Train Smart, Race Smart: Three Essential Race Day Lessons

Today I am sporting my 2016 Akron Half Marathon finisher shirt (one of my favorite shirts and one of my favorite races). This is a race that, by my own standards, I completed bombed. I set the unrealistic goal of a sub-2 hour half, and when I went out of the date alongside the 2:00 pacer, I was dead within the first mile.

Disappointing to say the least, but of course, I learned a few lessons.

Lesson 1: Keep your easy runs easy. Every well-known, reputable running coach will tell you that the key to running faster is running slower during scheduled easy miles. Of course, “slow” is subjective – but the typical benchmark is about 1-2 minutes slower than race pace. Another benchmark is making sure you stick to the endurance HR zone.

It’s tougher than you may think to truly stick to this (very important) rule governed by the science behind improving your running. When the weather is just right and your legs are full of energy and you’ve had a good night’s sleep, why not go faster? Because if you run your scheduled easy miles at race pace, you risk injury and burnout. Trust me.

Easy miles are not “junk miles.” They serve the purpose of allowing you to stay on your feet more because the way to run faster is to increase your endurance by running more miles, and you can’t run more miles (at least not injury free) if you’re Sea Biscuit during every workout.

 

Lesson 2: Running economy is more important than looking cute when you want to PR. One of the ways runners perform faster during races is by increasing their running economy. Believe it or not, you can go faster if you dress the right way and eliminate anything unnecessary from hanging on your body (running belts that hold five water bottles, for example – get rid of it because you won’t drink it all anyway). Race shirts are cute, but if they’re thick cotton, don’t wear them during races because they will slow you down. Same with pants. Wear pants/shorts/capris that are close to your skin (and moisture wicking).

The best, most elite runners know this (which is why they all look practically naked when they run!). Funny story: during the Olympic games a while back, some runners were instructed to wear special hoods that stopped their hair from blowing in the wind and kept their ears close to their heads. It was a flop because they ended up disqualified since they couldn’t hear the official signals underneath their big ol’ hoods (cue laughing), but this should show you that running economy is actually a thing that you should pay attention to.

During Akron 2016, I wore a baggier t-shirt. I wasn’t going to PR anyway (see lesson 1 above), but the bulkiness was a pain and I can see how it would cut down on running economy.

 

Lesson 3: Don’t be unrealistic halfway through the race – what’s done is done as far as pace (did not rhyme on purpose; I swear!). When I was at the halfway point during Akron 2016 and saw how behind I was for a sub 2, I thought, “well maybe if I run 8 minute miles the rest of the way, I can pull it off.”

My ONE MILE PR is 7:29 and I nearly killed myself doing it…

…so, needless to say, an 8:00/mile pace was unrealistic AF. I should have just run the rest of the race at a comfortable pace instead of trying to force myself to run a pace I wasn’t even capable of.

 

I love running so much because it constantly teaches me things about myself: my perceptions, the way I set goals, how I should and shouldn’t train, that I can embrace the struggle, and so much more. Looking forward to my next half marathon in November. My current half PR is 2:15:38, and that is a pace of 10:20/average (I was also running hills and took walk breaks). On Saturday, I ran at 10:45 pace and it was pretty comfy. Guys, I think I *might* have a shot at PRing at my next half (which is totally flat!)…

Stay tuned.

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