I will fully and happily admit that I've never been a technical runner. I've never owned a Garmin, never run intervals or tempos, never had a training plan, and never really cared about pace and time. I'll also admit that in some ways, I'm a bit of a lazy runner. I've never really been one to push myself, other than when it comes to increasing my distance. To me, it always seemed a reasonable assumption that if I kept upping my distance, and putting in the miles with consistency, I would eventually become a better and faster runner. To a certain extent, this assumption is not completely off base. As a running neophyte, you need to focus on creating a foundation of endurance to build upon. However, when you find your self lingering in a comfort zone for too long, at a certain point you have to either start pushing yourself, or face that fact that your performance is simply not going to improve.
Injuries aside, I've been running in the comfort zone for an embarrassingly long time. I've developed a pace that is comfortable for me, feels great, and allows me to complete my long distance runs without exerting undue amounts of energy. But over the summer, I became increasingly aware that I'd come as far as I could without finding a way to push myself. With two half marathons on the horizon, I also realized I needed the structure of a training plan. Not being exceptionally good at planning, organizing and implementing any kind of a scheduled routine, or motivating myself to try anything outside of my routine, I decided my best course of action would be to enroll in a training clinic. I spent a good amount of time researching and considering my options. Some clinics I found were simply too technical for my level of interest, throwing around jargon like "threshold" and "zone". Some were simply an increasingly long run once a week, and I balked at the idea of paying money to do what I was already doing on my own. When I stumbled upon the Forerunner's summer clinic, I knew I'd found exactly what I was looking for, and I knew it was going to hurt. In a good way.
The Forerunner's clinic offered a full training plan; every week included a group speed session, a group long run, and one or two guided "homework" runs to be completed on your own time. I decided to forgo the weekly distance group runs, as I prefer to complete my long runs solo, and don't feel like I require either guidance or additional motivation to do so. The weekly speed session was what I most needed to incorporate into my training, and something I didn't feel I could accomplish on my own. I can say, without reservation, that the Forerunner's clinic is the best thing that has happened to my running since I discovered Newtons!
The first session was horrific, commencing with a 2 kilometer run uphill. We did some running drills, then proceeded on to 800 meter repeats at 25% more than 10k pace. I ran in the 60-65 minute 10k pace group, which also happened to be the slowest group, and I was certainly nowhere near the front of the pack. I struggled to keep up with my group members, and by the end of the last 800 meters, I was more exhausted than I had been after my last half marathon. I was defeated and discouraged, and pretty sure I wasn't going to repeat that exercise in humiliation the next week. I dragged myself home, and after a soak in an ice bath, found myself recounting the excruciating details of this torture session to my roommate. "Wow," she said, "it sounds like you really pushed yourself hard!" And with those words came clarity. Yes, I HAD pushed myself hard to complete the session (although admittedly out of a perverse refusal to be the slowest in the group). It had been unpleasant, difficult, and strenuous, and that's everything a speed workout is supposed to be! It's not supposed to be comfortable like a distance pace, and it's certainly not supposed to feel easy. The point of a speed workout is to go hard for a short amount of time, and push yourself to the outer limits of your endurance. You should feel utter exhaustion when you finish, because you should give everything you have. If it feels easy or comfortable, then you're doing it wrong.
So i went back the next week,and the week after, and after a few sessions I was hooked. Every session was different. Hill repeats, 200 meter progressions, pyramids, mile time trials. Each workout presented me with a unique set of challenges, forcing me to adapt and push myself in different ways. Each workout left me feeling wrung out and decimated and, paradoxically, energized and elated. There's really no feeling on earth like pushing yourself up to and beyond your limits, then enjoying the well-earned exhaustion that follows such an effort. Most satisfying of all were the improvements I began to see in my running. My endurance increased rapidly and my recovery time decreased. Having become more aware of how my body feels at different speeds, I learned how to pace my runs in order to finish in a certain time or run a negative split. And yes, my speed began to increase, slowly but steadily.
Fortunately for me, Forerunner's also offers a fall clinic which conveniently leads up to my second half marathon, the Fall Classic. By the end of the summer clinic, I had moved up a pace group.Three weeks into the fall clinic, I feel ready to move up another pace group, and the speed workouts are starting to come more naturally to me. Due to the injuries I'm still working to recover from, I haven't been able to train for this half as long or as hard as I would have liked. My longest distance run this season was just shy of 18 km, and I had to begin tapering this week. I'm certainly not expecting to produce a PR this time around. However, due to how hard I've been able to push myself in my speed workouts, I feel more prepared for this race than for any event I've run to date. I have confidence in my endurance, my ability to pace myself for a faster second half, and my capacity to dig deep when my energy begins to flag in order to push past my limits and finish strong.