Scenerio – Athlete A is going to be doing a marathon, we have no idea as to how the real conditions are going to be on race day, but we do know the course details. Athlete A has been pacing himself in training for an 8′ mile marathon. This is a ‘TARGET’ pace. Which means chances are it’s a moving ‘TARGET’ on race day depending on various factors.
Athlete B is doing a 70.3 race. Again, we have no idea of how the conditions are going to be, and athlete knows that their z2 pace off the bike is their target. We may or may not have been targeting speed sessions towards this (your z2 pace is 8′ miles), but it’s important for all athletes no matter what.
Let’s see how clear and concise I can be:
1. Athlete A: We have trained you to be able to run 8’ miles for a marathon. Whether you believe you can do that or not is in your hands, not mine.
Athlete B: Yes I know you can average 200 watts at z2 on your trainer for ‘x’ minutes easy peasy. Things change on race day. (bear with me here).
2. Athlete A: While training for these 8’ miles you were under a much more stringent training load – meaning it was more work than you want it to be at times. Thus the doubt that you can maintain that for 26 miles (or let’s say, 26 x 1 mile workout). You can click into that pace with ease, but maintaining it is doubtful in your mind. You are normal.
Athlete B: Remember that when you get out of the water you may or may not be able to maintain those watt #’s. Remember that when you get off the bike you may or may not be able to stick to you 8′ mile pace.
3. Both Athletes: Part of a taper is to allow the body to fully recover from the training stimulus, kind of like hitting refresh on your browser or shutting off the computer (if you have a Mac) to get it to be faster. This will allow the body to go faster with less effort. As long as the athlete doesn’t do a bunch of stupid things before the race, generally the athlete should be good to go. What is a stupid thing? Deciding it’s a good idea to walk around race expo all day two days before your race when you need to be off your feet. Deciding that it’s a good idea to drink and eat plenty of crap all weekend or the days leading up to the race. Deciding it’s a good time to paint your bedroom. Etcetera….you know what I mean.
4. Both Athletes: On any given race day and course there are uncontrollable: Crowds, Temperature, Transportation to and Fro, Dietary challenges, Family stresses, etc. You name it….theses are the things that can truly affect the mindset and the body on race day. It’s how you react to them that is really important while racing.
5. Both Athletes: On any given race day you have your controllables: What you’re going to wear for the conditions that will help to maximize your potential. What you’re going to eat, drink, etc. How much sleep you’re going to get in the days leading up to the race. How you are going to pace the race so that you have the best possible outcome on that GIVEN day.
6. Both Athletes: Mindset: What are you telling yourself leading up to the race? Are you full of I ‘don’t want another 4 hour marathon’ or ‘I don’t want to end up walking’, or are you instead thinking about what your plan/strategy is for each mile of the race? Which do you think is more productive? This is a personal thing….only so much a coach can do leading up to the race with an athlete’s mindset.
Pacing any race:
1. All Athletes:
Marathon: Go by HR. First four miles in z1. If it means you’re running 45” slower than goal pace, so be it. It’s what your body can do at that given time, temps, conditions, course terrain. If you fight your body it’s going to give you a big ‘F-U!’ Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
70.3: Swim is controlled and smooth (remember that slow is smooth, smooth is fast), Bike is at z2, Run, first four miles is at z2 (about 10 beats higher than what you were averaging on the bike in Z2 the last 30′), after that just race.
Marathon: Once you’re done with your first four miles, then you should be able to feel your pace. You should know what Z2 feels like by now. But if you don’t think you have a good feel for that, try asking yourself this question every four miles: “Can I go faster?” If the answer is yes, you’re at the perfect pace – do not go faster. If the answer is ‘No’…back it off a tad and then reassess the question. Every 4 miles. If you get to mile 20-22 and the answer is still yes, this is the time to then let yourself push it just a tad each mile. Just test it out.
70.3: Bike – Oh gee my HR is at z3 the first 15′ (trust me, you’re still ok here), but you will slow it down and get it under control. Z2. Off the bike, it should feel stupid slow. If you run your first four miles at your goal pace you’re going to be walking most likely towards the end. You need to allow your nervous system to shift gears here. Allow the body to adjust to the new demands. That’s why you stick to Z2 for the first 4 miles. After that you can start to dial it in to what you think you can do. Just like the marathoner above? You have to continually ask yourself if you can go faster. If so, stay where you are, if not, go slower. Once you reach that 10 mile mark, and your answer is still a yes? Go for it. Or what I like to say ‘GIDDY-UP!’
3. Both Athletes: Run each mile at a time. Think about the important things that you can control. Smile. Breathe. And just be grateful to be out there.
Even in perfect conditions we humans can screw up a perfectly good race. I’ve done it before, and guess what? I’ve got some great stories to tell, but also more importantly I’ve learned what kind of races are not good for me if I want to perform well.