After hitting the gym on Tuesday for the first time in two weeks and completing my leg circuit, and then completing an intense 8.5 mile November Project NYC workout yesterday, I woke up sore. I usually recover quickly, but Tuesday’s gym workout really zonked my muscles.
So, what happens when we’re scheduled to run but we’re sore? We run! But we modify the run. I foam-rolled for a couple extra minutes before and after the run, cut my usual 6.2 mile route short by a mile, and ran at an easy pace. While most of my training happens in an aerobic heart rate zone between 134-144/145 beats per minute, this morning’s run barely cracked 135 beats per minute.
I ran instead of resting because I’m running the Bronx 10 Miler on Sunday, and wanted two solid rest days instead of a rest day today followed by a Friday run followed by rest on Saturday. I believe two days with Time OFF My Feet will have me ready for the 10 Miler.
Unsurprisingly, this morning’s run highlighted my competitive nature. While I try to live by the statement, “You don’t win at training, but you can lose by overtraining,” I can still try to outrun other runners during training runs. This morning, therefore, while running at a reduced pace, I found myself pushing harder when runners passed me. I had to remind myself to run my own pace, and to keep my stride easy and effortless.
Keeping the focus on my pace has helped me during races as well. For example, when I ran the NYRR 10k Spring Meltdown in March, I followed a very specific race plan: Run miles 1-2 about 10 seconds slower than goal pace; run miles 3-4 at goal pace; and run miles 5-6.2 at about 10 seconds faster than goal pace, focusing on passing runners only during these final 2.2 miles. I remember three or four guys barreling past me around miles 1.5-3, at which time I had to remind myself to focus only on my race. When I finally increased my pace at mile 5, I passed all of these runners. I finished in 39:47, my first sub-40 minute 10k, good enough for 33rd place out of 1,878 finishers.
I employed a similar strategy when I ran the Percy Sutton 5k in August, although I abbreviated the pacing strategy: Run the first mile about 5 seconds slower than goal pace, the second mile at goal pace, and go crazy on the final 1.1 miles. Again, I remember numerous runners skipping past me during miles 1-2. When I turned up the heat during mile 3, I cruised past most of these runners, and never saw them again. As I’ve posted about before, this performance snagged a 75th place finish out of 4,727 runners.
While these examples demonstrate good race strategy, I would be lying if I said that I’ve always paced well. For example, when I ran my second marathon, the 2004 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, I completely hosed the pacing. I was undertrained and overconfident, having completed my first marathon earlier that year with a negative split. I cruised through the first half at a pace much faster than I could ever sustain at that point in my running career. By mile 14 I had to walk because my quads felt like wooden blocks under my skin. I “completed” (I can’t say that I ran) the second half about 40 minutes slower than the first. I also spent days afterward recovering. Poor training, terrible execution.
To a lesser extent I had a difficult time with the last four miles of last year’s Staten Island Half. I trained well for this event, although I ran an impromptu 13.1 miles while out in San Francisco a few weeks before the event. I was cruising along for the first eight miles until the course hit a large hill around mile nine. Unprepared for the hill, I ran it way too hard in an effort to maintain my race pace. The result: my pace dropped from 7:40/mil to 8:15/mile for the final four miles because I trashed my quads and could not recover.
The lessons from these episodes? I take away three things:
- Know your race pace. Before you begin a race, have a sense of what your race pace will be, and develop a strategy on how to run the race so that your average pace will equal that predicted race pace.
- Know your course. When I ran the 2014 Staten Island Half, I did not look at the course map or elevation chart. I suffered as a result because I didn’t plan for the hill at mile 9. When I ran the NYRR 10k Spring Melt Down, however, I knew the course inside and out (it’s the Central Park Loop). Similarly, when I ran the Percy Sutton 5k, I researched and knew that the first mile was mostly uphill and that the first half of mile three was entirely downhill. I developed a race strategy to take these elevation changes into account.
- Be willing to adjust. Had I taken a deep breath at mile nine of the 2014 Staten Island Half and said, “Don’t worry about charging up this hill,” I might not have lost so much pace for the rest of the race. Unexpected things happen during races. The course might be tougher than anticipated, or maybe you have a tight quad that won’t release. Adjust. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you run slower than anticipated. Reflect, learn, and remember that we run because we enjoy the sport.
As always, happy running, everyone!