Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Strategy for running any race over one hour

I completed the Goldy’s 10 miler this past weekend in Minneapolis and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The course was hillier than I remember, but the mind does that sometimes when dealing with difficult courses. I organized and executed a strategy/plan that you can use next time you are running a 10 plus mile race.
Unlike a 5K or 10K, the 10 miler to marathon makes you actually test your endurance. Unless you happen to be reading this from Kenya and can complete that 10 miler in less than an hour. I’ve found than in any race where you need to run in excess of 60 minutes, that you need to learn to pace yourself so that you hold back from a hard sprint so that you make it to the finish line. For 5Ks or 10Ks, you can probably pin your ears back and go. I actually have to do a warm up for those to make sure everything is warmed up and ready to go. Not so for races exceeding one hour.
I broke down the race into thirds. They are not equal distances but rather timed distances where you apply a heart rate zone for. I will share the one I used for the Goldy’s 10 miler and you can adjust it to any distance using this example.
A couple of items to note. I had not run this course before. Sure, I had reviewed it on the map, but the map will not always be accurate with elevations, how tight the turns are, and how accurate the mile markers on the map relate to the actual ones on the course. I knew it was going to be crowded at the beginning (usually is) but I was not sure about the hairpin turns at certain places where the two lane goes into a one lane both ways for the turn. I had run sections of the course for other races, but I had to assume there were unknowns I had to deal with. Also, water stops, water/Gatorade, etc. were all placed at various spots that lend to a certain degree of difficulty.
So what I did, was take my heart rate training and put up a range of how long I would stay in certain zones for certain distances of the race. Since I know that I go from aerobic to anaerobic at 163 beats per minute (BPM), I gave myself 4 miles below 160, 4 miles @ 161-167, and two miles at 168 plus.
Of course if it was a flat course, I could’ve done it by minutes per mile and just use the mile markers but this adds to many variables to consider to be a good strategy. For example, because it is crowded at the beginning, good luck trying to keep an even pace at the start. I was deep into mile 2 before I didn’t have someone directly in front of me. Also, on hills, my pace moved up 30 seconds per mile and the reverse happened on the downhill’s. If I had to use time, it would be a negative thing entering my mind (“OMG, it just took me 9:45 that last mile!”). That was not the case in using heart rate. 160 going up a hill, 160 going down a hill, but of course the speed changed dramatically.
So how did the strategy work? Ran my fastest mile at the last mile. Ideally, that’s what you want. There’s an obvious reason for this: If you can finish strong, it will encourage you for the next race. Sure, later I thought, ‘What if I would’ve started running 168 BPM plus at Mile 7 instead of 8?’. But there are limits to when you step on the gas and go. I know this from past races where I died with a mile or two left in the race. Your ‘all out’ pace cannot be held for more than 20 minutes. Trust me on this one. I’m not talking about doing a 440 dash, but anything longer than a mile will get your lungs burning and legs turning to stone if you try to cut more than a minute per mile pace in your last two miles.
As with everything athletic, it’s all about balance. For running those last 6 miles (which I knew I could do in less than one hour) I knew I had to keep the heart rate close to anaerobic threshold (plus or minus 4 beats per minute). Anything more and I wouldn’t last more than 2 miles (approximately 20 minutes).
But you don’t have to worry about making that mistake, because I just gave you the plan to keep you away from crashing and burning. Try it in your next over hour race and let me know how you do. It’s worked for me (and kept me relatively injury free – knock on wood).

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