TITLE: An Encore Performance AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 13, 2009 2:06 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Marathon coaches commonly recommend that runners training for a marathon run a half marathon four to six weeks prior to their big race. A half marathon offers a way to test both speed and endurance, under conditions that resemble the day of the marathon. If nothing else, a half is a good speed workout on a weekend without an insanely long long run. While training for my previous marathons, the timing had never seemed quite right for me to run a half marathon. We only have one half in area during the month of September, and those were weeks when I was trying to work in a final 20-miler. 2009 Park to Park Half Marathon This year, I decided to run a half as a test: Do I still think I can be ready to run a marathon in six weeks? In past years, this was never a question, but when I drew up my training plan a mere eight weeks ago, I had real doubts that my body would allow me to work up to the speed and I mileage I needed for a marathon. The Park to Park Half Marathon, which has quickly become the top distance race in the Cedar Valley, was timed perfectly for me, six weeks before my race. I designed a training schedule that ramped my long-run mileage up very slowly, and I needed a break the weekend of Park to Park between 18- and 20-milers. So I penciled the race in to the plan. My intention for this was typical: run ten miles at marathon goal pace and then, if my body felt good, speed up and "race" the last 5K. My dream goal pace this year is 8:30, which is quite a bit slower than my gaol the last few years of training. 8:30 feels good these days. As the race started, I kept telling myself to stay steady, not to speed up just because I thought I could. My catch phrase became, "Don't breathe hard until the 10 mile mark." While that's a tough request, I did manage to run comfortably over the opening miles of the course. My run followed the script perfectly. I reached the 10-mile mark in 84 minutes. My body felt good enough to speed up. Mile 11: 7:54, including a drink stop. Mile 12: 7:50. Still good. Mile 13: 7:30. As we neared the 13-mile mark, I was just trailing a group of five or six people and decided in my good spirits to sprint full-out and try to pass them. I took the first n-1 of them easily, but the last was a younger guy who heard me coming and sped up. Did I have another gear? Yes, but so did he. We each surged a couple of times in that last tenth of a mile, but he was too good for me and stayed ahead. I ended up running that sprint in 36 seconds. Later, I saw on the results board that my rival those last few seconds won the under-19 age group. I am not too surprised that a young guy still had more gas in his tank -- and anaerobic capacity -- than I. My course time: 1:47:47. (My chip time was a few seconds more, because there no timing mat at the starting line). I finished 15th in age group and 95th overall out of 550 half-marathoners. This day felt like a rerun of best case scenario: a good time, better time than I might have hoped. My body and mind felt good after the race. That is the good kind of repeat I am happy to see. I ran this race without a partner to talk me through the time, as I did in Indianapolis. That is good, too, because I'll be running solo at my marathon next month, which will also be much smaller than any other marathon I've run. I'll need to discipline my own mind in Mason City. I did have one pleasant conversation during the half, around the 7- or 8-mile marker. A former student caught up to me, said 'hello', and told me that he was running his first half marathon. We talked about pace and endurance, and he admitted that he was thinking about dropping out after 9 miles. I encouraged him, and he dropped back. Later, I was happy to hear his name called out on the intercom as he crossed the finish line. The look of satisfaction on his face, having endured something he feared he could not, was worth as much as my own good feeling. Now that I have run several long races and many more 5Ks, it is easy to view the ups and the downs with a jaded eye. But accomplishing a goal as challenging as this is never ho-hum. Seeing Joe finish reminded me that. This was a perfect tune-up for me, and now I have some reason to think that I can run a marathon six weeks from now at a reasonable pace. I have a couple of more long runs to do -- a 20-miler, then a second 20 or a 22-miler among them -- along with some speed work. But today, I do what God did on the seventh day: rest. I ache all over. -----