Every runner knows the importance of proper pacing. To start conservatively at the correct pace as indicated by your training. However, when it comes to actually implementing this, countless runners fail in this regard. I have myself been guilty of this on more times than I can care to admit.
It’s well known that for every minute you try to run faster than your fitness in the first half of your race (the so called trying to bank time), you will lose two minutes in the second time due to hitting the wall, cramps, etc. In short, trying to bank time is a fool’s errand. It DOES. NOT. WORK.
Why then do so many runners fall for the temptation to go all guns blazing? With a big race coming up, let us analyze possible reasons why this happens.
1. Getting greedy
Your training has indicated that you may finish with a certain time. But as the race approaches, you start getting greedy. You start over-estimating your physical fitness and mental toughness. You look around in the running community and start comparing yourself to others who made a big jump in time, on a seemingly minimal training protocol.
In some cases, I have also known runners who get greedy just before the flag off, declaring that they will now start off for a much faster target time. Needless to say, things do not work out well for them.
2. Lack Of understanding of the correlation between training fitness and race times
Many runners do not understand how a particular level of training fitness will translate to race times. They often tend to over-estimate on the faster side.
Many runners also exhibit a distinct disconnect between their performances at shorter distances and their performances at longer distances. This happens due to endurance issue which itself is caused by a lack of proper and sufficient training.
Here is where having a coach can be invaluable. Having an unbiased and objective person to temper your expectations and set realistic goals is necessary so that you start out with the correct conservative pacing.
In most cases, your running partner and buddies will never tell you to target a slower time than what you are pumped up about. But a coach certainly would.
3. Lack Of Mental Focus
Your training has gone well, you have set a realistic yet challenging target time, and more importantly you stick to that target till the flag off. However, the instant the race is flagged off, you let yourself be dragged around. The adrenaline is pumping, your legs are fresh and springy, the race atmosphere is charged, runners around you are going faster. What happens? You board the express train, hoping it will take you to your destination.
That is a distinct lack of mental focus.
Succumbing to a sort of mob mentality.
A sure sign of not caring enough.
To be so careless and unfocused that you forget everything and let yourself “go with the flow”, to be “in the moment”. Yes it sounds very poetic, but challenging targets are not achieved on the back of poems.
They are achieved by a plan and focus and grit and sweat and sometimes blood. Yes this sounds poetic too, but this poem will give you a fighting chance to attain your target.
So, snap out of it. Focus on YOU, not on your surroundings.
Keep checking your effort level at the start. It should feel like you are crawling. It should feel as if you are going too slow. It should feel laughably easy.
Keep checking your GPS watch as an additional data point and shackle.
And then, after a few Ks of running conservatively, you will actually get into the CORRECT flow, then you can “be in the moment” all you want. Till the time it starts to hurt towards the end. Then you will again have to snap out of it, and mentally focus to block the pain and suffering.
Best of luck and happy racing!
-Coach Atul Godbole