A lot of people like to do training races in their lead up to key races. It’s definitely a good idea.
Fair enough, but I think we should have the same definition for this to work properly, and since I’m the coach, my definition is the one we will use.
That said, I prefer to call them tune-up races, not training races.
To me, all races need to be viewed as rehearsals for the main event for which you are training. That includes:
- Goal setting
- Dealing with the nerves
- Focusing before, during and after the race
- Objective assessment
Some people work well on lots of rest the day before a race, others work on a bit of rest the day before, others’ need to do something very short and intense. You need to figure out what works for you.
The negative split is when the second half of the race is faster than the first half. If you go out slowly enough, this is not hard to do, but the time may not reflect your potential if you went too slowly. Aim for 1-5 seconds per kilometer faster on the second half. This is generally the least painful, but harderst to actually do.
The even split is when both halves are the same time. To me, this implies you could have gone faster—you may have been holding back on the second half to get the even split and could have pushed a bit harder.
The positive split is the easiest of them all to do—go out hard and get slower as you go. It’s quite natural. However, there is a way to do it properly: plan where that slow down is going to happen. Generally, you can use the table below to help you know how hard to go to positive split a race.
|RACE DISTANCE||TREAT IT LIKE (km)||TREAT IT LIKE (TIME)|
|5k||4.5k race||90% of goal time|
|10k||9k race||90% of goal time|
|Half marathon||19k race||90% of goal time|
|Marathon||35k race||80% of goal time|
Another version of the positive split is the little known “I-know-I-can-go-this-long-at-this-pace-and-I’ll-almost-be-done-so-I’ll-suck-it-up-to-the-end” approach. This option requires a lot of confidence and a true willingness to suffer, as well as an indepth knowledge of your level of fitness, mixed with a bit of optimism.
As an example, it could go like this: let’s say you’re a 50min 10k runner. Based on training, you have a very good feeling that you can run 45min quite hard, but you know you can’t run 10k in that time. So, you plan to run 45min hard, knowing you may or may not quite get to 45min still in one piece, but that you’ll at worst get to 42min. All you have to do is hang on for a maximum of 8 minutes, right? Who knows, you may get to 46-47minutes and not have to hold on for long at all. You plan for it, and accept it.
Here, it really depends on the individual, because everyone is different. However, there are some general guidelines that you should follow:
If you regularly have coffee, have your coffee
I have found it best to approach every race with the intent to do the best I can. For example, if you go into an event with a ‘training pace’ mentality, you are giving yourself permission to back off if things get tough. If you do that often enough, it becomes very easy to give yourself permission to back off. When it comes time to really push in your major race, you’re not in the habit of pushing through the discomfort so you not only have to deal with the discomfort, but the urge to back off that you’ve given into previously.
However, if you view the event as a tune up race, you tend to take it more seriously and try harder, but don’t have quite the same pressure as you would if it was your key race for the season.
That said, your best effort is directly related to your set up before the race—if the race really is not that key, you don’t need to be 100% rested on the start line so you can train the days before.
The best effort comes into play when the warm-up starts and the gun goes off.
The training part is what you learn from the experience, both positive and negative, and how you deal with that new knowledge.
Examples of approaching things as training races my way are plentiful.
A few years ago, a client’s’ half marathon best time (set two years in a row, for that matter) was after riding 70k from Sharbot Lake to Kingston, with full intentions to ride back after the race (which he did). There was no backing off there.
The first time another client broke 1:30 for a half marathon was also after a 70k ride from Sharbot Lake to Kingston. Again, no backing down from the challenge.
Years ago, a whole gang rode 70k then did the Nordion 10k, woke up the next morning, rode 90k then ran the National Capital Half Marathon, all with very good results and not holding back anything they did not need to hold back.
My point is, when the gun goes off, blink and turn your focus on full tilt. Do the best you can. You never know what will happen.
The concept that each race is a learning experience can easily be extended to each and every workout (and by workout, I mean primarily interval/group workouts). Each one is a reflection of the preparation for a race.
Additonally, when you are doing the interval work, you have to focus on what you are doing in the workout and notice/know how fast you are going so that you can translate that into a race. For example, you have to know what it feels like to run your real 5k race pace in a workout so you can translate that over to the race. There is less of a benefit to running a workout and not focusing on how you are actually running, swimming or cycling the workout.
Realizing you have been running too fast for the previous kilometer or two is often too late. The damage has been done. The sooner you can correct poor pacing, the better your race will be, so if you can feel that the pace is too fast before the kilo markers, you can adjust before the damage is done, or at least limit it.
The Mind Game
The psychology of racing well, and to your potential, is theoretically very simple: stay relaxed, put your head down, pace yourself properly and go as hard as you think you can handle for the distance. Focus on the race, your form, your body and not much else.
Yet it can also be very complex at the same time: it requires a good measure of self confidence and focus. You can have too much or too little, or just enough. If you have too much, things will be tough. If you have too little, you may not achieve as much as you’d really like. Finding the balance is key, especially when that balance point keeps moving 🙂
Having the right level of confidence means that you can say to yourself, “unless something drastic and unforeseen happens, I know I can do this, and since it would be drastic and unforeseen, therefore out of my control, I won’t think about it”. The only questions to be answered after the gun goes off are how long it will take, and how long it will hurt for.
There are two big tricks in harnessing your confidence:
1) setting realistic goals; and,
2) having a healthy respect for the race itself.
In the first case, setting your race goals should be a realistic assessment of your abilities and the circumstances around the race.
- Ask yourself if you’ve done anything in training or previous races that justifies your goal. An honest answer helps a lot.
- Ask yourself if everything is as it should be in your preparation: sleep, fuel, state of restedness, weather. All these need to be factored in, but will also probably change from race to race..
In the second trick, not having a healthy respect for the challenge will get you in trouble every time. Tell-tale signs of this are:
- Taking off at a ballistic or inappropriate pace. We must all accept it is a race, and therefore it will be hard, at least somewhere along the line. Realistic pacing will help to delay that discomfort, and a healthy respect for the race will insure you pace things properly. In my experience, the fitter and faster I think I am, the less respect I have for the race, the higher my expectations and the easier I think the race is going to be, but the harder it is. The less fit I am, the lower my expectations are and the harder I expect to work and the better the race seems to happen. When I’m fit and expect big things, I tense up and go out too fast, then blow up. When I do not consider myself race fit, I tend to be more relaxed, go out a bit slower and pace myself more appropriately.
- Lackadaisical attitude towards warm-up; and
- Lackadaisical attitude towards race day fueling.
Another point that comes to mind with respect to confidence and racing is that, at a certain point in the race, we all have a legitimate shot to beat the people around us, if we care to try. Otherwise, they would not be around us. If two people are still together far enough into a race, it’s a matter of toughness or tactics, and the challenge is on. It’s up to you to accept it. If you try to beat the person near you, successful or not, you will probably finish a bit faster than if you let them go.
Having this level of confidence also means there is no fear of failure, which allows for more risk and greater reward, if it works. If it doesn’t work, you can try again next time.
Keeping the importance of race performances in perspective is also key: it is after all, only a race. Most of us do them for fun; no matter how much time and money we’ve invested. If you fall apart and keep going, it’s a good and character building lesson. Learn from whatever you did right or wrong. Personally, I won’t drop out of a race out of respect for the people that are still behind me, unless continuing is risking my health. As often as I’ve blown up in races or had bad days, I have not been able to bring myself to drop out knowing there are people out there almost half my speed that have the fortitude to finish. I do know that if I don’t finish, I will still be me, I will still wake up the next day and the sun will rise. It may be cloudy, but I can try again another day.