About five months ago, I started my first training block ever to run a long distance race.
I think it is a common experience for many who grow up playing team sports to view running as a punishment. Missed your free throws? Run lines. Got blown out on your home field? Next practice, we’re running. The crazy thing is, I even ran cross country for a time growing up, but even then, that was about running a race to beat people.
A weird thing happens as you get older. They say you have the vast majority of your novel experiences in the first 25 years of your life. After that, time starts to move pretty quickly because you are simply just used to the world around you. It is with this truth that finding enjoyment in the mundane becomes a focus. Running, for me, has become one of those mundanities. There is something about the steady pounding of the pavement to a beat that just puts you into a meditative state. The day’s stresses fade away for the time being, and the only thing that truly matters is taking that next step.
I originally set out to run this race as my first long distance event, which it was, but I did not anticipate feeling good enough to run 13 miles in a single session about a month into what would be a just shy of a five month training block (I was starting from zero, thus the extended length of the block!). As is common in the marathoning business, this race became earmarked as a tuneup of sorts instead, a marker on my progress towards what would become my new goal, running my first full marathon.
The progress has been steady, but in the thick of a training block where I have been quickly adapting to faster paces and longer distances (faster than anticipated), going into this race I really had no idea what my potential might be. The 3M Half Marathon in Austin, Texas is well known as a fast course. Starting north of the city and heading into the river valley downtown, this course gives a nice net drop in elevation leading to a lot of PRs. With weather in the 40s, cloudy and a light breeze it was the perfect conditions to put up some fast splits.
Wanting to run a negative split race, I started out just ahead of the 1:45 pace group, thinking 1:40 would be a great finish for me based on my training leading up to the race. Perhaps what I didn’t anticipate is the power that on-course energy, adrenaline of a race, and the motivation to catch and pass pacers would carry me further than I thought.
By mile 5, I had caught the 1:40 pace group and we were approaching a familiar part of the course to me, Great Northern Boulevard, where I had done training runs. I had not done a great job tapering leading up to this race, having ran the Thursday prior to this Sunday race, but any remaining soreness from the slog of my training block had worn off and I was feeling in a groove. I chose to settle in and get comfortable in the middle miles. Thinking I would not catch the 1:35 group, I let the pace slip slightly from 7 minute miles as we started hitting some rolling hills.
It’s probably around mile 10 that I can see the 1:35 stick in the distance as we go up and down 45th. As we turned south I knew I had friends waiting around mile 11 to cheer me on, having not even seen them yet I was already drawing an energy boost from it in anticipation. By the time I had reached them, I was just behind the 1:35 pacer, with the group starting to take off ahead for a fast finish. I followed suit, turning down through UT’s campus (another familiar place from training runs), I could feel the impending finish line and started to empty the tank. With a couple tough uphill sections, I was able to turn in a 7 flat and a 6:50 for my final two splits.
What blows my mind still is that over the course of my training I don’t think I turned in a single mile at a 7 minute pace. I did weekly speed/interval workouts (sometimes with hills), but never held a pace like that for a mile, maybe half that for a single repetition. It is still very counterintuitive to me that building weekly mileage at slower paces still sets you up for fast races like this. Conventional wisdom- or maybe common sense, might suggest that you actually run your goal paces during workouts. I have done so in anticipation of my goal marathon pace, but was blown away by my endurance at a faster pace over a shorter distance.
Completing this race has been a huge motivator to knock out my peak 50 mile week leading up to a taper for the Austin Marathon next month. While I will need to be conservative due to the fast nature of this course in predicting marathon distance times, I have absolutely had to adjust my goals for racing the marathon distance. Austin is notoriously a hilly (no, Texas is not all flat!) course, with an unrelenting climb north from miles 11 to 18 which will put my hill training sessions to the test, but this race has served its role as a barometer of my level of fitness nonetheless.
When my first marathon is in the books I will crack open the training data captured on each run via my watch and do some discovery and analysis over this entire block. I may even spin up and host a dashboard for people to play around with, so check back with me soon!
Strava clout below: