Novice No More

Since retiring my XL lounge-pants three years ago and committing myself to the sport of running, I’ve run 37 road races, two sub-4:00 marathons, thousands of miles and nearly out of goldendoodle photos to populate this blog.

x

Just kidding. I’ll never run out of those.

I wouldn’t call myself a running expert, per se — I only claim expertise in such indisputable areas as Upper East Side bagel shops and Cory and Topanga’s teenage love — but I would go so far as to claim that when it comes to running, I am no longer a mere novice.

Why, then, is it every single time I begin training for a long-distance running event, I choose to download and follow one of online coach Hal Higdon’s novice training plans, rather than one of his more advanced workout regimes?

Because I’m a scaredy cat, that’s why. And that’s the worst kind of cat, which — believe me — is a designation this dog-lover doesn’t award lightly.

I’ve been following Hal’s online training programs for years, starting three years ago to the month with his novice 5K training plan, which had me jogging less than five miles a week as I learned the basic mechanics of putting one foot in front of the other. I finished that eight-week plan with a base level of fitness and immediately dove into Hal’s novice 10-mile training plan with the goal of running the entire 2011 Broad Street Run without stopping once.

As many of you know, that race ignited my passion for racing, and two short months later, I found myself doing the previously unimaginably and downloading Hal’s novice half marathon training schedule in anticipation of my first ever 13.1 mile event. Fast forward a year, and I was using his novice marathon program to prepare for the Marine Corps event.

When it came time to train for the New York City marathon the following year, it felt somewhat disingenuous following the same novice marathon plan again, since I already had one marathon under my belt from using that identical training schedule. So I mentally prepared myself to leave the comfort of novicity behind, went online, clicked on Hal’s library of marathon plans — and found that he’d added a second-tier notice plan to the offerings. “A slight step upwards in difficulty from Novice 1,” the description read. “It is designed for people with some background as a runner.” The Novice 2 marathon plan still offered me two rest days and less than 35 miles a week on my feet, plus the familiarity and security of a novice plan. Done and done.

But as you already know, even though I followed the schedule nearly to a T, I still crossed the finish line in New York some seven minutes slower than my marathon PR. I know a whole host of outside factors can dictate a race pace, from the elevation (hilly) to the weather (cool) to how many times your eyes well up with emotion along the race course (I plead the fifth), but I couldn’t help wondering deep down inside if my plateaued fitness had anything to do with the fact that I was still training as a novice, despite my growing experience.

Proof I ran the marathon. Also proof I didn't buy the $80 marathon foto.

Proof I ran the marathon. Also proof I didn’t buy the $80 marathon foto.

So when I recently signed up for this March’s Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon, I decided to step out of my comfort zone once and for all and put the novice training plans behind me. With that aim, I’ve opted to follow Hal’s intermediate half-marathon training program, intended for “individuals who have left their novice roots behind and who want to improve their performances.” The description of its target audience might as well have had my headshot posted next to it: “You should be capable of running 30 to 60 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, have competed in at least a few 5-K and 10-K races, if not a marathon, and at least be willing to consider the possibility that some speedwork might help you improve. Better yet if your name is Anne and you love Zac Efron films. Also, don’t forget to pick up your dry cleaning.”

Ugh. Speedwork. I prefer to pretend that word doesn’t exist, much like cockroaches and the Kardashians. Running hard and fast outside of a racing environment is never fun, but my real apprehension when it came to the intermediate schedule had to do with the letter X.sched

As in, my schedule read “8 x 400 5-K pace,” and that terrified me. What the hell does an X mean in a workout? I associate Xs with dreadful things, like X-rays and Vin Diesel’s American action XXX and the totally unnecessary Goldfish cracker remake, “Goldfish® Flavor Blasted® Xtreme Cheddar.” No, thank you, Pepperidge Farm. The regular blasting of cheddar was just fine.

But leisurely jogs in the park does not a competitive runner make, so I finally went online to ask the running community what “8 x 400 5-K pace” meant. Turns out (as most of you may already know), that means running 400 meters (i.e. a quarterish mile) at your 5K race pace (for me, 7:30ish) eight times, with a slow jog or cool down in between each repetition. Ok, I guess I didn’t really need to look that up, but I was secretly hoping the internet would tell me it was something significantly lazier, like eating 8 packs of 400 donuts while sitting cross-legged. No such luck.

So yesterday morning, I dragged myself out of bed, went to the gym, cranked the treadmill up to a blistering pace … and surprisingly enjoyed myself. Maybe it was the House Hunters International marathon on the gym TVs distracting me, but I actually found myself smiling every time I hit a rhythm at that faster pace. I haven’t pushed myself hard in entirely too long a time, and while I don’t pretend I could run an entire 5K at my “5K pace” at this specific juncture, knowing I have it in me for even 400 meters at a time is still an accomplishment indeed.

An intermediate accomplishment, dare I say.

How are you pushing yourself this January?

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