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Training for the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon

For someone who has a checkered past with the half marathon, this is an uncomfortable post for me to hit the ol’ publish button on, but, here we go …

I want a half marathon PR. And I’m planning to chase one down this October at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I’ve got a bunch of friends who will also be racing, and even more running buddies who are helping me stay accountable. I’m going to reach this goal — or I’ll go down trying. Hell, I even joined Strava! I am serious.

Now, when I say “trying,” I mean it — I started my official training plan at the end of June and I’m pretty damn proud to say that I haven’t missed a key workout yet. Of course, as I write this, I’ve got a suitcase out for a trip I’m going on next week, so I suspect that will change. But life happens, right? I’m confident that I’ll do the best I can to stick to my training with the time I have available — and I’ll jump back in on my regular runs as soon as I’m back home.

It’s been a while since I’ve really dedicated myself to a goal like this. In fact, I think the Augusta 70.3 back in 2014 was the last time I got serious — and spoke publicly — about my race training, because even though my last half marathon PR came in 2015, well, frankly, it was a complete surprise. I hadn’t done the kind of work that typically earns a new personal best. This time around, though, I’ve got a plan — and support.

Tuesday morning track workout with the Suncoast Milers.
Credit: @lovinglifeontherun

Now, this plan isn’t anything revolutionary; just 3-4 runs a week (plus, of course, yoga, and strength work, and maybe a group cycling or swim thrown in). One of those runs is speed work, and thanks to my Suncoast Milers crew, I’ve got a workout and a group of people to meet up with at 6 a.m. every Tuesday morning, even when it’s 90 degrees with 95 percent humidity before the sun comes up. Another is a middle distance tempo run, and then, of course, there’s my long runs on Saturday mornings — and that’s where I’m trying something new.

The Cutdown Run

Ever done a cutdown run? They’re designed to simulate the experience of needing to increase your effort over the course of the run — which is pretty smart, really, since as we fatigue more and more, mile after mile, just keeping the same pace is harder. So why wouldn’t we train for that?

Here’s how it’s done: If you’ve got an eight-mile run planned, you’d warm up for the first mile, and then, for the next six miles, you’d drop 10 seconds per mile from your pace to go a little bit faster each mile until, on that sixth cutdown mile, you’re running at or just below your goal race pace before running your final mile at a cool down pace.

So, for example, my goal is to break a 2:10 half, so I’m hoping to hold a 9:45/mile pace (knowing that I will have some walk breaks and I’d like a bit of cushion). Here’s how that looks:

  • Mile 1: Warm up
  • Mile 2: 10:35
  • Mile 3: 10:25
  • Mile 4: 10:15
  • Mile 5: 10:05
  • Mile 6: 9:55
  • Mile 7: 9:45 or better
  • Mile 8: Cool down

Obviously, you’d adjust for your own goal pace, but this should give you the idea.

Does that scare you? Because, well, in these earlier training weeks — and in this insanely hot and humid weather — the idea of holding anything close to my goal pace for more than a mile on legs that have already logged a 10k was really intimidating to me. I said so to my friend Scott (who’s also running in Toronto and has been with me on every long run since we started this journey) before we set out on our first cutdown run, and while he acknowledged it sounded tough, he was optimistic.

(He was also prepared to push me if I started to fall apart, which is a very helpful quality in a running partner, let me tell you.)

Scott and I, smiling and sweating at the top of the bridge on our first long Toronto training run.

Turns out, he was right. We’ve now done a few cutdown runs, and they haven’t been easy, but, even on the days when I’ve had serious doubts halfway through, we’ve been able to continue picking up speed to hit those paces on the last few miles. And if I can do that early on in my training, with the aforementioned heat and humidity (seriously, our dewpoint has regularly been in the mid to high 70s), that gives me hope for what I can accomplish in a couple of months.

I know that increasing my effort mile over mile is helping to train my body to go faster before producing so much lactic acid that I can’t keep up the pace, but I suspect the mental aspect of these pace-specific, goal-oriented long runs may be even more important for my mental game.

So! First up, will I see any of you in T.O.? And second, let me hear your favorite training tips (or workouts, or mantras, or playlists …) — because, you guys? We’ve got this. —Kristen

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