Mental Games — Stick With Your Decisions

running-advice-bugI was talking with a friend that other day that had made a big life decision. It was early on and she had no new information yet with which to judge whether she’d made the right choice. I had given her some advice that she needed to slow down and trust her decisions. I told her to trust the process and let things play out. With time she would know if she made the right decision.

I was racing this weekend and I was thinking about how the many smaller decisions we make can add up to a particular result and how we need to both acknowledge those decisions and embrace them when we stick to them. Even if it means a result that we hadn’t predicted. Here’s what I mean. In the race this weekend, I came in second overall by about 30 seconds. It was a small margin to come up without the win. In my head, of course, I immediately went into the cycle of “I could have won this IF ONLY. . .” but then I needed to review the decisions that I made before the race.

Decision one — “this was intended to be a training race for me.” I am currently training for Duathlon Worlds. This particular race was a triathlon. To underscore this point, I haven’t swam in six weeks since my last Ironman race. The choices in my training are to focus on Duathlon right now. This shouldn’t have been a race I was trying to win. Hindsight aside, this decision still makes sense.

Decision two — “I want to work on my bike segment time.” I went into the race with the desire to hammer the bike, at the expense of anything else. I did that. In fact, I was more than two minutes faster than the overall winner. Success, right? Well, of course it is easy to think “if I hadn’t gone so hard on the bike, I would have had more for the run.” But the point was to kill the bike (I did), even if it killed me (it did). Good training workout. Good decision.
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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 — First Follow the Rules, What Happens Next is Not Up to You

running-advice-bugTwice in the last year I’ve been on different sides of a the same issue and it has to do with knowing and following the rules in racing. I think it may be helpful to think this through, because whether you’re a leader or a follower, the bottom line is that you need to follow the rules of the race — whether the race officials follow their own rules in application is a question for them, not you.

Yesterday I was running in a mid-sized 10K race. I say mid-sized (about 1,000 runners in the 10K distance and 5,000 in all distances) because it was a well organized race and you’d expect the course to be well marked. I was sitting in a comfortable fourth place, well out of contention and enjoying myself. I was there to get in a good workout and I was happy to sit back and watch the top three guys up there fighting it out. But then we came to a fork in the road, literally. I knew that we were supposed to take a right turn, but I saw the two leaders keep going straight. There was no volunteer at the intersection and it was otherwise unmarked. The third place runner slowed as he came to the intersection and then he looked back at me — I pointed to the right and he went right, but slowed down to let me catch up.

I was certain that the course turned right at that intersection, because I run this route probably twice a week in training. This is my hood. Unfortunately, I also knew that the road the leaders were following was going to shorten their course pretty significantly. Either road would have lead to a turn-around at the half-way point of the course and then we would have headed straight back to the finish, so it wasn’t a matter of getting lost. It was just a matter of running the right course and the right distance.

So did we make the right choice? Well, first a review of the rules. In both running and triathlon it is the responsibility of the athlete to know the course. Going off course, whether on purpose or not, is against the rules because it could result in shortening (or lengthening the course). There has been high-profile cases of leaders taking wrong turns in marathons and getting disqualified, but race organizers hate doing this because it almost always means that something wasn’t marked correctly.

The rules then say that you as a runner need to know and follow the course. My thought process yesterday was, first, that there could have been a timing mat at the turn-around and second that if someone did file a compliant (like the guy ahead of me in third place) that we would move up into first and second place, putting us both in the prize money. I wasn’t going to make a stink about this, because I wasn’t in contention anyway, but I was concerned that the leaders might set a course record by shorting the course.
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Racing — Pace Yourself

running-advice-bugI know, I know. You’re thinking, ‘Coach Joe is writing another piece on pacing.’ (You’re correct.) And that he’s going to tell us how important it is to pace ourselves during races. (Also correct.) But I promise I’m taking a different look at pacing today, so bear with me.

I’m a big proponent of runners really knowing their race pace — training enough at it so that it is ingrained in their memories and that it almost becomes a part of their subconscious on race day. I say it all the time — practice your goal pace so that you know what it feels like and then you can just go out and do it in your race.

This weekend, I demonstrated for myself why this is so important. Let me tell you the story.

I was running in my first 5,000M race on a track. I’ve run more 5K road races than I can count, but I’d never run one on the track. I had a fairly good idea of the pace that I needed to run to meet my goal — I wanted to run about 1:17-1:18 per lap. This would have brought me in about 15 seconds faster than my road PR in the 5K and I really thought I could run this.

There were a number of my friends in the race, so before-hand we talked about the pace and there was an agreement that most of the group was going for this particular pace target. That was good, because it meant that I could follow along and let the group do the pacing. That’s always nice, but this is also where “pace yourself” starts to become important.

There was a fairly large field assembled for the race — at least 30 runners I would say — and at least 10 of them were going to try to run in the 16:00 range — so it was a quality field. The race got underway and the front group stayed together right about on pace through the first 400M. But then the group broke up and I was left with a decision to make. I hadn’t really thought about looking at my own watch on the splits and I was running behind someone that I know who runs about the same speed that I do. I also know that he is a good pacer with a solid sense of pacing. I made a decision to stick on him and let him do the pacing.
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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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Racing — Five Tips for Starting a Fast 5K

running-advice-bug“Get up there on the line,” I find myself telling people at the start of races. It’s as if the starting line is going to bite. I was thinking about this the other night at Portland’s Starlight Run and I thought maybe there were some tips that I could pass along regarding the start of these quick races.

Contact is OK if you have a solid base

In a 5K race, the start is critical because the faster runners are going to try to get out and get up to their racing pacing immediately. If you want to be in it, then you’ll need to do some things to avoid getting dropped right away. So here are five tips for starting your next 5K if you’re trying to be competitive.

1. Line up on the front line — Remember these tips are for those that want to be competitive. The first thing is to put yourself right on the front line, not two people back or five people back. If you think that you’re fast enough to run with the leaders, then get up there. If you put even a couple people between yourself and the starting line, you’ll just have to dodge around and through these people if you want to get up to the front once the race starts. This is wasted energy and time when the leaders will be peeling off ahead of you.

2. Elbows Out, Stand Your Ground — In a competitive 5K race where there a lots of fast runners, there will be a lot of jostling at the front of the race. Make a solid frame with your elbows slightly out and keep your feet under you. You don’t need to be throwing elbows at your competitors, but you want to use your elbows like bumpers. As someone gets in close to you, they will be pushed away, rather than crashing into you. In the photo here, you can see the contact the I’m making with the runner next to me. There are actually three frames of this scene. In the first two, ever so briefly we come together, and then in the last we have drifted back apart. Because my stance was strong, he didn’t push me over coming around the corner, which is the way it should work.

3. Find Some Clear Space to Run (or Tuck Yourself In) — The start of a 5K can be quite chaotic. Take a quick look around and decide whether the people around you are a help or hindrance. They can be either. On the one hand, if people are dodging and swerving and no one appears to be leading, you may want to move to an outside and find clear air in which to run. This is usually my approach. I like to set my own pace and see what’s happening. If someone makes a move at the front, I want to go with them — and if I’m stuck in traffic it may be too late. On the other hand, there are races in which the front is organized and working together. In those races, sticking yourself right behind a few good runners will give you a chance to let others do the pace making.
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Running and Racing — The Power of Pacing

running-advice-bugI feel like I’ve written a million articles espousing the idea that pacing is important to marathon running and road racing. I’ve said it in a lot of different ways, whether it be that even pacing is a great strategy and understanding that pacing is important. Pacing, pacing, pacing, I seem to say over and over again.

Yet, I’ve never said it this way: pacing is power.

Let me explain. In a 10K race this weekend, I did what I normally do — I went out at the pace that I wanted to run. I ignored what the other leaders were doing and “let them go”. It might have even appeared to the other five guys at the front of the race that I was a bit aloof or unaware of what they were doing. There was a moment about 1/2 mile into the race when one runner moved into the lead and everyone else needed to decide what to do. All the others guys went with the leader. I kept running my pace. And there was this one runner that even gave me a look as he went by that kind of said to me, “see ya’ round buddy.”

They may have been thinking that I was going out conservatively, but what I was really doing was running my pace. I have a keen sense of it and I wasn’t going to get sucked in to running someone else’s pace. I know, as you should know, how fast I can run. I also know how many people can sustain speeds faster than me — and you should know that as well.

But here’s the thing. Every time I write about pacing and every time I start out a race trying to run an even pace, I always have this thought that I’m being conservative. And somehow I think that people may read what I’m writing and think that I’m telling people to not be aggressive in their racing. It’s as if by saying that people should pace themselves, I’m somehow saying that they can’t win.

That’s the last thing that I’m saying. What I’m really saying is that you need to know the pace that you can sustain for the entire race. And when you do, a funny thing happens. You watch the people around you go out too fast and then you reel them back in. One at a time, you go by them. They say, “nice job man” and “dude, you rock”. And they are fading, dying, slowing down. They are being aggressive at the start. What you should do is be aggressive at the finish.
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Marathon Running — Pre-race Anxiety Part 57

running-advice-bugAnother fall is quickly approaching and the questions have started pouring in. They range from mild anxiety to sheer panic. About eight of ten questions that have come into the blog in the few weeks sound very familiar: everything was going fine, but then something happened and now I DON”T KNOW WHAT TO DO! Marathon day is looming and it suddenly feels as if end of the world is quickly approaching.

Calm down runners.

I’ve noticed over the years that the pre-race anxiety, comes in many flavors. The one that we usually write and talk about (we’ve done two videos on the subject) is the panic that comes up in the week before the race. But today I want to look at why we feel so crazy and helpless in the last month or so out from a marathon. I’ll just call this the “I don’t know what the hell I’ve gotten myself into” panic.

Where does this creeping dread come from? It starts with a fear of the unknown. This fear is definitely something first-timers feel, but it isn’t limited to them. Runners that have run many marathons get feeling like this as well. The fear comes from our minds asking a simple question: ‘how did my training go this time?’ Or to put it another way, ‘how’s this race going to go now that I’ve done X in training?’ where X is some new variable that you’ve added into the mix – a faster speed, a new energy product, a tougher race course.

The runner’s mind loves to do somersaults over itself pondering the questions that it is least equipped to answer: how’s the day going to go; how did my training impact me; what more should I have done to prepare? Therein lies the problem. None of us have a crystal ball and none of us can foretell the future.

Or can we?
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Running — Avoiding the Starting Line Conversation Trap

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

I have two simple rules at the start of every race. First, I never ask anyone else what they plan to run and, second, I never tell anyone what I’m going to run. Why? Because it never helps and it almost always hurts. Here’s why.

The tendency at the starting line with runners is to want to size up their competition. They do this by looking around at the other runners and trying to guess who’s going to run a similar time to theeir (or win or whatever). They categorize people as “someone I need to worry about” or not. Then they open their mouths and start getting themselves into trouble. Asking someone what they plan to run only takes you off the focus off of what it should be focusing on: what YOU plan to run.

You need to stick to your game plan on race day and that means running the pace that you are prepared to run. Whatever anyone else does is irrelevant in that if you haven’t prepared to run as fast as someone else and you try to “go with them”, you’re going to burn yourself up and find yourself in a heap of trouble real’ quick-like.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t prepare for your competition by understanding what others are capable of running and where you are versus the competition. I’m just saying that it is too late to do that on the starting line. The place to do it is well before the race — if this is a key race we’re talking about — by doing some research. You can certainly look up the results of the race for the last few years and get an expectation of what kinds of times will likely be produced by the field. If it is an important race, you may even want to look in more depth at your competition by searching for their results on-line to get a feel for how they are running this season. This information can tell you a lot about how your training has prepared you to deal with a particular field.
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Training — Tips for developing your kick at the end of a running race

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

I’ve had a number of people that have asked me recently how to develop their kick — or closing speed — at the end of a running race. Usually these questions come early in the season when people are running a lot of 5K and 10K races and they’re in more pitched battles than in marathons or half-marathons later in the season. For the sake of this post, I’ll focus on developing closing speed in shorter races.

What we’re talking about here is the following scenario. Let’s say you’re in a 5K road race. You’ve made it through the first 2.5 miles and you’ve found yourself in one of two situations: 1) you’ve just caught up to someone ahead of you and you decide to overtake them, or 2) someone has just caught you and you need to decide whether you are going to challenge them.

These present themselves somewhat differently. In the case of catching someone, you’ll likely have the element of positive energy and adrenaline that may take over and carry you forward. If you’re being passed, you’ll have to first make a split-second decision as to why you’re being passed (are you slowing down or did the person behind you speed up, for example) and defensively decide what to do. In either case, let’s assume that we’re 1/2 mile from the finish-line and we’ve decided to go for it. It will now come down to what you did to prepare and how you play the next 30 seconds!

Those first 30 seconds
Those first 30 seconds are so critical, because you have the ability to blow the whole finish of your race apart in how you react. As we’ll get to in talking about your training, you must have trained at higher speeds to be able to sustain higher speeds over more than a period of a few seconds. If you haven’t done that training and you pick up your pace to a speed that you can’t sustain (let’s call it a ‘sprint’ for now), you’re likely going to carry that speed for about 30 seconds or so and then dramatically slow down. In fact, you’ll probably slow down to a speed even slower than you were running before you took off — because you will have plunged yourself into oxygen deficit and will be suddenly panting or find your muscles screaming at you.
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