Say the words ‘walk’ and ‘race’ in the same sentence to a runner and you’re guaranteed to get a strong reaction. Some runners would rather DNF than walk in a race, while others use regular walk breaks as a racing strategy. I’m somewhere in the middle – I don’t think I would ever walk in a 5k, maybe for a quick water break in a 10k, and definitely in a marathon. The half marathon has always been the gray area for me. I’ve taken walk breaks during a half, but usually only to suck down a GU or grab a shot of water. This weekend’s race, however, has given me a different perspective on those walk breaks.
When I registered for this half marathon over a month ago, I envisioned having time to build my long run back up to 10+ miles, and maybe even squeeze in an 11 or 12 mile long run. Didn’t happen – not even close. While my weekly mileage was ok (running 3-5 miles almost every day), my long runs consisted of one 8 miler, one 9 miler, and one 10 miler. Even though I ran the 10 miler along the beach, which is my favorite place in the world, it was a tough slog in the final miles. The night before the race, my only goal was to make it across the finish line. Period. My only strategy for surviving the 13.1 miles was to take a walk break after each mile – same as I did in the marathon.
There were a lot of positives about this race (which is why I registered for a mid-July half marathon). It was only a 40 minute drive, it was in one of our favorite nearby cities, and along a beautiful route we were familiar with. And for me, a lover of all things hot, I was fairly sure I wouldn’t have to freeze waiting at the start line. The only negative was what we thought was our lack of training.
The race didn’t disappoint. The course was beautiful and just right – not too easy and not too challenging. The race was small but very well organized, and even though it was a loop course, heading out the second time around wasn’t as mentally challenging as we thought it would be. Our Garmin wouldn’t load, so we ran completely by feel. Starting at mile 2, we walked briefly after each mile marker. Somewhere around mile 7, I realized that I felt a whole lot better than I thought I would, and our running segments between walk breaks felt a bit faster than our usual half marathon pace. Normally this realization would freak me out and make me think that feeling that good early in the race meant disaster toward the end, but not this time.
At mile 11 we picked up the pace and stopped the walk breaks, and as we crossed the finish mat I realized I had something left in the tank. Usually at the end of a half marathon I feel like road kill that’s been run over twice. We finished in 1:55:41, which isn’t a PR, but certainly not our slowest time. Was it the walk breaks? Was it starting the race on fresh rather than over trained legs? Was it a combination of both?
Here’s my analysis, and my plan for future halves. The walk breaks helped, both mentally and physically. I wasn’t afraid to push the pace between mile markers because I knew I’d get a short rest soon. Future plan – keep the walk breaks, and don’t be afraid to run hard between the breaks. Running without Garmin is the way to race. Not knowing my pace helped keep the mental monkeys away. I wasn’t worried about my pace being too fast or too slow, because I didn’t know my pace! Future plan – leave Garmin at home. A long run of 10 miles is plenty long enough to run a decent half. I believe consistent weekly mileage, even if the runs weren’t terribly long, was more effective than putting all my effort into a weekly long run. Future plan – cap the long run at 10 miles, and keep the weekly mileage consistent.
This race was full of ah-hah moments and surprises, but the biggest surprise of all was nabbing 1st place in my age group. Sweet!