Yesterday I completed my 4th half marathon (3rd within the past year), the La Jolla Half Marathon. As I’ve explained in previous posts, this race was definitely not the focus of the past 3 month’s training. After my last half marathon, I started P90X. (January 27). For the first phase of P90X, I ran 2x/week and starting in the 2nd phase, jumped it up to 2-3x/week and starting skipping Kenpo in favor of long runs that were anywhere from 8-14 miles long. The whole reason I ran La Jolla was because I want to be a San Diego Triple Crown finisher (complete 3 local San Diego half marathons within the same year) and I wanted to use it as a training run for the Rock n Roll Marathon, my ultimate goal.
Going into this race, I was a little nervous. First, La Jolla is the hardest course in San Diego, and one of the more difficult halves in the U.S., as it is very hilly. The ultimate challenge is the 420 foot climb beginning at mile 6 (about a 6% grade) and continuing to mile 7.5. The steep decline on the other side is even worse on some runner’s poor knees and quadriceps. The race finishes just after a 150 foot hill climb and decent (see the race profile in my blog about hills here).
As emphasized in my post about the Carlsbad half marathon, I was dead set on breaking 2 hours. My friend Asia and I attempted this feat last August at AFC and failed. Although I was able to break 2 hours at Carlsbad, Asia was out of the country for the race, and she was determined to break 2 hours at La Jolla. Asia is the friend that introduced me to P90X and she is currently on her 2nd round (modified for marathon training this time). So, although I was trying not to put pressure on myself to break 2 hours again this race, I knew that if my good friend and running partner was trying to do it, I would be too.
One thing I tend to do before races is get a little excited about the “carbo-loading” aspect. I tend to go a little overboard and ultimately feel stuffed and bloated before the race. Not a good idea! This time, I tried to stick to mostly P90X friendly foods (swapping out whole-grain bread for white bread when possible to avoid a lot of fiber). However, I still ended up eating a little too much on Friday and Saturday and was feeling pretty lethargic by Saturday afternoon. At around 5 p.m., Mike and I laced up our Nikes and headed out for a super easy 1 mile run (see my other pre-race taper exercises here). San Diego was unusually warm on Saturday (about 80 degrees), so the 1 mile run was enough to work up a sweat. We came home and stretched for about 15 minutes and then showered and ate my ceremonious chicken sausage pasta (I’ve had it before every race). We also decided to have a recovery shake after dinner as our dessert. I went to bed Saturday night feeling a little too full (not a good idea for race preparation!).
As for hydration, I definitely had that one down. I drank massive quantities of water on Friday and Saturday and was going to the bathroom every 45 minutes it seemed! I was worried about the heat wave approaching. The morning of the race, I drank about 16 ounces of water about 1 ½ – 2 hours before the start. My breakfast was my typical banana peanut butter toast.
On the way to the course, we decided to do something VERY off-routine and stop for coffee. Our running group had a nutrition clinic a few weeks prior and the nutritionist said that if a non-coffee drinker (or former coffee drinker in our cases!) were to drink coffee on race morning after not having it for at least 10 days, their performance would be boosted. Given that we haven’t had coffee since the day before we started P90x over 80 days ago, we were definitely prime candidates to feel the effects of coffee. Although I was worried about it upsetting my stomach, I went ahead and got a small cup of coffee with creamer and 1 sugar. It tasted like heaven and Mike and I were bonkers for about 20 minutes afterward, hopped up on caffeine.
Luckily, the fog rolled in for the race and the sun was nowhere to be found on Sunday morning. It was nice and cool – perfect racing temperature! We met up with our friends, took the traditional pre-race pictures with our VAVI running group, made one last bathroom stop, and then lined up for the start. The La Jolla Half Marathon has two different start groups – the sub-8 min/mile group and the above 8 min/mile group. We decided to start in the middle of the first group, although our estimated time was 9 min/mile, mostly because we didn’t want to spend the first mile dodging slower runners. We figured we’d let others dodge us!
I was very nervous waiting for the race to start – more nervous than before Carlsbad. After the horn blew, we took off, and were glad to find that we weren’t being passed by all that many people. Apparently a lot of other runners had the same idea as us to start with the faster group. Our plan was to run the first 5 miles at a 8:50 average so that when we got to the bottom of Torrey Pines hill at mile 5 we’d have some cushion to work with when our pace significantly decreased up the hill. We ran the first mile at a 9 min/mile pace. For mile 2, we increased our speed and clocked about a 8:35 mile pace. By the 4th mile, our average pace was down to 8:45 or so, despite having run up a two fairly significant rolling hills. Around mile 4.5 I downed my first GU, in anticipation of the water station at the bottom of the hill at mile 5.
The Dreaded Hill
When we reached the hill, I was feeling good. As predicted by both Blake, our running coach, and by Mike, my boyfriend, we flew up the hill…well maybe not flew, but we definitely passed a TON of people. In preparation for the race, we ran up Torrey Pines hill a total of 6 times. Two times we met after work and ran up it TWICE in one workout (a 6 mile hill workout). We were ready for this hill! We took the most direct route up the hill – straight up the center and never hugging the corners. Although I was very winded and my legs were screaming, I felt pretty good going up the hill. I was confident in our pace and our ability to achieve our goal. At the end of the most difficult and steep portion of the hill (about ¾ a mile up), some people hooted and shouted in excitement. I would have, but I was too winded. After slowing down a bit to catch our breath, we powered up the remaining ¾ of a mile until we reached the top. I opened another GU and had about half at this point, with water. We continued on the flat part of the race that overlooks Torrey Pines golf course. At this point, I was elated. I took off one of my headphones and excitedly told Asia that we were on pace – our average pace had only dropped to about 8:55 and we still had a two mile run downhill to take advantage of. I was so proud of us! This was the first time that it crossed my mind that I could break 1:55 (which was going to be my goal time for AFC in August).
Right before we headed down the hill, I took the 2nd half of GU and stopped at the aid station, then we powered down it. Some people were literally sprinting down, but we kept a steady pace of between 7:30 and 8 min/mile, not wanting to do damage to our quadriceps and knees. I definitely felt it in my knees! By the bottom of the hill, I felt great. I had total control of my breath, my legs felt light, and I was ready to get after it. We were now at mile 11. I took another half of a GU, and set my sights on the finish. Around this time, we hit another water station, but I was so amped up that I ran through it. I had been going through the aid stations slightly faster than Asia, but she would catch up to me shortly after. However, this time I was feeling so fantastic that I kept up my 8min/mile pace and unfortunately I didn’t see Asia again until the finish.
At this point, I was passing people pretty frequently. As I approached the last hill, I knew I’d have to dig down deep but that I could do it. I powered up the hill, passing several very fit men on my way up, including one that I recognized as a strong runner from my running group. I felt great. As I reached the top of the hill, there was a group of supporters with signs indicating that the end was near. I dug down deep and powered forward down the hill, at one point slowing down significantly in order to avoid slipping on wet cobblestones. After a very steep section of the hill, I saw the La Jolla Cove, one of the most beautiful sights in San Diego, and more importantly, the finish line. For the last few hundred meters, I literally sprinted my heart out. I had plenty of gas left in the tank! When I crossed the finish line, I knew it had done it – a sub 1:55 half marathon! And the best part was that it wasn’t that hard! It was by far the most energized I’d ever felt after a race. I felt like I was walking on air.
I looked back and Asia crossed just about 45 seconds behind me. I was elated. I couldn’t believe how much we had improved since we re-started our endurance journey just less than a year prior. Last May I struggled to finish 6 miles at a 10 min/mile pace and here I was running 13.19 (according to my watch) miles at a 8:44 pace!!!
P90X Improves Running Speed
Now, let’s recap. After running AFC at a 2:01:59 last August, I took a month off and then ran 4x/week in preparation for Carlsbad in January. I finished this relatively flat course exhausted with a 1:59:26. I started P90X three days later, completing 6 P90X workouts/week plus running 2x/week for the first month, then 5 P90X workouts and running 2-3x/week for the next 1 ½ months. I then proceeded to run 5 minutes and 5 seconds faster on a significantly harder course just 12 weeks later…. With LESS running? Hmm… Do you think P90X had something to do with this?! I do!
I’m not the only one that showed drastic improvements. Asia PRed by TWENTY minutes! Asia is on her 2nd round of P90X. Her boyfriend Jeremy, who hadn’t run a half marathon since he ran with Asia in the Silver Strand Half Marathon in 2008, ran La Jolla in 1:36, a whopping 40 minutes faster than his first half marathon. And then there’s my boyfriend Mike, whose previous PR was at La Jolla two years ago when he was training for his Iron man triathlon. He improved his PR by 2 minutes this year, with a of 1:34:00. More significant though, is that this is a 7 minute difference from his time at Carlsbad 3 months ago (pre-P90X).
How My Results Have Changed My Marathon Training Plan
I was planning on dropping the Legs & Back and Plyometrics workouts of P90X after we finish our first round, since I would be adding one more run per week and also adding a mid-week long run of 8-10 miles each Thursday. However, after my results at La Jolla, I think I am going to continue to work in Legs & Back every week (except recovery weeks) and try to get a few more Plyometrics sessions in (probably not every week). I really think that strengthening my legs was the main reason why I was able to PR on such a difficult, hilly course. Hills are about strength more than endurance. I want to be as strong as possible when I run 26.2 miles in 6 weeks!
Stay tuned for more improvements and hopefully more (personal) record breaking runs!