Exactly two weeks ago, I was carbing up (#1 reason I run, btw), double-fisting water and cherry juice like crazy, and packing my bag with all my race day necessities for Saturday morning’s Rock ‘n’ Roll DC half marathon. Although my typical race-day-eve butterflies were up and at ’em, I was confident knowing I was going to PR. And not PR like I had in my past 3 half marathons, cutting 37 seconds here, 1 minute 2 seconds there. PR like I meant it. Shave off real, solid, meaningful minutes.
And I did. From 2:11:23 to 2:02:48. Almost 9 whole minutes! Wanna know how I did it? Without super-intensive speed training or questionable food supplements or wheelie sneakers? Read on, my friends. It’s simple. Pinky promise.
During that awkward lull between race seasons, when I’m typically torn between “I’m free! No training!” and “Ugh I feel gross and sloth-y,” I participated in and completed Runner’s World’s run streak. Every day between Thanksgiving and New Years day, I ran one short, quick mile.
In theory, I thought that by the time I got my butt out the door to run, I’d be willing to go farther than the required mile. But it turns out just one mile is enough when it’s bitter, bitter cold and you’d rather be sipping mulled cider with the fam. It just so happens, however, that this was a blessing in disguise.
By committing to one daily mile for 36 consecutive days, I made it a goal to do them faster and faster each time. Plus, that meant less and less time in the arctic tundra. And the faster I went, the warmer I would get. Right?
Over this 36-day span, I brought my average one-mile time down from 10 minutes to 8, even dipping into the 7-minute range a handful of times. I got my body accustomed to sprinting, my fast-twitch muscle fibers getting more use than they ever had. In my head, I could endure anything for “just one mile,” so I quit the mental game and the progress came quickly.
Of course, running one mile is hardly the same as running 13.1 or 26.2. But when it came time to ramp up my training again for the DC half, I tell you people, something fundamental had changed. I hopped out on the trail (and occasionally my frenemy, the dreadmill) for my first training runs of the season, and running at my average pace felt painfully slow. It was like I was trudging through knee-deep peanut butter, my 10 mph pace giving me instant ants in my pants.
I’m not saying I could all of a sudden maintain 8-minute miles for all 13.1 (but if someone does have a magical secret that will make this happen overnight, I will pay you in wine and love). What I am saying is that gradually adjusting my speed at a short distance helped get my body (and my brain!) used to going a bit faster. This super-charged my pace for training and helped me shave off nearly 45 seconds per mile, when I had been in a PR rut for some time. And if you ask me, that’s not too shabby!