Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Racing Toughness

Part of me doesn't want to make this post cause of some of my lesser "fans" who think little of me as a runner due to my lack of consistency. However, it's just something on my mind since the Half, so I thought I'd just type it out, for the heck of it.

For those I've talked to at great depth about running, there's one thing I really admire about many runners that I don't necessarily feel that I've really shown, and that's toughness on race-day. It's not trainable, nor is it something you can teach someone how to find. It's just something that you either pull out at the right time in a race/run or you don't. When I think about my racing, that's something I feel like I've lacked and it's cost me some good race times.

A for instance could be this last race, the Houston Half. I have no doubt that I ran my butt off that Sunday, and I'm pretty proud of the time and the effort I gave out on the course. When I crossed the finish line, I could barely slow walk, and I felt 100% confident in saying that I'd given it all. And maybe a lot of this is hindsight being 20-20, but I'd love to have another shot at that final 1.5 miles. Actually, maybe the final 3. I know that I ran hard, but I just wonder if I really did have the ability to pull out one final gear in the final stretch, to have prevented those 4 women from passing me on Rusk. I know I pressed hard, but it just wasn't that finishing "kick", that I'm sure many of us "fantasize" about... the sad part is that I feel like many if not most other runners who's blogs I read and just runners I talk to have that gear.

Now, my explanations could be viewed as me just trying to explain it away, but I don't think so most of the time. There's the group who fly out of the blocks when the race starts, then battle through the middle of the run at a much slower pace, then just hammer it the final half or quarter mile. There's the folks who start out at a realtively "easier" pace (not to say an easy pace, but easier) with the intention of kicking at the end.

I can't even tell you how many times I wonder what's wrong with me when, even when I'm trained and well prepared, I see someone tell me they aimed for a goal time and came in a minute or more ahead of their goal for a race, and we're talking 5k and 10k. It's not how much they come under, but just how often I see that folks hit their goal times.

Then I think back to my best race of 2008, the Bayou City Classic, where I shot for running 5:30s, and came home with an average of 5:38, I think...whatever 35:04 is. Long and short, I missed that goal time too. So, do I just set goals that set me up to fail? Do I set myself out to run a time and hit a pace that leaves me wasted at the end, to where even the toughest of the tough-as-nails types wouldn't have enough to kick? Do I just push myself hard enough in the first 90% of the runs I do that I have nothing left to "pick it up" in the final 10% of a run? Well, I don't really know, but it bothers the heck out of me.

With the fact that I didn't feel well-prepared for the Houston Half, my biggest fear, so to speak, was what was coming around 9 or 10 miles. I approached it, though with an attitude of anticipation this time though. I ran smooth and worry-free and just looked forward to when the time to press through would come. While I ran a good time, I feel like I let myself down some by falling off the pace. With Boston on the horizon, I can't help but feel some anxiety and some excitement at what will come in miles 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21....this is the time that I need the most toughness but, as I've said, I don't know that I've ever shown it.

What I hope to do in my prep for Boston is to be so well trained that I put off the need for 'toughness' till as late in the race as possible, so that if I call on my body to respond and it doesn't, that I am far enough in that I lose as little time as possible, and can still finish at or close to my goal time. This brings in the dilema I have of whether I want to run to have some time in the "bank" late in the race, or do I run the 1st half in a manner that sets me up to run a strong 2nd half? My inexperience with Boston may be part of the reason for my dilemma, but it's all part of my mental gymnsastics.

If anyone ever looks at the mile splits of my long runs and wonders why I run the way I do, why I finish a long run seemingly pushing the pace, it's this feeling I have inside of feeling like I'm preparing myself for those closing miles. Preparing to finish strong. Granted, it's in a different realm trying to close a long-run @ 6:30 pace and closing a race @ 5:30 pace, but it's the mindset, I guess. I don't know that it makes any physiological difference, but psychologically it seems to for me.

I don't know... just something I've been thinking about and thought I'd put out there. Time to snack and get to sleep.


Minken said...


I feel like I could have written your post. It seems you and I share many of the same thoughts. I always have to remind myself that these thoughts, when you are fully fed and rested do not give justice to the true feelings you may have been experiencing on the everyone is their own worst critic, but regardless I still find myself asking these same questions.

I always think of who is most inspiring (to me) when it comes to "hard hat" running and imagine that they are running with me...because they are the type of people that may be a little slower than you, but when it comes to race day, you would never know it!Make whoever that is to you your virtual pacer!

Day Dreamer said...

Good thoughts on this, Dave. Thanks for the comment. Good stuff there.

Bill Blancett said...

Excellent post.

Day Dreamer said...

Thanks Bill.

kayry said...

That was a fun read!!

Good luck training for Boston Sam - It's the best Marathon in the world. I've debated pacing strategy for ever and after 5 fader in a row - I decided I wasn't going to have more faders - even if its not the fastest I could do - I just hate a bad aftertaste of having to slip to a slower gear in a race....last 2 marathons have been strong to the end and it was the most awesomest feeling to cross the finishline - only one other marathon like it I've done out of 10 and that was my first Boston - almost cried at the finishline and I think I ran my fastest 10k from heartbreak to the finish......I just LOVE a strong finish - its worth more to me than a few seconds on the clock.....All three strong finishes (Boston 07, Anchorage, San Antonio) I think I ran the second 10k just a little slower than I could have which left me with the gas in the tank for the end - not a lot slower - just a little.....