Third time's a charm

I've just started training for my third half marathon.

My first was about finishing, about completing 13.1 miles, about proving I could do it after only 9 months of running. Which I did, eventually, after three long, painful, gruelling hours.

My second was about proving I could do it well. I worked hard, I trained hard and I ran 13.1 miles with a smiled glued on my face, and whizzed over the finish line in 2 hours 8 minutes - a PB of over 54 minutes.

So what is the third one for? I'm reluctant to set a time goal with that elusive sub-2 hours looming so closely. 8 minutes may not seem a lot, but a pace of over 30 seconds a mile faster than last year seems questionable. (Plus I really, really don't want to be disappointed if I come in with a 2 hour 2 minute time or something like that).

My third half marathon is because it's fun. Two years ago, after my first half marathon, I never thought I would run one again. I think I actually uttered the words "never again". But now I've been known to call it my favourite distance. 

While I run a lot of 10Ks, I'm not fast enough to really enjoy them, and while this might sound conceited, I don't need to train for a 10K. I can sign up for a 10K any time and usually be fit enough to do an alright job. But for me, I like an endurance test over a speed test.

A marathon is... a lot. A commitment. I loved it and it was the greatest thing I've ever done, but the training was hard and all-consuming and exhausting and carb loading was nowhere near as fun as I hoped it would be. For me, a marathon is a once a year job, max. I trained for 6 months for my last one, so I need a break.

But a half is perfect. It needs work, and I like that. It needs training, it needs endurance, it needs effort. I'm definitely a long distance runner these days, and I like that I can take my time and settle into the race. With a 10K I often find by the time I'm into the rhythm it's almost over. But it doesn't require gels or new shoes or bruised toenails or Sunday morning four hour runs. 

I need a goal. I need to always have a goal. Goals make me a better runner, goals make me a better person. Without a goal I have no direction, no motivation, no inspiration. I need something to focus on, something to work towards.

It's not going to be easy, and I know that. Before I started training I thought it would be a walk in the park after the marathon, but I can see already it's going to be hard. I'm still going to have to turn down weekends away and bring my trainers when I'm away for work and get up before 6am. But I like the hard work. I like putting in the time and knowing there's a goal in sight.

I'm planning to do another marathon next year - London, if I get a place, and the new Birmingham marathon if I don't, but maybe I'll jump back on the half marathon wagon instead. Right now I love the idea of a couple of half marathons instead of a full, but I know, deep down, nothing feels like crossing the line of a marathon. Nothing in the world. And crossing the lines of two half marathons would be amazing, but a marathon is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. Last year my half marathon really just a part of my marathon training, so I'm not sure if halves alone will be enough for me anymore. But right now I'm glad to be able to get up at 6am, not 5am, and for my Sunday runs to be an hour, not three. But who knows. I'd love to get a few more half marathons under my belt over the next few years.

Last time I knew no matter what (well, unless I fell over and broke my ankle but you get the idea) that I'd beat my time. I knew that even worse-case scenario I'd be coming in under 2 hours 30 - still 30 minutes faster than previously. But this time I have to work. Those speed sessions aren't optional. I'm researching optimum interval paces and adding in two days a week of strength training on top of five days a week of running. I'm pushing myself harder and faster than I have done for a long time and I'm hoping it will be worth it. (If you're interested, I'm doing Hal Higdon's Intermediate program, running 5 days a week and doing 30 minutes of No More Trouble Zones twice a week after my Tuesday and Thursday runs, plus doing parkrun on a Saturday rather than the prescribed run).

The biggest success of my last half marathon was that I spent the race with a smile on my face the whole way around, and if I can do that again I'll be happy. Oh and a PB.


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