A little less than two weeks ago I raced my first stand alone half marathon. The first time I had raced 13.1 miles without first swimming and cycling beforehand. There was a lot I learned both during that race, as well as in the lead up to that race. The majority of that came from my first training block based solely on running power. Here’s what I learned:

1. Most people run at a more variable power than you think

This one surprised me. In the transition from basing my tri air on pace to passing it on power I learned a lot about holding consistent power over different terrain. I knew I needed to back off on the uphill and push it on the down hills to keep the same power. What I didn’t realize is how variable most people are when it comes to power.

I train on fairly flat terrain here in Eastern North Carolina. My race was more towards the central part of the state and was described as “rolling.” At one point a man I was running along side simply looked over at me and said “up and down, up and down!” I noticed so much in this race how, when I would hold a steady power over the hills, so many people would pass me going up, and then I would pass them right back going down. And I was towards the front of the race where you would expect the more experienced pacers to be.

2. Consistent Effort is King

The focus on consistent power is all about effort. A variable effort wears you down more. Cyclists and triathletes who train with power on the bike probably have heard of the metric called “Variability Index” or VI. The VI tells you how variable your effort is. So if the workout is multiple 400m repeats, it will be highly variable. If it is 90 minutes at Tempo, it will be less variable.

In a race situation, keeping a consistent effort allows you to have more gas in the tank at the end. This race was probably my best paced race ever. At the 5 mile mark I picked up the pace (power) slightly and then again at the 10 mile mark. That last 5k was focused on a consistent uptick in pace ever mile or half mile. That last half mile was all uphill until the final .1 where I gunned it to the finish. I am not sure how many people I passed in that final 5k, but It felt good to finish with a strong kick and not have anything left in the tank when I crossed that line!

3. Run Downhill!

I mentioned this before, but taking it easy on the downhill makes no sense. It is harder on your quads. You spend energy braking yourself. You miss the advantage gravity give you!

I stated before that I passed so many people on the down hill. If you look at my power file, I also never got up to my goal power on those down hills either. I simply opened my stride and let gravity do it’s thing. Next time you are in a race, Run down the hills!

4. Train top end speed

This was more from the lead up to the event, but I spent a lot of time working on my top end speed. Speed drills, VO2max drills, miles repeats, you name it, I did it. These all are at the opposite end of the effort spectrum from where I was racing, but they improved my economy. The better your efficiency, the faster you run. Which leads me to my last point:

5. You’re faster than you think you are

This was eye-opening to me. I finished with an average pace of right around 7:30/mile. With that as an average for 13.1 miles that just blew my mind. I had paced shorter legs of a triathlon much slower than that before. I’m sure part of it was the top end speed work I did, but I believe part of it was the mental disconnect between power and pace. I had tri and without ever looking at pace. I raced without ever looking at my pace. I just held the watts because I knew I could. In the end, I was faster than I had ever run for such a long distance.

I think some of us, my self included obviously, keep a mental tab on how fast we are going and when it reaches a certain point our brains tell us to slow down for fear of imploding. This is really discussed in detail in Matt Fitzgerald’s book “How Bad Do You Want It?” There is a huge mental side to suffering during a race. When I took my mind off the speed numbers and put them on a power number, suddenly holding that pace felt easier. It allowed me to dig deeper and unleash more of my potential.

Going into this next season I am looking forward to training with power and I’ll keep sharing the lessons I learn along the way. If you don’t want to miss any of them, make sure you sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email! You’ll also get a FREE 5k or sprint triathlon training plan, and you’ll be the first to get my new Half Marathon POWER training plan!