Final Thoughts: Pittsburgh Half Marathon Training

I said in my last training recap that I think this is the best training cycle I've had, and I've never felt stronger or more fit. These are the aspects of my training I think have worked really well for me. The Pittsburgh Marathon profile series I did showcased different runners using different training methods. Different methods work for different people. These are the things I think helped me most; I'm not saying this is what everyone should do. I'm also including some fun stats.

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Training: By the Numbers 

Includes the 5K and the half marathon this upcoming weekend.

Weeks in training: 16
Days I ran: 80
Days I ran outside: 80
Times I ran on the treadmill: 0
Runs I skipped or cut short: 0 (I occasionally cut some of my cool-down miles short a bit, but those were extra miles I added to my original plan and weren't planned miles)
Runs in temps below freezing (32F) to 20F: 24
Runs in temps from 19-10F: 12
Runs in temps below 10F: 5
Coldest temp: 1F, felt like -17F
Races done during training: 2
Times I ran while listening to music: 3
Times I ran in a tank top: 1 (does not include race weekend, so will probably be 2)
Serious injuries, aches, or pains: 0
Highest mileage week: 40.1
Total miles: 452.21

What I wore on single-digit runs
Schools delayed because of wind-chill advisories, but I was still out there.
For my coldest run--1 degree, feels like -17
The only time it was warm enough to wear a tank top (two weeks ago)
since early mornings have still been very chilly

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Training: What Worked

High(er) volume and low intensity. I'm not talking about 70-mile weeks but rather running substantially more than I've ever done. I incorporated this after reading the Hansons Half Marathon Method book, even though I didn't follow the actual training plan. The Racing Weight book I read also advocates this, as well as many other online articles I found. The gist is that the more you run, the more your body phsyiologically adapts and improves, and the more your running improves. The author of Racing Weight puts it this way: "The sheer amount of time you train has a stronger effect on your performance than any other factor. The reason has to do with efficiency. A low-volume, high-intensity approach to training will increase your aerobic capacity, or V02 max, as much as a high-volume, low-intensity program. On a high-intensity program, however, you stop improving as soon as your V02 max hits a genetically defined ceiling, which doesn't take long. With a high-volume program you become more and more efficient the longer you keep doing it, and so your race performances keep improving also." My peak week was 40 miles, and while that's short of the 48-mile peak week in the Hansons Half Marathon Method, it's much more than I've ever run before (just under 30). The low intensity is the other piece of the puzzle. Running a lot of miles at a hard effort is not only asking for injury, it's just not sustainable. Running at a low intensity not only helps prevent injuries but has many other benefits, as this article from Runners Connect explains.

Training by heart rate. It's hard to know what low intensity feels like. Online articles say it's not just me, but that many runners judge wrong and run their easy runs at a harder pace than they should. A heart rate monitor tells you exactly how hard you're working. By using it, I kept my easy runs truly easy and speed workouts hard enough. Going by heart rate also ensured I wasn't too tired from running the day before for my speed workout. I used my heart rate monitor in the half marathon I ran as a training run last month, and it really helped me keep to my strategy of running easy the first 10 minutes and speeding up at the end.

Running longer long runs. Nine of the 16 long runs in my plan were 10-13 miles. One of my biggest goals for the Pittsburgh Marathon is to finish strong. By running so many double-digit long runs, my endurance has increased and the distance is no longer a challenge.

Varying my speedwork. Every Wednesday I alternated hill sprints, mile repeats, and half mile repeats. I have never liked speedwork, but I think the variety kept it interesting for me. I actually like half mile and mile repeats now! I'm still working on my love for hill sprints, though.

Trusting in and following my plan. My running friend Mike K. created my training plan for me based on my goals. He explained how each component of my plan would help me meet my goals, and I believed it. I followed my plan to the letter. The only change I made was to add more easy miles and to increase some of my race-pace mileage. I talked to Mike today, and he said listening to how confident I am now compared to 16 weeks ago is like night and day. I trusted that my plan would help me improve and didn't alter it, it did help me improve, and the result is that my confidence is through the roof.

Running hills. Mike K. believes in training hard so your race will be easy, and my BRF Amanda has proof that running a lot of hills really helped her. Every weekend, Amanda and I ran hills for our long runs. Lots of them. Two-mile gradual climbs, super steep hills, rolling hills--we did all of them. On all my easy runs, I tried to run across at least one bridge for some hillwork, but my standard route was three bridges for six inclines. Even on my speedwork days I tried to add some of the small hills near the flat trail I ran on. I rarely ran a flat course.

Cross training. I have always done strength training and yoga, so these weren't anything new. But I think continuing them helped prevent injuries and maintain strength in critical areas like glutes, hips, and core.

Having a positive attitude most of the time and mental grit the rest of the time. Late in the cycle I got a little fatigued, but other than that my motivation was really high the whole cycle. Most mornings I sprang out of bed at 5 a.m., excited to run. I love following a plan, checking off boxes, and getting my miles in. In this training cycle, running continued to be something I enjoyed doing, not something I had to do. That's how I was able to not miss any runs. And on the feels-like-sub-zero days, the rainy days, and the hill sprint days, I still got up and got it done. I know that running hard is uncomfortable, but if I can get out there every crappy day this winter, then I can get up that last hill in mile 12.

The Result

All of these things, I believe, have helped me feel more strong, fit, and confident than ever before. And my Garmin data shows how I've improved.

My easy run pace has dropped by about one minute. On February 14, my average pace for an 8-mile long run was 13:07. My average heart rate was 153 and max heart rate was 172. On April 19, my average pace for my 13.1-mile long run was 12:06. My average heart rate was 114 and max heart rate was 165. That shows I was running faster while putting in less effort than the February 14 run.

My race pace of 11:00 has gotten easier. On March 7 (nearly all the earlier ones were in bitter cold or snow, which could have negatively affected my pace), my average heart rate for my 5-mile pace run was 162 and max was 179. On April 12, my average heart rate for my 7-mile pace run was 150 and max was 173, and that includes doing the final 2 miles at significantly faster than race pace (10:21 and 10:10).

My legs are leaner. Surprise benefit! I am definitely going to do a separate post about this after the race. Thanks to my genetics, I have large hips and thighs. At my thinnest, wearing size 4 jeans, I still had large hips and thighs. That's just the way I'm built, and I've pretty much accepted it. But in this training cycle--even though I actually gained weight--I can tell that my legs are leaner. Do I even have to say how awesome this is?!

I'm proud of what I've accomplished in training, and I'm excited to put it all in action on the course. On Sunday, I'm going to absolutely give it my all. I didn't put in all this work to give up when it gets hard. I can't wait to get out there and prove what I can do!

I'll have one more post on Friday about my goals and, of course the most important thing, my race day outfit!

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