Sometimes races aren’t about racing. Toeing the line in competition is exhilarating, but sometimes it’s good to use the occasional race as a training run or fun run, especially during half marathon training.
Kim Smith won the 2013 Brooklyn Half on May 18 in a new course record of 1:11:24. But the three-time Olympian from New Zealand who lives and trains in Providence, RI wasn’t even racing. She ran the half-marathon as a tempo-pace training run, as she told me in pre- and post-race interviews for “NYRR On The Run at the Brooklyn Half.”
“I’m going to treat it as a workout,” Smith told me at the race pre-party the day before.
Indeed, Smith’s half-marathon personal best is 1:07:11, a full four-minutes faster than her finish time in Brooklyn.
“It was a pretty relaxed effort,” Smith said after the race. “I didn’t go all out.”
She said she’s training for the track season and will be back in New York City on Saturday, June 8 to race the Oakley New York Mini 10K, a New York Road Runners event that usually attracts a stellar competitive field. The women-only race boasts a $10,000 prize for first place, and past champions include the legendary Grete Waitz, Olympic-medalist Deena Kastor and World Champions Lornah Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat and Linet Masai.
I found Smith’s decision to run, but not race, really encouraging. Never mind the fact that not racing for her still might mean winning and scoring a course record. What’s important is that she set-out to do the race as a half marathon training run and did just that.
In my mind, there are three types of races for mid-packers like me: personal record attempts, training runs, and fun runs. Pros and elite runners have a fourth type that will likely elude me my entire running career: running for the win or the podium. Though I did once place in the top 10 women at a small local race, out of 65 ladies. While that will likely be my claim to fame for a long time, the other three types of runs will always have a place in my racing repertoire, especially during half marathon training.
Back when I was a newbie, I used to run just about every race as fast as I could. But as I became a better runner, I found that exhausting. I started racing in 2007 and come 2010 started to embrace the race as fun run or training run.
Half Marathon Fun Run
The first race I ever did just as a fun run was actually the Brooklyn Half in 2010. I ran it with a friend. We’d both registered with the intention of giving it our all, but come race day neither one of us had it in us. So we chatted and jogged the whole way. It was a blast. And I think it helped my half marathon training in the long term. A little over three months later, I nabbed a half marathon PR by 7 minutes at the Montreal Half Marathon.
I wrote about it after Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher made headlines for running the NYRR New York Mini 10K, the same race Kim Smith is competing in next month, just for fun.
I found it really refreshing to see two elite pros going for a Sunday jog in the park just for the joy of it. I think it’s something every runner should do from time to time. We spend so much time worrying over our training and our PR’s. I think it’s healthy to take a step back and remember that running is fun and can be fun whenever we need a break from giving it our best.
Another type of fun run I love is the victory lap. My husband and I ran the runDisney 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon in January fresh off of marathon PR’s just eight weeks earlier and a Boston Marathon qualifying time for him. We walked through water stations, stopped for photos with Disney characters and just took it easy. It felt like we were Super Bowl winners or Olympians who’d shouted “I’m going to Disney World!” right after our Philadelphia Marathon personal bests. We sure did. Doing that marathon as a fun run after great personal feats felt like a well-deserved victory lap. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a marathon.
Half Marathon Training Run
Running a race as a half marathon training run took me longer to embrace, but ever since I did I’ve been singing its praises. The first time I used a race as a half marathon training run was the 2012 Tinker Bell Half Marathon in January to tune-up for Disney’s Princess Half Marathon in February. The result? A 2-minute PR at the Princess Half that would have been even faster had I not stopped for photos along the course.
Based on the success of my first half marathon training race, I used the Yonkers Half Marathon the following September as a tune-up for the Staten Island Half Marathon in October. The result? A nearly 5-minute PR from my Princess Half Marathon time, shaving a total of 7-minutes off my half-marathon time inside of eight months. It was my most successful half marathon training season ever.
What I think is so helpful about using races as training runs is they let you practice all of your race-day strategies in a way that regular weekly half marathon training runs don’t: getting up early, timing your breakfast right, practicing your fuel and hydration routines, easing starting line jitters, creating a race strategy and sticking to it—especially when it’s easy to get caught up in race-day excitement, and so much more.
Using races as training runs has been so successful for me that I automatically build them into my racing schedule for any half-marathon or marathon PR attempt.
Earlier this month, I made like Kim Smith—albeit way slower—and ran the UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon as a training run. I ran the first half at an easy pace and the second half at more of a medium to tempo effort. I’m hoping it will pay off throughout my half marathon training this year as I go for a triathlon PR this summer and half-marathon and marathon personal records this fall. And you can bet that before those races come along, I’ll schedule a few more race-day training runs to help me prepare.
Personal Record Run
I love running races, but I can’t push pedal-to-the-metal at all of them.
I’m no running coach, but I honestly believe all of these training runs and fun runs are one of the reasons I’ve been so successful in my personal record attempts. Nearly every time I’ve run for a PR, I’ve nailed it.
But if I went for a PR every time I entered a race, I don’t think that would be the case. “Practice races” have been instrumental in my steady progress as a runner and to my success in half marathon training.
Including fun runs and training runs in my race schedule helps me keep it fun, keep it fresh, and keep my legs ready to race when it counts.
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ show about running. She has finished six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla at RunKarlaRun.com, The Washington Times Communities, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.