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.
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Racing — Sometimes it Just Ain’t Possible, and That’s OK

running-advice-bugI’ve had the good fortune recently to race against some very talented groups of runners. There are differences between running against a set of seasoned athletes and a more typical field of road racers made up of different skill levels. You might instantly think that what I’m talking about is speed, but it is smarts that sets these folks apart.

Let me give you an example. In one of the last races that I ran, it immediately became clear that one runner was far and away faster than the rest of the field. In the USATF Northwest Mile Championships, a runner burst out front in the first 100M of the race and do you know what happened next? No one chased him down. There were certainly people in the group that must have gone into the race thinking that they would go out as hard as possible and stay with the leader as long as they could. And even with this race being at most five minutes long, no one attempted to go with him.

Were these runners not being aggressive? Were they giving-in just seconds into the race? Were they throwing in the towel at the start of Round 1? No. They were being smart. There was a recognition that the lead runner’s speed was just beyond what they were capable of, even for such a short distance.

With less experienced athletes, what we might have seen was a “just go for it” attitude. But what would have happened was that these runners would have gone out so hard that soon they would have burned out and then hit the wall. These more experienced runners recognize this fact and immediately adjusted their plans to fit the new information they had about the race.
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