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