As you may have noticed from my 2011 race plans, I only have one event left this year – the North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon in San Francisco on December 4th. This is the championship of North Face’s national trail race series and includes races of many distances (from 5k to 50 mile) throughout the weekend. I figured the half marathon would be a great excuse to maintain the fitness I gained while training for the Portland marathon plus I’ve always wanted to run in the Marin Headlands. Also, the goody bag includes arm sleeves – that pretty much sealed the deal when I was searching for a December race!

I signed up for the half with a group of other runners from California and Colorado. I love doing races with friends, particularly when I am running more for fun than for a specific time, as I did for the Kentmere 17km trail run in the Lake District. We’re all staying in the same hotel and having our pre- and post-race meals together. I’m so excited! I wish E could join us – he loves Dean Karnazes (who is making multiple appearances throughout the weekend) and has always wanted to do this event. He’ll be in London at the time but hopefully next year we can both participate, perhaps in one of the longer distance events!

I bet my Denver friends will kick some butt in this race, given they train at altitude and have access to some incredible trails! I will have just returned from my 5-week NYC/London/Boston trip a couple days before, so the only thing that will give me some edge is my jet lag. For once, I’ll be ready to get out of bed when my alarm goes off at an ungodly hour on race morning!

Although I’m sure I’ll get into the racing spirit and push myself to the finish once I’m on the course, I’m not killing myself training for this event. My hip is still on the mend and I want a mental break from full-on training and racing after so many hectic months! My goal is simply to train so that I don’t kill myself in the race itself!

If you’re not exactly sure what I mean, check out the course profile and description below. “Endurance challenge” seems like a fairly apt description, no?!

Looks brutal but awesome! I can only imagine how fun those steep climbs and downhills will be if it rains…

So how am I training for this event?

I started to consider this question a few weeks after the Portland Marathon, once I felt recovered and started to build my mileage back up. I wanted to try a different type of schedule from the ones I have been using with my coach to mix things up, so I looked over the materials I received in my coaching course to see if I could modify one of the schedules our instructors gave us. I only had seven weeks to train. Normally you need far more time, and running a trail race is an entirely different ballgame, but given that I had just run a full marathon I knew I would bounce back relatively quickly. As long as I wasn’t aiming for an overly ambitious time, I would be just fine!

The training plans that we discussed in my coaching course address distance and speed separately. The first phase of the plan is to focus on “base building” or increasing your endurance through long and short runs at an easy pace. This concept of running every session at the same pace is very foreign to me and seems quite boring, given that my typical week might include a long run, recovery run, tempo and/or race pace run and an interval or hill session. If you are an experienced runner, the schedule allows for fartlek running during one of the shorter mid-week runs, but otherwise all are done at an easy pace.

Once you build up to the race distance (which for a distance event takes many weeks), you enter a phase called “sharpening,” where you include race pace speed work as well as any other training specific to the event (such as terrain, temperature etc.). This phase is shorter than the base building phase. Lastly, you have the taper phase, which for the half marathon is around ten days (I normally do two weeks), and the post-race recovery phase, which resembles a reverse taper.

What I came up with is a condensed first section of a marathon schedule that I found in one of my coaching course books. My mileage increases more quickly and I incorporate speed work into the schedule relatively early due to time constraints and the fact that I have a recent marathon under my belt. However, I do hope to experiment with the actual schedule as it appears in my course book at some stage so that I can decide what works best for me and how I want to train others when I begin coaching clients more formally.

Please find my current North Face SF Half Marathon schedule here. As you can see, it’s fairly simple compared to my other schedules, which is actually quite refreshing. I’ve stripped out most of my spin classes, as I realized those weren’t helping my hip soreness plus I wouldn’t have regular gym access while I was traveling. I have added in Bikram Yoga while in London, beginning yesterday. I’ll be writing a post on hot yoga soon!

Some of my fellow coaches from Portland are running the North Face 50k – I wish them luck! I do hope to run an ultra at some stage, but for now, I think I have my hands full with the half…

As for 2012 races, I have ZERO in my calendar! The horror! I realize I need to get my act together or else all the major races will be full by the time I want to register (many already are), but I’m still waiting to figure out where I’ll be (NYC or elsewhere) and if my hip is 100% better in time for Spring marathon training. I may do what I did this past year – run a Spring half marathon or two and focus on a Fall marathon such as Chicago or Berlin – but I would prefer to run both Spring and Fall if my body, my schedule and my wallet can handle it. I’ll keep you posted, as always!