Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation
In March 2020, during the first Scottish lock down, I started running outside. Previously I had only ran on a treadmill at the gym or, many years, before attempted a couch-to-5k program. I ran my first 10km on Sunday, May 24th, 2020.
Over the summer my pace and fitness improved. I ran my first ten miles on Sunday, September 20th, 2020. Then winter on the north of Scotland hit with darkness, rain, and high winds, so my enthusiasm and my steady week in week out pattern of 25km a week wained.
There was the twenty-three or so days in late October to mid-November where I ran at least two miles a day in an attempt to keep the habit of running going. That was exhausting and while it sucked did teach me a lot about getting out of the door on successive days when I really didn’t want to.
Over Christmas, my partner, Jen, took it upon herself to train to run a half-marathon solo, and I decided to follow suit.
There isn’t much to say here. I followed a plan from Runner’s World that was meant to take twelve weeks, but it took me thirteen due to at least one week of winter storms stopping me from completing the long run. The plan is their Beginner’s half marathon plan and can be found here. Most of the weeks I completed without an issue. Personally, I think I could have done with a greater number of easy miles at the start instead of the slower start this program provided. However, since I didn’t acquire any injuries or niggles following the program, I don’t think there’s much I can criticise about it.
The program was made up of four types of running session: short recovery runs, continuous hill sessions, mid distance but hard effort half marathon pace sessions, and long runs. All of these are pretty standard parts of a training plan.
I have a few comments about the hard sessions on Thursdays. Firstly, it was a good decision to take a half day holiday on most of the Thursday sessions in the second half of the training program. These sessions were physically exhausting and took place in pretty awful weather. By only working for half day it meant that for most of the sessions I managed to go out and make the best use of the available daylight. Secondly, they’ve improved my strength and speed. And finally, thirdly, I don’t think I worked as hard in the sessions as I could have. The Thursday sessions generally involved an hour of absolute pain and by the end of the program I found myself dialling back the effort to avoid that.
The timing of the runs on Thursday being around my afternoon coffee time meant I spent a lot of the Fridays after with a miserable caffeine withdrawal headache.
After the two 10 mile long runs at an easy pace taking around 01:45 and 01:55 to complete, I knew I could finish the distance and I had a reasonable hope that I’d finish faster than the 02:30 time I’d set myself.
I knew the rough paces that I’d need to run at, but since I had not run the distance before didn’t know how long I’d be able to sustain a threshold effort for. One complicating factor is that I’m terrible at running within a pace range and run most of the time based on heart rate zone. For the time trail I programmed into my Garmin the following plan:
Jen and I both carb loaded a little by adding some extra starches to meals where appropriate. I slept fine the night before. In the morning I ate a banana bread muffin and drank a mug of tea with oat milk. Just after 11 in the morning I left the house and walked to the start point near Aberdeen University’s Zoology building.
I live in Aberdeen, Scotland. The course I picked out for this time trial started at Aberdeen University’s zoology building, went through the nearby Seaton Park, over onto the esplanade, and looped the entire seafront two and a half times. It is a flat route, but exposed to any winds as the road is bordered by the sea and a municipal golf links.
The temperature was about 11 ℃ with a moderate wind. I wore my usual AlpKit running tights and a decent long sleeve to deal with the 20.7 km/h wind. I started with a hat on, but that soon ended up in my running backpack.
In my running backpack I had 500ml of water, two gels, and a wind vest in case the predicted storms arrived early.
Not a great start. I struggled to keep within the planned exertion level of heart rate zone 2 and expected pace that I usually start runs off at. My ankles and hips hurt and felt some twinges at the start. The main road was crossed within the second kilometre. This section of the time trial was pretty miserable to be honest.
I was running along the esplanade properly here in one and a half loops. After the first gel (a Café Caramel Latte) I felt significantly better than in the first three miles and settled into a good cadence and pace. Nothing significant happened for most of this segment apart from crossing Jen’s path as I left Footdee for the first time. This portion of the attempt was marked by me enjoying the music, moving quickly, and admiring the view of Aberdeen bay with its oil rig service ships and the wind farm out at sea.
At around the 14th kilometre mark for me, I caught up with Jen again. She was struggling, so I slowed my pace down a fair amount to accompany her while she completed the final few kilometres of her time trial. I passed through Footdee for the second time with her. She finished her race on the strip of the esplanade between where the surfers and swimmers do their things and the fun fair.
Just as she finished her attempt, I took in the second gel to fuel the final portion of my attempt. The sixteenth kilometre was the slowest of the attempt and ran at 6:48. This would have been caused by a brief stop to congratulate Jen and eating a gel while walking.
I enjoyed these 11 kilometres the most.
Kilometre 17 was fine. Accord to Strava it was the fastest of the day and ran at 5:05. However, kilometres 18 through 21 were horrific. I still ran them reasonably fast, but my watch counted down the five kilometres, I found myself looking at my wrist frequently and desperate for the metres to descend faster.
According to Strava, my pace in this block was the fastest five kilometres of the attempt. This was the point where I’d ran my hardest for the longest time and furthest distance than I’d ever ran before. This was an uncomfortable five kilometres that mostly involved my holding on and pushing myself hard.
I had honestly forgotten that I programmed this phase into my watch. By 19.50km I was starting to worry about the final part of the race. When my watch buzzed the distance of 21km and told me to run as hard as I could, I did. As I went over the final distance, I kept going for another few hundred metres or so. This was mostly so I could reach the rock that serves as the turn-around point for Aberdeen park run as a spot to lean on.
Strava estimates that I ran the half marathon in 2:07:22. I am very happy with that time. Sure, I’d have really liked to get that under the two-hour mark, but as a first attempt, it’s a credible effort. I don’t have an emotional attachment to the time because it was my first attempt. I ran the distance. That’s what counts.
After I walked home from the beach to my house and had showered, I ate a massive tuna sandwich and spent the rest of the afternoon on the sofa with Jen. Walking up and down stairs was difficult as my legs cramped up. The next day, I was still a little sore, but nothing overly dramatic.
As of the Saturday when I’m writing this report, I’ve ran 15.3km in the last week. Maybe I’m still a little sore and tired, but it’s getting better.
I want to run another half marathon in about nine weeks that’s faster than this attempt, so I’m going to adapt the program I have just followed to involve a bit more speed sessions, as I’m hoping to improve my 5km and 10km times.
A long term running goal of mine is to get my 10km time down to fifty minutes.