Fast Enough

Three blocks goes by quickly when everything feels good.

After a few miles at an easy pace, my cadence picked up and my strides felt smooth. The adjustments from a chiropractic appointment prior to last Saturday’s half marathon were still paying dividends — unexpected after my hamstrings screamed with disapproval over moving at race pace.

For the next several miles, though, it was time to cash in: a mid-week run offering speedy intervals of 3 blocks at a fast clip and 2 blocks of recovery jogging. The ground beneath me seemed to move like the belt on a treadmill.

The experience, like the recent half marathon, reinforced the need to ask: how do you know you’re running fast enough during a race? The answer, of course, is different depending on the distance. The answer is different depending who you ask. But I set out, anyway, to ask some friends — those who run their recovery jogs faster than my race pace.

Runners, by nature, tend to ask a lot of questions. And they want to know what works for others — it might be the key to their own success. Or not.

Running is such a highly individual sport. What works for one runner may not work for another. The difference between a good and bad race often is separated by a fine line. One friend, a highly-accomplished runner, shared some insight, but also noted that if he had the answer, he could write a book and make good money selling it.

Here is his answer, in part, in response to my question:

“For example, the marathon and half marathon are completely different events when it comes to racing. The marathon distance is so much about controlling effort, managing fuel, body temperature regulation on warmer days, etc. Breathing in a marathon should never be difficult or to the point where you are reaching your max effort unless maybe you’re feeling great the last mile and really drop the pace. But even if you are able to do that in a marathon, you’re probably not likely to be able to do it for very long because your body would be running low on fuel at that point in the race…

“Contrast that to a half marathon, which depending on your pace, can hover right on that fine line of your aerobic threshold, or lactate threshold (the point at which your body produces lactic acid). A lot of sources state that this is basically a pace you can maintain for about an hour, so for me, I think of my aerobic threshold as my half marathon race pace. For others, it might be 10 miles or whatever. So, if you get too fast in the early miles of a half marathon, you produce lactic acid too early, and fade in the later miles. So ‘bonking’ in a half marathon can happen for a totally different reason than a marathon.”

Many factors, along with experience, can determine the “fine line” that one must hover while racing.

At last weekend’s half marathon, for example, there were a few factors that impacted my race time. So while I might not be satisfied with my finishing time, I know those factors are ones that I’ve historically controlled in the week leading up to the marathon. They aren’t likely to impact me on race day because I’ve developed a methodical approach to racing 26.2 miles.

In 2 weeks, I’ll be picking up my race bib and packet at the St. George Marathon.

Over the next several weeks there will be thousands of others doing the same across the region at a number of terrific races — Wild Hog Half Marathon, Twin Cities Marathon and the Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon to name just 3.

At this point, I’m fine tuning marathon preparations — studying the course and elevation map, developing final racing strategies and outlining a three-day schedule, including a checklist of what to do and when, for the final days. After 4 months of training, it will finally be time to race.

2 Responses

  1. Hey Tim, thanks for the comment. You bring up an excellent point about running, whether it’s for exercise or training for a race. I’d concur that running all workouts at the same pace isn’t optimal. Some train too slow and then wonder why they don’t run faster in races (can someone expect their body to do something it hasn’t practiced?). Others train too fast, or too fast and often, and open themselves exponentially to injury risk.

    The best plans offer a mixture of workouts allowing for recovery (easy pace) and some very fast-paced workouts (relevant to their capabilities). A runner can gain a lot from just a small percentage of weekly training on hills or speed workouts.

    Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of runners “win” a midweek training run, but do poor in races — and they don’t seem to understand why. It’s really not that complicated — very few if anyone can run fast on every workout and not expect to get injured or underperform.

    Keep on running!

  2. Tim Werre

    Very informative writing, Steve.

    While I consider myself more of a “run to get exercise” person than a racer (I am 47 years of age, but have raced only one 10k and one half), I nevertheless find the strategies/science behind running quite interesting, and recently read the following:

    a serious road racer of some reknown said to Runner’s World or Running Times (I can’t recall which) that he only trains for halfs and fulls at a 6-minute-per-mile pace.

    I then read in my “Hanson’s Half Marathon Method” book that such a strategy is insufficient for minimizing times, if for no other reason than that very few runners can maintain a consistent pace over distance, so if they’ve only trained at one speed (or close to it),
    they will have failed to condition their tissues/muscles to respond properly/efficiently at those various paces in a road race.

    I would concur with those who say it is an individual decision, and must be meted out as such, as our genetic compositions vary. But I certainly feel faster at all distances since varying my training paces throughout the week after the Fargo Half Marathon (up until then in my conditioning/training, I would basically just go out and give it heck at a roughly 6 minute pace for whatever number of miles).

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