Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is slow down.
As part of Operation Qualify, I am determined to learn something valuable from each run I do (or don't do). Today's mission was focused on running at my marathon pace. Not "at least" my pace, but at it. My Friday runs are middle distance runs at marathon pace, but in general I run them at whatever pace feels strong, hoping that my final time is overall faster than the pace I want to run.
This isn't the most helpful solution, however, because it does not necessarily train my body to run at a certain pace. It simply means that I can average that time over ten miles, which does not necessarily translate to longer distances.
The entire purpose of these pace runs should be getting my legs to feel what my goal pace is like. All I've been doing is running too fast early, but banking enough time that my slow down in the second half doesn't hurt my average. So today, I made a very focused effort to keep my pace even (and on-target) throughout the run. I did run into one little problem, though, which gave me the learning experience that I really need. That problem is the first 5K.
I was reading an article the other day about doing a proper warm-up before 5K and 10K races to get your body used to moving at or beyond the lactate threshold. What was interesting was that the article did not advocate this kind of warming up before a marathon. Instead, they suggested that having full glycogen stores at the start of the race is far more important than any benefit you might get from the warm up. Instead, a runner should use the first few miles of such a race as the warm up.
This is important to think about for three reasons, in my opinion. First, it means that you're not using an unnecessary amount of energy before you run an absurd number of miles. You save as much energy as you can, because you're going to need it for every step along the way. Second, your first few miles aren't going to feel very good. They're going to be difficult, because your body hasn't gotten into its rhythm yet. For me, it takes nearly three miles to feel comfortable in a distance running pace, and until I hit that point, I really have no idea how the run is going to feel overall.
And that's the third reason that this is so important. If you focus too much on hitting your exact pace early on in the run, you'll be pushing yourself too hard, too early. And, if you continue at this level of effort, you'll soon be exceeding your goal pace, and burning too much energy early in the race. Instead of bringing on this sort of disaster, you should use the first few miles to warm up your body, and even avoid looking at your watch if you can.
Then, once you're several miles in, you need to keep tabs. Check in on your body often, if not your watch. You want to make sure that your pace is constant, not just strong. Only by careful practice and trained repetition can you be sure that you'll hit the splits you need to succeed, so today, that was my entire focus. I ignored the rain and the Jetta that almost hit me, and made myself slow down any time I started to cruise.
You learn something new every day.
68 degrees, rainy