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FIRST Things First

July 26, 2013 2 comments

Readers of this blog (yes, all three of you), already know that this (former?) lazy ass has caught the running bug. Yes, I’ve been running fairly regularly over the last year or so. I’ve done a couple of 10k races, and a half marathon. I run slow by most standards, but I can run far, and I enjoy it.

If you’ve not been in touch lately and are right now arching your eyebrows up as far as they will go, surprised about my foray into (and enjoyment of) physical activity, you’re not alone. Every time I think about the fact that after a year of running, I still enjoy it, my eyebrows do the same elaborate dance yours are doing at the moment. What can I say? Miracles do happen.

After my first half, when I just ran 3 times a week, by feel, increasing the distance I ran each week, I decided to follow a more structured approach to training. I tried to follow Hal Higdon’s intermediate training plan for my next half marathon, which was supposed to be on 7th July 2013.

True to tradition which I established with my first half, I woke up late this time too. Only this time, I did one better and woke up so late, so as to make it impossible to get to the start in time. So I did not run the race. One day, a kindly soul will have mercy on me, and organize a race in the evening. Surely, I am not the only evening person who runs?! Anyway, that tradition and its discussion is for later. This is more about the training plan.

For my second HM, I had in mind a goal time of 2:00 hours. Listening to popular wisdom, I decided I’d have to run often and more, to get faster. Higdon’s plan called for running 4 times a week. One day of the week was dedicated to “speedwork” – 400m intervals, or 30-45minute tempos. This was an aspect wholly abent from my earlier training. There were some “pace-days”, which called for running upto 8 kilometers at the pace I wanted to run in the race. I also incorporated (tried to anyway) some strength training into my routine.

However, the training was a bit hit and miss. Partly because of unforeseen commitments, laziness, work and also because I don’t think the plan worked for me, the way it was structured. Here were my grouses:

  1. Speed-work wasn’t enough, I thought. It led up to 10 laps of 400m or up to 45 minutes of tempo. The tempo run required you to hold 10k pace for only a few minutes. Considering that I was gunning for a lot more improvement, I am not sure how much it would’ve helped.
  2. While I ran more through the week, the individual runs were short. 5-8 kilometer runs every day didn’t really do it for me, except make me comfortable running that distance. I felt wholly unprepared for the long runs.
  3. In fact, my long runs became slower, and more difficult. They were slower than when I was training for my first half, and I didn’t feel ready enough to be able to complete it. A long run of 16kms when you’ve been running (mostly slow-medium pace) 8-10km at max through the other runs of the week, seemed impossible to do, and I had to give up and walk home a couple of times (oh the shame).
  4. This was compounded by the fact that the run of “sustained HM pace” was followed immediately by long-runs. So, in effect, the hardest workout of the week was followed by the longest. Did not get the logic, me.
  5. Higdon’s guidance on pace, is limited. Most runs are done @ slow / easy pace. How long to stick to tempo pace isn’t specified, and so on. Overall, I think “run slower, get slower” is what I suffered from.
  6. Time was a factor. 4-5 times a week seemed a little much. A lot of workouts were missed, because work, lethargy, other commitments. I frequently didn’t feel the urge to run, as opposed to earlier, when I really wanted to run. And given that I was running almost all week, a missed workout was a missed workout – There was no way of compensating. In the end, that affected the training.

So, in summary, Higdon’s intermediate plan was perhaps not right for me. While I had started out with a goal of 2 hours for the half, I wasn’t hopeful of doing any better than 2:15:00 – 2:20:00 at best, and realistically, I was looking at a time of 2:30:00. We’ll of course, never know, given that I didn’t do the half I registered for.

Anyway, I was looking at something else to try, for my next half, whenever that is. And I stumbled upon the FIRST half marathon plan.

What appealed to me was:

  1. There are only 3 days of running, with each workout being a quality, key workout, targeting a specific aspect of running – intervals for speed, tempos for lactate threshold, and (relatively) quick long runs for endurance. This means, limited outlay of time, which combats laziness, helps with recovery, prevents injury and accumulated fatigue (more rest time), and more importantly, because I run in the evenings, allows me to get my workout in during the week.
  2. Intervals are not just 400m intervals, but span a variety of distances (400, 600, 800, 1000 etc). This allows the body to get used to running quickly over a variety of distances
  3. The guidance on pace is very good, and based on your 10k pace. Even tempo runs are broken down into short and medium tempo paces. The paces are challenging, and there are no “easy miles”. Each workout is challenging and pushes you.
  4. Distances you run in each run, are longer, thus conditioning the body to go longer, and faster. This also works now that I have a year’s worth of running long distances under my belt. I don’t need to BUILD UP to the half-marathon distance, and I can focus on getting better.
  5. My shoes. When you spend ~8k ($150) on shoes, you want them to not die in 6 months. And I am not going to buy 2 pairs of shoes to alternate, given the cost. Running thrice a week, means the shoes get time to “recover” too, and (hopefully) they’ll last longer.

I’ve done this for a couple of weeks, and I like it so far. The workouts have been challenging and have kicked my backside. The interval workouts leave me feeling like roadkill, without damaging my desire to run fast. I look forward to running again, and that itself is half the battle.

There are of course concerns I have about, “not enough mileage” and reliance on cross training – which, frankly, I loathe – and I have no clue how not doing it religiously is going to change how the plan behaves (Because I don’t see myself doing it). As it stands, the plan puts my HM finishing time at 2:10. I’m going to aim for 2:05. If I can get to 2:05, I’ll consider this plan a success.

I’ll report progress. Hopefully, my laziness is going to prove helpful this time 🙂

* Starts looking for a half-marathon to sign-up for*

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