Monday, May 6, 2013

Coaching and Executing: 2 Races, 2 PRs, Including a 30 Minute Half Marathon PR

When we last left off from our sherpa and coaching adventures, my lovely wife was about to explore racing for really the 1st time since Z was born.  With the Monument Ave 10k scheduled, followed by the Nike Women's Half Marathon two weeks later, she was about to find out how all this training I've had her and her friends doing was about to work on race day.  And while she's done a few other small races for fun in the nearly year since Z was born (seriously, how has it already been a year!), this was her first time in race shape with the mindset of going hard from the gun.

Monument Ave 10k

In the past when we raced the Monument Ave 10k, we'd go down the day before and stay with a friend who lives right on the course.  Last year, with Rebecca pregnant, we didn't think sleeping on an aero bed in someone else's place made sense, so we we drove down early that morning.  Now with Z, we still didn't think sleeping on an aero bed in someone else's place made sense, so decided to do the same thing and hope for the best with the Z man.  We woke up at 4 am, packed everything up, and made way for the trip south to Richmond.  Fortunately, at that hour of the morning (or night, depending on how you look at it), there wasn't any traffic.  We made amazing time and were there in about 1.5 hours.

Ready to run Richmond!
With some time to kill before the race, we just hung around and let the Z man bumble around the race area.  It was still early enough before the race that it wasn't too crowded, so people mostly just looked on as he discovered the streets of Richmond.  Before we knew it, it was getting close to race time, so Rebecca ran off to get in a bit of a warm up and Z was running out of room, as 40,000 runners were quickly descending on the race site.  Once she got back, Z and I made our exit and I went for a short run up the return side of the course. 

It's called Monument Ave for a good reason
My plan was to run about 1.5 miles out and hang out in the median to see the elites come through on one side and look for Rebecca on the other.  Despite my best efforts to be super dad and race photographer, I wasn't able to grab a shot of her as she came by.  However, I did get to see her come through at about 4.5 miles and she looked like she was just out for a jog (part of me was wondering if she was racing hard enough for what I was hoping she would).  However, when I heard her final time, I realized she was just making it look easy.  As far as I can count, she's raced the 10k distance 7 times over the past 6 years, and she just set 3 minute PR with a pretty impressive negative split!  I couldn't have been more happy for her and excited for what Nike would bring, because I knew her training was starting to come together.  With 2 weeks to go, all she had to do was keep her legs moving - the hay was in the barn, so to speak.

PR City
Nike Women's Half

Rockin the shades!
 Another race, another day of trying to be super dad.  Since the race started at 7 am, we got up super early to meet up with the group of ladies that were all part of the team I was coaching (Team Fight 4 A Cure).  Z man was once again a trooper and hamming it up for everyone, despite some race day nerves, many of whom were running their first half marathon.  We all kept things loose, the ladies left for a bit to go warm up, and shortly after, they had to make their way over to the starting corrals. 

Support Crew Ready For Action!
My plan was to cover as much of the course as possible so I could see everyone and give support.  With 15,000 runners, I knew this would be a challenge, but since Rebecca and a few of the girls in the group were of similar pace, they were planning to run together for as much of the race as possible.  Its sure easier to spot 3 people than it is 1, so that helped.  Shortly before 7, Z and I headed off and I started by day by getting in a nice and relaxed 3 miles of stroller running in near perfect weather.  Seriously, you could not have asked for a better day!  It was shortly after I started moving that Z man passed out for the morning's excitement, and would remain asleep for the better part of the next 2ish hours, allowing me to do some quality spectating.

Having a little too much fun racing
With the race underway and some of the faster runners coming through the 2 mile mark where I was standing, I started to do some math in my head to try and figure out when they might be coming through.  Sure enough, not too much later I spotted them.  Everyone is always in such as good mood in the early miles of longer races.  So much pent up anxiety and your relaxed body always feels so good.  It was great to see so many people just happy to be out on a nice run.  After seeing them at Mile 2, I moved on to Mile 4 where I'd have a chance to see them again at Mile 6 due to the out and back section.  Not too much later were they cruising along, settling into their race pace effort for hopefully the rest of the race. 
Halfway home and looking strong!

While coming back on the Mile 6 mark, I found myself running alongside them for more than a mile, since there was a parallel trail.  I hadn't planned on that, but with the flow of runners so thick and nowhere to cross the road to head toward the finish, I just kept running along until I reached the end of that trail and had to turn around.  Eventually, I found a gap between runners and slipped my way through, headed back toward the finish. 

As the girls continued to push on, I was following along on the online race tracker.  With each 5k split, I could tell they were executing perfectly by slowly picking up the pace and were right on target for my predicted finish time.  While playing with a finally awake Z man a bit off from the main finish area, I had just checked my phone and it updated to show Rebecca finish with a 30 MINUTE PR!  Her last 5k split was her fastest on the day and she couldn't have ran the race more perfectly based on her fitness - and with a slight negative split to boot!

Little cheering squad

After searching for a bit through the finishers area, we all finally met up.  It was so exciting to see all these ladies finish strong.  Everyone who ran, either set a new PR for the half marathon distance, or conquered the distance for the first time.  Such a great way to cap a fun training cycle!

Team Fight 4 A Cure
Keys To Successful Training
While I'd certainly like to take some credit for their success, they obviously each had to put in the work to make it to the start line.  Here are a few key takeaways that I think helped work:

- The backgrounds of these runners varied from those who have been running for 8+ years, to only a few years on an off, but with minimal distance training.  While I had them work off similar plans (they all had to run 13.1 miles!), it was important for each individual to work within their current abilities, which is sometimes easier said than done with them temptation to keep up with each other!

- A little less than halfway through the training, I had them run a time trial to both get a gauge of their fitness adaptations, but also reset their training paces based on the results.  What we learned was that they had all significantly improved, so we slid their paces a bit faster to adjust.  This ensured their training continued to be in line with their fitness progression.

- I made sure to include a systematic progression of workouts that moved them from more general to more specific training.  This had two purposes - to adequately prepare them for the race they were training for (specificity), but also to create variety within their training workouts.  Doing the same thing week after week, while adding a mile, or an extra 5 minutes, or an extra rep is boring.  A bored runner isn't motivated to do the work you ask of them, so I wanted to make sure they had variety, while simultaneously progressing them through more race specific preparations.

- They largely trained as a team.  I think there is most definitely something to the group training mentality that helps bring out the best in others.  Whether its the pressure to show up when you might not want to, or the drive to keep up with others, it works.  These ladies met most weekends for their long runs and got it done.  I was always excited to have Rebecca come home and tell me how everyone did. (As a brief side note, for those local runners, now is the time to sign up for our =PR= DTP, where you'll be able to take advantage of a group setting!)

- With a few tweaks and setbacks throughout the past 16 weeks, it was all about managing what could be done when issues cropped up.  For example, assigning strength routines and targeted exercises with the onset of new pains.  Or implementing cross training to ensure a lighter impact to let nagging issues heal, while keeping aerobic fitness steady.  At the end of the day, they each made it to the start line knowing they would finish, which is what you must feel in order to race well. 

I had to laugh at the fact that within only 1 day of finishing the race, I was already receiving emails about next races to sign up for.  As I do for everyone following a peak race, I gave strict orders to take a short break from running (1-2 weeks) and we can discuss further once we know recovery has set in. 

If you want to run optimally, you have to recover enough to allow your body and mind to give it everything the next time.  Continuing to train or race when you haven't reached that point will frequently lead to sub-optimal results.

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