It was a year ago that I was preparing to race my very first long distance road race, the Trenton Double Cross Half Marathon on November 9, 2013. I really did not consider myself a runner, and often dreaded it because I was slow and just felt miserable running. Training for my obstacle course races had me putting some mileage on my feet and since I continually try to challenge myself, I decided to set a goal to run my first half shortly after the end of the 2013 OCR season. Having run only a few 5K races to this point and some training runs, I was not really sure what a good goal would be for me, but I decided that based on what I was pacing I would set an aggressive goal of 2 hours and 30 minutes as my finish time. I wrote an article about my experience of this race, so please check it out if you would like to know more about it, but what I will share in this article is that I exceeded my goal by almost 15 minutes crossing the finish line at 2:15:27! I felt so amazing and actually thought to myself; this wasn’t so bad, maybe I will do another half in the future.
As I was setting my goals for 2014, I decided that not only did I want to do another half marathon, but I wanted to train and beat my time. Now I have learned over my racing career that it is hard to focus on doing this unless the course is exactly the same course and conditions, however, I really wanted to push myself and see what I could do. I spent the winter running, often trail running, in order to prepare for my first trail race, the Muddy in Vernon, NJ in April 2014. Because of the weather conditions, often I had to slow my pace as to not slip on ice & found it very relaxing and an excellent way to clear the mind and bring peace into my body. After the trail race, as the weather became warmer I began to add more road running into my training and focused on my pace. With only a month and a half to get some longer road running in and my busy schedule it proved to be a real challenge, but I was feeling very confident that I could beat my time and on May 18, 2014 I did the Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, NJ.
I felt great running this race and I was really pacing well. My legs were definitely more conditioned and I found myself actually enjoying running, which was not typically the case after 6-7 miles. At about mile 12 I started to feel fatigued, but only had a mile left so I just kept running at my happy pace and when I crossed the finish line I was a pretty bummed that my time was almost exactly the same. How could this be? My legs felt good, I felt good, it was a beautiful day. How could my time be almost exactly the same at 2:16? It made no sense to me and while I was happy with my finish, I just couldn’t understand that with more training, more miles, better fuel, better weather, more endurance, how could this be?
After the race I felt minimal soreness as compared to my first half and it was a reminder that I was better trained and that I need to not dwell on my time. After all these were two different courses with very different conditions. Soon would start my OCR season, so I began to ramp up my training for those, but I committed to do a 92 mile relay race (River to the Sea) right in the middle of the season so I had to keep my mileage up. My biggest challenge for this race would not necessarily be the mileage, but the break in between where your soreness sets in once the adrenaline wears off and the muscles fatigue. With different races to train for and such a limited amount of time I could devote to my personal training with my schedule, I had to come up with a plan that would maximize my results for both.
To start, I began working out twice a day 3-4 days a week, taking every opportunity I could to train. On Sunday I would instruct my 3 classes at CKO Franklin, 2 of which I am very physically active in and sometimes I would even take the 45 minute class before me as well. After CKO, I would go home, refuel my body, take care of some family/house obligations, and then it was out for a 4-5 mile road run on my fatigued legs that included hills. At first my pace was quite slow as my legs were tired and sore, but slowly I became faster and began to pace a sub 10 minute mile! Monday and Tuesday’s I would head to the gym across the street from my full time job and focus on strength training. I would warm up with a 1-2 mile sprint/hill interval on the treadmill to warm up or do 5-8 minutes on the elliptical followed by a 500 meter row. Then it was a 30 minute intense lifting session that I carefully crafted as to ensure I had proper recovery, especially for my legs, when I needed them from my running/endurance training. On Wednesdays often I rested and took the time to recover & foam roll out my sore muscles.
After Wednesday my training was taken down to once a day to help recover properly. Thursday and/or Friday I would do one 30-45 minute session on my lunch hour that mirrored my workout outline I did on Monday and Tuesday. Saturday I would wake up early and head out for a run that would vary in distance, terrain, and pace each week in an effort to mix it up & get my legs ready for the trails of the Spartan Races as well as the conditions of the road for my relay race. Afterwards, often I would stop at a local park and work on the monkey bars, pull ups, balance beams, etc. Some nights I would also stay after class to train in the gym by doing such tasks as climbing the rope, pull ups, box jumps, TRX and sandbag carries since I keep much of my equipment there to utilize in boot camp classes.
A few weeks into this training program was my first Spartan Race of the season, the Tuxedo Sprint on June 7th. Typically at these races, I stick with the team & help others but this time I decided to just to run my own race and see how I could do. Nervous, but feeling well trained, I started the race and one of the first obstacles was the monkey bars. These were not the usual ones used previously that I mastered, these were uneven and I had not been prepared for that and pulled my bicep muscle when I went for the upward swing & then missed of one of the bars. I fell off, 30 burpees later, and a hurt arm I almost felt defeated, but I didn’t let it break me. I decided to put my running training to the test. When running on trails it can be a little difficult since they can be crowded, narrow, and slippery so I used caution but ran as much as possible every opportunity I could, even when carrying the sand bag. I ended up finishing this race in 1:42 and came in 14th overall in my age group!
With a hurt arm and only Rugged Maniac before the Relay to the Sea race, I tapered off on some areas of OCR training, such as pull ups and monkey bars, and focused more on my running, both trail & road. On August 2nd I would be taking on 2 legs of the 92 mile race. The night before the race we were faced with the challenge of one member having to drop out due to an injury and with no time to spare, we all had to take on more mileages than we originally planned. I ended up taking on 3 legs of the race, leg 4 called the “Beast” which was 8.6 miles described as “hilly, tight, tough, long & hard”, leg 8 called the “Oasis” which was 5.5 miles described solely as just “more than halfway there”, and the final leg which was the sprint to the sea and 2.7 miles. Because of each member having to take on more mileage than they were prepared for, we were overall slower than we needed to hit the cut off time and were given the option to receive a DNF or to “leapfrog” and finish the race. We trained hard & wanted to complete every single mile of that race, and we did. By doing a “leapfrog” we were able to finish the race, but we were not eligible to be “ranked”, but finishing was so much of an accomplishment in and of itself. I personally paced my best ever in this race, many miles were between and 8-9 minute mile, significantly less than my average 10:20 pace for my previous half marathons. I was the one on my team to run and “sprint to the sea” and those last 2.7 miles felt like forever since my legs were tired and sore, but I still managed to pace under a 10 minute mile so I was so happy! Not only with my personal performance overall, but the performance of my entire team!
I will admit that after all of this running and training, I was growing tired and getting fatigued and decided to pull back a bit from the hard core training. I dropped my distance training and focused more on shorter runs, between 4-5 miles once a week on Saturday and kept with the 1-2 mile warm ups on my strength training days. I gave up the Sunday afternoon runs altogether. My next road run was a fun 5K, the Electric run, and was the night before the Spartan Super so I knew going in this race was just for fun and I didn’t need to push myself at all. Also, the very next day would be the Spartan Super and then only 2 short weeks later the Spartan World Championship race in Killington, VT. I felt great after both of these races as I took my time (Super due to a back injury and the Beast to really enjoy it with my teammates) but unfortunately I did not ever really get back into my long distance training and I had another half marathon coming up.
With the way I was trained and how I was pacing and knowing this course, I thought that I might have a shot at a good time, possibly even a sub 2 hours, and could definitely beat my finish time for the Trenton Half. However, as the race approached I grew concerned with my lack of distance running. I had no doubt in the conditioning of my legs, but doubted if I could maintain the pace I needed in order to reach my goal. I calculated the pace of my shorter distances and decided to set a goal, which I was feeling was a real stretch, of 2:10 which would be a whole 5-6 minutes faster than my previous half marathons. Of course every joint began to ache and I thought, why am I doing this to myself again? I am not a runner!
On October 25th I woke up feeling good and ready to race. Nervous because to me this race was not about just finishing, this was about hitting my goal! I arrived to the race and got my bib, fueled up and shortly after we were off. The weather was nice, not too hot but not too cold, and the course was through a mostly suburban neighborhood and traffic was not stopped around us, but I was used to that from my relay experience. It was a much smaller race than the previous two half marathons I had done before with only 317 participants. I started pretty much last in the back of the pack and just found my happy pace. Mile by mile I checked my Garmin to see how I was pacing and overall I was doing well. About mile 9 I actually realized that with my current pacing I might be able to finish in 2 hours. And then it happened…mile 10 I got a small cramp in my left hamstring and had to stop, stretch, and rub out the cramp. I fueled properly, but I think the lack of my distance training was starting to show. That mile I ended up pacing a 10:22 but I quickly realized that all I needed to do in order to reach my goal of 2:10 would be to maintain a 10 minute mile for the next 3 miles. I pep talked myself into staying positive and for those last 3 miles paced under 10 and when I crossed that finish line and saw 2:07, I felt amazing! I crushed my time from my first (and second) half marathons by 8 minutes! I was really proud of myself.
After the race, I was a little sore, but overall felt good. After I got home & showered, I took my kids pumpkin picking and got stuck carrying around a 30 lb. pumpkin with these tired legs, then it was off to a birthday party and the next day I taught my usual 3 classes at CKO. Immediately afterward I rushed off to run the Medical Needs Foundations 5K in Mountain Lakes, NJ with my Enterprise Rent-A-Car team. My time for that race was 28 minutes and while I have done 5K’s in less time than that, I was pretty impressed with how well my legs held up and just how good I felt after all of the running and activities my legs went through before that race. One thing that is made me realize, is that no matter how much I may get cranky at mile 10 or dread running in the scorching hot or freezing cold, or whether it is on a trail or the road, I AM A RUNNER!