-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Tips — Knowledge is Power on the Race Course

running-advice-bugPeople say “knowledge is power.” Never is that more true than out on a marathon race course. I can think of a few ways that this comes up and today I’d like to consider how a little knowledge can bring you a lot of power when you’re pushing yourself through your next running race.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was writing about the fact that in two recent races I had either seen or been misdirected on race courses. One of my bottom line points in that article was this: it’s your job as a runner to know your race course. When the leaders missed their turn in one of my races recently, the next guy in line turned back to me and quizzically gestured, “shouldn’t we be going that way?” I knew the course and I knew to make that turn. This apparently happened again this week at the very competitive front end of The Flat Half-marathon here in Oregon, where the train of leaders didn’t turn around where they were supposed to and ended up running an extra mile or so before being brought back on course.

Runners in the 2012 Vancouver Marathon

But if these are abstract to some of you that aren’t up there at the front, let me give you a couple of more examples where knowledge will go a long way for you. First, is knowing your pace. Second is knowing your fitness. Third is knowing the conditions and how they will impact those first two items. Let’s start with pace.

I ask running all the time what they think they will run at any given workout or race. The answers are so varied it defies imagination sometimes. Perhaps the most important piece of knowledge that you can have about yourself is how fast you run at a particular distance. This shouldn’t be a vague notion at all. Your pace should be established and monitored in your workouts and you should simply know what you can do on any given day. I understand that you may have multiple goals for a particular race (e.g. on a good day vs. a great day or a lousy day), but these goals should be gradations of what’s possible for you. You might have a reasonable target pace for example and have a goal to improve on that by say 5 or 10 seconds per mile if things are going really well. But that’s it. If your coach, friend, running partner or whoever says “what are you planning to run today” you should be able to answer that within 15 seconds per mile.

Why? Because if you are outside of that 15 second per mile range on the fast side, you’re probably going to — quite simply — blow up. You probably all know that the biggest mistake you can make as a runner is “going out too fast”, but I ask you how would you know if you’re going to fast if you don’t first know your pace? I commonly watch people melt after the first three or four miles of a race. You can watch them fall apart. This is happens because they didn’t have this first piece of knowledge — how fast they were capable of running and went too hard.

Second is how fast you can run based on your fitness at any given point. I can give you a good example here. I’m in the early stages of ramping my distance back up. My endurance is not there yet. I’ve been racing short distances at full speed. But I know that I can’t carry that through an entire half or full marathon right now. Because I know this, I adjust my pace downward to compensate from my lack of endurance right now. In a half-marathon this morning I backed off about 15 seconds per mile from where I have been racing and the race went smoothly. If I had gone out at the pace that I’ve been racing at shorter distances (which I normally run at longer distances) it would have been a disaster. This is knowledge about my fitness, right now that I applied to my pace today.

Third is how the conditions will impact your run. One of the most common questions that I get asked is how will elements like heat, humidity, elevation, hills or wind effect a run. Most of the time the follow-up question is “what can I do about that?” The answer is that you start with taking notice of these factors and doing something about them. Too many runners ignore the conditions until they are in over their heads. You need to apply your knowledge of the conditions ahead of time and make a plan to deal with them. That plan may be backing off the pace, training at elevation or dressing for the heat. Whatever the conditions, you need to apply your knowledge of how that condition will impact you and go from there. Some runners melt in the heat, while others thrive in it. Some people love hills, others hate them. Know the conditions and figure out how to adapt.

I’ll finish by giving one more example of this in application. Along about 9 miles into my half-marathon this morning a runner came bombing past me. This didn’t particularly bother me, because I had taken note of the fact the the 10K and half-marathon courses had staggered starts and their courses joined in the late miles. I pretty much instantly guessed that this was the leader of the 10K passing me. But the runner in front of me fell apart when he was passed. I watched his form collapse. It killed him mentally. I asked him about it after the race. He told me that he thought that he was fading so much and seeing someone tromp by him just deflated him. This piece of knowledge, that the 10K leaders might catch us, could have saved him much grief. I had been chasing him for miles and he wasn’t slowing down.

Be smart out there. Know your pace. Know your body. Make plans to adapt to the conditions. Knowledge really is power on the race course.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.