My first sub 1:30 Half

Me, after crossing the finish line of the 2016 Golden Gate Half Marathon
Me, soon after breaking 1:30 at the 2016 Golden Gate Half

First injury

Continuing my newfound tradition of setting useless arbitrary goals, I decided to aim for 2,000 km in 2014. I think I looked at my Strava stats in early December, and noticed that I was between 1,700 and 1,800 km, and that if I could average less than 10k a day, I could do it. That would be a cool milestone right?

I had purchased Jack Daniel’s book, “Daniels’ Running Formula”, a few weeks earlier but didn’t do much with it until after the Marathon. I took a week off, around Thanksgiving, and tried to get back to running the week after that, but I felt this deep pain in my right knee. Assuming it would help, I used my gym’s elliptical for a few days, instead of running, and went for an outdoor run soon after that. The pain was so bad that I had to stop running 2 miles out and had to walk back home, defeated.

That was a strong enough signal to make me stop running, for real this time. About a week and half later, as I was visiting family for the holidays, I tried to go run on a track in Paris, hoping that the softness of the track would be enough for my knees, but nope, less than a mile in, I stopped and didn’t train at all for about a month. I failed at 1,838.9 km, still about a thousand miles more than my previous record, but still, it felt like a failure. I tried a few times here and there, for about a mile or a mile and a half, but the pain was still there.

I took another five weeks off, and found myself a week away from the 2015 NYC Half, a race that is usually hard to get a bib for, so I definitely did not want to miss it. I showed up at the start line, the race itself was great, they changed the course since, but this was a great one, running through Time Square felt almost surreal. But with less than 10 miles of combined running in about three months, this was a very painful race.

I finished in a disappointing 1h52m, significantly slower than my previous half, 1h40m in Staten Island, back in October.

I took another few weeks off and using advice from the Jack Daniels book, started running a bit more, adding some drills, like jumping jacks and burpees and was able to keep training pretty regularly, between 3 and 5 times a week.

Missing the mark, twice, and thrice

I had started 2015 potentially hoping to qualify for the NYC Marathon in 2016 through the 9+1 program, but after moving to Oakland, CA in June, this plan wasn’t really an option anymore.

I set my eyes on local races and while disappointed that I couldn’t find something similar to NYRR in the Bay Area, found out about the Oakland Half Marathon in August.

After about 13 weeks of what was at the time my most intense training season, (up to 7 days of running per week!), I crossed the finish line of “The Town’s Half Marathon” in 1h33.

The race was not as competitive as NYRR races, but damn, I finished 15th, out of 1,800 runners. That’s within the top 1% of the race, I had no idea I could do something like that!

I continued training seriously, with my first 100k week in September. In hindsight, this was a stupid decision, I wasn’t ready for it, and that was definitely overtraining. I signed up for the following race in the Golden State series, the Golden Gate Half, in November. The timing of the race was far from ideal, it was the week after a two week long vacation back home in France, where I barely trained. I was still able to improve my half time, by a few seconds, but still, an improvement.

By that time, my goal was to break 1h30, for no other reasons that it felt like a round number, 1h30m, 90minutes, I don’t know, I decided I wanted to break it.

The next race in the series was the Livermore half, in March 2016. I kept on training at an intensity that was too high for my fitness level at the time, and never really took the time to properly recover. That led me to start 2016 with a really annoying pain in one of my knees, I can’t remember which one. It wasn’t terrible, but was extremely uncomfortable. I purchased a knee brace, and I still don’t know if it helped or not. I reduced my weekly mileage to 5 or 6 miles, running two or three times a week, checking how the knee was feeling.

I started doing more strength training, and found out about the ironstrength workout, by Dr. Metzl. It was extremely painful, especially the burpees pyramid at the end. Every time I did this circuit, I ended up thinking the same thing, “how is it that 15s feels like forever when planking but it basically feels instant when used as the rest time between burpees series”.

The combination of reduced running and more strength training really worked, and I was able to get back to a more sustained running before the race, about 30 miles per week. Despite the injury, I was still able to improve my PR, down to 1:32:05, great about the personal best, but still short of my 1:29:29 goal! I also remember this race as one of the most frustrating ones because I still felt like my legs could carry me for the last miles, I felt like I could go faster, but every time I tried to pick up the pace, I would feel a cramp in my calves, ready to stop me. This is when I realized that I should really improve my nutrition and hydration strategies and prevent this from happening ever again.

Next race, Oakland’s Half Marathon, again, in August. I trained really seriously, between 30 and 50 miles per week, following the Half Marathon plan from Jack Daniels. On top of some serious training, I knew the race, I had ran it the year before, and the cherry on top, the last 2-ish miles were around Lake Merritt, where I used to run almost every day. It almost felt like having home court advantage. I could not even imagine not breaking 1:30. And, in what turned out to be a very humbling race, I fell short of my goal, finishing in 1:30:58. I simply ran out of gas. I noticed in the second half that I was hitting my splits slightly under my goal but kept telling myself: “Just wait til you get to the lake, and you’ll finish strong from there”. I did finish 8th, out of 1,726 runners, it helped with the disappointment of falling short, by less than sixty seconds.

Fourth time’s the charm

Frustrated by missing the 1h30 goal once again, I signed up for the next race in the series, one that I also already knew, the Golden Gate Half, in November. I don’t think that I would consider it to be a hard course, it’s not that terrible, but it has a few annoying hills, especially when you cross the Golden Gate, there’s a pretty steep downhill to cross below the bridge, followed by a steep uphill back to the road, to come back on the other side of the bridge.

I had started training at a boxing gym a few weeks prior, and I remember feeling the benefit of all these jump rope sessions when running uphill. I felt so much more powerful that the year before. The last few miles, on the Golden Gate promenade were amazing, I picked up the pace and started catching up with a few other runners. One other guy stayed with me and we both helped each other to a very strong finish.

I have a slowmo video of me crossing the finish line, and as vain as that makes me, I love watching it, you can see the clock in the back, showing one hour, twenty nine minutes and something, you can clearly how tired I am, I don’t know, I just love it.

After the two disappointing finishes in Livermore and Oakland, this one was completely different, I felt strong all the way through, and crossed the finish line in 1:28:46. Finally, I had broken 1:30, another totally arbitrary, seemingly meaningless goal achieved!

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