So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Three-Percent Solution


Boy, was THAT painful.  Probably the second-worst race I've ever run in my entire life.  The only one worse was a four-miler I tried to run while suffering from an upper respiratory infection/chest cold/creeping crud...at the same time of the year.

I definitely cannot lay the blame for a lousy race performance at the feet of November.  I've had great races in autumns past; residue of good training and race fitness.  Neither of the above are things which I've had for - heck, a while.

This weekend's Tyler Jefferson Memorial 5K was a test event for this coach, and one he miserably failed if not graded on a curve.  I knew I wasn't going to have a replay of last year's Metairie Cemetary 5K "Run Through History" result, but I didn't think I would run THAT poorly.  Since late May I have had the ability to amble and ramble for 90 minutes to two hours, to laugh and solve the world's problems over the course of 7-or-8 miles.

But that ain't training.

Everyday fitness and runner fitness, much less (5K) race fitness, are two different physiological states.  Seven-minute pieces with one-minute recoveries will get you (comfortably?) to the first mile split, after which either reality sets in (your brain asks for your 'recovery piece...') and the remaining two miles or so become very, uh, entertaining.

I did mention "graded on a curve," right?  In this case, let's say my raw score was failing, but because the overwhelming majority of my fellow participants were as badly unprepared for running more than 1.5 miles as I (typical active-duty military "three-mile-a-year-club" members) I managed to pull a passing grade out of my running shorts.

Have you ever heard the maxim: "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king?"
In this case, I raced a more-smart race than a handful of my fellow competitors because I knew EVERY LAST INCH of the course, every turn, and every tangent.  Before I started to measure courses I took the time and effort to look at the course map provided at packet pick-up.  Brian McMahon taught me how to run tangents on a race course, and it's a lesson I've retained for the last ten years.

You can't go into a road race, shut your mind off & expect to run your best. Smart pacing & smart training will keep a racer in the pack with their peers, but precious seconds can be wasted or gained in a road race by knowing the course & running the shortest possible distance.

There aren't many races I run not on a certified course. I want to know the distance is reasonably accurate (USATF says this is "not short"). This way I can tell how well my training has progressed (or in this case, digressed) over time. When I show up for a race, I can guarantee I will be asked two questions:

- Is the course certified?  When it comes to Pensacola and some of the surrounding area, if I am at the race, the answer is "yes."

- Did I measure the course?  I teach other persons to measure, or at least to understand what I do, so they can educate the local running populace.  If the race is local, the answer is also most likely "yes."

Worst of all, after a race, runners will confront me and say their GPS receiver showed the course to be too long.  I can choose to launch into a highly-technical (and highly-boring) discussion of USATF protocols and GPS limitations, or save my $25 entry fees and drink coffee at home.  Life's too short for me to to let others treat me shabbily.

But back to my "grading on a curve..."  I spent the latter half of the race dragging young Sailors along the shortest possible distance they could legally take on the course.  Some people may say it's an unfair advantage.  I like to call it "free speed."

I explained this to a younger race participant, one of whom were amazed to find out just how inefficiently he might have run that morning.  I used a standard 400-meter track as an example:
- The width of one lane of a standard 400-meter running track is 1.25 meters.
- An athletic track lane distance calculator (http://www.brianmac.co.uk/tracklane.htm) shows the distance around a 400-meter track, in lane three (3.75 meters out from the inside rail) is 415.71 meters.
- Multiply the additional distance by 12.5 (the number of laps in a 5,000 meter track race) and the total distance is 5,196.375 meters.
- The width of one lane of a two-lane roadway with a shoulder is approximately 3.75 meters, a little over 12 feet in width. So you can add up to an additional 200 meters of distance to run if you're one lane of road out from the tangent...50-60 seconds additional time.  How many of us would like to drop up to a minute off our 5K time?

A set of legs, a heart & lungs in the best of shape can be defeated by a brain that's not prepared on race day. Know the turns on the course, run the tangents, take up to three-percent off your performance...without additional training.

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