In my previous post, I shared with you my experience of running the 2009 IU Mini Marathon. This was my sixth half marathon, and I was very happy that I completed the distance of 21 kilometers (or 13.1 miles) substantially faster than my previous half marathons. I have been consistently improving on my timings, but I didn't expect to improve it this time because of two reasons:
- not enough training runs before the race, and
- the several rolling hills that are part of the IU Mini's course (My previous best time was on a course that was relatively very flat).
Unexpected occurances—positive or negative—are always potentially great learning opportunities. So, I spent some time pondering over what factor(s) could have influenced my better timing. I concluded that I had done a few things right—I was just not mindful of those things before. Here are my lessons (I hope some of you find them useful):
- Running is not the only form of training for a long distance race. You may say, "That's obvious—all seasoned runners do a lot of cross training through swimming, cycling, weight training, etc." Yes, they do, but they do those things in addition to their running, not in place of running. I hardly ran in the weeks before my race—I was avoiding running because the cushioning effect of my running shoes had worn off and training runs on roads would have strained my knees too much. However, I stayed physically active through Badminton, Squash, Hapkido, (occasional) Swimming, and (regular) Pranayama. Often these activities went beyond two hours per day, thus providing good endurance training. The benefit of games (such as squash and badminton) is that they provide excellent endurance training without people feeling bored of the activity. And Pranayama is, of course, excellent for increasing the capacity of one's lungs and overall wellbeing. I'm not suggesting that one need not train at all through running; I'm only trying to highlight the role that other sports and physical activities can play in providing you with the required endurance training.
- Training runs are more important for your muscles than lungs. Training runs are important, but more for your muscles than lungs/heart. When you run any distance longer than 10 kilometers, you are using a particular set of muscles over and over again for an extended period of time. Unless these muscles are used to working out for very long periods of time, they will get fatigued and may result in severe cramps. I believe the reason I got severe cramps towards the end of my race was my severe lack of long distance training runs this time. Although my other physical activities had helped me stay cardio-vascularly efficient (and perhaps improve it), I hadn't trained my muscles to sustain long periods of abuse.
- Experience helps you know your "self" better. The important thing about long distance races, is maintaining the 'right' pace. You learn the 'right' pace for a race after running several races. It is a good idea to keep a log of your runs and races—knowledge of how different paces worked for you in the past will be very helpful in determining your pace for a current race. Most novice runners either start too slow or too fast, which in turn affects their overall time. I am an amateur runner as well, but I am gradually getting a better idea of how to pace my races. My running log has certainly helped, but it is not just the running log. With more experience I have come to understand my body better—so, based on how I feel, I have learnt how much more I can push myself in a race.