Thursday, June 25, 2015

Race Tactics

I'm racing on Sunday.

Which maybe shouldn't seem like the biggest deal ever, given that I've crossed plenty of finish lines in the last year or so.

There's a distinction, though, between just running a race and actually racing it with the goal of achieving the fastest possible time of which you are currently capable. It's been over two years since I've done the later, and MAN do I have all kinds of wiggles & nerves going on about it.

Real-actual-all-out racing is the best of times and also the worst of times. The best because the race atmosphere is super fun, the adrenaline buzz is unbeatable, & experiencing the payoff for all the hard work is almost the entire point of why I run. That part, I'm excited about. The worst because--how to put this delicately?--the last 25% of a hard race approaches donkey balls levels of suckage.

*Running* a race = traveled from the start to the finish more or less at a run. *Racing* a race = finishing stumbling around and seeing spots and feeling like you're about to vomit, running harder than you really think you can from the very beginning, going to the Dark Place in the last 25% or so, and more or less playing a mental game of whack-a-mole with all the reasons why you don't really need to push this hard/this race isn't really that important/so on/so forth. Actual racing is actively choosing to suffer, badly, second-by-second and knowing when you cross the finish that you left it all out there (I mean...within reason. That thing where Alberto Salazar got last rites that time? That was not cool). That part, I am sorely out of practice with.


I am not looking forward to how the last 2-2.5 miles of this race are going to feel. But, I know I need to do it, for a couple of reasons. First, I know I'll have to do it at SRM, and I don't really want my goal race for the year to be my first time back in the Pain Cave since 2013. Embracing the suck is definitely a skill you have to practice (or at least it is for me), and since I'm not running any other races this summer before SRM, I really want at least one chance to practice. I want to have something more recent to look back on and go, "Ah, right, this. Hi there, Pain Cave!"

The second reason is what I mentioned in my last post about all my workout paces being outdated. I know I'm not in tip-top shape yet, but I really do feel like I've made a lot of progress since NVM and gotten some good mileage & workouts in, and I want to find out where I am. Personally I think I'm in better shape than my current pace chart reflects and need to be doing my workouts faster, but until I prove it in an actual race, I can think that all day & night & none of it means poo.

The third reason is that I'd kind of like to get a sense of whether or not I'm on track to run a 3:30 marathon in August. Yes, I can make some inferences based on how hard or easy different paces or workouts feel or how hard/easy the races I've run less-than-all-out have felt. But there's really no substitute for running a hard race & keeping nothing in reserve & being able to say, "That's it. That is the absolute best I can do right now at 100% effort." If I can run a hard ten miles, that will give me at least *some* idea of how close I am to my goal.

All that gets me thinking a bit about race strategy & my own strengths & weaknesses. With an "A" race that I've really been targeting and planning for, I usually go in with a goal time that I think I can probably run, and then just shoot for pretty even splits from the very beginning. (Bonus if I can pick it up a little more towards the end.) With shorter races that I haven't really been specifically training for, though, I'm not usually that organized & usually just end up going by a combination of feel & the pace I've run the same distance at in the past.

The down side of that strategy, though, is that I've sometimes ended up with WAY negative splits (like, running a 10K with mile 1 in 7:25 & mile 6 in 6:47), which is not an efficient strategy. If I could talk myself into going out just a *little* faster than I think I should and not err so much on the conservative side, I'd probably have a faster time over all.

Going out a little faster than what feels right is definitely a riskier, more aggressive strategy, but Sunnyvale seems like a good time to try it out. I'm planning on starting out in the 7:45 range, so if that feels kind of hard, I'm going to try to stick with it anyway, and if it feels about right, I'm going to try speeding up just a little. And when I think about it, this is basically what I've done in my best half marathons (which I think has been my best distance): gone out with a specific, aggressive pace goal, then been sure around mile 7 that I'm about to blow up & have my worst race ever, & then suddenly around mile 8 had a breakthrough where suddenly that same pace (or faster) felt totally doable. (Though of course...the last miles are still never fun.)

Once more for the record!

    "C" goal: Sub-marathon pace/PR
    "B" goal: 1:17:30 / 7:45 pace
    "A" goal: 1:15 / 7:30 pace (Honestly, this is a true "A" goal for me - I'm only about 50/50 that it's realistic right now at all. We shall see!)

Race face! (Back when I was in practice.)
I'll be doing my best to channel that face on Sunday.


  1. GOOD LUCK this weekend! I'm all about the aggressive race pace!

  2. Have a great race! I hope you get lots of amazing race face photos. :-)

  3. Good luck! Hope the race goes well! I love your description of racing versus running a race, by the way.

  4. I hate how that last 25% feels too. If you've gone out way too hard it's a death march but if you're on pace for a PB it's a little easier to embrace that pain and keep pushing. Good luck. I hope it all goes really well for you.

  5. I actually usually run a small positive split when I race well...but I often wonder if I could have done better. What makes me hesitate to try for a negative split is how poorly I do with progression runs: I just can't seem to warm up to a faster speed after several miles slower.

  6. I totally know what you mean about racing all out. It's sooooo painful but so rewarding if it goes well! I have a love/hate relationship with racing for that reason. I think I liked racing a lot more when I was just starting to run and I didn't care about time as much! And that last 25%, ugh. I've backed off plenty of times to avoid puking in front of the finish line crowd! LOL! I hope it goes well! Can't wait to hear all about it! :)

  7. You've probably just crossed the finish line, so it's too late to wish you good luck, but I hope you had a good race!