Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Where Do We Go from Here?

I think it's hard to find the middle ground between being excited and ambitious about running and somehow staying in touch with reality. Lots of runners way underestimate what they can do because they're afraid to get hurt or afraid of being disappointed. They are afraid to go for it! But at the same time there are other runners who unrealistically expect this or that time when really they just aren't there yet. They are focused on this or that time goal and not so attuned with what is within their capacity. Me, I want something in the middle. I want to go for it and do my best and achieve the best I can in the time I dedicate to this sport. I want to work as hard as I can and dedicate myself as much as I can to do it. So, when it comes time to decide on a reasonable goal pace for an upcoming race, say a half-marathon in 5 days, how does someone like me figure out a reasonable target?

I asked my favorite running guru, mrp. Mrp said that it's not wise to first pick a time you want to run and then figure out if it's doable. He said it's better to start from where you left off--you're last race at the distance. Ok, so say I ran a 1:28:38 a little over three months ago. What have I done since then? Consistent relatively high mileage? Check. Quality workouts? Check. PR races? Check. Any reason to think I've gotten slower? I could come up with some, but it's silly. The answer is no! The only reason I might be slower is a bad day, bad weather, huge pacing error, injury, illness, hangover, possession, alien abduction midrace (although I think I have that one covered), etc. I KNOW I'm in better shape!

There's no way I could have successfully completed this past Saturday's workout in May. Before Saturday, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried that I wouldn't be able to successfully complete it now! Anyway, I told you how I switched to a more marathon-specific training schedule and I was a little worried that my new and improved long runs were going to kick my butt! Don't get me wrong, the run kicked my butt but it felt so good.

The goal was to do 18 miles, alternating between easy pace (~8:00) and marathon pace (6:52 because I'm an optimist like that). I was worried it was going to be one of those workouts where no matter how hard I try the goal pace just doesn't come. You know, where you feel like you're running your @$$ off sure you must be WAY under pace only to cruise in 10 seconds over. What a bummer those are!

But no, this was not one of those workouts. On Saturday morning at 6:15, mrp and I hopped in the car and headed for CVNP. Mrp was kind enough to offer his pacer duties and I was so happy to accept! We were off bright and early and it was cool enough that I could see my breath. A nice change of pace! The first mile was 8:16 which is about normal for my first mile on a morning run and the the first hard mile came and went in 6:49. But the kicker--it felt so easy! And on the workout went. 7:51, 6:55, 7:54, 6:52, 8:04, 6:48, 7:44, 6:49, 7:53, 6:48, 7:26, 6:47, 7:41, 6:43, 7:54, 6:49.

The hardest one was the third to last hard mile. It was more rolling than the others and had a long slight uphill section. This was the only one where mrp got a little distance on me, but after I recovered from the hill I focused on him and slowly and steadily caught back up to him just at the mile mark. Phew! By mile 17 my legs were pretty sore but the momentum of the workout carried me through and I pushed on and hit my last mile no problem. It was a great exercise in pacing, focus, even racing.

It's funny because in all my long runs I do a push at the end. I always feel like I'm putting in the same effort but some days the legs only give up a 7:20 and some days they give up a 6:50 (in their defense, they have given up far more 6:50's than 7:20's!). It's hard to trust them when they're this finicky. That's the one thing that keeps me from being too excited about Saturday's long run. Next time it might not go as well and there might not be much I can do about it. At least I know they can do what they're supposed to and they can feel good doing it. It is possible.

So, how much have I improved since the end of May? Stay tuned.

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