I started a new round of training this morning (which seemed appropriate, being the first day of the new year). Despite being a bit sluggish-- due to a very late New Year's Eve retirement-- it was a great start to what I expect to be a very exciting and satisfying culmination at the Salt Lake City half-marathon on April 21st.
I have a full 16 weeks to train, which is quite a bit longer than the training period for my last half-marathon. And although I expect to be able to run a personal best in Salt Lake City (under 2:11), my training this time around will be focused more on endurance than it will for speed. I plan to run another half-marathon in the fall that is a prime course for attaining a personal best record, so for now I'm content on being patient with the long, slower-paced distance runs.
I crafted my own training program, using a format I've used previously that I know works well for me. It's not a flawless plan by any means and already I anticipate it may need some tweaking, especially once I reach the higher mileage long runs. But I learned while training for my marathon last summer that the best training program is one that takes into account my own body and the signals it sends to me rather than any structured program. Flexibility is imperative and though sometimes the obsessive-compulsive part of me wants to stick to the numbers, the wiser-from-experience runner in me knows to listen to my body above all else.
For those not familiar with how training programs work (and for those willing to humor me for a few minutes while I explain), here's a few basics that may help in following along in my preparations for Salt Lake City:
- Every run in a training program has a purpose, whether it's an endurance run, a recovery run, a speedwork run or otherwise. Always incorporated in a good program is the hard/easy rule of thumb, which has a difficult run (as measured by energy exerted) followed by an easy run. My training has me running four days a week: two short runs, one medium run, and one long run. While sometimes illness or schedule conflicts may disrupt a training schedule, it's important to follow the format as closely as possible as each run works with and builds upon the next.
- Generally, there shouldn't be more than a 10% increase in total mileage from one week to the next, which serves to prevent burnout or injuries from doing too much, too soon. Some runners can handle more than the 10% increase, others much less. I seem to be able to handle the 10% increase rather well, plus a little extra. I allowed a one to two-mile increase from one week to the next (not including the weeks immediately following a fall back week), which should be a very manageable progression for me over the course of 16 weeks.
- Fall back weeks occur every two or three weeks during the training and serve to give the body a bit of a break after making consecutive progressions. Theoretically, after the fall back week, the body is rested enough to be able to pick up from where it left off and make another progression forward.
- Cross-training days (marked with an "XT") are designated for any activity other than running. In the past, I've taken advantage of a temporary gym membership to use the elliptical machines, stationary bikes and weight equipment. This time around, I'll probably do more walking than anything for cross-training, mixed in with free weights for my core and upper body and something I've resolved to do better... stretching.
- The peak in training is the week during which both the long run and the weekly total mileage is at its highest. I'm considering running a 15-miler as my peak long run, but will make that decision after I finish the first 13-mile training run a week before. It's quite possible my body won't be up for training longer than the race distance, in which case I'll just get used to running the 13 miles a few times before racing it.
- Tapering is the period at the end of training when the mileage is purposely decreased to give the body a chance to rest and recover from the training in an effort to peak on race day. I've given myself a three week taper, which should be more than sufficient for the half-marathon distance. While still running shorter distances to maintain my cardio conditioning during the taper, come April 21st, my body will be rested and my legs will be fresh. Ready to race!
So, that's training in a nutshell... and that's what I have to look forward to during the next 16 weeks. It's not easy by any means, especially those long Saturday morning runs when staying in the warm confines of my bed sounds so much more appealing. But there's something about training for a race that is very fulfilling-- the sense of progress and accomplishment as each run is marked off, one run closer to the ultimate goal. The race itself is only the culminating event; it's the hours and hours of training that make a runner.
I'm ready and rarin' to go!