The workout that raises my anxiety level the most in my training plan is the "13.1 mile spec test." Okay, so the "10K time trial" also fills me with dread, but the specificity of the spec test for what I am trying to accomplish is what really gets me wired. The workout calls for, "2 mile warm up, 13.1 miles at marathon pace, 2 mile cool down." Intuitively if you have a marathon goal pace in mind, it should be pretty easy to hold it for 13.1 miles, right? Because really, if you can't run a half marathon at that pace you have no shot at holding it for a full marathon.
And this is what makes me so nervous.
What if the pace I've had in mind for months turns out to be totally unrealistic? What if I totally bomb this run? How will I ever mentally recover for the marathon?
I ran a strong spec test run before the Modesto Marathon earlier this year and I credit that workout for giving me the confidence to know I had a good marathon time in me. I needed this same boost for Two Cities. I've struggled a little more on the harder long runs this training cycle that called for extended miles at MP+10 or MP+20. I needed a run to tell me that I wasn't way in over my head.
This training cycle, the 13.1 spec test ended up falling the week after the Air Force Marathon. This was the main reason I quibbled over participating. In the end, the draw of honoring my dad won and I decided I would make this work. My fifteen day running streak taught me that my body can recover without true recovery and that I could still hit hard paces. Surely if I could do all that, I could run an easy marathon sandwiched by rest days and get back into my training plan.
I took Sunday, the day after Air Force, off from running (also a travel day to get back home). I could tell I had run long the day before when I walked down or up stairs, but just regular walking -- I was totally pain free. I figured this was a good sign and was proud I had kept the effort easy during the race. Monday I ran 12 miles, Tuesday 8 miles, Wednesday 4 miles with some fartlek work. Thursday I took a true rest day. I went to Bikram yoga Wednesday night after work instead of my usual Thursday night class. I was going to give my body every advantage I could to get my Friday run done right.
I got an early start Friday and after a two mile warm up, I reset Garfield and started my half marathon. For Modesto, I was able to schedule the spec test to fall during an actual half which was really awesome. One, you have that race atmosphere to give you that extra edge. And two, you can earn yourself a bona fide PR. I haven't truly raced a half marathon since 2009 so my half PR is definitely outdated. I earned a PR during my Modesto spec test, but it wasn't a true half effort. If things went right, I knew I should be beating my PR during this run.
I don't think I've mentioned it before, but my goal pace for Two Cities is something in the 8:20's. I've been using 8:20 as my rough marker for MP+X runs. I decided I wanted to keep my pace today in the 8:20-8:25 range.
The miles started ticking away and I felt good. For me, a good marathon goal pace is a pace that isn't always easy but isn't always hard. I figure if you're racing and pushing yourself it should be a little tough, but at the same time if you want to run 26.2 miles at that pace it can't be that rough every single step. This easy/hard thing can flip rather quickly. I can have a tenth of a mile stretch where I'm cruising along feeling like I could run forever at that pace, and the next tenth of a mile I'm suddenly digging deeper to keep on track. But so long as it keeps flipping back and forth I'm comfortable saying I'm in the right zone.
The last few miles I felt good and allowed myself to dig a little deeper than my goal pace. My Modesto spec test ended up being faster than my goal pace which gave me a good mental boost. Since I felt good I decided to try to bring it down below goal pace to allow myself that advantage again. I kept the pace strong, but wasn't pushing my limits.
I have no clue what half marathon times equal what paces below 1:59 (9:09 = sub-two is forever ingrained in me). I knew I'd be faster than 1:52 (my Modesto spec test time), but I figured it would be 1:51 or so. I stopped Garfield at 13.1 miles, switched over to the time screen, and saw this:
I couldn't believe it. My eyes welled up at the idea that I had gone sub-1:50 and was running at marathon effort for the majority of the run. I was so proud I was able to do this less than a week after running a marathon. I've made breaking 1:45 in the half a goal for next year, and it seemed a little ludicrous until this run.
I stood there on the Great Highway totally in awe of what you can accomplish with some dedication and training.
Could I have run this pace (8:14) for another 13.1 miles? Probably not. But you know, it makes running 8:25 or so for 26.2 much more palatable. And that was the whole point of this workout. The spec test 13.1 mile stretch of marathon pace is the longest continuous mileage I do at marathon pace in my training plan. I'm sure there are lots of physical benefits, but for me the mental benefit of pulling this off is where the money is at. So my Air Force Marathon gamble ended up playing out swimmingly. Just a smidgen over a month to go...