The Grind of Training and Goal Achievement

Back in late May I decided to run the Canby Dahlia Run half marathon. It had been three years since my last half and I needed a goal to work towards over the summer. I use Trello to track short- and long-term goals, and my half-marathon goal looked like this:

I chose a 9 minute pace because that was the pace I’d shot for in the prior four half marathons I’d run. As I get older, running the same pace should be a good thing, right? I adopted the exact same training plan I’ve followed in prior years.

Looking back at my training, which started in June, I did not miss a single training day. The closest I came to cheating was the final 4×400 that I did with my friend Greg out at Salishan. We didn’t go to a track but just used my time-based interval tracker. I’m confident I was hitting my 400 distance with each of my intervals.

Things started degrade in mid July. On 7/16 I did a 10 mile run and barely achieved my pace goal, running 9:13. I fell at the 9.8 mile point on a small wooden bridge and tore up my ankle, knee, hip, and elbow. Almost 45 days later my ankle is still healing. I then did a 12 mile training run on the Keuka outlet trail with a friend and we ran a 11:21 pace, well below my target. This was fine: I just wanted to hit the distance goal, and this was a comfortable pace for my friend (who, by the way, has run over 200 marathons). I had a great 8 mile tempo run on July 26, running 8 miles at an 8:39 pace, slightly ahead of goal. Then things went sideways on my long run: another outlet trail run for 14 miles. Someone stole my water and food drop at the 7 mile point, and I somehow beat up my legs and toes even more. The trail (mostly smooth grade, easy running but not the same as pavement) impacted me more than expected, though insight it was probably good training. Average pace: 9:55. Color me worried.

It is now August and I’m back in Oregon, and I attempt a 6 mile tempo run and only make it 3.5 miles and run an 8:55 pace. At this point I’m thinking I’ll be lucky to finish the half marathon, let alone run under a 9 minute pace. Still, I stuck to my training plan and pondered possible root causes.

Back in July I started intermittent fasting of the 18/6 fashion: either skipping breakfast or drinking my own version of bulletproof coffee. Around August 10 I came to the obvious conclusion that this is a stupid idea on run training days. Depriving myself of calories the morning of a long or tempo run is a sure way to make sure I fail. My 12 mile long run in downtown Portland on August 12 looked better: a 9:44 pace but with good splits in the low 9s during the final 3 miles. Everything started to look a bit better.

Last Saturday I ran the half marathon and started with better-than-expected splits in the 8:45 range during the first 4 miles. I was feeling so good that I pulled away from my running partner and decided to run at whatever pace felt comfortable. Three miles later Runkeeper is telling me that I’m averaging 8:30 miles, which I did not believe. Looking back I ran splits of 8:09 and 8:07 for miles 5 and 6. This is like making a huge deposit in your checking account; I had a lot of room for slowing down and still meeting my 9 minute goal. I was able to sustain under 9 minute pace for the rest of the race, even the uphill portions in miles 9–12. I finished with a PR time of 1:52:09.

I didn’t write this article to show off my PR; I wrote it to convey the importance of grinding through preparation and training. I had already essentially given up on the original goal and just committed to finishing. The end result exceeded my expectations.