Sunday, October 7, 2012

Overanalyze Much?

I have basically been thinking about the marathon 24/7 since my last post, unless I'm at work, sleeping, or eating.  I'm amazed I've managed to hold off blogging about it until now.  I'm trying to figure out a reasonable goal time, and what kind of pacing strategy I'm going to use to get there.  Oh, and making a race music playlist on the side as well.

Before I can set a goal, I have to decide what kind of race I want to run.  Do I want to do my absolute best and lay it all on the line and leave my guts on the course?  That route has the potential for some major glory at the end, but is guaranteed to be a hard race, and has the chance of leaving me bonked and with a finish time worse than it would have been if I had just run conservatively from the start.  It would also require careful planning and pacing, to run the most efficient race possible.

Or, do I want to enjoy myself and run an easy pace for the whole race?  Trust my training, and let the time come as it may?  Perhaps even leave my Garmin at home?  This minimizes my chances of having a miserable time at the race, but also minimizes my chances at a PR, and makes my chances of a sub 10:00 min/mile average pace basically nil.

Or of course there is probably something in between those two extremes...

I've been reading up on the topic, and here are some interesting tidbits I found:

"Because the marathon distance is so extreme, few runners are able to effectively pace their way through a marathon entirely by feel, as they do in shorter races. You have to hold so much back when running a marathon that the early miles feel very easy--so easy that you could run five or ten seconds per mile faster or slower and it would not feel noticeably harder or easier. But a pace difference of just five or 10 seconds per mile in the first half of a marathon could make the difference between hanging on and falling apart in the second half. So choosing an appropriate time goal, which in turn gives you an appropriate target pace, is very important. " (Source)

Totally agree.  And THAT is exactly why I am analyzing the hell out of this, and trying to decide on a good goal.

"The marathon distance is so extreme that it somewhat exceeds your brain's calculative powers. Consequently, as I suggested above, you can't pace yourself entirely by feel in a marathon as you may do in shorter events. Instead you need to pace yourself initially by paying attention to actual pace data. Only after passing the halfway mark can you safely go by feel, running the remaining distance at the fastest pace possible and using pace data only to monitor your pace rather than to actually control it."  (Source, same as above, and he does elaborate further and suggests hitting your target pace exactly for the first half, and then going by feel the second half.)

The thing is, I know I don't run well like that.  I have never had a good race by jumping on the target pace right off the bat.  I have to go slower at the start, get a good warmup, and then it's so much easier to cruise at a faster pace later in the race.  I found a good article here that describes it better than I can.  They suggest running 5 miles at 15 seconds per mile SLOWER than target pace, then 14 miles at 5 seconds per mile  FASTER than target pace, and then the final 6.2 miles at target pace exactly.  Sounds like a reasonable plan to me!  Of course that doesn't solve the problem of picking a reasonable target pace in the first place....

Let's see what kind of numbers we're working with here, shall we?

I've narrowed it down to 4:21:45 (9:59 min/mile) to 4:35:00 (10:29 min/mile) as my goal time window.  The entire window is fairly aggressive since anything in that range would be a marathon PR, and the slowest pace would be about 10:30 min/mile, which is faster than most of my long runs have been this training cycle. (Long runs shown in table to right, excluding three long races of 30K, 10mi, 10mi).  I'm just not going to be happy if I don't PR this race.  My current marathon best is 4:35:25 in 2006, and that is on shoddy non-marathon-specific training.  (Longest run was 14 miles 1.5 months prior to the race, and I registered for the race at the expo the day before!)  It was also my first ever marathon.  So yeah, I should be able to do better than that.

  • "A" Goal: 4:21:45.  This time was chosen because it is the slowest possible time that gives me sub-10:00 min/mile.  9:59.  There is something about running less than a 10:00 pace that says "Hey, you're kinda legit".   It gives me a lot of street cred because a lot of my "I ran a 5K once" casual runner friends run about a 10:00 pace for a 5K.  This was more of a long-term goal slash pipe dream, but after some analysis (more on that later), I feel like it is possible at this race.  Though it may mean leaving my guts on the course/risking a bad bonk/not walking for a week.  
  • "B" Goal: 4:25:00.  10:06 min/mile pace.  This was chosen because it's a round number and because I have some recent longish races that predict that I should be able to do this, even though they were on less than ideal courses (hills and/or heat).  The fact that Freep is cool and mostly flat should give me some extra buffer time to play with and still come in under this goal.  
  • "C" Goal: 4:30:00.  10:18 min/mile pace.  I kind of love this goal.  I'm confident I can pull this off, barring bad luck (GI issues, injury, etc).  My 20 miler pace was better than this, which is the only long run I've done where I didn't stop the timer for bathroom or water breaks.  On the other hand, my 20 miler was a hard effort, and I had a girl to run with and pace off of, which I may not have at the marathon. 
  • "D" Goal:  4:35:00 to just squeak in for a PR.  Nuff said there. 

I think the "smart" thing to do would be to start with the 4:30 pacer, and run easy with him for 10 miles or so, then, kick it up a bit for the back of the race, pacing by feel, and try to bring it in under my B goal of 4:25.  The thing is, I just can't shake that feeling that I should go for the gold and try to get my A goal.  There are two reasonable McMillan predictions that say I can do it: 
Marathon predicted finish times based on recent race performances from the calculator at

 The Martian Half and the Detroit Half both predict that I should be able to come in under my "A" goal of 4:21:45 for a full marathon.  Those are my most similar courses and temps to what I expect this year at Detroit.  The bad thing is that they are the LEAST recent of the races I used to predict finish times.  But they are also the only two of the races listed that were actually "goal" races that I was training specifically for, like this one.  My 5 mi tempo pace is the same as it was just before the Detroit half (8:55min/mile), and I feel like I have done much more quality training for this marathon than I did for Martian or Detroit halves.

I know I can't start with the 4:20 pacer.  I need a warmup, and I will almost certainly freak out and/or bonk later in the race if I try to start with her.  If I start with her and use up all my gas early, there's no turning back and saving the race.  It could end in disaster.

After some ruminating, I'm now 100% sure I'm starting behind the 4:30 pacer.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  For one, if I start behind him, pass him, and then 25 miles later when I'm dying, he passes me right before the finish, all I have to do is keep up with him and I'll finish under 4:30.  He'll be like a sign-carrying warning that I'm blowing my goals, before it's too late.  If, on the other hand, I start in front of him, say with the 4:25 pacer, and then he passes me at the end, keeping up with him isn't good enough.  I'd have to finish ahead of him by at least the same amount of time I started ahead of him at the beginning (chip time, yo), and who the heck knows how far that would be?

This thought led to me developing a variety of race strategies, all based on a 10:18 pace at the start.  (Even though I could start faster and pass him right away, since the only requirement is that I cross start line behind him, I feel like not thinking about my pace for a bit and just using him to warmup can't be a bad thing.)

The 4:35 time goal has a nice cushion built in allowing for failure to speed up after the first 6 miles and bonking the last 6 miles :)  If that's what happens then I guess that means that 10:18 pace was a bad choice for the start!! 
Super!  So now I know I can run with the 4:30 pacer for 6 miles and still meet any of my goals, and I know what paces I have to hit afterward to make each goal.  Please note that I'm not planning on staring at my watch and trying to hit these paces mile after mile on race day.  This was just an exercise to see what was possible with a fixed start, and to get a feel for what kind of paces I'd need thereafter for each goal.  I'll run by feel for the 14 cruise miles, and then see where I am in the "grand scheme" at mile 20 and try to hang on and pick a goal for the last 6.  

You think that was bad?  After I did that, I got to thinking that I should share my pace calculator tool that I made with my readers.  And then I thought, "What if they want to split the course into different distances?".  "What if they want more than three 'legs'?"  Really, I should consider changing the splits myself, to coincide more with the course.  Mile 7 isn't the best place to speed up since it's right before the big uphill to come out of the tunnel.

Oh, that reminds me, I also made a list of elevation "issues" and fluid stops and where I'm going to stop and drink or have a GU.  (See right).  The "Aid" column lists the mile marker of the fluid stations.  If there is a ** by the number, that means I'm going to down a GU (carrying my own).  The !! means don't walk but grab a sip, because it's too far to the next one to skip entirely, but too close to the last one to actually walk through it.  (I'm walking through my water stations).  The ones that are struckthrough are fluid stations that I plan on skipping.  I'm aiming to walk and drink about every two miles.  The "Elev" column indicates hills.  A 2.5 means the uphill of the Ambassador bridge is at mile 2.5 (approx).  Similarly, T 7.5 is for the tunnel.  B is "bump" for steep but short hills that showed up on the elevation chart.  G is a gradual slight incline that I decided warranted inclusion.  Please note that the fluid station list I used says "2011" at the top, so I'm not sure if it's accurate.  I'll update my copy if it changes, but my point is that you shouldn't use this as your "official" aid station list.

Sorry for the little detour there.  Back to a more flexible finish time calculator to share with you:

I ended up making a spreadsheet that gives YOU, my lucky reader, the option of specifying up to 5 "legs" of the marathon, of any distances and paces you choose, and it will list the splits and total time out for you, which  you can then print and make into a pace band if you so desire.  (Cover it in tape to "laminate" it for sweat protection, and then either tape it together on as a bracelet on race day, or punch holes in the ends and use a rubber band to connect the ends to make it "removable". )

Here's a screen shot of another example race strategy I could use.  I only used 3 legs again, but changed the distances of the legs.  You could use all 5 legs if you wanted to.
Want it?  Of course you do.  Because runners are all insane like me.  No?  Well, surely some of you are.  Anyway, I'm pretty sure nobody's actually read this far down, so I'm going to link to this tool in a separate post just for that purpose.  If you did actually read this far and want it now, here you go:

  • Microsoft Excel Version (.xlsx) : Made on Excel 2008 for Mac, so there may be minor formatting issues, but it should work.  I think.  
  • Google Spreadsheet Version : when you open this it will be read-only, so go to "File" --> "Make a Copy" to save copy to your own Google Drive where you can modify it with our desired leg lengths and their respective paces.   
After all of that....I'm still not sure if I have a plan for this race.  All I know for sure is that I'm starting behind the 4:30 pacer.  I am most likely running with him for at least 5 miles, possibly more.  After that, who knows?  If I'm overestimating my ability, I may end up slowing down.  If I'm feeling great, I may be able to comfortably "cruise" through the middle at 9:50 and maybe actually hit my A goal of sub 10:00 min/mile.  I hope to try to find somebody to latch on to and hopefully talk to for the cruise miles.  That really helped on my 20 miler.  

I still need to figure out which shoes to wear, what clothes to wear (and toss), and what music to listen to.  Fun stuff.  I don't think I'll have any problem filling my time off in the days leading up the race. :)  


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