I've been running long enough that I often have people ask me about training plans and my secret to getting faster as I've gotten older. I'd love to say I have some magic running elixir or some really fabulous training plan, but I'll let you in on a little secret: I don't train for races.
There's a bit of a caveat here because I used to train. When I first started running I followed my training plans to the letter. I was so nervous that if my schedule said to run six miles and I ran 5.75 that I'd never be able to finish the race. I've gotten over that. Training for a long race (I'd say 10k and longer) means you generally have to log some sort of regular miles. But I've found that most training plans don't work for me. If I insist that I have to follow a training plan exactly, I will get bored. My life is too busy, and I need flexibility.
Once I built up a base of miles I found it pretty easy to jump into races up to the half marathon distance without really training much. I've never run more than eight miles in a training run before running a half marathon. Most training plans will recommend a 12-miler. Yet somehow I've continued to shave minutes off my PRs. I ran 2:35 in my first half marathon in San Francisco in 2006. Last year I shattered by PR with a 1:53:10 at the Deckers Creek Half Marathon in West Virginia.
Sometimes when people ask me how I train I'm almost embarrassed to tell them I kind of don't. I run regularly, and I run (generally) enough to feel comfortable with the race distance. But a lot of it is general fitness and the sheer tenacity to push through the run.
When training for marathons I've been a little more diligent when sticking to the schedule, but that's not always the case. Last year having a new baby and my dad's death made training for New York a real challenge. I did not run more than 15 miles while training. I wouldn't recommend it, but somehow I pushed through with a decent time.
This leads me to the ultimate truth about running: it's mostly mental. Sure you've got to be fit enough to actually make it through the miles, but it's mostly tenacity that will get you through. I've never stuck with a training plan, and it's actually worked better for me. I've learned that logging too many miles will always result in injury, so I dial it back to stay healthy.
When I'm asked how I train for a half marathon, my honest answer of "run 3-4 miles 2 days a week and a long run" is pretty much not what any other runner will tell you. But this is the level of running I need to accomplish to knock out the race and maintain my life balance.
Setting a lofty goal of breaking 20 minutes in the 5k means I have to stick to an aggressive (and fast) training schedule. After week one I am already annoyed by it, but there are only 11 weeks to go. This week I ran my first Fartlek (Swedish for "speed play"). As an avid Runner's World reader I know all about the Fartlek, but it's never occurred to me to actually do one.
My first Fartlek was ambitious: run ten minutes at an 8:30 pace and then alternate 6:00 minute miles with minute recovery for 15 minutes. Follow that with another ten minutes at 8:30 pace. It was a short workout, but it was hard. I felt like I might fall off the treadmill because it was going so fast, but I did it. I'd never run at a 6 minute/mile pace. It turns out that's very fast.
Over the weekend I had a short workout, but it included two miles at 6:43 per mile. Ouch. My body is sore in places it's never been sore, but it feels amazing. I'm honestly not sure I can break 20 minutes in the 5k, but it's sure going to be fun trying.
Running is hard. The hard is what makes it great, remember? Whether you're running fast or slow, long or short, you're doing it. It's so rewarding to challenge your body in ways you never have before. My ultimate training secret? Just get out there and do it. And know that doing it makes you a rockstar. Also wear cute outfits. Cheers!