Tale of Two Races
Sometimes it all comes together in running. Sometimes, if you're prepared, it comes together twice. This is the tale of two races where despite totally different approaches, the end result was the same.
I ran a half marathon using a 20 week plan divided into 4 phases with a taper period. It was the high mileage, high intensity type of plan that has been really successful in my running development. Starting with hills and moving to tempos and extended interval sessions with form drills included, I was running at least 40 miles a week with three event specific intensity running workouts and ran two times a day twice a week. Knowing that the course is typically windy I ran most speed work into the wind on a 3/4 mile long abandoned Navy airstrip to get ready for the anticipated conditions. I also found a hill similar in grade to the only uphill on the course and tried to run it at about the same time of a workout that I thought I would be running it during the race. I also ran all of the workouts in the 4th training phase in the exact clothing and shoes I planned on using, used the same fueling pattern down to specific flavors of gu at exact times at race pace, practiced drinking at the right times and speed and ran most of the sessions by myself at the time of day the race would be held so that I knew I could run at pace by myself if I wasn't in a pack during the race. I also diligently weighed myself, had a fairly strict diet, got 8 hours of sleep every night, lifted and did yoga and core work on alternate days and extensively studied the course even though I knew it from having run the race many times before. Finally knowing I was running this for both time and place, I developed an A, B, and C race goal plan that not only included my plans but incorporated how I planned to respond to and/or take advantage of my competitors' known strengths and weaknesses. Looking at the weather conditions during the week before, I was positive that I'd average between 7:50 and 7:55 per mile in the race and place well unless some wild card was inserted that I hadn't planned for.
We went down to the race a day early, sat in the room and watched baseball and I ate a preplanned meal. On race day I ate early, followed my prerace drinking plan, did an extensive warmup, changed into my matching racing attire and everything worked like I thought it would. Despite having to pretty much run side by side for the last 5 miles with another guy my age racing for place in our age group, the plan worked and I placed third in my age group, top 50 in the race and averaged 7:52 per mile. Pretty much right what I had worked for and planned to accomplish.
Six months later I ran a 10 miler in the same city and had a much different approach. Since I'd run that half earlier in the year, I'd also raced another half in early August. For the rest of August, all of September, and the first two weeks of October I didn't look at my watch at all and ran whatever speed I felt like running for as long as I felt like running. I was still averaging about 40 miles a week but was also stopping during runs to look at foxes, eagles, and chipmunks or running and talking with other people at their pace instead of being focused on running by myself. I did no speed work or intervals, ran no hills and didn't really taper much either. I ate whatever I wanted, stayed up late, and didn't even go near the airstrip.
Two nights before the race, I stayed up until 12am, then went down to the race a day early, walked about 6 miles, ate brats with saurkraut and hot mustard and garlic noodles, walked some more, got some fudge, walked a little more and went back to the room thinking about maybe getting some sleep. I didn't get up early to eat, followed no drinking plan, grabbed 3 random gu flavors and walked to the race. I wore totally non-matching gear, which if you know me is totally out of character, forgot my running water bottle and only did a marginal warmup primarily so I'd have a good reason to end up down by the good indoor bathrooms and not have to use the portapotties. I lined up around the 9 minute pace group because I figured that seemed about right.
From the beginning I knew, as most people who run a lot do, that this was going to be great and a fun race. I walked every water stop, ran 3 miles talking to another runner and moved up gradually through the field increasing my pace every mile and ended up making up a one minute fifty second gap between me and the guy in my age group that was running 3rd in the last two miles and turning it into a 20 second gap positive gap for me. Despite doing pretty much everything I tell people not to do if they want to race well, I improved both time and place from the previous year and had a great time doing it.
So what do I take from this tale of two races? First that if you want to run a really good time, you do need an extensively thought out and executed training plan. The plan let me run nearly 30 seconds faster per mile for the half than I did for the 10 miler. Second, it's okay, as shown by the 10 miler, to relax and do what you want because if you have a basic training base and miles in the tank it can be fun in a different way. The no plan reduced the stress to almost nothing and made training more free. Third, both ways worked for me and I'm going to do it again in the future.
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