace
I originally planned to train for a 2:22 half marathon, but that option wasn't in the pace charts in the book so I picked 2:24 instead. Melissa plugged in a recent 5K time (from last fall in cool weather since my race will be in cool weather) and said it yielded a 2:15 time goal. She didn't see a problem switching to a 2:22 goal and gave me the corresponding training paces. I have always thought the race equivalency charts just don't work for me, because a 2:15 half marathon seems way beyond my capabilities. But it did make me wonder if I'm selling myself short by training for a slower time. If I'm too scared to try, how will I know I can't do it? I'm keeping my 2:22 time goal for this race, but for my next race I'll be seriously thinking of setting a stretch goal and trying for something I think I can't do. The biggest thing I've learned from the Hansons' plan so far is that my body is capable of things my mind thought were impossible.

Being Tired
Melissa warned that I will likely be tired on this plan and to not be discouraged. The plan is designed to make you tired, so if I'm tired, that means it's working. This is a change in mindset I need to work on. I guess I've always thought that if I'm tired, I must not be "good enough" for the plan and can't handle it.

Strategizing Race Day
We spent a lot of time talking about race day. I had told Melissa that I tend to do great in training but then fall apart on race day. The basic strategy she suggested was what I planned to use for the Pittsburgh Half--stick to goal race pace (5 or even 10 seconds under or over is okay) until mile 10 then either maintain or, if I'm feeling good, speed up (but don't sprint). Then at the last mile, she said, "Just go. Don't even look at your watch. Just dig deep and go." She also suggested easing into my race pace for the first mile or so, but I pointed out that my race starts with a big downhill. She said to go ahead and capitalize on that but try not to run 15 seconds/mile faster than race pace. She said it's really key to start slowly to run a smart race.

She also advised adjusting pace for race day conditions if I needed to. I'd told her about my Pittsburgh Half Marathon experience, how I didn't adjust my race pace for temps much warmer than those in which I'd trained, and how I fell apart shortly after mile 9. "That's about right," she said. She said I was likely running a 30 second/mile faster effort than what I'd trained, and the body will be done after 9 or 10 miles of that.

She also suggested something that Carina previously suggested to me. She said a week before the race, read back through my training log. Really take the time to process all the work I did on the plan, and all the hard runs I got through. Seeing all my training laid out should help me believe that I can meet my goal on race day.

My "a-ha!" moment came when we were talking about race day. She said that races are hard. All her races, whether 5K, half marathon, or full marathon, are hard. She said to expect it to be hard and to also have a plan for how you'll handle dealing with the difficulty during the race. She said that's what's training is for--to learn strategies for dealing with hard runs and then to use those strategies when the race gets hard. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I guess I always thought that you train so you improve so the race will be easy. And when my races aren't easy, I panic, feel bad that my training must not have worked, and just give up. This changes everything. Now I know to think of my race as, basically, a hard run. This plan has taught me that I can successfully complete hard runs. Thinking of the race as just another hard run, instead of this pressure- and anxiety-inducing big event where I'll feel like a failure if I don't meet my goals, is sure to help me on race day. I've already started working on strategies for when my training runs get hard. What's helped me so far is focusing on my form and my breathing and then repeating the mantras, "Dig deep. Push hard." I really think that being ready to deal with the pain and difficulty is going to help me on race day.

Making Post-Race Plans
I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do after this race, for the rest of this year through 2016. I said in my yearly goals update this summer that I'm no longer sure I want to do a full marathon in 2016. I still haven't decided. I think that after my October half I'll reassess. But I have decided to focus on 5K training after my half. I have unfinished business with the 5K! And I've also decided to make my spring half marathon goal race in the cold weather of March instead of in the iffy spring weather in May for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Melissa thought the 5K was a great idea. She said many of us go from half to half to half, and in doing so we don't challenge ourselves as much as we could with adding in training at other distances. She said that mixing training for different distances is good and will make me a better runner in the end. She gave me advice on how to fit in 5K training for a mid-December race and half marathon training for an end-of-March race. She also advised taking a rest period, whether a few days or a week, after each training segment.

We talked about much more--hydration, fueling, running Garmin-less from time to time on easy runs, not checking heart rate at the beginning of the race when it will be very low which may make me go faster than I should, and running the mile you're in. I learned a lot and ended up being really motivated. I feel like I have some great, practical tips I can use for race day, and that boosts my confidence. I hope some of this might help some of you, too!

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