When I ran my first 5k, the winner ran it in 19:xx. I remember thinking, "I could do that!" Almost 4 years later and I realize two things: that time won't win a lot of 5ks, and it is pretty fast for a guy my age. Now, after two excellent rounds of half marathon training with increasing pace, breaking 20:00 might be possible. "Might."
I'm still a running newbie. I only have a handful of races under my belt. The two most notable are my two half marathons. Before the first one, I don't think I ever ran 13.1 without stopping for a walk break. The only full I ran I walked through all the water stops. Now as I near my third half, I have broken 2:00, came close to 1:55, and now I'm targeting 1:52.
Most importantly, I feel like I've turned a corner. My goal when I started training last summer was to get faster but easier (if that makes sense). Up to that point I had gotten all of my pace through guts. Every mile was like a tempo run or harder. Speed work was at a blistering pace. Injuries of course followed. I got faster, but never felt like I could really hold onto that speed. After I ran the Wine and Dine in 2011, I thought I could hold onto that 9:00 pace for long runs and build from there. I was very disappointed when I found out that was the peak of my training and not a permanent change.
So what is different this time? Part experience and part attitude. The two go hand-in-hand. Experience tells me there is a difference between peaking for a race and long-term improvement. That led to an attitude this time to shoot for long-term improvement. The bottom line is, instead of sticking to my training plan to try to get to my target pace, I went after every run as an opportunity to build my pace. I wasn't following someone else's schedule hoping to reach my goal. I was running every run with a purpose.
So when I ran this last Wine and Dine in 1:55:40, I wasn't at all disappointed that I missed 1:55 by 40 seconds. Quite the opposite - I crossed the finish line pumping my fists and whooping and hollering because I knew the results weren't a peak, but a permanent change.
I still had my doubts though. When I signed up for the upcoming Disney half, I thought I would probably just hang on. I thought 1:55 was possible but probably not any significant improvement. I thought, "Maybe I'll get some good pictures with the characters this time." After all, most of my training would be interrupted by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
That wasn't the case. The "interruptions" turned into great weather and extra time. My training philosophy continued and so did my improvement. The measuring stick I used for my last round of training (pace in speed work and tempo runs) confirmed my improvement. This all culminated in what is probably a perfect workout this morning.
My plan called for a six-mile tempo run and while my new philosophy may not be driven by the plan, the plan still works. So I set out for a two-mile warmup, three hard miles, and then one mile recovery. My goal for my warmup was race pace (8:30). I managed that for the first mile then dropped down to around 9:00 to save gas for the tempo section. The next three miles were like so many before - just the "right" pace. A pace I could hold for that distance but not much more. I managed the run while running, making sure to stay relaxed and not over exert even at a "faster" pace. I knew the last mile would be tough and had to push a bit at the end to get under 8:00, but was not completely gassed either. Another workout in the bag. Another measurement of my progress. Another positive reinforcement of my training.
So will I break 20:00 for a 5k this year? Who knows? I'd be happy with 20:40 for sure. Will I break 1:52 a week from tomorrow? Possibly. The bottom line is, I don't care. I love running again and not just running faster. I love running with my wife and my new friends from my running groups. I love long runs by myself, speed work in miserable heat, and tempo runs on cold misty mornings.
I think about the quote from John F. Kennedy a lot when I run: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." I definitely run because it is hard, but I enjoy it so much when it is easy. After the 2011 Disney full, my wife got me "Run Less, Run Faster". I have loved (mostly) using the Furman FIRST plan. I've loved running 3 days a week and still improving. Now maybe it's time for me to write a book: "Run Faster, Easier."