The first few years of racing are, in my opinion, the best. At least for me they were.
When I ran my first race — the FITNESS Mind, Body & Spirit Games 4-mile race in Central Park in 2008 — I was clueless about running and had no idea what to expect from this thing called a “race.” I hadn’t even known “racing” was a thing. I thought you just ran for fun and exercise.
I toed the start line (false — I was in something like Corral 46, and nowhere near the front of the all-women’s pack) and ran my little heart out.
I finished that race in 40:46, which is a 10:11/mile pace. I was so psyched, and I spent the rest of that day stuffing my face with food and drinking. I’ve always been really good at post-race celebrating. Some things never change.
The 4-mile distance is never one I specifically trained in, but as I ran more and trained for longer races, my 4-mile time improved. The next time I ran a 4-miler, the Gridiron Classic in February 2011, I finished in 31:12 — a 7:48 pace.
Now, my 4-mile personal record stands at 30:24, a 7:36 pace from the Race to Deliver this fall.
A PR in the 4-mile distance has never been my goal. I only raced 4-milers last year to get my 9+1 credit for guaranteed entry to the New York City Marathon.
See you November 4, by the way.
A PR in the half marathon? Now that is something I always strived for, and something that came naturally to me in the first few years of running.
Why am I talking about this today?
Well, because I woke up this morning so desperately wanting to run. I’m starting to miss it. I hopped out of bed at 5 AM, thinking that would give me plenty of time for my stomach to settle and for me to run before work.
But now it’s 7:30 AM, my stomach still hasn’t settled, and so in lieu of running, I’m writing about running. And a question I’ve been asked a lot is, “How did you get faster?”
Back in the early running years (um…2009–2011), I shaved half an hour off my half marathon time over the course of a year and a half. No, I don’t have brilliant advice for how you can do the same thing. But let’s talk it out.
I ran my first half (the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon) in July 2009. It was a brutally hot day — something like 90 degrees — and the course was, from what I recall, the hilliest bitch I had ever seen. (I would later run the Fairfield Half Marathon and say the same thing.)
I had trained for this race with Team Challenge, but I didn’t follow the weekday training plan we received, and I just showed up for the long runs on the weekend. During the week I ran whatever I wanted, I didn’t own a pacing watch and I had no idea how far I ran or how long it took me.
So on race day, I didn’t have a finish time goal. I just wanted to finish. And I did!
My official finish time was 2:14:47, a 10:17 pace, and I drank something like 10.17 glasses of wine at the finish line. That’s why you run a race in Napa, people. Go ahead and sign up. I’ll wait here.
My goal for my next half marathon — the Rock N Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, which wasn’t a night race at the time and was way smaller than it is now — was to run faster than I did in Napa. I would have been fine with 2:14:46. Again, I trained watchlessly and cluelessly, but it worked for me, because I ran that half five months later in 2:07:12 (9:43 pace).
For my third half (I know, this is getting long — I’m almost to my point, promise!), just three months after that, my goal was again to simply PR, and I ran the New York City Half Marathon in 2:00:03 (9:10 pace). Apparently running 7-minute PRs was my thing. At least I was consistent.
After the NYC Half, I stopped racing for an entire year. I’m not sure why. I just didn’t sign up for any more events. But in 2011, I got the racing bug, and I went race signup crazy. That’s how, one year after NYC, I found myself in Washington, DC, for the National Half Marathon.
This remains my favorite race ever. It was one of those races where I went into it with a clear head and everything just felt right. Everything aligned perfectly for me that day. My legs were loose and fast (for me — compare me to Shalane Flanagan and I may as well have walked the thing), I ran happy and I enjoyed every single second of every single mile. It was a perfect race.
My goal was to break 2 hours. I didn’t have a pacing plan for how to make this happen and I hadn’t trained according to time. I had just started to run more every day.
I ended up finishing in 1:44:48. I shattered my goal time and believe me, no one was more surprised than I was.
That race was a year ago.
So let’s analyze:
- In my first year and a half of racing, I ran four half marathons. Each one was a PR, and cumulatively I shaved roughly 30 minutes off my time.
- Since the National Half Marathon, I have completed three more half marathons. I didn’t PR in a single one. My record from National still holds, even though it was a year ago.
But is a year a long time in Racing Land? I honestly don’t know, and that is why I’m wondering: Does a personal record come with a lifetime guarantee?
I’d like to think that I’m going to get healthy and get back to racing soon, at which point maybe I’ll set my sights on a half marathon PR. Truthfully, of the three half marathons I ran last year, I only tried to PR at one of them, which was in Las Vegas, and that just…didn’t work out. The other two — Brooklyn and Fairfield — were just worked into my marathon training and weren’t PR-specific races.
As a runner — and please chime in if you’ve been doing this for a while — does your PR last forever? Or are you expected to “renew” it over a certain course of time?
That’s the question of the day.
And to answer the people who have asked how I got faster in the half marathon distance, truthfully the only answer I have is that I ran more. When I trained for my first half, I took a lot of rest days and I ran maybe 3 miles most weekdays.
Leading up to the National Half, I was running 3–5 miles every weekday, and sometimes I’d add in a 6.4 mile loop. My weekday runs never got much longer than that. And on the weekend, I kept my long run mileage around 10–12 miles. I didn’t obsess over my pace (I was so chill back then) and I honestly just didn’t think about it too much.
I ran more, and so I got stronger and faster. I cross trained a lot — mostly a weekly strength class and some spinning — and luckily never got sick during that time.
It probably also helps that during that time, thanks to running and a bad breakup, I lost a decent amount of weight. I have no idea how much, but looking at the photos indicates that yeah, I was carrying significantly less weight in D.C. than I was in Napa.
In final news, the way I feel today can best be summed up by Third Grade Ali:
Really, Ali, you were sick for a “hole” week? You poor thing. And you went to the “docter?” Maybe instead of watching all that TV you should have been studying books on how to spell like a smart person.
I realize this post has been a series of ramblings, but that’s what you get when I’m not actually out running. I did make it to a Chisel class at the gym last night, which I loved because we did a lot of laying down exercises. Perfect! Laying down = happy belly.
BUT REALLY LET’S DISCUSS: Do you feel the need to “renew” your race PRs after a certain amount of time? Is it like, “OK, well that PR is from three years ago, so I should race a 4-miler this weekend to update it?” What’s your mentality? Does your PR expire when you switch age groups? I don’t remember my half PR coming with an expiration date, but I will go check the medal to be sure.