How I went from first half marathon to sub-2 in six months with RHWB
I heard about sub-4 and sub-2 during last RHWB season, and I looked it up on google for what it means. A full marathon under 4 hours, and an half marathon under 2 hours - so respectable among running community.
Well, I had a resolution in 2015 to do a half marathon, and I tried for multiple years, but to no avail. I could have completed it, may be, if I had focus but other sports and work priorities eluded it.
@Saurabh RHWB Houston and @Aparna introduced @Sujata Jadhav RHWB and I to the RHWB season 6 for July to Oct 2021 program. With some ad-hoc running experience behind us, we joined season 6 for half marathon training, and I am so thankful we did. It is first time we practiced different types of running and had a running community and friends to guide us along the way. Season mostly went well, until peak week came along. Peak week was toughest in the Texas summer, and I felt it so tiring. But we endured it and carried on. Sujata and I finished season with 2 hours 15 mins and 2 hours 18 mins half marathon timings respectively. I was elated - a run that I found so elusive was finally done.
I followed up this one with Dallas half marathon in company of @GV IIM Americas and @Suren in December with timing of 2 hours 16 mins. I executed it as planned- by the book. Now, I had 2 half marathons within 6 months of joining RHWB.
RHWB season 7 Jan to April 2022 - half marathon program - I did not plan for any pace goal, but did few things along that may have contributed to it- breathing rhythm, strength exercises, workout priority, and strong belief.
During our weekend runs, picked GV’s and Arvind Parthasarthy’s brain on breathing strategies. I practiced breathing rhythm during the CP runs. Compared to previous seasons, I ran CP runs with just one purpose- to improve HR through slow runs and controlled breathing. I attempted to exhale through mouth instead of nose, and exhale more than inhale as suggested by GV.
Another thing I did religiously, this time around, was strength exercises that are so well crafted by coach @Bala RHWB Coach. I also added little bit of me time at the end of the exercise to focus on breathing.
I get a notification on Strava when @Anirudha, my AC, completes a run or strength exercise, and he does it so early in the morning. That became my motivation to get workout done first thing in the morning.
For penultimate long run in peak meso, my avg. pace was 10:20/mile- about same as my December half marathon- but my last few miles in long run were hitting 9:00/mile. I also got one off mile under 9:00/mile, and I was super pleased with it. Saurabh called me after this run and said hey go for sub-2, and I was literally laughing. Here I am struggling to get 2 hours 10 mins pace, and my friend is talking about sub-2 - no way. He shared his pacing strategy that had worked for him during the runs - run one mile slow, and then run next two fast, and keep repeating it. Slow mile used for taking gels and water, and comfort that there is slower mile coming when running those faster miles. I said that meant 11 min/mile and fast of 9:30 min/mile for me. He asked to not go as slow as 11 min/mile, try 10. That meant this pacing strategy for me was one faster mile, and next two fastest miles, and repeat it over and over- that was not possible for me over 13 miles. Saurabh said, just try it this weekend, if you can, and tell me.
I did just that during my last long run in peak meso, and I came out with strong belief after completing 10 miles in 1 hour 30 mins. I also did several under 9 min/miles with PR of 8:11 min/mile. Slower miles of 10 min/mile felt comforting. That was the game changer. Now, I knew that I can do this. Also, to achieve faster first mile, I did minor changes to warm up. Apart from regular warm up, I ran half mile as a warmup before I started my watch.
I spoke to Anirudh few days earlier, he was confident of me doing sub-2. I was starting to get little nervous now- can I repeat what I did on a school running track? Anyways, race day was here.
I ran from race day parking lot to race gathering area to get my half mile warm up- Well, actually it was because Sujata and I were late due to race day traffic.
Now, I had a template from my last run. Run 10 min/mile and run under 9 min/mile for next two, and continue to repeat that.
I knew first mile with the race day enthusiasm, with other runners around, will be quick. In the past, I used to slow myself down to 11min/mile during first mile. Today too I slowed down but let it go a bit with the energy from the crowd too. To my surprise, I did first one in 9:12 min/mile. I was so happy- I had about 40 seconds in the bank from the template.I ran next two as planned under 9 mins/mile, with one of them at 8:28. All good so far. Now, I have to just rinse and repeat.
Though, after third mile, I felt a bit of pain with calf muscle on left leg, but it was my slower mile as per plan, and I could afford to walk a few steps. I continued and did the fourth mile in 9:53. I could still feel the pain in the left leg but it was nothing serious.
Next 2 miles were planned to be fast and I had looked up that their was down slope for about 2-3 miles. I just went with the flow and executed them with consistent pace. I was ahead of 2 hour pacers during my faster miles with avg. of 8:41, and just behind them during my slower mile at 9:13. I did not want to lose advantage of down slope even during my slower mile, so didn’t go too slow on this one.
Tougher part was coming - 8th to 10th mile was all up slope. Crowd around 2 hour pacers started dispersing after 9th mile. For me, I knew that two of these are my quicker miles and other one slower- I also had few minutes in the bank to lose if I had to. I wanted to do 10 miles in 90 minutes to be on track. I did 10 miles in 90 mins and few additional seconds just by keeping the consistent pace and keeping up the plan. Higher elevation did not hurt much of my pace or energy, probably thanks to hill training I did during the season.
With the remaining 3 miles, and about 29 minutes to cover them , I knew there was no point in rushing. I just focused on basics- only way I was missing dub-2 now if I get injured, so just took it slow. I took a planned pause for water break at 10th mile, and just went on easy run thereafter. I did run a little quicker for my last half mile and finished with 1 hour 58 mins and 30 seconds on the ending line LED display. At finishing line I was calm and did few cool down stretches. I thanked my wife and kids for support, my friend Saurabh for the continuous motivation and belief, Anirudh and GV for coaching, Bala for the overall program, and almighty for all that I can do. I had no phone with me to call and tell someone, but I felt so thankful and blessed in that moment. My thought at end line was either believe in yourself or have a friend who believes in you.