Pace – not the salsa, nor the college

If I had to pick one item that is most difficult to master, most ruinous for new long distance runners and the easiest way to cause self-defeat it would be your pace. If you are doing a half marathon or a marathon you will have an individual, unique pace. This is the minutes/mile calculation that you either targeted for or worked out over the course of training. I’m fairly consistent at a 9:10/mile pace for race day. Everyone is unique, but typically your pace ends up reflecting what your average speed should be in order to complete the race in X amount of time. There are many, many pacing charts on-line to help with this calculation.

The ‘I feel great’ syndrome – this is the classic way to self-destruct on race day. The starting horn goes off. You get out of the gate, past the initial wave of people and in a mile or so ‘find’ your pace. But wait, you feel great. This feels too slow. You feel like you could drop from 9:00/mile to 8:40/mile. You’ve never felt this good, this alive, during a long training run. With good reason. It’s called adrenaline. That coupled with your ambition speaks up loud in your head saying ‘go for it, you got this, at this pace you will rock out your goal.’

It is all an illusion. Your mind can’t add endurance. Adrenaline can’t add endurance. It can add a temporary boost, a feeling of euphoria that anything is possible. For a few miles, maybe even 10 or 12 that might very well be the case. But think about the endurance you built-up during training. Think of it as your ‘fuel’ for the race. You only have so much. Sure,  you might get a runner’s high later, you might dig deep and find a new level unknown to you . . . but most likely you won’t. Instead you’ll get about 85% of the way through the race and your mind will start saying ‘sitting down would be great right about now.’ Or ‘I’ve got nothing left, and not only can you not drop down to your normal pace but you will need to settle for something 2 minutes/mile less than that!’

Here’s the thing – the training is easy. Write-up a schedule, get up, run, done. On race day the environment takes over. You can easily get hyper-excited and therefore unrealistic about your ability. You’ve heard the saying that it is 90% mental. This is exactly where that comes into play – don’t let your emotion get the best of you, keep your thinking cap on and be smart. Work smart, not hard.

For the most part I run solo during a race. A couple of times I’ve run with someone else. Two of those times were with first-timers.

  • Person A got sucked into the euphoria and refused to listen to my pacing advise during the race.
  • Person B listened, even though they felt great and felt like they could do more, they kept the pace I set (in-line with what they trained at). Guess who finished strong?

Guess who barely finished (seriously, we crossed the finish and he had to go to the medical tent and lay under ice for 20 minutes)? Oh yeah, the guy who ended up in the medical tent, he didn’t crush his time goal. Just the opposite he barely finished and finished significantly later than his goal. Lost all ambition to run anymore long distance events. The other guy? Rocked it out and came in under his goal. We just talked about which marathon we will tackle in 2011.

You be the judge.

Good luck, keep running and get those feet on the road.


About Feet on the Road
Avid runner, looking to share what I've learned from trial and error.

One Response to Pace – not the salsa, nor the college

  1. the dawn says:

    i seriously could not agree more! i just ran my marathon yesterday and in the days leading up to it all i obsessed about was the pace. what did i want to do? how was i going to feel? in the end i decided to run “conservative” and stay within 1-3 seconds of my goal pace. i did and managed a 18 minute PR and a BQ! pacing and all that goes with it will make or break your race!!!

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