Keeping pace key to race
Did you see the Olympic women’s marathon two Sundays ago?
If you didn’t, you missed an awesome race.
Deena Kastor had a perfect pre-race plan given the heat and hills in Athens, and then carried it out exactly as she intended, culminating in her third-place, bronze-medal finish, only the second Olympic marathon medal ever won by an American woman.
What an inspiring race, especially when she came from far back to move into third place with less than a mile to go, then hit the track at the Olympic stadium and broke into tears. Reading about it the next day, it turned out she hadn’t known for sure what place she was in until she heard the stadium announcer, and that’s when she lost it.
And watching her cry tears of joy on her way around the track to the finish, I almost did, too.
The most impressive aspect of her race was that she ran the second half about four minutes faster than the first, even though it had about six miles mostly uphill. After three miles, Kastor was in 28th place and then continued to work her way slowly up through the leaders.
Every time the announcers checked on her status, almost as an afterthought, Kastor was a place or two higher, until it finally became obvious she had a shot at a medal.
Kastor ran the fastest second half of the women’s marathon of any competitor that day.
What was most brilliant about her race was the pacing.
Most runners make the mistake of going out too fast and dying, finishing much slower than they started.
A good running friend of mine from the Sacramento area (and top age group runner at 39, almost into the age graded national class ranking at 5K and the mile), Jerry Dodge, and I were discussing the importance of pacing recently.
We shake our heads at all the runners who go out too hard and then pay in races by suffering through the latter stages.
Almost everyone knows that the best way to run a race is evenly paced or a faster second half.
So why do so many go out too fast?
There are a number of reasons, the most common being the adrenaline rush of the start, not wanting to get boxed in (caught up in the crowd), feeling good (not being tired yet), and not wanting to fall behind other runners.
Yet, if you’ve ever tried it, there is a great deal of fun in starting out a bit slower and then passing other runners. It’s a great feeling to know you are feeling (relatively) strong when the racers in front are fading and coming back to you. A feeling of exhilaration and excitement comes over you as you move your way up closer to the front.
So, get an idea of what kind of pace you can reasonably expect to run in an upcoming race (also taking into account the hills on the course, if any) through some track work, then apply that in the race.
As an example, in a 5K race, it’s okay to start out a bit faster in the first mile than you expect to average, maybe 5 to 10 seconds. Then, for most runners, that middle mile tends to be a bit slower than the average as fatigue starts to set in and consciously (or subconsciously) there is some energy saved for the last mile.
And that’s when, if you have run a reasonable pace for the first two miles, the fun starts. Even though you may be tired, if you are on pace for your goal and have worked hard, but not too hard, your training and mental toughness kick in, along with the excitement of knowing you don’t have too far to go.
Let’s face it, no runner wants to finish a race and feel they could have run significantly better. We all want to give it a good effort within our race plan and goals, and be happy with the results until the next race. And racing goals are most often reached with fairly even pacing or running the last half faster than the first.
Just ask Deena Kastor. Her Olympic marathon medal-winning race was as good an example as you’ll ever see of how important pacing is, and how much good it can do for you if you stick with it regardless of what (or who) is going on around you.
Steve Bond is a local competitive runner who writes a column every other week for The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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