This has been an exciting Fall for racing. After the memorable but humbling milestone of completing my first honest-to-goodness 50-miler in June, I shifted my focus away from ultras and trail running for a four-month immersion into intensive marathon training. I originally signed up for the Anthem Marathon in Richmond with the hopes of acquiring a respectable marathon PR that was representative of my ability. However, after jumping through a rapidly closing registration window and getting on the roster for Ridge to Bridge Marathon at the end of October, I started to get that itch that some of my faster marathoning friends have gotten as well. All of my intermediate-long distance races and training runs have alluded to the possibility of me qualifying for Boston—a goal I never had considered possible until recently. With R2B being a downhill, potentially fast (albeit at a price) course, I figured…what the hell?
Fast forward. For the past few months, I have been in full-tilt training. I have upped my weekly mileage base to an average of about 60 miles/week, I maximized the number of quality long runs in the 18-23 mile range, and I included regimented and diversified speed work in my plan twice weekly. The work done in the hot, humid Summer has paid off in seemingly effortlessly faster paces in the crisp Fall air. Every race up until now has been a tune-up to my culminating BQ attempt on October 27th.
While Salem Lake 30K was the peak training race, Lungstrong 15K was the last of these tune-up races. Being exactly two weeks out from R2B, the Saturday of the event was supposed to be a tapered long-run day of 12-14 miles. I figured the 9.3-mile race, plus warm-up and cool-down would be just right to bring me to the prescribed mileage for the day. Also, the race would serve as a final extended threshold workout and confidence builder before I go into the “maintain-refrain-keep-sane” final days of my taper.
Had Lungstrong been a focus race, I would have attempted to go sub-60 minutes, which would have been the logical progression from my previously achieved goals of sub-20 (and sub-19) 5K and sub-40 (and sub-39) 10K. However, since I had run the course before and found it to be a touch long and fairly rolling, I thought it more prudent to set a pace goal of a 6:40 minute/mile average for the duration, which would translate to a 1:02 finish. The number was not arbitrary; 6:40 was smack dab in the middle of my 10K pace and my half-marathon pace. Also, the ever dubious McMillan Pace Calculator prognosticated a 1:02 time for 15K based on my most recent races. So naturally, like John Henry VS the Steam Drill, I wanted to beat the pace generator.
It could not have been a more beautiful morning for racing. I arrived at the start early, even though I live five minutes from the location, and I got my warm-up miles in while dressed in layers to fend off the chill. My trusted friend and chiropractor, Dr. Matty Zimmerman was just finishing setting up his booth and offered his ever encouraging words. He also asked if I wanted him to check on my talus (one of 26 foot bones) before the race. When your chiropractor offers you a tune-up before a big event, you say “yes, please.” After checking my alignment, rotating my tires, and topping off the air pressure, Matty waved me on and I was good to go.
There aren’t too many exciting details that stick out about the race itself. It was more just a reminder of proper racing strategy. First, don’t go out too fast. This, I did pretty well with for once. I did not jump off the line like I would do in a 5K. I gave myself at least a half mile to settle into my intended pace. This surprised a lot of nearby friends who expected me to shoot past them in the first 100 yards. It felt good to slowly amble through the low gears first. Also, in a 5K, if I go out to fast, I might hurt a little more on the last mile; but for 15K, mistakes like that get amplified exponentially as I get into the 7th, 8th, and 9th miles. Not today.
Second, maintain equal effort. I dialed in my pace on the first real flat section of the race, the 200 meters of Jetton Road before our left turn into Jetton Park. The detour into the park allowed an easy downhill where my perceived 6:40 effort yielded a 6:20 downhill coast, and a 7:00 climb on the way back up. So far, so good. I found myself looking at the Garmin less and less and going more by feel.
Third, run my own race. I love running in a group, and I especially love racing in a group. Competition brings out the best in my running, and it allows me to set and reach for spontaneous mini-goals in the middle of a race like “I’m gonna catch that guy,” or “now if I could just hold her off…” For this race though, my pace was my primary concern, so I had to do a lot of ignoring. I should note here that after the cacophonous clearing of the starting blocks, no single runner passed me for the duration of the race. I did not keep count of the several ones I passed, but I never attacked anyone as I often do. I just let my goal pace slowly reel them in. It helps that I achieved a subtle but notable negative split from start to finish. Broken up into 3-mile blocks, I ran miles 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9 with respective splits of 20:05, 19:55, and 19:48. The final partial mile was at a 6:20ish pace. Qualitatively, the pace throughout felt comfortably hard, and in retrospect I believe I could have pushed a little harder, but there was no need to run myself into the ground for this last tune-up race. I finished with an official chip time of 1:01:32 (6:37 pace). Take that, McMillan Pace Calculator!
As a test of fitness, Lungstrong was very encouraging, but perhaps more encouraging was my newfound faith in my ability to monitor pace. As I approach R2B (and any possible subsequent BQ attempts), I will not have a lot of room for error with regards to maintaining pace. One mistake in the early miles or treacherous downhill could derail my plans before I even have a chance to bonk. So here is the strategy I must program into my head. For the first rolling 6 miles of R2B, I plan at running at BQ pace +5 seconds (7:06-7:08, including a conservative first mile). For the following 9ish miles that contain more than 2,000 feet of quad-burning descent, I must focus on shortening my stride and keeping my turnover consistent, while hopefully letting gravity propel me to a BQ-10 second pace (6:50-6:52). For the final 11 miles—a false flat that gradually trends downhill—I plan on holding on to BQ pace for dear life. Many R2B veterans, and the RD himself, recommend adopting this template for a race plan. As far as my running fitness, the hay is already in the barn. The critical challenge that determines BQ or crash-and-burn will be the discipline of pace-making on the downhill. I’m perhaps more excited and nervous than I was before my first marathon! We’ll know in ten days. Stay tuned!