Entering Beast Mode

(Contributed by Steve Lloyd. Steve joined the Pamakid Runners in June 2010 after his brother in law convinced him it was the best running club in the Bay Area.)

I still haven’t seen the leaders.

This wasn’t my first time running down the seemingly endless Great Highway, eager to hit the turnaround just before the ten mile mark of the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon. In previous years, I was always stunned by how early I saw the leaders on their return trip. But here I was, well past the nine mile mark, and the other side of the road was still empty.

By the time they finally went by, the turn was in sight. First, a lead pack of three just beginning to break up. Four, five, six, and seven were strung out, then a gap. Eight and nine rolled by as my pack of five was about 100 yards from the turn.

We’re fighting for 10th place.

I immediately dropped the pace to the low 5:20s and left my pack behind. I didn’t really think about the fact that there was still 5k to go, and six weeks earlier I had only been able to manage 5:27/mi for a 5k time trial. Or that I was about to hit ten miles almost 2:30 faster than I had in my 1:16:30 half marathon PR from 2011, when I faded hard in the sun on a tough grind back in to the finish. Or that there were at least ten guys within striking distance of me if I ran out of gas.

If I was thinking anything, it was that there was a reason why I titled my pre-race shakeout run ‘Countdown to #BEASTMODE’. That yes, my goal of 1:14:59 was being conservative, or ‘sandbagging’ as a couple fellow Pamakids might say. That I had been running aggressively since the first mile with thoughts of a top ten finish in the back of my mind. I was in unknown territory, but confident that my training would carry me to the finish.

The rest of the race was a blur. By the time I made the last turn onto JFK I was in 9th, and I passed two more guys going up the hill to hit the line in 7th overall with a 4+ minute PR of 1:12:13. My last 5k took 16:53, three seconds faster than my 5k time trial six weeks earlier. The most common word I heard others use to describe my race was ‘unbelievable’.

At the finish.

At the finish.

So how did that happen?

I have no training secrets. I post every single run publicly on Strava (Disclaimer: I am employed by Strava, Inc.). Every run, from my fastest workouts to my ugliest bonks, is online for the world to see. Here’s a view of my training in the lead up to the race:

January Training

January Training

More Volume, Fewer Workouts

I’ve recently been experimenting with higher mileage and less frequent workouts. In the past, my volume would generally range from 50-60 miles per week, with two workouts and one long run each week. In this training cycle, I pushed my mileage up to 75, but rarely had more than two harder efforts (one workout, one long run) in a week. The extra recovery has also allowed me to run my long runs a little harder. It takes me a little longer to get fit with this strategy, but it has paid off tremendously with late race strength. This was the first half marathon I have ever run where I actually felt like I was racing in the closing miles.

Race-Specific Workouts

I have a tempo loop in Golden Gate Park that I run at half marathon effort about once a month. These tempo runs have helped build up confidence that I can really push the pace on the downhill sections through the park. Two weeks before race day, I ran half marathon effort from Stanyan to Great Highway on JFK as part of a workout.  My three miles going downhill were 5:33, 5:17, and 5:19. On race day I hit those same miles in 5:26, 5:14, and 5:14, confident that I could attack the downhill without costing myself later on.

Stroller Resistance Training

“Beach and Back with Kaia” is my staple Sunday recovery 10 miler pushing my daughter Kaia in the baby jogger. I’ve yet to average under seven minute pace with the stroller, but I’m starting to get close. It’s hard, but it makes running without the stroller seem that much easier.

What’s Next

I’m currently forcing myself to run short and easy to recover from the half marathon before kicking my Boston Marathon training into gear. Boston is only 10 weeks out, and it’s tempting to try to really push my training even harder, but I know that I’m already in shape for a big PR. The important part is getting to the starting line at 100%, and I can let Beast Mode take over after that.

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