9 ways I shaved 9 minutes off my half marathon PR.

As I blogged last week, I was nervous for this race. I thought I could do well. I was pretty sure I was going to PR. But still. You never know.

On Sunday morning I ran the Dallas BMW half marathon with 20,000 ish other runners. The weather was perfect: overcast and 50 degrees with some drizzle and fog fading for the start. The wind gusts picked up the last few miles (I imagine it was less pleasant for the 26.2 people still out there), but I was able to run most of the race without feeling too much resistance.

I suppose there’s no need to build the suspense for how I did, since the title of this post is a clear spoiler. I shaved 9 full minutes off my previous PR, run at this same exact race in 2014.

check out that pacing #humblebrag

So how did I do it? After 2 years, two years spent consistently running and racing regularly, how did I have such a big drop in one race? I’ve thought a lot about it, and here are 9 contributing factors (I believe) led to that 9 minute PR.

I. My previous time wasn’t that fast. Let’s start with a dose of reality. I’m not a fast runner. I’m not even a fast runner for a 42 year old mother of 3. There are a lot of middle aged runners faster than me. I know from my years of swimming and coaching that you can only get big drops in time when there’s that lack of speed to begin with. I’m not being falsely modest, just practical and realistic. If I was running sub-2 hour half marathons, I would never see a drop like that. But my previous (5) half marathons were all run in the 2:26 to (cringe, altitude in Colorado) 2:35 range. I was bound to drop time at some point, amIright?

With that said, I still dropped a lot of time for me, which brings me to my next 8 points.

II. I took a break from the distance. When I discovered I could actually run 13.1 miles (in April 2014), I got a little addicted to medals running. In short order, I ran 4 additional half marathons (in less than 2 years). I grew weary, mentally and physically, of training for the long distance. I purposely took almost a year off from a half marathon race, to give my body and brain a break.

III. I played around with the Galloway run/walk method. I’ve raced some of my previous half marathons without walking at all, and finished some others with (exhausted) short stints of walking as I staggered through the last few miles. I’ve never done an entire training cycle with the dedicated intent to try out the run/walk method, thinking (full disclosure) that is for people who just aren’t tough enough to actually run all those miles. However, given my slow times with the “real” running, what did I have to lose by trying a training cycle with the run/walk?

I still did all my mid-week 3-6 mile runs (speedwork, tempo runs, easy miles) as straight runs, but practiced different run/walk ratios for my Saturday long runs. Eventually I settled on a 3 min run/ :45 sec walk ratio. As I practiced my long runs, I was shocked to discover that I was finishing 9, 10 and 11 mile runs in the 10:50-11 min/mile range without feeling like I was killing myself. Not only was my pace faster, but I wasn’t miserable.

Maybe that Galloway guy is on to something.

see? I smiled for the camera. Run/walk covert.

IVI worked on running faster during my mid-week runs. Yes, this is a no-brainer, but remember, I’m still relatively new to this running thing. Before I really committed to trying to lower my half marathon time, I completed my runs, but was not particularly motivated to work hard at them. I mostly stuck to the “novice” training plans, with suggested mileage, without a focus on speedwork. I figured out that I wanted to run my half somewhere in the 10:20-10:30 min/mile range, and started really working on the treadmill during the week at growing comfortable with that pace for 4, 5 and 6 mile stretches.

V. That triathlon training, tho. If I had to identify something really different about this year, versus my previous 2 years of half marathon training and racing, it was all that triathlon training during the 6-7 months before this latest 13.1 training cycle. From March through September, I only ran 3 days a week, but I was also swimming and biking several times a week. Remember, I completed an Olympic distance triathlon on Labor Day. I have to believe that had something to do with it. Also?

VI. For the first time, I actually did my strength training. Unlike my actual runs (which I am fairly militant about completing), I inevitably begin every race training cycle with the best of intentions about strength training. I conscientiously work in 10-15 minutes of planks, lunges and squats a couple times a week the first week or two…and then just sort of drop it. I don’t know what it is about that dang strength training, but I just can’t stick with it.

Until the past 2 months, when I diligently maintained my twice weekly planks and lunges. I still hated it. But I did it.

flying across the finish line. Tri training + strength training = strong finish

VII. I changed up my shoes. Previously, I’ve trained and raced in super cushy sneakers (or “kicks” as my husband calls them. Is that a Texan thing? I don’t know. Weird.). I oscillated between Brooks Glycerins or Saucony Rides. Don’t get me wrong, those are super comfy sneakers, and I still have mad love for them, but I discovered through my triathlon training that maybe I could pare down some of that extra bulk. I discovered the Saucony Kinvara and haven’t looked back.

VIII. I dropped a few pounds. Okay, I’m sure this is psychological more than anything else, but I lost 3-4 pounds, not that I was dieting or trying to reduce my size, but I’m constantly retooling my diet to figure out what makes me feel better during workouts, and keeps my energy up during the day.

IX. I nailed my pre-race week nutrition. I was very regimented the entire week leading up to the race with what I ate. While I’ve figured out what works for me in general as far as nutrition (see VIII), I went into race mode earlier than usual for this half. No desserts, no booze, and carefully planned dinners with a mix of healthy carbs and protein.

Do I believe that not drinking any alcohol or eating any cookies for 7 days before running a half marathon directly correlates to a 9 minute drop? *shrug* It couldn’t hurt.

So that’s it. Nine ways I think I had an amazing race on Sunday.

Next up? A 15k in February, and then it’s time to plan my triathlons!

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One response to “9 ways I shaved 9 minutes off my half marathon PR.

  1. Congrats! Well done on finding what works for you. No shame in the run/walk method. You did great!

    I’m a big Kinvara fan myself and also my preferred shoes for half marathons.

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