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.