Sunburst Half Marathon: What Went Right

I shaved 29 minutes off of my half marathon PR between October 1 and June 2 (2:22 to 1:53). My first half marathon was 2:48 back in May 2010. That’s 55 minutes off of my first half marathon in two years. (And yes, I would like to eventually run a half in 1:48 so I can say I took an hour off my half marathon time.)


Oh hay thar … don’t mind me … just PRing. Want your own I Run With Fast Women shirt

I know I’m not breaking any records with my shiny new PR, but I’ve come a long way. And I’ve learned a lot (some of it obvious, so bear with me). Anyway, here’s what I think went right for me for this race [it should go without saying that I’m not a professional]:

I trained consistently. This is kind of a no-brainer. Here is a graph via Google Docs that charts my total miles by month going back to March 2010.

Clearly, prior to last spring, I had some trouble both following a plan and keeping up with my running after races. So what changed? I started signing up for more races, so I was always in a training cycle. Also, last fall, I started running with people, and suddenly had a lot of group runs on my calendar. I started looking forward not just to running, but seeing all of my new and awesome friends. I also didn’t want them to call me out for skipping a run because it’s too early/too cold/too rainy/too hot, but meanwhile, they all showed up. (New manta: there is no bad weather, just bad gear.)

Who wouldn’t want to wake up at 6am to run with this group at sunrise on St. Patrick’s Day?

I followed a plan. I spent some time looking at what Hal Higdon recommends, used the Runners’ World Smart Coach to spit out a “custom” plan based on my recent 5K times, and calculated my optimal paces via McMillan. And used all of that as a rough framework for my weekly training. My “plan” basically went something like this:

  • One long run per week at a truly easy pace/effort.
  • One speed workout per week, either a tempo run or intervals, using the paces and distances suggested by the RW Smart Coach plan.
  • 2-3 shorter, easy runs at the same pace/effort as my long runs. (Emphasis on EASY.)

Lesson learned: vary your pace. If you’re a beginner, it’s OK to run everything at the same pace because you should focus on endurance. But if you want to get faster, you have to run fast, but that also means your easy runs should truly be easy in order to recover.

Other lesson learned: stick to your plan. Just having a plan on paper (or computer screen) doesn’t mean your race will go well. You have to do the work. (Duh, but it took me a few attempts.)

I took care of myself. I tried to make a habit of stretching and foam rolling after every run, and doing a cold water soak after long runs (if I had time). I wore my compression tights or socks around the house (or under my clothes), and I have The Stick if I needed some extra recovery. Result? I’m not sore from running very often. Sure, my knees creak a little bit more than they used to, and the day after my big PR, my hamstrings felt a little tight, but generally I run and feel fine later on. I must be doing something right, right? (I really hope I’m not jinxing myself right now.)

I also hired a personal trainer …

I did some strength work. I say “some” because I have a lot of room for improvement in this area. But I did get in more strength workouts in the past few months than I have ever done regularly. I aimed for once per week, and usually did Pilates or a group class at the gym if I could make it, or worked out on my own based on what I learned in those classes.

I lost 25+ pounds. We all have a “scary weight.” You have a number in your head, and you don’t want to hit that. It’s different for everyone. Well, in the years after college, I kept hitting my scary weight, which kept getting higher, because my weight kept creeping up. Until I realized I had gained 50 pounds since graduating from high school in 2000. 30 of those pounds since graduating from college in 2004. That meant I was gaining 5 pounds per year. Granted I was skinny in high school so I could stand to gain a few pounds, but I went from teetering on underweight to overweight. And at that rate, how much would I weigh when I’m 35? I started tracking calories in vs. calories out and making improvements. Then a few months later I started running a lot more, but didn’t eat everything in sight. I try to “eat to run” not “run to eat.” (Most of the time.) So that’s my big weight-loss secret. I’m expecting the book deals to come rolling in …

The time on the clock behind me was for the marathon, which started about an hour and 33 mins before the half.

My mind was in a good place. I trained hard. (I mean, I know I’m not going to the Olympics, but for someone who works full-time and has a long commute and wants to have somewhat of a social life, I trained hard.) I had some awesome shorter-distance races this winter and spring, so I had confidence. I knew I had a sub-2 half in me. I did the workouts. Now I just had to run the race. I knew if I focused on my heart rate, I could run the fastest pace that I could sustain over the distance. I trusted my heart rate. I also spent the days leading up the race focusing on the race, on how hard I’ve been working, and telling myself that my legs had my goal in them.

The weather was awesome. 48 degrees at the start? Maybe 60 degrees around the time I finished? Shady course? Lots of water stations? Just enough runners for the course size, so weaving was easy? Recipe for a great race.  Which is great, considering my other option for a goal spring half was 13.1 Chicago this upcoming Saturday, and the high is supposed to be 89 and the course will probably be far less shady.  Definitely going to just have fun at that one.


So that’s what I’ve learned. This week starts my training for the Chicago Marathon. I’m sure I will learn A LOT more over the next four months. (Like … I’m awesome at marathoning. At least that’s my hope, but I won’t hold my breath.)


Also, the winner of the 5K entry was Melanie. She has been emailed. 


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15 Comments on “Sunburst Half Marathon: What Went Right”

  1. This was actually really helpful. I’m basically a beginner runner (I “ran” for fitness in college, but never really pushed myself or trained for anything) and now that I’m getting into racing, I’m trying to figure out how I can get better. Right now it feels like nothing I’m doing is working, so it’s just a lot of chipping away at the block…right now I just need to use your tips on getting my mind in the right place so I can bust through this running plateau!

    1. I try to read as much as I can about running. I read Runners World and Marathon & Beyond magazines, and subscribe to emails from RW and also I’ve started reading “Marathon” by Hal Higdon but I’m not that far into it yet. And I try to follow running blogs who clearly know what they are doing it comes to running to try to learn from them. There’s a lot of info out there.


    Thanks so much for sharing your tips as well. I ran my first half this year and I am gearing up to train for 2nd and ideally my first full marathon, so it was great to read what worked for you. The run fast tip is one I definitely need to keep in mind, b/c I tend to stay in my comfort zone, especially when adding distance. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. Congrats on that huge PR!

    This is a very encouraging post for me to read! My first half in 2008 was around 2:48 as well. It took me a few years to get down to 2:20:xx in May 2011. Weight loss and speedwork were big factors. January 2012 I managed 2:15 after being very ill the week before and April 2012 I came in at 2:09 which was exciting since was hoping for sub 2:10.

    My next goal is 2:05 but its hard not to think about sub 2. I’m going to up my mileage and stick with the speed work.

    Great post and good luck with marathon training.

  4. As someone who has been in a speed rut (granted it wasn’t my priority all spring) i am taking diligent notes. But i also agree with Kelly, you forgot to mention that you are awesome!

  5. Improving your half marathon speed by 55 minutes in just two years!?!?!? I have literally dreamt about being able to improve my running that much that quickly… but I always cut myself off, thinking that if I were really lucky maybe I could cut my half marathon time by 10 minutes in two years, LOL. Your accomplishments are so inspiring!!! GREAT JOB!!!

  6. You have made such incredible progress! Congrats 🙂

    I will definitely be referring back to this post in the future when I will start working towards actual time goals in races (instead of the goal to finish and survive).

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