Meg from the new Meg on the Run series is back today! Read on as Meg shares more about her her new half-marathon training schedule and the running tweaks she’s making that are making all the difference in the world.
Time to check in and talk progress! I wish I could say that since my last post I’ve found the miracle answer — the one little tweak that makes running a 1,000 times easier than ever before. Despite plenty of claims to the contrary, I don’t actually believe it exists. I believe that running will always be a challenge for me. And that’s fine — staying fit is all about challenging yourself. I’m just looking for ways to make that challenge more enjoyable.
I selected a 12-week training program for my May half marathon, so that means I had about a month to play with some ideas before it was time to buckle down and start following the prescribed workouts. I used this time to reflect on what I wanted to change from the last time I trained for this distance. The basic program will be the same thing I did last time — three short runs and one long run per week, building up to 13.1 miles, along with some lifting and cross-training. But I want it to be better this time. So I started paying attention to advice from other runners, reading articles and adjusting my workouts.
Holy crap, y’all, there’s so much advice out there. There are thousands of different articles about the one essential core exercise for runners, and every one of those claims a different exercise is the one essential one. There are studies that show toe-striking is best, studies that advocate heel striking, studies that say you should run more miles, fewer miles — my point is that you can’t follow all the advice. Rather than reading every article with a goal of doing everything exactly as it said, I looked for tips that I could apply without making drastic changes to the way I exercise.
I knew I needed to make two big adjustments from the first time around. One, I needed to be more serious about keeping up my strength training. Sure I was running longer distances than ever before, but the last time I did a running training program, everything that wasn’t running took a back seat. And by that I mean I didn’t do anything that wasn’t running, ever, at all. I don’t know how much that negatively affected my running, but I do know that it was just pathetic to be in the best shape of my life, as measured by running endurance, and at the same time barely able to keep up with the old ladies in the Body Pump class I attended the week after my race. And by “barely able to keep up,” I mean I didn’t keep up with them at all; they put me to shame, lifting much heavier loads while I limped my way through the class taking constant wheezing breaks.
This is a simple enough fix. I just need to be serious about my cross-training. My brother, an eight-time marathon finisher, gave me great advice on this front: You’re allowed to work out more than once a day. Brilliant! I can do a short run on my lunch break, and then hit the gym for some lifting later in the day. That’s doable, and it preserves the ever-important days off, which are as much a part of the training program as the long runs. I’ve been attending a couple of Body Pump classes each week, and I plan to keep up with that routine when I get into the race training.
The second adjustment was harder to figure out. The problem was that I really dreaded my longer runs, and the number of miles I was doing made it so that my feet hurt basically all the time. I was slogging through even the short runs and what were supposed to be “easy” days weren’t easy at all — they just made me feel worse about the long runs ahead. If this three-mile run sucks THIS much, how will I do eight miles on Sunday? I knew that I needed to find some way to make running this kind of mileage easier. Previous attempts at changing my stride were laughable failures, so instead I worked on other parts of my form. I identified a few bad habits and got some advice on fixing them.
The worst habit, and easiest to fix, was my chicken-wing problem. That’s when you hunch your shoulders and hold your arms up like chicken wings, instead of swinging them more naturally at your sides. Every time I caught myself doing this, I gave my arms a vigorous shake, make a conscious effort to get my shoulders down and put my arms back where they belonged. Improving my form this way didn’t give me an incredible speed boost, but it made running more comfortable. I call that a win.
The very biggest change I made has been a huge one — and has had a massively positive impact on my running. It was the hardest to do because it involved sacrificing my ego. I slowed down. A lot. I was never a fast runner, and I don’t enter races for the actual race part, but I still had arbitrary numbers in my head that dictated my pace. In all my training, I would run between an 8:30 mile and a 10:00 mile, usually in the 9:15 range, and it honestly never occurred to me to slow down below a 10:00 pace. But then one day, I ran with a group, and we did a 3-mile run at an 11:00 pace, and I had an epiphany. The difference between “I can do this all day” and “OMG, I’M GONNA DIE” is only about a 30-second difference in pace. For the last month, the very fastest I’ve run is a 10:00 mile, and running is SO MUCH BETTER. It’s easier to maintain good form, I can breathe, my feet don’t ache all the time (they still hurt some, not gonna lie), and it’s much easier to see myself adding mileage when my short runs don’t take everything I’ve got.
Did you know that you still burn calories even if you run slower than your absolute max? Imagine that. Maybe slowing down will somehow make me faster in the long run. One training method I learned about is where runners keep their heart rate below a certain level during all of their training, and then go balls out on race day, and it’s supposed to improve your speed and endurance. Or maybe I’ll just be a slower runner than before, and I’ve made peace with that. It feels like this is the one major adjustment I needed to make to get into the running groove for real, and I feel good about it. It’s really hard to overrule the voice in my head urging me to run faster, but I’m sure crossing the finish line will be rewarding enough for the ego to concede on the speed issue.
Next week, I start my official training program. I’ll be back soon to tell you all about it. How’s your training going? —Meg