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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Races — Ethiopians Sweep Carlsbad 5000

running-advice-bugCARLSBAD, Calif. –– A confident Dejen Gebremeskel and a wispy Aheza Kiros gave Ethiopia a sweep of the men’s and women’s invitational races on the 26th annual Carlsbad 5000 on Sunday morning. Both events produced dramatic finishes.

Dejene Gebremeskel Wins 2011 Carlsbad 5000

Gebremeskel, last year’s runner-up, sat behind defending champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya for most of the 3.1-mile race before spurting ahead in the final 100 meters and finishing in 13 minutes, 11 seconds. The time matched Kipchoge’s winning performance of 2010 and equaled the fourth-fastest clocking in history.

By winning, Gebremeskel spoiled Kipchoge’s bid to break the world record of 13:00, established by Sammy Kipketer in 2000 and tied by him a year later. Kipchoge had said prior to the race that he thought he had a good chance of taking down the record. However, he was sidetracked by pacesetter Haron Lagat. Lagat was supposed to take the leaders through the first two miles, but only managed to hang on for just over a mile.

By dropping out, Lagat left Kipchoge to assume the lead. That led to some gamesmanship between Kipchoge and Gebremeskel. Shortly past two miles, Kipchoge signaled to Gebremeskel to take over the lead. The Ethiopian refused, continuing to run just behind Kipchoge. Then when Gebremeskel was only a few steps from the end, he pointed to the finish line, indicating that he was the winner.

“I knew I would win,” the 21-year-old Gebremeskel said. About his finger-pointing, he said, “I got to the finish line first. I pointed because I was happy that I won.”
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Races — Kipchoge Eyes 5K World Mark in Carlsbad

running-advice-bugCARLSBAD, Calif. –– Eliud Kipchoge, the 2010 Carlsbad 5000 champion, is returning for Sunday’s race, not only seeking another victory but also a world record. Kipchoge, the 26-year-old Kenyan, has every reason to be optimistic.

Eliuid Kipchoge Wins Carlsbad 5000 2010

“He was very disappointed he didn’t do it last year,” said Matt Turnbull, Elite Athlete Coordinator. “He was in good shape, but it was very windy at the start. Now, he knows what the course is all about. He’s been training hard for it.”

The weather forecast for Sunday calls for ideal running conditions with the temperature in the low to mid-60s and a little cloud cover.

“He’s in better shape this year,” Turnbull added. “If we don’t get the winds coming off the Pacific, it could be worth 8-10 seconds to him this time.”

Last year, Kipchoge won in 13:11, making his move after two miles and finishing seven seconds ahead of the field. Kipchoge’s tireless training already has paid off this year; he has set personal bests for 3000 and 5000 meters indoors.
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Races — Americans Wurth-Thomas, Rhines lead 2011 Carlsbad 5000

running-advice-bugCARLSBAD, Calif. –– Off her past two performances in the Carlsbad 5000, Ethiopian Aheza Kiros should be considered the favorite for the race’s 26th running on Sunday, April 3, 2011. However, there is a strong international field arrayed against her, including Americans Christin Wurth-Thomas and Jen Rhines.

Kiros, the 2009 champion and 2010 runner-up to world record-holder Meseret Defar of Ethiopia, has a 5,000m personal best of 14:56.33 on the track from 2009, and has run 15:26 at Carlsbad. The 25-year-old Ethiopian, who lives in Addis Ababa after growing up in the Tigray region, began running at a young age and almost always won her races during physical education classes. By the age of 16, she was representing her school at the All-Ethiopian School Championships, winning the 5,000m. Now, she is mostly a 10,000-meter runner and represented Ethiopia at that distance at the 2007 World Championships.

In addition to the two top Americans, Kiros can expect challenges from Pauline Konikwiang of Kenya, seventh at the recent World Cross Country Championships and the national junior record-holder with a 5,000 PR of 14:45.98, who is making her debut on the roads; Olesya Syreva of Russia, the European indoor silver medalist over 3,000 meters, the national indoor record-holder for two miles with a 5,000 PR of 15:19.96; Eloise Wellings of Australia, the 2010 national 5,000 and 10,000 champion with a 5,000 PR of 14:54.11; and Adrienne Herzog of the Netherlands, the national record-holder for two miles with a 5,000 PR of 15:34.37.

Meanwhile, Wurth-Thomas and Rhines should be in close pursuit of Kiros. Wurth-Thomas, the 2008 U.S. indoor champion at 1,500 meters, the 2007 and 2009 outdoor runner-up, and 2008 Olympian, is looking to improve her endurance by running a 5k.
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Training — Avoiding the Pace Dip in the 10K

running-advice-bugIn writing about some of my recent 10K races, I have talked about the fact that often runners go out too fast and then slow down in the later stages of the race. This is no big shocker. Even seems to know that people go out too fast in races, whether they do anything to avoid being sucked into that is another question. There’s something else that seems to happens to runners in the 10K that may be a little unique to this distance. I’ll call it the “10K pace dip”, because I think that sort of sums up what happens.

Unlike hitting the wall in the marathon, where runners are reduced to walking, and also unlike a gradual slowing down of the pace that you see in 5Ks or other races, the “dip” looks more like this. Along about mile 4 or 5, there is a sudden and very pronounced dip in the pace of about 15-30 seconds a mile. Having seen runners experience this, its an involuntary drop in pace at that — meaning that they know the pace is dropping off quickly, but they can’t seem to do anything about it.

In my last two 10Ks, the way I’ve noticed this is I’ll be running along, maybe a few paces behind a runner and then all of a sudden — bang — I’m not only passing them, but I’m on top of them and then past them in a stretch of 50 yards. It’s like they’ve immediately gone from one pace to another. But they don’t die off completely either, because they end up finishing within say 30 to 45 seconds behind me.

So this is a little different than the slow drop off of pace that we normal see when people go out too fast and peter out over the course of a few miles. Here the pace drop is pronounced and sudden.

What’s Causing “The Dip”?
Let’s think about the 10K in the context of our speed training. If we’re looking at 4-5 miles through a 10K then the runner has been pushing at a hard intensity for at least 30 minutes or more depending on their speed. This may not sound like a long time for the typical marathon runner, but put this in context with other workouts that the runner might be doing. Interval workouts may last in their entirety over 30 minutes, but generally speaking the intervals themselves are not that long. And even tempo runs for most runners — which would be run at slightly slower than 10K — would usually only be in the range of 20-30 minutes for most runners. What this means is that the duration of this intense effort is actually longer than what these runners may be doing in their workouts.
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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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Commentary — It’s the intensity, not the distance, stupid

running-advice-bugI find it so interesting whenever I the discussion that follows, which I’m sure many of you have heard as well. I’ll tell someone that I’m doing a short race, say a 5K or 10K, and the person on the other end of this conversation will say the following: “why would you want to do that? You’re a marathon runner. That must be so easy for you.”

I usually just sort of nod and say something like, “well, it’s part of my training.” But in truth, I really want to put one hand on each side of their head and shake them a little and then say, “it’s not the distance, it’s how hard you run it!”

I’m thinking about this, because I ran in another 5K race this weekend and once again got these same quizzical inquiries from neighbors and friends that we’re sorting of asking ‘why bother’ with all these short races that I’m doing. But there is something important here that you runners can get from hearing me explain the answer as it really should be explained to them.

Let’s take this particular 5K race. It was small race with just 500 runners. But in that race the top 29 runners broke 16:00, which is 5:08 minutes per mile. That’s really moving. In fact, the top 74 runners completed the 5K with an average pace of less than 6:00 per mile. That’s a lot of people that were pushing really, really hard. Now, let’s factor in that the temperature was 85 degrees during the race and that ratchets things up yet another notch. For those folks, there was nothing easy happening out there in that 5K.
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Racing — What does flat and fast really mean?

running-advice-bugRace organizers love to use the terms “flat and fast” to describe race courses. Those terms are designed to bring in runners looking for good conditions to run a fast time or perhaps are personal best. But does flat on a elevation chart really mean flat? And is flat always fast? That’s my topic today and the answer is “no”.

This weekend I picked out a race to run the way I often do at this time of year, by looking through the race listings and trying to pick one that’s close to home. I was just looking for a workout and wanted some competition to spur me on through a quality run. There were two races close to my house, so I had to get down to the finer details in choosing. I ended up picking the one with those magic words: “flat and fast”. This event race course even suggested that it might be a “good course to set PR”. The later language is always something that makes me very skeptical, because honestly the place for a PR is on a track, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Indeed, looking at the course map and elevation chart, it did look flat and it had another aspect that can lead itself to be fast — few turns. But when I arrived at the site and began to run my warm-up, I quickly figured out that this course wouldn’t be either flat or fast.

Bumpy vs. Hilly
We all know what it means for something to be hilly: those long inclines or declines climbing over something. Think Boston Marathon or Nike Women’s Marathon. You look at those courses on a map and you see actual topographical features that are being traversed. Everyone would agree that those suckers are hilly. But a piece of flat ground on an elevation map can take on another aspect, that which we might call “bumpy”. If you’ve ever played golf (or run a cross-country race on a golf course) on a flat piece of ground, but found your quads burning walking up and over short rolling bumps, you’ll know what I’m talking about here.
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Racing — Kipchoge, Defar Win 2010 Carlsbad 5000

running-advice-bugCARLSBAD, Calif. – World Record Holder Meseret Defar of Ethiopia became the first three-time women’s champion of the Carlsbad 5000, presented by Nuvasive, Sunday afternoon, winning the women’s elite invitational in a time of 15 minutes, 4 seconds over the 3.1 mile course. In the men’s race, Kenya’s Eluid Kipchoge crossed the finish line in 13:11, fourth fastest time ever run over the 25 year history of the internationally renowned road race.

Defar Meseret wins 2010 Carlsbad 5000

Kipchoge, 25, a two-time Olympic medalist over 5,000m, came to Carlsbad with a world record on his mind, and gave a record-worthy performance under overcast, but breezy conditions. He led the lead pack through the first mile in 4:10, pushing the Ethiopian trio of Dejen Gebremeskel, Bekana Daba and Markos Geneti. The group of four continued together, battling a coastal headwind, reaching the two-mile mark in 8:25, when Kipchoge made his move to victory.

“This is a fantastic course and a fantastic crowd. I felt ready to run a 12:58,” said Kipchoge, after running his debut 5k road race and becoming the third fastest individual all-time. “The wind was too much and unfortunately I didn’t get it, but it’s not the last time, I will have to try again next year.”

Second place went to Gebremeskel in 13:18, with the defending champion Daba finishing six seconds back in 13:24. The top American was Joe Gray of Lakewood, WA, who took 10th in 14:37.
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