The more I think about the National Marathon in March, the more benefits I see to setting my sights on this race.
One such benefit: While searching for a tune-up half-marathon that would suit my timing for the March 20 marathon, I realized I could piggyback a visit to my parents in New Port Richey, Fla., on a trip back to Gainesville, Fla., where I lived and worked for four years, to run the Five Points of Life Half-Marathon in February.
The hometown flavor that permeates the race starts before runners even cross the starting line, with a cheer familiar to anyone who’s attended a University of Florida football game:
All for the Gators stand up and holler!
Even if you’re not a Gator fan, it’s hard not to love the sense of place and friendly vibe that define this small but speedy race. The flat, fast course runs through Gainesville’s quaint downtown before winding around the University of Florida campus, with highlights including a swing past alligator-filled Lake Alice and a trip through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (again, even if you’re not a Gator fan, this is pretty cool). The race aims to raise awareness of the need for lifesaving donations of blood, apheresis, marrow, cord blood, and organ and tissue.
I’m also psyched to run the race for personal reasons: this is the half-marathon that started it all for me and distance running. I was planning to run the Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville in 2007, and, for the first time, was following a training schedule to the letter. Things were going well, and it occurred to me that, if I could run nine miles on long runs after a slow buildup, I could probably run 13 miles, too. That kind of thinking eventually led to my first marathon in Nashville, Tenn., in April 2007.
My time for that first half-marathon wasn’t anything special by my current standards. But at the time, 1:56 shattered my every expectation for myself, and made me realize that pushing my body a little harder than is comfortable can yield almost magical mind-calming results.
Best of all: It only costs $45 to register for it until the end of the year.
I’m also dreaming up lots of ways to improve my marathon training, while maintaining my ultimate goal of not getting hurt through the process. A few tools I plan to add to my arsenal:
Progression runs. While training for the Marine Corps Marathon, I made a point to run the last few miles of each long run faster than my first few miles. But I’m going to get even better at holding back early on and speeding up steadily until the end of the run.
More continuous running. I’m not sure how bad I was, exactly, about lingering at my personal “rest stops” on long runs. This time, I’m going to do my best to simulate race-day conditions, stopping only as long as I would at a water station during the race.
Speedwork (more of it). I didn’t get a chance to add this to my training repertoire until just weeks before the race thanks to a lingering hip injury. I think starting mile repeats and Yasso 800s earlier in the process will do wonders for my confidence, if not my actual speed.
Stepping up my efforts to keep my stomach calm on race-day. I did a lot right before my Marine Corps Marathon stomach disaster — but I think I can do even better, and not just in terms of skipping an unfamiliar chicken sandwich the day before the race. More details on this as training progresses — I’ll definitely be seeking tips from all of you!
Which workouts, foods and other training tactics helped you run your best marathon ever? I’ve got a good general route mapped out for myself, but I’m still looking for new and interesting detours.