One month ago I ran the Earth Day Half Marathon. It was a beautiful spring day in central Minnesota – which was welcome after a true blizzard the weekend before!
I had been training “okay” through the winter, but I hadn’t followed a set structure. I also didn’t put in as many miles as is normal – or advisable – for half marathon training. I was still confident in my ability to cover the distance Especially on this course which I was running for the eight time. I’d also been dabbling in heart rate training over winter; more specifically running most of my runs at a heart rate under 140 to build a solid aerobic base. That meant a lot of slow runs, but it felt okay because heart rate training gave me a scientific reason and real permission to run slow.
Race day was sunny but cool with just enough breeze; I don’t think I could have designed a better weather day. I took things out easy and kept my heart rate under 140 for the first few miles. Then I quit looking at numbers and just focused on keeping the pace feeling easy. I went along like this until about mile five when a woman running next to me actually commented on how relaxed and effortless I looked. I thanked her and told her that was the plan!
Around mile six we headed out toward the paved river trails, and this is where I knew I felt good enough to pick up the pace. I kept pushing the pace a little more each mile, and it felt harder but not awful. Normally I really feel fatigue setting in by mile ten, but not today. I charged up the hill leading to the tenth mile, and I encouraged people and gave high fives as I went. I kept up my effort level without really looking at time, but by mile eleven I was curious. My “pie in the sky” goal was 2:05 – 2:10 considering how slowly I had been training, and I realized I was on pace to finish faster than that.
Last year I had pushed hard to come back and run this race as my first half marathon since giving birth the year before. It was an early and mild spring that year, and I put in multiple long runs, often with the stroller, and lots of solid training. I came in with the goal of breaking two hours or bust. Somehow I pulled off that 1:59, and I was thrilled but it left me hobbling for days after. This year was far more relaxed. I wanted to run and finish, but the time was secondary to completing and enjoying the race.
Well, as I cruised along feeling strong in the final miles this year I got a little competitive. I wanted to see just how close to two hours I could get. I was just racing at this point and not looking at my watch, but it’s fun to look back on the data. I covered the final mile of the race in 8:36, my fastest of the day, and the final .1 (more like .2) at 7:53 pace with an average HR of 191. So I’m pretty sure I was working as hard as my mind and body would allow me at the finish. I finished in 2:02, and I was grateful, surprised, and truly happy with the run. I’ve run plenty of faster races that I let myself be disappointed with, so I’m proud to say I enjoyed and celebrated this result.
Even though I was only following one simple strategy of keeping my heart rate under 140, I can already see results and progress from heart rate training. So guess what? I’m back in the Train Like a Mother Club – which you might remember I used to train for Twin Cities Marathon last fall. Only this time I’m in heart rate training. I’m entering my third week of Heart Rate 101 and loving it. Especially as the weather heats up and the humidity kicks in, it gives me permission to listen to my body and really get what I need from my workout while still feeling successful. And Coach MK is awesome entertainment if you like listening to podcasts.