I struggle with racing. I’ve mentioned before how my two track coaches were hugely influential in my life. Both were Olympic caliber runners who were best friends since their time running together in college. They were also what you would call ‘old school’ (read: willing to verbally humiliate you and yell at you when you screwed up) and both were tremendously supportive and encouraging to the team as a whole and on an individual basis.
One of my favorite things a coach would say to me was “You’re too stupid to know you aren’t that fast.” My coach described me as a bulldog, I would just grab hold of the lead pack and hang on until I could try to outkick the pack in the last 200 meters. This was tremendously successful in races of middle distance, like the mile and the half, or during a 4x400 relay or 4x800 relay. (Note: I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that, some runners were/are so much faster than I am that I could never really latch on and run with them. Those runners were gone before I knew it.)
While I this was a successful practice to use when qualifying for the state meet or winning a medal at a prominent relay meet, this approach has caused me problems in the longer distance races. I’ve been able to, with some success, utilize this approach in the 5K. It is in the marathon where I have mixed results. If there is a pace group, it works. If there is no pace group, like Boston, it just doesn’t seem to work. Sure, other factors such as fitness and weather conditions will play a role; but it seems to me that, during the first half of every marathon I’ve ever run, I’ve dropped one to three ridiculously fast miles—fast being compared to my desired pace—as I’ve tried to chase down some particular runner. My ego says: “Not going to let that guy beat me to mile 6 or the marathon, or let that girl get to mile 8 before me.”
Win the battle, lose the war.
Sadly, this approach will apply—almost always—even when I’m running alone. Why? Easy, the watch and my expectations are enough to give me that attack and grind attitude. Last split was +15 seconds, next mile must be -15 seconds. Two things here: 1) intellectually I know it would be better to make up those added seconds over the course of four or five miles; 2) if I think ‘Go 30 seconds faster” (-15 to get to the desired pace and -15 to get even with the overall pace) I’ll almost always go 45 seconds faster. This results in tremendous swings in miles when the terrain doesn’t necessitate it.
So, this training session I’ve been trying something a little different. I’ve intentionally slowed down the first few miles of my long runs (1-3 miles for runs under 15M, 3-5 for 16-21 mile runs). Then I’ll pick up my runs to my desired pace for the remainder. Typically, I just try to run the entire long run at the desired pace. This sometimes results in going bonk at the end of a run. When I’ve followed my new strategy right I still end up averaging my overall goal pace. When I don’t I seem to drop a few killer miles in the first part of the run (splits about 15 to 30 seconds faster than desired pace) and then crash and burn at the end of the run.
There are no pacers for the Lansing Marathon.
So, the question is, can I let go of my ‘attack attack attack’ mentality for the longer races and find a more holistic and even approach?