Sub-1:50 half marathon: Week 11

I got my first proper butterflies about the race on Friday. One minute everything was normal – it’s Friday, I’m running errands, I’m having a coffee and reading my book (‘The Hour’ by Michael Hutchinson – bloody brilliant btw.) – when all of a sudden I got butterflies. My ‘pacing’ song has been playing in my head ever since (currently Katy B’s ‘On a Mission’, I have no idea how that happened) and every time I think about the race my heart starts beating hard against my chest. For the first time since I started training I feel excited.

I want to get on and run this thing!

Butterflies in my tummy

With only two weeks to go until the race I’ve built up pretty much all the fitness that I can – that’s quite a scary thought. From now on training is all about maintaining that fitness, but not blowing my legs.
Running enough, but not too much.
A bit fast, but not too fast.
Far enough that my legs remember what distance feels like, but not so far I leave my legs on the road.
The forthcoming taper is all about patience and balance – and boredom. With that in mind I have tried to have as much fun as possible during this last full-whack week of training, trading in a hill session for my favourite threshold session, swapping a progressive run for a sharp race pace run, and taking to my beloved Hampstead Heath for my last long (but decidedly shorter than usual) run. I also let off some steam at parkrun during a final time trial.

I’m planning a 10 day taper and so my last hard session will be this Wednesday and my last long run will be about 8 miles – little more than half the distance of the long runs I’ve become used to. It’s a really strange feeling knowing that despite being half a month away from the big race I am supposedly already fit enough. I guess I just need to have faith in my training plan, enjoy staring at all those ticked off training sessions, and maybe lay off the cheese and beer for a couple of weeks (who am I kidding…).

My taper will be filled with lots of steady, race pace runs – so many I fear my ‘pacing’ song will be playing in my head as I sleep – rather than my usual sessions. This should be enough to keep my body fit while allowing it to recover in time for the race. In Michael Hutchinson’s book (the one I was reading in the café on Friday) he describes the tension of a taper so perfectly I got simultaneously psyched up and freaked out, but it was good to remind myself that the next couple of weeks are going to feel lazy and unproductive – possibly counterproductive – and almost certainly dull. It was also good to learn that even proper well good athletes find tapering uncomfortable. That left me wondering how other runners get through their tapers and if any of you could share some tips. How do you avoid boredom? How do you avoid negative thoughts creeping in during those newly spare minutes? How do you avoid eating everything in sight (my appetite inevitably increases, though to be fair it needs little encouragement)? Do you feel more anxious or more excited? Do you feel more tired or more energetic? Share your tips in the comment box below and save me from madness.

Here’s how this week’s training went down:

Monday: Continuous race pace run (6 miles)
After a few sickly days off that I had considered a mini-taperesque break I really hoped that this run would feel awesome, but it actually felt quite tough. My pace was OK, I just felt pretty rough. I decided to try out my race day attack. I consciously ran the first mile slower than my target pace, warmed up during the run and gradually settled into ‘that’ pace. Target race pace is definitely feeling more and more natural from all of these practice runs and I’m taking a little comfort in that.

Tuesday: Rest
I got another puncture while cycling to work on Monday and decided that if I was going to get a little grubby with the bike then I may as well get proper grubby and give it a clean. I moved Tuesday’s weights session to later in the week to accommodate my makeshift bicycle workshop day. I daresay my darling, two-wheeled companion appreciated the morning’s TLC, but she got another flat on Sunday and is absolutely filthy again thanks to the weather. Oh, and before any of you smartarses say anything, I’ve just bought new tyres.

Wednesday: Threshold (5 x 6 minutes @ threshold pace; 1 minute rest)
This was so much fun! I know threshold work isn’t supposed to be fun, but I really do love it. My reps were fairly even, which lifted my mood after Monday’s struggling effort, and as the weather appeared to be brightening up I even braved it in a t-shirt. All in all, a banging session.

Thursday: Long run (10 miles)
I planned to throw some race pace miles into this week’s long run, but that was the only plan I had. As I left the house I still didn’t know where I was going or how far I was going to go. It was my last long run before the race, so I wanted it to feel long, but I certainly didn’t want it to be too long so close to the race. I decided to run until I felt hungry, which is normally around 10 miles, but not to drag it out much longer than that. I headed out of my street, towards Finsbury Park, made a spontaneous decision to hit Hampstead Heath and headed up the Parkland Walk.

The route I take through the Heath is familiar and calming. It reminds me of chatty, summer evening runs with the Mornington Chasers and it reminds me of some of my first runs when I moved to London and lived only a stone’s throw from the Heath. I had this week’s Marathon Talk podcast playing through my headphones (yes, I’m that sad, but it’s actually pretty entertaining) as I meandered along muddy paths, and for a while I forgot it was a training run and that I’d promised myself a couple of race pace miles in the middle.
I remembered just before the watch ticked over 5 miles and so I ran miles 5-7 at an attempted 8:15/mile pace. I’m quite chuffed with my 8:24 and 8:06 miles considering the first mile was pretty much all up hill and the second was pretty much back down – that averages out at 8:15 race pace, right?

As promised I finished when I got tired, and that means when I am hungry and about to have a tantrum, and that almost always means 10 miles.

Friday: Rest
Not much to report here I’m afraid. I’ve been on the hunt for a part-time job again and had an interview in an awesome local bike shop. Not sure how they felt about the overly chatty, running-obsessed, mashing commuter. Time will tell.

Saturday: Final hard tempo parkrun…
This week’s parkrun was my last hard one. I wanted to equal my PB set a few weeks ago, but when I woke up I discovered that the weather forecast had come true and that it really was snowing in March. Did you know that this time last year I was running my final long runs before the Berlin Half Marathon and I got sunburnt? It’s true. Now admittedly I am freakishly pale skinned and spend the summer months coated in factor 50, but I actually think that snow in March is weirder than sunburn.

Anyway, I digress… Sorry.
Parkrun: it was a pretty bleak run and there were times when I couldn’t see much further than the runner directly in front of me because of the snow blowing into my eyes (it’s just ridiculous… are you still going to deny climate change??), but I ran hard and finished 15 seconds shy of my PB. Phew! I suck at pacing 5Ks and always go out too fast. This week’s was no different. 5K pacing is a concern for after the half marathon though, and so I hurried home afterwards for porridge and dry clothes.

Sunday: Strength training
I woke up extra early this morning to complete Tuesday’s postponed weights session before any of my housemates were up, and to have a good, long stretch. I had a good 30 minute session with the kettlebell before showering, cycling to work and getting another puncture. (Dé ja vous or what…?) And then, I shit you not, I got trapped in the elevator at work for 90 minutes with no book and no phone signal. Don’t worry, I’m free now, and I even had a nap until an emergency engineer rescued me. What a week…

How has your week’s training been? And how do you entertain yourself during your taper?


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