The half marathon is my favorite distance to race – it’s long enough that I feel like I have conquered something, but not so long that the training takes over my life and running it leaves me hobbling around for days. It requires speed, which I develop through training, but also favors my more inherent strength of endurance.

The first time I ran a half marathon, almost a year and a half ago, I was terrified. The distance seemed so daunting – 13.1 miles?! Really?!

Since running two marathons, however, my mentality has shifted. I seem to think of the half as not really a big deal – not to say that it’s easy to race and get a fast time, because it certainly is not, but somehow I always forget that 13.1M is still a serious distance to run. I think it’s because I only remember the end of my marathon training cycles, when I regularly ran half marathons and any long runs under 14M seemed “short” in the context of my 16 – 20M runs.

It’s one thing, however, when you have conditioned your body to run for hours on a regular basis – 13.1M sounds like a piece of cake, because, well, it kind of is. But when it’s been several months since you’ve conquered and surpassed that distance, running a half marathon or more is actually really challenging! And that is what I was reminded of today…

It was a glorious morning, so I headed to Richmond Park to do the longest long run in my half marathon schedule – two hours or roughly 14 miles off-road. I would normally do this two weeks before race day, but shifted it to today given that I’m racing a 10k next weekend instead. The goal was to run two laps of the park, averaging below 9:00min/mile. I did this by myself without music and am happy to report that it was a great run! The only miles over my upper pace limit were those that included hills, and I averaged an 8:51 pace: 14M Richmond Park Run (Garmin Connect Details). I then jogged another .7M back to the station, bringing my total to about 14.75M for today and my weekly mileage to just over 36M. Not too shabby!

I can’t say that it was easy though, as I watched the miles slowly creep up while thinking to myself towards the end, Oh yeah, this is what 13.1M actually feels like…How did I run a marathon again?! It was a bit of a reality check.

It’s amazing how quickly your body forgets these things – but equally amazing how you can snap it back into shape. I love the moment of a training cycle when you can look back and remember just how much you struggled with something that is now relatively easy! I didn’t quite feel that way today, but I reminded myself of the times that I DID think of 14M as an “easy” run. It was both comforting and unnerving. 🙂

With my last long run under my belt, the countdown until race day has begun. Three weeks to go, and only my longest tempo run, a 10k and one last interval session before things start to wind down. I haven’t raced since early November (which is why the 10k will be good practice), and I haven’t raced a half marathon since September (in a time of 1:39:56), so Fleet should be interesting, particularly after this roller-coaster of a training cycle. I’m not sure how it will go, but I do know that I’ll soon have a new medal and bib number hanging proudly on my race wall – the firsts of 2011, with hopefully many more to follow!