Race Pace and Nutrition are the two variables that like in most marathons are going to essentially write our own personal history when it is time to analyze our performance at Big Cottonwood on September 14th in Utah. Assuming that we maintain our health, avoid nagging injuries and we continue to progress through our training cycle as we have to this point – there should be no doubt that we are in “3-hour shape” when we get off the plane in Salt Lake City.
I know what 3-hour shape feels like. I know how easily I am able to shift through the gears from easy pace to moderate pace to Marathon Goal Pace to Half-Marathon Pace, 10K Pace and what it feels like to push down around 5:45-5:55 or 5K pace in the summer.
Wednesday’s workout with the training group where after a 3.5 mile warm-up we ran 4X 1-Mile repeats starting with a mile of :30 seconds “on”, followed by :30 seconds “off”. Mile 2 was :60 second on, followed by :30 seconds off. Mile 3 was :90 seconds on, followed by :30 seconds off and then finally the last mile back at :30 seconds on, :30 seconds off.
All four miles came in between 6:04 and 6:08.
We’re dangerously close to 3-hour shape right now, and with another 2 months to go, I have no doubt we will be there on race day. Hopefully and then some.
At that point it comes down to your plan for pacing and nutrition and executing those two plans. What you are going to drink, when and how much. What you are going to eat, when and how much and perhaps equally important – how you are going to spend your energy on the course.
In a pancake flat marathon like Chicago or even Houston – even pacing is the most efficient way to run 26.2 miles. You do not have any hills to deal with, so simply running just a hair under your Marathon Goal Pace (MGP) and keeping the needle right there until the final 10 kilometers is the way to go.
In the case of a 3-hour marathon which requires 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace – you lock in at 6:50 and count them off. By mile 26 if you are on pace you should have a little under a minute to play with. If you throw in a few 6:55’s or even a rare 7:00 flat, you are still right on track.
But for most marathon courses that have hills to climb and descend, it is all about running “even effort” and letting the uphill and downhill sections add or subtract time from your pace accordingly. It can make for a stressful experience wondering if you are going too fast, too slow, losing too much time to the hills and whether or not you will be able to make it back up.
Enter Taz Running.
They look at the topography of every certified marathon course, plot pace strategy based on the elevation of each individual mile and then provide you with a pacing guide for every one of them. This way you know that during that screaming downhill section on your course you should be running 6:36 instead of 6:50 and likewise at the end of the race when you tackle that final ascent, you only need to keep the watch at 7:17 pace – and everything will come out in the wash.
For a race like Big Cottonwood that features a ton of downhill running early in the race, and a gradual descent at the end of the race – running an even second half of the race or “negative splitting” the course is not very realistic. Nor is it the best approach to conquer Cottonwood. The first half of the race being much “easier” than the second half – if there is anything “easy” about a marathon. This is the primary reason I’ve decided on a 1-mile at a time approach to this race – treating every individual mile on it’s own merit.
Not comparing it to the mile before, the mile after or the miles remaining and fixating on running 6:50’s. Instead I will glance down at the pace-tattoo I have ordered from Taz Running which will be affixed to my forearm that morning, and only think about executing that specific mile, then going on to the next one.
I know that I won’t run them all perfectly, in fact, I may only nail a handful of them spot on, but having a guide that I can check in 5-mile intervals to know if I am slightly ahead or slightly behind the cumulative pace target at that point will help keep me honest and calm.
At the end of 5 miles I should be at: 33:05
At the end of 10 miles: 1:07:20
At the end of 15 miles – 1:40:34
Mile 20 – 2:14:59
If we reach the mile 20 mark right at 2:15:00 all that remains are 6 miles in: 7:07, 7:03, 7:05, 7:13, 7:09, 7:05.
If we are still under 2:58 with 385 yards to go it is in the bag.
Instead of thinking about not running slower than those paces above, I have changed my mindset to run no faster.
There are a lot of people out there who think that a 46-year old runner can’t break 3 hours in the marathon for the first time. That by that age, you have either done it before or you are never going to do it.
I will just have to respectfully disagree. Words like those describe just about every great success story ever written.
In a little more than 10 weeks, I’m going to write my own.
Bring it on.