After months of conjecture, rumor, innuendo, and even a small amount of smack-talk from people who work on the first floor of my office building, the inevitable has happened.
It has absolutely nothing to do with a pay raise, or a change in employment; both of these would be quite cool, if you know what I mean. But it seems to have to do with what is supposed to happen some time down the road. It must have been important enough for my supervisor to "encourage" me to postpone or cancel the study skills seminar I teach each week. And, as we approached this morning the tension seemed a touch more palpable in my little office.
Yesterday morning, my buddy Jon "Dixie" Clark was kind enough to post a photo up on his social networking site wall. I'm not going to give you the entire description, except for this: Every once in a while the judicious use of vulgarity can lighten a situation. To quote a line from the late, great George Carlin: "Laugh? I thought I was going to die." I shot a copy to my printer and posted it on the "I love me wall" section of my work-space, in between a framed photo of Suzanne and me and a CCC 10K "No Parking" sign. Perfect.
The evening before the poster was posted, my friend Tina was wrestling with a choice of going to a bible study on the book of St. James, or staying in because of the lousy weather. I shot her a one-sentence synopsis of the book: "Quit listening. Start doing." If St. James were around right now, he might have said something like the poster caption before asking people to "be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath..." Okay. Maybe not with that one word. The prevailing attitude check from this little marmoset, or lemur...whatever the creature is...has adapted my attitude toward stuff in the past day or so. I sat through a formal review of a training course's documents with a smile on my face.
How many times do we start looking into the somewhat murky crystal ball of future races and end up tying ourselves around the axle? Or, as we're standing in the crowd listening to the strains of the "Star Spangled Banner," we can feel the effects of the endocrine cocktail course through our veins...and know there's not a thing we can do to stop it. The gun goes off and we - as my old coach used to say - take the stupid pill. We blow through the first mile or two at an astounding pace; we're trying to think about how to slow down at the first mile split, we're praying to slow down after the second one. And our prayers get answered not long afterward, usually in a bad way. For someone running a 5K this might be a little painful, anything longer than that is a whole new world of terror.
Planning in the macro sense of a long-term training plan and taper leading into the target race can ease the "oh my gosh, I'm x number of weeks out from the Pig's Knuckle Half Marathon and I'm never going to be ready..." feeling. Lower-priority, shorter-distance races can make some of the dreary training mileage seem less so. There's nothing like a training event where someone else has measured the training loop and provided the refreshments along the way...oh, and no need to worry about all that pesky traffic which drives us all a little goofy. Did I mention no lack of motivation or company?
Micro-planning, especially for the target race, can provide that sense of "I've thought of every possible contingency for the day; bring on the gun." As an example, Marathon Nation's Coach Patrick McCrann asks his athletes to do two plans: A pacing plan for the race itself, with a goal of running a negative split; and a preparation plan, covering nutrition, hydration, clothing, supplementation, physical rest, mental rest and family support, for three days leading into and one day post-race.
The pacing plan McCrann has developed breaks the race into three areas, approximating the first 25 percent, the middle 50, and the last 25 percent of the race distance. Each athlete knows what their goal pace is for that particular race distance, based on the VDOT score which they tested at the beginning of (and re-test on occasion during) their training cycle. The first 25 percent of the race is run at a pace about five-to-ten seconds slower than their target pace; the next 50 percent increases the pace until they've returned to an average pace which equals their target. The last 25 percent is planned by the individual athlete to either maintain target pace or - if they feel good - a little faster than target. From personal experience, I can tell you finishing a race at a faster pace than I started hurts as much as finishing the other way around. But it's a good hurt.
Shorter races, such as the 5K, benefit from a warm-up up to about 15 minutes before the gun. My former Emerald Coast Racing Team mates and I were notorious for running up to nine miles during the course of a race day: Two-to-three miles of easy jogging and some striders at faster than race pace, the race itself, then up to three miles of easy running to cool down. I forgot about how many miles we put in during race day until my friend George reminded me a couple of weeks ago. We were young...younger. And that 10-to-15-minute window meant your heart rate was still a little up before the gun. You took a little edge off, but not too much. And if you ran the course you got a close look at where you needed to be running at a particular point.
So, asking yourself a few questions about what you're going to do leading into the day, how you want to pace yourself, and what you plan to do should things go awry will keep you from going out like one of the Light Brigade...and becoming the next occupant of the Tomb of the Unknown Rabbit.