I am not a natural long distance runner. I’m more of a gym guy. I started running out of necessity. “Necessity?” you might ask. “How can running ever be a necessity?!”
After our second child was born, it was hard to fit gym time into the schedule. I need to work out regularly, otherwise my mental and physical health suffers. I turned to running simply because it’s an easy and time-efficient form of exercise.
My main objective with exercise has never gone beyond staying healthy and maintain my BMI under 25. However, after a few years of running I felt up for a challenge and the half marathon sounded doable without a complete change of lifestyle.
How to approach the challenge?
Having worked most of my adult life in software development, I decided to take a scrum inspired approach.
I needed a deadline, otherwise laziness would definitely overpower me at some point. I signed up for Stockholm half marathon, which gave me 15 weeks to prepare.
I could run 10k under the hour, so that was my starting point. I needed to increase my ability by 0.8 km per week to make the distance. I decided from the start to not set a time goal. Pushing myself would increase the risk of injury, which in the long run might jeopardise my main objective – staying healthy and maintain a BMI under 25. Running over 20 km without stopping has to be considered fantastic enough, which is easily forgotten in these times of half elite amateur sports endeavors.
My Half Marathon Burndown (or “burnup” in this case…) would have to look like this.
My backlog would be the workouts and each sprint backlog would be three weeks worth of workouts, three workouts per week. Each week containing one long run, one half the length of the long run, and one where I just ran as much as I felt like – which could be as little as three kilometers, just to move my legs as much as they would comfortably allow.
Week #1: 10 km, 5 km, n km
Week #2: 10,8 km, 5,4 km, n km
Week #3: 11,6 km, 5,8 km, n km
Retrospective Sprint #1 – up,up, and away!
As with every scrum sprint, I wrapped up the three weeks workout scheme with a retrospective. Reviewing what went well and what didn’t.
Overall, I thought things were going well. I was a little behind in distance, but not by a lot, and – as mentioned earlier – I didn’t want to push myself too hard for fear of injury. One core objective of scrum is sustainable pace after all.
Everything felt good, so I decided to keep going without altering the backlog.
Week #4: 12,4 km, 6,2 km, n km
Week #5: 13,2 km, 6,6 km, n km
Week #6: 14,0 km, 7 km, n km
Retrospective Sprint #2 – soreness!
I was doing well in gaining distance. Still a little behind, but nothing to worry about.
However, increasing soreness in my hamstrings was cause for concern. I did my stretching – even threw in the odd yoga sequence – and I wasn’t stiff or inhibited in movement, just extremely sore.
I consulted a colleague, a triathlete, and he advised me to cut down on the running and add some extra core muscle workouts. The theory being that I lacked the strength to keep good posture during long runs, causing me to tilt my pelvis, straining the backs of my legs.
Taking the advice, I decided to swap one run per week for core strengthening exercises. This was a welcome change from a family perspective. With the increase in time spent running, exercises were getting harder to fit in the schedule without feeling a bit stressed out. Sticking to the principle of sustainable pace, I decided to have one long run and one “however far my legs feel like running” run, adding a half hour core exercise in between runs.
Week #7: 14,8 km, 30 min core strength, n km
Week #8: 15,6 km, 30 min core strength, n km
Week #9: 16,3 km, 30 min core strength, n km
Retrospective Sprint #3 – re-prioritisation!
Without a doubt the best sprint in terms of distance.
The amount of soreness in my hamstrings was reduced, probably due to less frequent running and more awareness of posture, as well as the extra core strength. For the first time I was actually on and above target. The “n km” runs were also increasing in length and could now easily be 8 km without strain.
I seemed to have found a sustainable formula for success!
Week #10: 17,1 km, core strength, n km
Week #11: 17,9 km, core strength, n km
Week #12: 18,7 km, core strength, n km
Retrospective Sprint #4 – setbacks!
The sprint started out good, keeping up with set distance goals, but I was starting to feel fatigued. With the fatigue came a slump in motivation. I decided mid-sprint to pull the breaks.
I consulted my brother, also a triathlete and Iron Man, and he assured me that if I could run 17 km – which I had done in sprint three – I would most likely be able to run the 21 km required. As long as I watched my pace on race day, I wouldn’t have a problem finishing.
Week #13: ~10 km, core strength, n km
Week #14: ~10 km, core strength, n km
Week #15: 5 km, Race day: 21,1 km
The week before the race I decided to only do “minor” workouts, i.e. around 10 km for long runs, to save up strength for the actual race.
Retrospective Sprint #5 – race day!
As you can tell from the chart, I finished! The 2 hours 8 minutes it took me was mostly enjoyable. Running on the streets of beautiful Stockholm, with traffic diverted, and thousands of people cheering along the course was a wonderful experience.
What wasn’t enjoyable? The hill climb between 17-19 km, where you run up and across Södermalm. That was painful! A lot of people gave up and started walking, but I’m glad to say I stuck with it, and kept jogging up the hill. Slowly, but at least not walking.
Also, I tried to make a final rush as I approached the goal, and almost fell after a few steps, because my legs were just completely worn out. That was also painful, but an interesting sensation.
If I decide to run another half marathon, I’m definitely starting core exercise as early as possible, before focusing on running. I didn’t realise its importance until I felt the consequences of lacking core strength.
2 hours and 8 minutes put me smack in the middle of the result table, and I have never been more content with being completely and utterly average!