Friday, April 28, 2017


I think one of the reasons I had such a hard time getting motivated after CIM was because I just couldn't get excited about any particular goals. I'm not really interested in trying a different kind of event (no ultras, triathlons, or trail running beyond maybe the occasional just-for-fun morning with friends, and DEFINITELY nothing involving monkey bars or barbed wire). I'm not going to run another marathon this year, and I haven't been able to get that excited about apocryphal distances like 8K or 10-milers.

The logical thing to do, it seems, would be to focus on the shorter, canonical distances and work on closing the gap between my recent times and old PRs. Ie, shoot for a sub-1:40 half this year, or a sub-44:30 10K. Destroying my marathon PR suggests it's entirely possible, and I've got a good, long chunk of time before I need to start thinking about marathon training again. In a way, it's a no brainer--a couple of completely safe, reasonable goals, definitely doable with some work.

And...also completely unmotivating.

It's not that I wouldn't be pleased to run times around my PRs this year; truly, that would be awesome and I would blog the heck out of it. But right now, that's not enough to get me out on the roads more than 20-30 uninspiring miles a week. No matter how hard I try, I just can't get excited about it.

I've been trying to figure out why, and while chatting with a friend one day about my lack of enthusiasm for what should be pretty cool accomplishments, she asked me, "But have you ever thought about shooting for a 1:35 half?"

Of course I was appropriately scandalized by the very thought.

Because while I do feel pretty confident that if I had a 3:31 marathon in me after all these years of being injured and not 27 anymore then I've definitely got a couple more sub-1:40 halfs in there, I am not at ALL confident that I could *ever* run a 1:35 half. That's 7:15 pace, which is the pace at which I ran my recent February 10K, and even my PR 10K pace is only 7:05. Frankly, it just sounds like crazy talk.

But days after this conversation, the number stuck in my head




Completely unreasonable. My best recent half was 1:42. I haven't run a sub-1:40 in 4 years.

But in the back of my mind, a small voice whispered, "But...what if...?"

And since then I haven't been able to shake it.

Five years ago I thought that if I really trained hard, I could probably qualify for Boston, but 3:30 felt entirely out of the question; then it turned out that doing more aerobic running, increasing my mileage a bit, and getting more consistent with long runs brought me within spitting distance of that number, and I really do believe that if I'd run less conservatively, I probably could have broken it. So maybe I shouldn't write off 1:35 so quickly?

If you know me at all, you know where this path leads: To math.

First, I looked at any time I raced a half marathon and a full marathon close enough together that they could reasonably be said to reflect the same (or reasonably close) fitness level. There were four such instances:

  • October/December 2011: 1:47 and 3:47
  • October/December 2012: 1:38 and 3:55
  • March/May 2013: 1:39 and 3:35
  • March/May 2016: 1:54 and 3:53
  • October/December 2016: 1:42 and 3:31

What I learned from this exercise is that there is no discernible pattern whatsoever in the relationship of my half and full times. Really just not useful AT ALL. Of course in a lot of ways the half and full are really, really different races, so looking for a predictive relationship there might not actually be all that useful anyway.

So what about 10Ks and halfs run in reasonable proximity?

  • February/March 2012: 44:49 and 1:43:15
  • August 2012: 44:21 and 1:44:42
  • March 2013: 44:29 and 1:39:30
  • October/November 2013: 45:31 and 1:44:09
  • February/March 2016: 46:01 and 1:54:53
  • September/October 2016: 44:38 and 1:42:45

A little more consistency here, but still not really enough to give me an accurate idea of what kind of 10K time I'd need to run to predict a 1:35 half. (This data predicts anything from 38:00 to 43:30 which is sort of not really helpful.)

So I asked the internet. 10K seems like the most practical predictor of half performance, so what say you, race time predictor calculators? If I want a 1:35 half, what sort of 10K times should I be shooting for?

Chicago Endurance:

Runner's World:

McMillan Running:

Running Ahead:

Sure, race time prediction based on other race times is always a bit of an art that can vary hugely for different individuals, but it does seem like if I want to have any hope of running a 1:35 half, I really need to get myself down in the vicinity of 43:00, at least. That's ~80 seconds of my PR, ~100 seconds of my fastest recent time, and a full two minutes off the time I ran in February. Not impossible, but certainly not insignificant, either.

And I think that is part of the allure of the Big-Hairy-Audacious Goal, or BHAG, as we used to call them at my last school. The phrase comes from the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. People talk a lot about setting realistic, incremental goals that are just challenging enough to push you out of your comfort zone a bit, but not so challenging that it's discouraging. The entire point of the BHAG, though, is pretty much to drop kick your nice, comfortable ass right out of reasonable-safe-incremental land and smack into the middle of WOW THIS IS SUPER SCARY AND I AM MORE THAN A LITTLE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT-sville.

By definition, a good BHAG borders on the ludicrous. It's not actually ludicrous to those in the know; just sort of ludicrous-adjacent.

A good BHAG is "audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible." It shakes the entity in question (a company, a country, a mediocre recreational distance runner) out of a business-as-usual mindset and forces it to consider entirely different strategies. Improve sales by 10% this year? Sure, it'll take some extra work, but you can probably get there by doing what you're already doing just a little bit better and a little more consistently. Improve sales by 200%? An entirely different ball game. Chances are, you can't get there using your current set of strategies, no matter how well or consistently you do them. Realistically, improvement that dramatic will require coming up with a completely novel strategy. Maybe multiple such strategies. You can't stick to business as usual, just a little bit better, and accomplish big, hairy, audacious things.

An example people use a lot is President Kennedy's 1961 declaration that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. At the time, the idea seemed crazy to most people. To quote Collins,

    "President Kennedy and his advisors could have gone off into a conference room and drafted something like 'Let's beef up our space program,' or some other such vacuous statement. The most optimistic scientific assessment of the moon mission's chances for success in 1961 was fifty-fifty and most experts were, in fact, more pessimistic. Yet, nonetheless, Congress agreed (to the tune of an immediate $549 million and billions more in the following five years) with Kennedy's proclamation on May 25, 1961, 'that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.' Given the odds, such a bold commitment was, at the time, outrageous. But that's part of what made it such a powerful mechanism for getting the United States, still groggy from the 1950s and the Eisenhower era, moving vigorously forward."

Now, to be honest, once I went back and started reading about this stuff again, I started thinking, "Maybe a 1:35 half when 1:38 is your PR isn't actually a big, hairy, audacious goal. Maybe 1:35 is only hard-but-doable and I'd have to be thinking 1:25 or 1:30 to qualify as a BHAG." But to be honest, 1:35 at this point, 7:15 pace for 13+ miles in a row really does scare the shit out of me. I feel like fifty-fifty odds is a generous assessment of my chances of running such a race this year. So to me, 1:35 still does feel very, very BHAG.

More to come as I get my head around this.

(Related: I ran 42 miles last week. That's the most in a while.)


  1. I've run two 1:38 half marathons, and I think you should go for 1:35. When I ran my 1:38 in January, it was untapered and en route to a 1:35 (well, until I got injured 3 weeks later, but I was shooting for 1:35 at Myrtle). Your marathon time definitely shows you have the endurance down... maybe try some longer tempo runs at a 7:15 pace when training (That's what I was doing, Hansons style).

    PRs are weird things, a lot of it depends on how often you've raced the distance and when you raced it, like if you were training for something else or not really training for that distance (or at all). And sometimes, it's all about everything clicking on race day more than anything else.

    Good luck!

    1. Hah, you're totally right! None of my half marathon PRs have been goal races, and some of them had totally just been sort of throwaway races on the way to something else. So you never know!

  2. You absolutely can!!!!! Get your head around it, pick a race, and let us know :)

  3. I love the analysis. :) Also, the *best* half I've run lately was when my watch died and I was just following a pacer, I got within ~30 seconds of my PR. I also agree with the tempo run, it's my least favorite but it helps me the most getting prepared to run faster than I'm comfortable with...

    1. Ha, I keep meaning to try the watchless strategy sometime but I always lose my nerve. I only did it once in a 10 miler when I forgot my watch, but the course was all off so it ended up sort of not mattering. :-/

  4. Hm, seems like the BHAG is already working for you if you jumped up to 42 miles. How about that, then?

  5. YES! Do it!!
    The post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about being in a funk - I think Mike suggested that I could aim for a BHAG. I have to say, the thought does put a certain fire under me...but I have yet to commit fully.

  6. Sometimes you just got to do it, go for it, whatever feels right in your fucking gut and then work at it bit by bit. Because if it sounds crazy to you and gets you moving then that's all it really needs to do, right?