CF January Race Report: Polar Prowl Half Marathon

As I mentioned in my anti-“new year, new you” post, I’m planning to ramp up my running in 2016. I’ll be focusing on improving my time and strength in the half marathon distance while running 12 half marathons in 12 months.

A lot can happen over 12 months: Changes in diet, new training approaches, and (in Colorado) the impact of varying seasons. So, I’ll plan to share with you a race report for each new race I run, filled with the training approach I took, goals going into the race, most memorable parts of race day, results, and key learnings that I’ll use moving forward.

First up: Polar Prowl Half Marathon – Lakewood, CO – January 9, 2016


Training approach
We (mainly Adam) have talked a lot about CrossFit Endurance training. Until recently, I’ve taken more of a long slow distance approach. The main reason for this was that I wanted to feel confident going into races knowing that I’ve put in the mileage and was ready for the race. At this point, I feel confident in my ability to run a half marathon. I know that if I maintain a baseline comfort of running 9-11 miles, I can be ready to run a half marathon at a moment’s notice.

Now, I want to start focusing on improving my speed, while also maintaining good muscle tone. In vain terms, I want to run fast, but avoid that “flabby runner’s” body. With that focus, I started following CrossFit Endurance in November and loved the results. I was getting faster and was feeling stronger after just one month when I came across a book called The Hybrid Athlete by Alex Viada.

The Hybrid Athlete is all about training for two goals at one time – i.e. power lifting competition with marathon training. My focus, however, steered more towards general strength and conditioning with marathon training. Using Viada’s principles as guidance (and mixing in some of my own non-expert approaches), I focused more on sprint work and tempo runs to build speed, supplemented with strength training and short metabolic conditioning workouts (metcons).

The biggest thing I took away from The Hybrid Athlete was that short intervals are not an effective way to build speed in endurance races. Instead, in order to run faster in long races, you need to run fast, long sprints. To compliment that, training for distance should be separate from training for speed. This means incorporating one long, slow run (LSR) on the weekends at a very slow, conversational, and low-intensity pace.

This is how my training played out through December leading up to race day:

– Lower body strength (back squat/deadlift)
– Metcon with emphasis on upper body

– 2-4 sprint intervals (starting at 800m on week one and progressing 100m each week up to 1200m)
– General metcon

– Rest day

– Tempo run (starting at 20 minutes on week one and progressing by 5 minute intervals each week up to 35 minutes)

– Upper body strength
– Metcon with emphasis on lower body

– Rest day

– LSR starting at 1.5 hours and progressing 30 minutes each week up to 2.5 hours

Going into this first race of the year, my focus was to start with a solid foundation based off of this new training approach. Based on my tempo runs in training, I felt prepared to run a 9:30/mile pace and hopefully set a new PR. I knew that the course would have hills, but was hoping I could make up enough time on the downhill portions to average out to my goal race pace.


Race day
This was my first winter race – and I learned a lot. The day can be summed up with three words: hills, ice and toe warmers. I was naive about the elevation profile going into this one. The hills slowed me down far more than I expected, and I was unable to fully sprint through the downhill portions due to ice on the course. Not only did that affect my overall time, but so did the many wardrobe malfunctions I ran into.

First of all, despite having multiple 10-20 degree weather runs under my belt during training, I for some reason over-thought the 19 degree temperature I’d been running in.

Time out #1: bundled up from head to toe, I had to stop right around mile one to strip down a layer, which meant fully taking my watch off, unfastening my race bib, taking my vest off, and finally taking the sweatshirt underneath off. I probably lost a good 90 seconds there.

Second, I decided to try out toe warmers for the first time on race day. Rookie move. Never try anything new on race day! Yes, my toes go numb on cold runs sometimes, but the ideal time to test out toe warmers would have been in one of my weekend LSRs. Of course, I didn’t just put one toe warmer on top of each foot, I put one on top, and one underneath. My toes were essentially wrapped in heating pads, which felt great…until I was about 2 miles in and the burning sensation kicked in.

Time out #2: full removal of both shoes to (angrily) rip toe warmer off.

I tried to make time up through the next 4 miles by running too fast up the hills, sprinting downhill, and essentially wearing myself out. Ultimately, the day was a disorganized, inefficient mess, but I finished.


Total time: 2:15:27 (10:20/mile pace) – 6:32 slower than my current PR
Overall rank: 74
Division rank: 15/29
Sex rank: 31/74

Key learnings
– Realistically review race/elevation profiles and train accordingly.
– Never try anything new on race day! Training runs are for experimentation.
– Don’t overdress – trust your training methods/clothing!
– If things don’t go according to plan time-wise, don’t try to make up time. You’ll finish stronger by continuing with your original plan and listening to your body along the way.

Next up
My next planned race is the Ralston Creek Half Marathon on February 7 in Arvada, CO. What better way to prepare for the Super Bowl Sunday binge than to start the day with a race?? I’ll plan to stick with my current training approach, but hopefully start things off on more of a successful note this time around.

Stay tuned for more details on how I’ll approach the transitions from race to race without burning out!

-Live Every Day-

  • Emily Stuart

    Good lessons!!! I remember Tom warning me about never trying something new on race day but sometimes we just have to learn the lesson ourselves!! So proud of you for setting such a tough goal for yourself this year but I know you can do it!!! I’ll do my best to come cheer you on when I can!!! Keep me posted…and let’s meet up soon!!!

    • Cecily

      Thanks, Em!! We’ll definitely have to plan some post-race celebratory brunches!