Pre-race strategizing

The Air Force Marathon is this coming weekend. We had our last quality workout this morning (7mi tempo run); now it’s a mini-taper in final preparation for the Saturday half marathon.

My goal is the same as it was for the Pittsburgh Marathon: a sub-1:40 half-marathon. This time it’s a more realistic goal, as my paces have been consistently faster in recent weeks.

But I’m kidding myself if I think it’s going to be anything approaching a cake walk.

I’ve been studying up on last year’s AF half, in addition to my current half-marathon PR from this past March: the Just A Short Run, where I obliterated the sub-1:45 goal I’d originally set for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May. It certainly wasn’t an easy race, but I had a few advantages:

  1. Weather. It was bloody March in Pittsburgh, so humidity (my biggest Achilles heel) wasn’t a factor.
  2. Low expectations. This was a pretty hefty one: I had just returned from Morocco a week or two previously and was still getting over a wicked head cold. I just wanted to enjoy the race, finally cement a PR under 1:50 (at the time, my PR was 1:53 from last year’s Air Force), and get some grub afterwards. Translation: I was very relaxed.
  3. Pacer! While the other two advantages certainly helped, I’m pretty certain this was make-or-break. From my Garmin data, you can see where I suddenly picked up the pace right around mile 5. This coincided with one of the runners in the 1:50-pace group suddenly breaking off…and I shrugged and opted to follow, pacing her for the next 7 miles with every intention of slowing down when it got too fast. Oddly enough, I not only maintained the pace, but proceeded to pass her on mile 13 for the sub-1:45 finish.

Obviously #1 is out of my hands, and while last year’s AF Marathon had perfect weather, temperatures like the Just A Short Run are out of the question, so I’ll have to worry at least a little about hydration.

#2 is tricky, as this is all the mental side of running. The goal is to be relaxed; running form and breathing and strategy all play into it, but ultimately it’s up to the runner to keep his or her head clear. This is particularly tough when setting an ambitious goal.

But #3 is actually a possibility, as there is a 1:45 pace group (no 1:40 group, sadly…I think that pace falls into the “you’re on your own” category). Following the structure of my current PR, my thinking is as follows:

  • Start slow and build. This was one of the major failing points in the Pittsburgh Marathon; this is something I know works for me, if I stick to it. The hard part is defining “slow”: in this case, hanging with the 1:45 pace group is the best compromise I can think of (~8:00 min/mi).
  • Stretch out the middle. Like JaSR, once I’ve got my feet under me, break off and start catching up to the goal pace. The downside of starting slow is this portion–the longest stretch–has to be faster than average goal pace. If my first ~5 miles are 8:00 min/mi, this portion, about 7 miles, has to be around 7:35 min/mi. Not impossible, but it is pushing me well into my red zone.
  • Demolish the finish. Provided the build was good, and I maintained a rhythm in the stretch, the finish should be an explosion: something around a 6:45 min/mi will be needed in the last 1.1 miles.

This strategy, while closely mimicking my last successful PR, has the downside of being just about the most grueling paces I’ve had to run. They’re right on the threshold of what I should be physically able to do, but PRs always involve a little bit of luck: everything needs to be firing on all cylinders.

I’ll probably have to break with my month-old regular Tuesday updates in the coming weeks, as I have my deluge of races coming up: Air Force this weekend, Ragnar next weekend, and the Great Race the weekend after that. I’ll do the best I can, but for the remainder of September, I can’t guarantee predictable boring posts.

I don’t usually like to say much on somber memorials, as whatever eloquence I may possess is easily eclipsed by others you can find on the internet and elsewhere. So instead, I’ll post this.


About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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2 Responses to Pre-race strategizing

  1. If I may, I think a better strategy would be to break this up into thirds: run the first third with the 1:45 pace group. Run the second third of the race at goal pace for sub-1:40 (if you’re feeling good). If you’re still feeling good, push the last third below goal pace so clinch a 1:40 finish.

    You do the math. I’m lazy. 😉

    • magsol says:

      4, 4, and 5.1 I believe; that division of paces should put me under 1:40.

      That’d work, and that’s a valid strategy too. I was just going on what worked at JaSR, but obviously what worked there may not work again. Luckily both approaches start the same, so I suppose I could just see how I’m feeling when the time comes?

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