This comes off of the previous post (Run) but I got so into it that it kind of took on a force of its own. At first I was trying to just briefly describe the difficulty of running to a pace. Maybe it’s an old school way to think, just because I haven’t done anything else in so long, but I think everyone when racing needs to go in with a goal pace. Not only that, but it should probably be something realistic. It should be something that can be attained, but improved upon during the actual event. As such it gets to be really hard to find the spots of a race to stick to the pace, or the times when you have to push a little bit harder. Of course, an even pace would be ideal, but a race is anything but balanced.
I think I’ve figured out the trick, though, to the pace. In college, while running an 8k race, you would instead split it into five miles: relax, run, race, fight, finish. As long as you hit the second step, I always found it a good way to run. For the amateur world of adult road racing, the same system can be used with just a little more organization.
First, you need to run. In a college competition the majority of people are on a similar level. You can go out towards the middle of the pack and know it won’t take long to reach the front. You don’t need to think the moment a gun goes off because you’re only running in a reflective crowd of you on your best and worst days. In the real world, the moment you relax you get sucked up behind all the hobby joggers. If you start out at an easy pace, not near the front, you’ll instantly lose half a minute. On the same line, you have to be careful. There are also a bunch of idiots who think the pace they start will be the pace they finish. If you go out too fast to avoid the regulars, these pace pushers will stick right behind you throwing off your rhythm until you’re both dropping off too soon. No, the beginning of a road race takes you at your most normal level, running like any other tempo workout, ignoring what you’re doing for the first kilo of two.
By the third kilo I think you need to race. It’s necessary to be hitting your goal splits by this point. If you’re falling behind you’ve gotta push it more, if you’re far ahead you’ve gotta start rationing your energy. This is less a physical change than a mental one. If you’re not already in the mood to win, or do your best, then you’ll be screwed. If you’re strategy isn’t already in order you’ve only got another two minutes to figure it out. By this point every behind you has fallen off, and everyone around you is sticking to their pace. You’ve got to figure out a way to pick of the leaders.
This brings us to the most exciting point in a 10k, the relief, the turnaround, the halfway point. Here you fight. It may seem early, but if you can look at the glass half full — the race half over — you can crush your opponents. Any surge or position change will absolutely devastate anyone who can’t keep up. For your own mentality, you’ll be pushed into a new gear. It will be painful, and seem crazy, but your body will maintain it.
So despite your mind screaming, “You know four kilometers is actually a lot farther than you think. That’s a whole thirteen minutes!” your body won’t have the capacity to slow down. Any hint of moving slower means admitting defeat, and your legs will avoid that at all cost. By this point, six and a half kilometers, you just need to relax. You need to suck in the breath of fresh outdoor air and do the math again. Pretty soon it’ll be ten minutes, and that’s just eight times around a track for most high school students. You can be better than most high school students. Suck in that air, ignore the paranoid sounds of steps approaching behind you, and relax.
But only for like, twenty seconds.
Now you need to focus on the end. It’s finish that comes here because like race you still need a strategy. The end is still to far away to just will yourself into winning. With the remaining kilometers you need to pay attention to your body, the course, and those paranoid steps that might just actually be approaching. Not preparing for an open valley with wind pushing you back five seconds could wipe away the potential energy needed for a final kick. How many water stations are left and will you need to stop at any of them? I always like to use those as moments to gauge the distance between me and the person behind me. More than America, Japanese spectators make sure to cheer for every participant at every moment. So the moment of silence from when you pass by to their next cheers let’s you know how close the next runner is on your tail.
The last leg starts the moment you see that 1k remaining sign. It’s like that scene from the Two Towers when Gandalf shows up on the hillside. Sure, you’ve still got a battle, but at least it seems winnable. This is how you go for the last three minutes, pushing whatever energy is let through your heart into your veins and down your legs. I’ve found the distance that you can kick increases equally with the distance of your race. For a 1500 (where you’re always kicking) it’s the last two hundred. In a two mile, it’s the final lap. For a cross country 5k there’d always seem to be the same guy standing on the side of the path exactly eight hundred meters out yelling at me to go. For a road race its this final sign, the signal to go with all your might and wipe out the distance between you and your goal.
Run. Race. Fight. Relax. Finish. Fight (part II).