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Friday, April 6, 2012

Forward, Not Leaning

I knew that today wouldn't be easy.

With my next marathon eight weeks from tomorrow, it's time to start focusing on the little things that will truly make the difference in those end-of-race miles. The first, and for this race probably most important, skill to master is going to be running on pace without checking my watch every five steps. The number one way to accomplish this is running at my goal pace for extended periods of time. This morning, my goal was doing this for an hour.

When you really pay attention to your pace, avoiding a variety of distractions, you learn a lot about yourself as a runner. Mile one today reminded me that, early in the morning, the first miles aren't going to be the best ones I can run. It takes a few minutes for my legs to warm up, so even though the first mile was a few seconds above my goal, I knew that it was still solid. I really had to wait until mile two, however, to have an idea of how this run was actually going to go.

At which point, I found things to be going well. I was pushing slightly harder than I wanted, but I recognized that this was still early on. Mile three felt pretty much the same, but mile four brought some surprises. Having been within a few seconds on each mile thus far, I was suddenly 15 seconds fast. I'd let my mind wander a bit, and now taking stock once again, I realized how much easier I was moving. I took careful stock of how my body felt, and made some slight changes.

This was the point that I figured out exactly what my goal pace feels like. It feels forward, but not leaning.  Let me explain.

In order to keep landing on the middle of my feet, I try to keep my shoulders over my toes. This moves me forward and maintains my form. However, I also try to keep my head over my shoulders, and this is what really makes the difference. Instead of dropping my head and pushing too hard, I keep my head up over my shoulders and my pace is held to a strong but comfortable level.

With this adjustment in place, I passed mile five, and I was well ahead of my goals. My original hope was to keep up the strength through mile six, and as I neared this point, I became exceedingly optimistic of my ability to continue. Six. Seven. Eight. With one mile to go, I let my shoulders move forward ever so slightly and tried to push against the weariness that was creeping up. When the dust settled, I'd run an incredibly strong nine miles and had more confidence than ever in my pace. I'm certainly not ready for the race yet, but I'm well on my way.

At one point, I started thinking about tomorrow's 22-miler and how much I would enjoy running that nice, easy pace instead of today's speed. I took a second to check my pace on the watch, and found that, in that one moment of distraction, I slowed down significantly. One moment of thinking slow, and I found myself losing strength. The lesson? Think fast. Act fast.

Run fast.

Friday's workout:
60 degrees, cloudy
8.98 Miles

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