Thunder and rain. Perfect.
Like my old coach used to say, "one excuse is as good as another if you don't want to do something."
The original plan was to run a half-marathon about a half-hour's drive from home; over in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The previous week's trip was good training (4,300 foot elevation change = altitude training) but a financial nightmare. Staying as long as I possibly could with family, then flying home the night before the race made it all but impossible to do little more than support the runners I train. The weather encouraged me to sleep another couple of hours.
Later in the day, after a good gym workout, I learned the event had been cancelled. Perhaps sleeping in was not such a bad choice after all.
"So now I'm wondering what to shoot for next. Maybe I should drop the HM altogether and shoot for the shorter stuff." Ashley's message to me made me think about the (long) path of long distance training.
Every so often we need to test ourselves. I think that's the reason many runners sign up for and participate in races. Sure, it can be as simple as drawing a line in the dirt and agreeing upon a particular turn-around point; the old classic "first one out-and-back is the winner" test against the peers with which we run every weekend. Or it can be as complex as Rock n' Roll, the Classic, Peachtree, Cooper River, and the other big races.
Racing is a good way to figure out how well we've trained over the past weeks or months, and when it comes to some events, a year or more. When it comes to the time and effort behind the money on a race entry, it's a good idea to do a status check or a diagnostic on yourself. You can set up the occasional time trial or race-like effort as part of your training plan to see if training paces need to be adjusted or run distances need tweaking.
Depending on the target race distance, a time trial which ranges from two to six miles can measure your progress. Prepare for these tests in the same manner you would prep for the target race, from your dinner the night before, to sleep, to shoes and gear, to breakfast or coffee (or not!) the morning of. If you're lucky you can jump into a local race to use as a rehearsal, but a lightly-trafficked stretch of road or trail which closely resembles the courses on which you're going to run will work just as well. I'm not particular toward any surface, but I like out-and-back courses. Since I wear a GPS/heart rate monitor I don't worry too much about the distance splits. Running watch (low-tech?) enthusiasts might want to have a course with marked splits.
As for distance, a two-mile test will do well for those into racing 5Ks, otherwise I consider tests (or race-like efforts) no longer than one half of the target race distance to be best. A 10-kilometer runner might run a 5K (fitness) test every five-or-six weeks during the training cycle; a half-marathoner might do the same with a distance of 5-to-8, perhaps even 10 kilometers. Those folks preparing for a marathon might run a couple of 5K or 10K tests, plus a half-marathon, but no later than eight weeks out from race day.
The goal of the test is either to adjust training paces during the training cycle, to measure increase in performance from the previous test, or to replicate the performance at a subjectively decreased (rate of perceived exertion) or an objectively decreased (heart, respiratory or recovery rate) level of effort. In short, you want to be able to say, "yes, I'm on the right track." Staying static is also acceptable, too. Then again, the runner might also figure out they've begun to overreach (overtrain) and take a little down time.
The most important thing is to leave nothing to chance on race day; in this case one excuse is not as good as another. It means that I as a coach have not prepared the athlete for the optimal performance.