Posts Tagged ‘Racing during marathon training’

A couple of years ago I was “talking running” with a friend of mine when the subject turned to the marathon.  Specifically what pace you should train at vs. the pace you plan to race at.  I had not yet had my breakthrough marathon at that point which would come on a day with terribly difficult conditions at the Austin Marathon in February of 2011.  A day where finish times were effected by 8:00 minutes or more due to the heat, humidity and winds busting between 18 and 20 miles an hour.

I PR’d by almost 3 minutes.

I would take another 7 minutes off of that time in New York the following November, but in a lot of respects, February 13, 2011 was the day I stopped “running” marathons and started “racing” them.

Racing a marathon and by that I mean covering the distance as close as possible to the fastest your body will allow you to do so – leaving no extra time on the clock by being conservative, essentially running the marathon like any other distance.  Pushing it out there on the course to the point that when you reach the final mile your tank is on “E”.  Then it is a matter of willing yourself to cover another 5,280 feet on nothing but determination and will.

The more my friend Steve and I talked the more clear the message was becoming in my mind.  If you want to race fast, you have to train fast.

To bring your best on race day you cannot simply log mile after mile a minute or 90 seconds slower than your marathon goal pace and then hope that on race day something magical happens.  That somehow the two-week taper period or three-weeks for some runners, will all of a sudden turn your cadence and rhythm from running 7:45’s in training to 6:52’s on race day.  It just doesn’t work that way.

It was during my ramp up to Austin that I came to embrace the fact that racing shorter distance events, up to the half-marathon is a key element of a successful marathon training cycle.

For the Austin Marathon my planning was done for me as I participated in the Austin Distance Challenge.  A 5 race series that included a 10K, 10-Miler, 2 half-marathons and the Austin Marathon.

In preparing for New York City last year I ran three 10K races and the Denver Half-Marathon prior to the marathon.

For Boston it was the Ragnar ultra-marathon relay and three half-marathons.

During each of these marathon training cycles I would set PR’s in the 10K and half-marathon distances – mid-cycle – preparing and training for a marathon.

The method to the madness is that during weeks that would otherwise be “cut-back” weeks, where I would be reducing mileage from say 65-70 miles down to 50, I will throw in a race that weekend and lay down an effort with an intensity that cannot be matched alone on the Brushy Creek Trail at 5:00 a.m. by myself.

It takes the pageantry of race day, the presence of other athletes to push you in order to dig deep and run close to the ragged edge.

Racing a half-marathon at 6:22-6:25 pace is a workout that pays huge dividends during the marathon where your goal is to stretch that performance out from 13.1 miles to 26.2 at a pace only :30 slower.

Your body remembers the half-marathon pace, or the 10K race at 6:02 pace that you ran two months earlier and knows what it means to work hard when your legs are going away from you and are screaming for you to stop.

That is exactly what you will need to draw on late in the marathon – where over the final 10 kilometers everything hurts and all you want to do is be done.  Backing off the slightest bit of effort at that point is the difference between a PR and perhaps reaching your “A” goal or fading badly and losing a minute a mile over the last 5-miles of the race.

Part of the gains coming from racing during your marathon training are fitness related to the workout(s), but just as much – and just as important – are the mental benefits from those shorter races at your threshold pace.

As my friend put it rather simply.  “If you want to race fast, you have to train fast.”
Upcoming Race Schedule on the road to the Houston Marathon:

Nov. 22:  Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot 5-Miler

Dec. 2:  MADD Jingle Bell Run 5K

Dec. 7:  Lights of Love 5K Benefitting Ronald McDonald House

Dec. 16: Shiner Beer Run Half Marathon – Shiner, TX

January 13:  Chevron Houston Marathon – Houston TX – Boom goes the dynamite.

Here we are – the first of three half-marathon races on the road to the Boston Marathon in April.

Much like I did last year participating in the Austin Distance Challenge leading up to the Austin Marathon or in my ramp up to the New York City Marathon in November, I will be racing half-marathons to help me peak for a strong marathon performance.

So far I am 2 for 2 with consecutive PR’s in the marathon using this strategy, so if it’s not broken  …. well, you know the rest.

So this coming weekend perhaps the fastest half-marathon course in the state of TX will be on display at the 3M Half Marathon in Austin.  Due to some construction around the finish area at Waterloo park, the talk is that this year’s 3M course may be even FASTER than previous years.  Hard to believe, but if that is the case, there are going to be some monster PR’s set at 3M this coming Sunday.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I’m not running that one.

I’ll be running The Texas Half up in Dallas a day earlier on Saturday, January 28th.

Now you may be wondering why, if all I’m looking for is a tough workout on the road to Boston, why don’t I aim to go low at 3M and maybe lower my half-marathon PR of 1:23:55 in the process.

To be completely honest, I’m not really interested in running a PR on Saturday.  Well, that isn’t completely accurate – I hope to do exactly that up in Dallas, but that is not the goal.  The goal is to prepare for Boston and to do that, I want to post three “legitimate” half-marathon times on neutral to slightly difficult courses to help me gauge my fitness for race day in Hopkinton, MA.

Just as last year I made the trip out to Denver to race at altitude in the Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon as my final tune-up before the New York City Marathon, I’m not looking for an “easy” course or a “fast” course.  I’m looking for an “honest” course – and by all accounts, it looks like I will get exactly that at White Rock Lake in Dallas.

The course is relatively flat, there are some turns and of course there will be winds kicking up off of the lake.  I do not think it will be as challenging a race as Denver was for me last year, but I do think that whatever my time is at the end of the day, it will serve as a strong predictor for Boston.

Take your half-marathon time, double it and add 10 minutes.  That is a good gauge of wkat your marathon potential is if all factors such as wind, injuries, fitness and race course are equal.  Boston is a tough marathon course, no doubt about it – so instead of 10 minutes, I will probably look to add 12 minutes to my “double half-marathon” time.

That means I am going to need to run something along the lines of 1:23-1:24 at The Texas Half, The Austin Half Marathon in February or the Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach in March to have a legitimate shot at 3 hours at Boston.

I did not want to have only one half-marathon time to work with as anything can happen on an individual race day.  Both good and bad.

But by having three half-marathons in the books to compare as well as the tremendous workout that racing 13.1 miles at true race pace will supply to our training cycle – I think we will have a very strong grasp on our potential come April 16th at Boston.

If 3:05 is what our predictors are saying for Boston, then so be it – that is what we are going to zero in on and run to the best of our abilities on race day.  But if we are able to lay down a 1:23:30 let’s say at one of these half-marathons, then we will take dead aim at 3 hours and give it our absolute best shot on race day.

Had I run that time at 3M on Sunday, sure it might look impressive in my training log or on the wall in my office where my race bibs from my PR’s hang in frames, but I would know.

I would know that the course was fast and I simply took advantage on a favorable day.

I’m not one for self-delusion.  If I am going to stand on Main Street in Hopkinton, MA with the thought of a 2:59:59 marathon in my head, I damn well better be sure that I also have it in my heart.  Knowing that I am ready.

That is the thing about the marathon, you can kid yourself for a while, but late in the race, the marathon will expose you.  Those final 10 kilometers have a way of separating the contenders from the pretenders.

If we don’t run well on Saturday in Dallas or if the weather plays a role in a slower than hoped race time, all is not lost.  I know that I have been training hard up to this point and I am not rested.  There will be no taper for this race, in fact, I’m coming off of another 20-mile long run on Sunday and a third 66-mile training week.

But the race will be a strong indicator as to where we are right now, what work needs to be done before our next two races, especially that final tune-up out in Virginia Beach just 4 short weeks before Boston.  I’m going to eat right this week, get my sleep, take my runs a little easier than usual and let it all hang out on Saturday.

Whatever the clock says when we come across the line, we’ll know we earned every second.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After yesterday’s 22-mile long run which wrapped up the endurance building portion of the NYC Marathon Training Cycle we are moving on to a three-week stretch of racing each Sunday to put some speedwork back into the schedule.

September 25 – Silicon Labs Austin Marathon Relay

October 2 – IBM Uptown Classic 10K

October 9 – Denver Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon

Three straight race weekends and then two final 20+ mile long runs will take us to a two-week taper for NYC.  I am reducing the taper by one week for New York, feeling that adding a 5th 20 mile long run just two weeks out from the starting line on Staten Island will help us close strong over the final miles in Central Park.

Adding races to my marathon preparation is something that I did for the first time last year competing in the Austin Distance Challenge.  The Distance Challenge was a 5-race event featuring one 10K race (IBM), one 10 Mile Race (Run for the Water), two Half-Marathons (Decker & 3M) and finally the Austin Marathon on February 20th.

I felt like the miles run at race pace really paid dividends during my training cycle as it is so hard to run at “race pace” alone in the morning through a training run.  It takes the spectacle of race day, other runners and pinning a bib on to your shorts or singlet to get that race day mojo going and drop pace that final :10-:15 seconds per mile that make the difference between “running” and “racing”.

Each event will test my readiness in a different way, racing this coming weekend on somewhat tired legs without the benefits of a taper.

Then on to the IBM Uptown Classic where I hope to rebound and make a run at my 10K PR of 38:06 set last October.

Finally the Denver Half-Marathon, run at elevation, which should tell the tale of the tape regarding my ability to punch through the 3:00:00 mark in New York.  1:24-1:25 in Denver means we’ve got a shot.  Anything over 1:25:30 – even at elevation, and it will be tough for me to even decide to go for it on race day. 

Amazing in a footrace of 13.1 miles how much :30 will mean.

But this weekend’s race is an opportunity to shake loose some of the cobwebs from our race legs and have a great time racing with friends.

The SI Labs Austin Marathon Relay is a 5-person relay event covering 26.2 miles in Downtown Austin.  Each runner on the team is responsible for handling their leg of the course, which is divided into a 12K opening leg, two 10K legs and two 5K legs.

Our team comprised of Brendon, Mick, Lee, David and yours truly are running in the Men’s Masters Division – as all of the runners on our team are over the age of 40.  We are running under the moniker – 5 Sorta Fast Old Guys or 5 S.F.O.G.

Last year’s Men’s Masters winning entry ran a time of 2 hours and 45 minutes.  On that team was my good friend Scott Birk, who you may remember passed away on June 13th of this year after being struck by an automobile during a morning training run here in Austin.  The post about Scott’s accident can be found by clicking HERE.

On Sunday, on my left race flat I have Scott’s initials and date of his accident.  On my right instep are Dom’s initials and the date he passed away in August of last year.  With the team we have put together we should be able to throw down a time in the 2:42:00 – 2:43:00 range – which we are hopping will be fast enough to earn us some race day hardware.

I will be running the second leg of the event, the first 10K taking the timing chip from Brendon who is leading things off for us, and handing it over to Lee for the third leg.  Mick and David will run all out over the final two 5K legs and bring home the bacon so to speak.

It is going to be a lot of fun to race with some good friends, and kick off this mini-race season of ours before things turn very serious over the final few weeks leading up to New York City.

As for Boston – we registered for the race just a few minutes ago.  The final spots will be awarded based on how far under the qualifying time a runner ran their qualifying race.  Today’s registration date is for all runners who beat their time by less than 5 minutes, giving out spots from fastest to slowest.

Our qualifying time was 4:59 below our standard, meaning we are at the front of the line for Bibs, only competing with those who ran an identical time as ours.  It looks like we’re in for Boston in April.

Lookout Hopkinton.  A VERY different marathoner will be there on April 16, 2012 than the one you casually threw aside on April 19, 2010.  I look forward to putting a size 9 Adidas Adizero Aegis squarely up your ass.