For the first time in nearly two months, I will have a race coming up. The Long Beach Half Marathon will sort of kick off a bit of a racing spree for me. I'm running that race on Oct. 17, and then will run another half marathon, the Mission Inn Half, four Sundays after that, and then the Loper Classic 15K three Sundays after that. So in a span of about seven weeks I will run three races.
Races are exciting and enjoyable, definitely memorable, but what I've learned is that the work you put during training, in the weeks and months leading up to the race, is what can make or break the race for you.
Long Beach will be my third half-marathon ever. What happened to me before, during and after Half No. 1, the 2009 Run Through Redlands, and Half No. 2, the 2010 Run Through Redlands, is a pretty clear indicator that your training can make the race a success or destroy it for you.
Prior to my first half-marathon, I'd never run the distance before. I'd only run two runs of 10-miles plus, a 10-miler and a 12-miler. I was running at the most 20 miles a week. I didn't know about hydration, about proper pre-race fuel, about fueling up during races, about pacing. I was determined to finish, as determined as ever, and that carried me a long way. It carried me right up until the finish line, but I was about to collapse at the end. I drank only water, took no energy gels and did not eat anything during the race. It took me quite a few days to recover from the race.
Prior to my second half-marathon, I'd already run a marathon. I'd run double-digit mileage runs most every weekend for the six months before the race. I knew about hydration - got me a little fuel belt - and was properly versed on energy gels - GU was, and is, my gel of choice. I was running regularly, about 30-plus miles a week leading up to the race, and did well to eat the right things not just before the race or the days leading up to it but in general. During the race I paced myself early on, ran at speeds I felt comfortable maintaining, took walk breaks, ate and drank my Gatorade at the proper times and did well to break my previous time. After the race, I felt great and ran another 30-mile week after the race.
My time dropped from 2:14:50 to 1:56:58 from the first race to the next.
Regardless of the time - and time really is not the end-all be-all measuring stick for race performance - I had a far better experience with the second race. My training was better and I was a more knowledgeable runner.
Now with two marathons under my belt and the successful half marathon behind me as well, do I expect another drastic PR? Of course not. Am I a better runner now than I was in April? I'd like to think so, but then I'd like to think that I'm constantly improving and developing as a runner, which equates to being a better runner.
Does that mean a PR is a slam dunk then? Hardly.
Just because I did well to get my sub-2 hour half-marathon doesn't mean I can just relax and reach that again. In fact, it means I need to work harder. I can't slow down now. I can't regress and feel satisfied. I've got to work harder.
I'm never going to win a half-marathon or place in the top three. I get that, so I'm not trying to act as if I'm some Olympic runner. But I work hard to top myself, to improve myself and to keep moving forward. And I need to prove that once more to myself, both in my training and during the Long Beach Half Marathon.
If I PR, great. If I don't, fine. As long as I give it all I've got, both during my training and the race, I'll be happy.