Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Breathing Exercises, Part 3

It makes me breathe easier when I can focus on a problem, deconstruct it, and develop a solution. In theory, I like puzzles. Though, if you stick a 1,000-piece jigsaw in front of me, I'll end up tossing the tiny chunks of colored cardboard in the air and stomp out of the room.

To the perceived chagrin of my employers, I have spent the majority of the day trying to solve the marathon puzzle. Three race strategies lie before me: the Even Steven, Negative Nelly or Martini's Madness.

Even Steven
If I run even splits, then I'll come in right at my goal time. How simple!

Negative Nelly
If I run the first half a little slower than goal pace, I'll have enough in the tank to push it to the end. Premium! As ludicrous as this idea sounds, this guy makes a good argument for it. (Thanks to Vanilla for the link.)

Martini's Madness
I name this strategy after my friend Martini, a seven- or eight-time marathon veteran. Every race I've run with him, he surges out to a fast start and somehow manages to hold on until the finish.

At Akron this year, while I was staying with my pace group for the first half of the race and then falling way, way, way behind, Martini went out at 8:18-per mile clip for the first 10-K, backed off to some 8:30s, slowing to 9:20s during the hills, and then he logged the final 10-K at just over 10 minutes per mile for a finish just under four hours. (His PR is something around 3:43.)

My Past, Thoughts & Suggestions
I attempted Even Steven at Akron. I thought I could hold on with 3:50 group for the first half and then run even splits to stay ahead of the 4:00 group until the finish. My training and my racing had predicted that I could finish in the 3:50 range. However, something went wrong.

An associate of Gin's, who is apparently a stellar local marathoner, suggested I start out at a 4:10 pace (9:33 per mile) and finish hard. That makes two votes for Negative Nelly.

Every time I have tried to keep up with Martini has ended in failure. We may be able to train together, but we are drastically different racers. Though, sometimes I still consider trying to run with him.

Nitmos maintains I should just run and see what happens. You're a fool for running two marathons so close together, he says. Take it easy, he says. Well, if I do that, how do you expect to ridicule me for totally ignoring you and everyone one else who has chimed in about how to run this race?

A Strategy Is (Re) Born
Going into Akron, I decided to take the same approach as I did for the Buckeye Half Marathon. I would stay with my goal pace group for as long as I could. So, I stayed with the 3:50 pace group until the big hill at Howard Street, just before the half and then started to fall behind. From there, I tried to keep my pace at 9:10 or faster.

But wait just gosh-darned minute here, fucker.

That's not how I did Buckeye! My goal was to break 1:50. I stayed with that pace group until 10 miles and then surged ahead. I covered the second half of the race at about a minute faster than the first. That's not Even Steven. That's Negative Nelly!

And another thing! My goal wasn't a 3:50 marathon; it was to break 4:00.

Damn it.

I went out too fast.


And to top it all off, I even followed some of Martini's advice at the Buckeye Half. His theory was that you should run relaxed for the first two-thirds of a race and then increase intensity (and arm-swing) for the final third of the race. That's after about nine miles for a half marathon. (In preparation I rounded up to 10 miles, but in practice I started my surge during the ninth mile.)

So, my new marathon strategy is this: I am committing only to break four hours, averaging 9:10 per mile. I will run the first two-thirds of the race easy and maybe a little slower than goal pace, and after about 17 miles I'll increase intensity to break four hours.


Ian said...

That's just crazy talk man! You can't pick up the pace after 17 miles!

Just kidding. Like I said in my last comment, I'm intrigued by the negative split theory, I'm just not certain I'll be able to pull it off. Perhaps my decision will be based on whether you slay the 4 hour marathon or crash and burn.

Laura said...

I know the negative split theory is the reigning champ, but personally, I think the positive split theory would be more likely to work. I find it way too difficult to run negative splits, so I think I'm better off starting out fast enough that even if I fade, I've already made up the time.

Turi Becker said...

I agree - negative splits sound great in concept but hard to pull of in a marathon. I hate feeling like I'm behind and have to catch up. Barring anything weird like big hills late in the race (coughTahoe) I'd try to stay pretty steady, maybe a get a couple minutes ahead of the schedule, then try to hold on.

Vava said...

I could only do a marathon on a bike at this point, so I have no advice. Whatever you do it's gonna impress, so have a great time!

C said...

Does the Towpath marathon have pace teams or are you stuck pacing yourself for this race? If the former, then I can see your strategy working. If the latter, I'm not so sure. Not that I know anything at all about marathoning, but that's my two cents.

Spike said...

I have only done variations of the negative split. My first was a 10 minute difference, but my finishing time was slow because I stayed slow for too long.

Usually I take the even Steven until the last few miles where I just throw down everything I have and go. It is a negative split, but usually by only by a minute or so. In other words, use your Buckeye Half approach.

Nitmos said...

Have you practiced negative splits? It's a discipline more than a strategy in my opinion. As long as your body is trained to accelerate at maximum fatigue, more power to you!

Good luck. I think you'll succeed because you sound extra motivated (or extra drunk...hard to decipher).

Either way, you're still a fool. That's what we all appreciate about you.

Go get that PR!

Anonymous said...

Nitmos- So because the negative split is a discipline, it should be disregarded as something for the elite runner? Did training for your marathon not take discipline? Does your running in general not take discipline?

I certainly think it does. So why should you toe the line on race day and suddenly throw discipline out the window? Going negative doesn't take practice so much as it takes common sense and patience. It's not like your suddenly being asked at the 16 mile mark to start laying down five minute miles. All it's asking is that you use the first half of the race to set up the second half so that you can run at a pace (albeit a quick pace) that is within your ability level.

Look, I'm not trying to be hard on you or anyone else... But I think the negative is a good approach for ANYONE regardless of ability. Sure, it is not without its downside... You MAY finish feeling like you left too much on the road. But personally, I would rather finish that way than straggling across the line after walking the last four miles, feeling like I had just been run over by a truck.

Most folks who poo-poo negative splits have either never given them a real honest try, or can't come to grips with the notion that their target time is simply out of their ability range. There is no shame in that. On paper, negatives can seem daunting.

Kudos to Vanilla for being able to burn it up out of the gate the way he does and still hang on... But I'd be willing to bet running negative would net him an even better time.

Viper, I'd be curious to know what you end up pulling off...