Don’t you love the start of a new training cycle? Your training plan looks all perfect before you begin, not yet marred by skipped speed workouts and abbreviated long runs. Motivation abounds, and just the thought of your goal race is enough to get you out the door to run, or to make you choose the heavier dumbbells at the gym.
A couple weeks ago, I signed up for the The Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon. I’m in that phase during which I’m in love with everything about this Labor Day weekend race: flat and fast, highly organized, not too far from home. I’m daydreaming about hanging out with my running buddies at the post-race party, and about spending part of the long weekend at the beach. My first marathon was the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in 2007, so I’m well familiar with the slick, highly organized format of the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series—it might be crowded at the start, but I’m already looking forward to the well-stocked aid stations and ice-water-soaked towels at the finish line.
The only downside I can forsee is the potential for unforgiving late-summer heat on what looks to be a largely shade-less course. But there will be plenty of time to worry about that when the honeymoon phase is replaced by the sinking dread of reality.
Starting at the end of the month, I’ll be following my beloved FIRST plan, in which I run only three days per week, but run them hard; swim or cycle at a decent intensity level for at least 30 to 60 minutes two or three days a week; and take one or two days off. My running days will consist of a tempo run, a speed workout and a long run.
A reminder of why I like FIRST: The training plans are designed by two exercise physiologists and marathoners who noticed their marathon times got better, not worse, when they trained for triathlons. I first tried it leading up to the National Half Marathon on March 21, 2009, and I ran my best time by several minutes. More importantly, I crossed the finish line uninjured.
In their helpful and entertaining book, Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster, the FIRST guys suggest the following paces:
- Track repeats should be run at 5K race pace or slightly faster. No problem; that’s what I’d be doing already … if I were currently doing any speedwork.
- The long run should be about 30 seconds slower than your goal marathon pace. Which I would totally be doing … if I were currently doing any long runs.
- The tempo run should be “comfortably hard,” 15 to 45 seconds slower than 5K pace. This means I’ve got to start picking up the pace to somewhere between 7:45-minute miles (ha!) and 8:15-minute miles.
Runner’s World also offers some helpful translations in its three-days-a-week half-marathon plan, which follows the spirit of the FIRST plan with fewer specifics to wrap your brain around.
Have you done the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon before? What did you think? Anything you wish you’d known before the race?