I ran a solo time trial half marathon in lieu of an organized race on Saturday Oct. 31. It was my fifth half and I had such a great race I wanted to share! I finished in 2:10:28 – a full nineteen minutes and eighteen seconds faster than my previous personal record. Pardon me if this gets long, I’ve never told my whole running story before!
My Running Background
I started running in spring 2014, when I was 26, around the same time that I quit my pack-a-day cigarette habit. I ran my first-ever race in November 2014 and my first half in September 2017, with many assorted 5K, 8K and 10K races throughout the years. Since that first half I’ve done one every year and set my PR of 2:29:46 in April 2019.
I’ve always been a slow, somewhat reluctant runner. My historical training pace is around 11 min/mi, and my PR paces are between 10 min/mi (5K) and 11:20 min/mi (HM). In the past, I’ve always needed a race to motivate me to train. I’ve happily dedicated myself to other athletic endeavors, but when it came to running, I had to force myself to do the bare minimum.
Despite “hating” running, I’ve always LOVED race days. I love the excitement, the energy, the celebratory feeling. Which is why it’s kind of ironic that this year I’ve trained harder than ever while not having a looming race deadline to motivate me.
9 Weeks of Training
I ran a solo half on May 17, when a freak heat wave, coupled with the quarantine pounds I’d put on, totally demolished my hopes of a PR. I learned a lot doing that time trial, and it made me want to (1) lose weight and (2) start taking running seriously and see what I could accomplish.
From mid-May to the end of August I continued to run about 15 miles per week but primarily focused on hiking and backpacking, culminating in a 100-mile hiking week. After that, I set a goal to run 5 days a week for the 9 weeks leading up to Halloween, when I’d do another half marathon time trial.
For my 9 weeks of training, I ran between 30 and 38 miles per week. My schedule was roughly:
|M: 4-5mi easy run|
|T: 4-5mi track workout or hill repeats|
|W: 6-8mi easy run|
|Fri: 9-13mi long run|
|Sa/Sun: 5-7mi easy run one day, rest one day|
As the weather cooled off, my pace, which had slowed to 12:30min/mi in the humid depths of summer, began to pick up. I started thinking of 5 and 6 mile runs as short. The consistently of going out 5x/week made a huge different in my mentality. I stopped complaining, began to look forward to my runs, and realized that I was truly, after six years, falling in love with running.
Two highlights from training:
I went out for a 12 mile long run and at 11 miles realized I was on track to beat my half marathon PR. That made me realize I was really onto something and set my expectations for the actual time trial accordingly.
On another long run, I underdressed, got caught in the freezing rain, and felt truly awful – like on the verge of hypothermia. I ran my fastest mile ever, 8:56, halfway through to get the hell home. It sucked but it reminded me how tough and dedicated I am.
At the beginning of June I started a slow cut and by the time I started training in late August I’d lost 8 lbs, from 164 to 156 (at 5’6.5″). I lost another pound or two in September and October, and I’m maintaining at about 155 now. Throughout training I ate an average of 2400 cals/day. In the week before this race, I ate whatever I wanted and I feel it really benefitted me, especially because I couldn’t stomach my Honey Stinger gummies during the race.
One of the things I learned during my disastrous May half was that an out-and-back on a multi-use path made for a tedious race. So my husband mapped us a route through Fredericksburg, VA. I memorized it and the navigation kept my mind engaged during the race. During normal times, I prefer races through small towns (as opposed to big-city races), so that made it feel authentic.
I started running at 8am in 40* temps, clear skies. No one was really wearing masks outside, unlike in DC, but it wasn’t crowded and I was alone on the sidewalk or path most of the time.
Miles 1 to 6
I ran my first mile in 9:30, a full minute+ faster than my fastest training pace. I was like, woah. Let’s not burn out here. I spent that first few miles focused on the sustainability of my perceived effort. I felt amazing, like I was flying. The middle section of my route was solitary, flat, and fast, and when I hit the halfway point I realized I had just PR’d my 10K, running the first 6.2mi in 61:38 (previous PR, set in October 2019, was 64:01). I also crossed paths with my husband here and we high-fived.
Miles 7 to 9
After mile 6, I told myself to abandon hope of negative splits and SLOW DOWN if I was going to finish this thing. But I didn’t – that flat, smooth path had me running mile 7 in 9:34, mile 8 in 9:34, and mile 9 in 9:54. Around mile 9, my hard effort started to catch up with me. I ate a couple gummies but a sip of water told me not to put anything else in my stomach. Then I saw my Apple Watch was reporting my heart rate at 171 – it records my easy runs at around 135, and during my interval workouts I peak at about 160, so this really freaked me out. I reminded myself to stay steady and maintain my perceived effort.
Miles 10 to 13.1
My HR stayed around 165 for the rest of the race, and I could tell I was pushing myself really hard. The wall came for me at about mile 10. At that point I had a three-mile straightaway to the finish line. I did mile 10 in 9:59, mile 11 in 10:27, mile 12 in 10:06.
At this point I saw that I could possibly finish in 2:10, twenty minutes faster than my PR, but I was really focused on not puking, so I didn’t push any more than I felt I could get away with. I finally ran into the parking lot where my husband was waiting for me with a time of 2:10:28.
Thoughts and going forward
I’ve run halfs that were suffer-fests before, but the last three miles of this one was a suffer-fest in all the right ways – it hurt because I pushed myself, because I’d put in the work and I was ready to go hard. I really left it all on the course and I could not be happier with how it turned out.
My runner friends have always told me that speed comes with mileage, but I had to live it to believe it. I’m gonna work on my base and building some strength this winter, and already can’t wait for spring training. I’m considering doing a full next year – something I never thought I’d say. Thanks for reading!