Today was a good day to race.
I pumped my arms as hard as I could through the final few yards.
Muscles sore, drenched in sweat, I continued to push the pace through the last feet. Then, something I’d never experienced as a midpacker before: the gentle feeling of breaking tape.
It. Was. Glorious.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Perhaps I’d better explain how I came to this point. All of this will make more sense if I start back at the beginning.
A very good place to start
Normally, I’d be excited. Very excited. But it was all happening so quickly. Was I really prepared to train for 26.2?
Now, I had been putting in the mileage so far. But I had no idea if I was training at the proper pace. You’ve probably heard that most of your mileage should be at conversation pace, but what that number is depends on a lot of factors. It’s also not in any way predictive of what pace you’ll be able to hold for an entire marathon.
I needed some reassurance. I needed to know I was in shape or, if not, just how out of shape I was (round’s a shape, right?).
There was only one training tool I could count on for the task. It was time for a predictive race!
Pace prediction for dummies like me
When I’m coaching a client, the first and most important thing we do is establish their date pace. That is, if you had to run your race today, how fast could you reasonably expect to do it.
You’ll probably hear me refer to date pace, or DP, a number of times over the next couple of months. The reasoning is simple. The best thing you can do for your performance is to set reasonable expectations. Date pace lets you do just that.
Getting this measurement right before the season begins is important to proper goal setting. Taken again at the midpoint, date pace tells you that you’re on track to succeed.
The first step in this process is choosing a race. Keep in mind that the closer the distance between your predictive race and your actual race, the more accurate the prediction. For example, a half-marathon is a better predictor of marathon performance than a 5K would be.
Once you have your race, give it all you’ve got on race day. Most runners hold a lot more back than they realize. For predictive races to be predictive, you need to be firing on all cylinders during this race.
The times you get back will form a good basis for your training.
Start with the end in mind
Following my own advice, I needed to pick a race. One of my friends had spotted a flyer for a 5K race supporting Philbrick Elementary, one of the local elementary schools. Since it was a few weeks out from the start of training, it seemed like the perfect race to test my mettle.
On race day, we arrived a bit early at the race site to find them still setting up. While we waited, we chatted a bit about our race goals.
On this particular day, I was gunning for a pace of 7 minutes flat. I knew it was a stretch, but I didn’t want to leave anything on the table. However, by the time the race started the noonday sun was beating down hard.
The last seven years in Seattle hadn’t prepared me for a Boston summer. Due to other events sharing the park this day, the course was restricted to a 1.25 kilometer loop and by the second lap, I knew my 7 minute long-shot was long gone.
I continued to cruise through at slightly more than an 8 minute mile. Not seven but, in this heat, not too shabby. And I was still pacing my age group even so. I held that pace for the final two laps.
Which brings me back to where we left off…
Always finish strong
Arms pumping, muscles aching, the noise of the crowd, and the feel of the victory tape. Ultimately, I ended up finishing fourth overall with a first place age-group finish.
Of course, I’m dancing around a few parts of this story.
As I found out when we arrived, the Philbrick Elementary 5K is more than a benefit for the school. It’s actually more of a race for the students, although parents and random runners off the street (read: me) were more than welcome. From speaking with the principal and volunteers, they’re trying to encourage fitness in their students. I, for one, think they did a great job.
Seriously, if you’re in the Boston area and especially if you have kids, keep an eye on this race. The kids did great, and they even made these cute cardboard finishers medals. Mine is hanging up with the rest of my bling. Oh, and as for the tape breaking, they stretch a new one out for everyone, so we all win.
In retrospect, seeing as I was an age-group of one, with the vast majority of participants being 7-10 years old, maybe a bit of a hollow victory. But still…
In your face, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders!
Do you run date pace predictives? Leave me a comment and tell me how you pick your pace.