There is always room for improvement


Today is day one of my 15 week Fall marathon training plan and I have some serious work to do if I want to achieve my goal time. In a previous post, I discussed my plan to race the Erie Marathon on September 11th in an attempt to improve my BQ time for the 2017 Boston Marathon. I want to shave 3 minutes off my 3:13:42 finishing time from my Spring marathon which should essentially guarantee my admission (AKA 3 Minutes to Boston). I know it will take a lot of work to achieve this.

There’s no question I have become a better, faster runner since the start of the year and I have been focusing on strength training and core work to improve my speed and strength as well as active isolation stretches to reduce my chances of sustaining an injury. The problem is this addresses the physical aspect of running and not the mental; an area I really struggle!

Prior to every race, I always start with a plan which includes where the tangents are on a course, where the aid stations are located, what pace I need to run to achieve a specific race goal time, and what my nutritional requirements are (basically how many gels I need to carry); of these four things, the area where I struggle most is my pacing. I suspect this has a lot to do with the way I overthink everything before, during, and after a race.

In my first three years of running where I completed 16 races, I was only able to hold my pace twice; one was by accident and the other was planned; both races occurred back to back earlier this year. Since that time, I ran two races and was unsuccessful at holding my pace (I really ran three, but won’t count the Spring Run-Off in April because it was an 8K race). Let’s review what happened at both races where I was successful at holding my pace and then review my Spring goal race where I wasn’t.

The Chilly Half

When I toed the line at the Chilly Half on March 6th, 2016, I wanted to beat my previous PR of 1:35:34; this was my finishing time at the Oakville Half Marathon last September. My Plan A finishing time was 1:32:00 and my Plan B finishing time was 1:34:00. I didn’t have any expectations of finishing under 1:32:00 because, at the time, I thought that pace was way too fast for me to maintain for 21.1 kilometres.

My first three kilometre splits were 4:26, 4:24, and 4:24. I felt really good and, without realizing it, started picking up the pace a bit. For the rest of the race, I averaged 4:18/km and finished really strong! My official time was 1:30:44. Not only was this a complete shock to me, it was also the first time I ever ran a race where I held my pace for most of the race. It seemed every time I looked down, my pace was between 4:15-4:18/km. I’ll admit, at times, this made me a little nervous, but I was also feeling really strong, so I just went with it. It was also the second time in a race where I did not walk and I barely slowed down at the aid stations.

Race analysis for the 2016 Chilly Half

Around The Bay 30K

The second big race for me in 2016 was the Around the Bay 30K, which I ran on April 3rd, 2016. Going in to this race, my plan was to run at my upcoming my marathon pace (4:30/km) for 21 kilometres and then determine whether I had enough in the tank to speed up or continue at the same pace. Ironically, 21km is the exact part of the race you hit the first of many rolling hills on North Shore Blvd W.

I ran the first 21 kilometres in the low to mid 4:20/km range and held that pace for the entire distance. I know this is a bit faster than my planned pace, but I knew the rolling hills may eat me up, so I wanted to bank some time before I hit them. Looking at the race analysis below, it’s the only time I ever ran a race where my average pace line on Strava was essentially flat! My pace dropped down to the mid 4:30/km range when I hit the rolling hills and I maintained that for the next 6 kilometres. By the time I hit the last hill, I was gassed and I had to walk twice over the course of the next two kilometres; that’s how long it took me to recover and finish strong! My official time was 2:14:21; just enough to earn a silver medal (men need to finish under 2:15:00 to earn a silver medal)! My average pace for the race was 4:29. Even with the two walk breaks, this was a near perfect race.

Race analysis for the 2016 Around the Bay 30K

GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon

My goal race this Spring was the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon which I ran on May 1st, 2016. I ran the half marathon course the year prior which didn’t help with familiarity because the marathon starts at a different location and also heads West near Forrest Hill where runners make a number of twists and turns through residential streets before popping out near Rosedale Valley Road. Like Around the Bay, I wanted to start off bit quicker than my 4:30/km race pace so I could bank some time in the event I faded towards the end.

I trained hard for this race and I was having really good success in races and training runs leading up to this race. The weather wasn’t great at the start, but it was nowhere near the mess it was towards the end; however, there really is no way to explain why I was unable to hold any pace for more than 1-2 kilometres. I fluctuated from 4:15/km to 4:38/km in the first half of the race and never felt as if I was in control. From the midpoint of the race to about 30 kilometres, I noticed I was 3 minutes ahead of my marathon pace. This made me both excited and anxious at the same time and I started to fall apart at the 30km mark. I took 4-5 walk breaks over the course of the last 12 kilometres and while I only missed my goal time by 3 minutes, I really lost 6 minutes of time in those last 12 kilometres. Even if I coasted and didn’t walk, I would have nailed my goal time. Unfortunately I was spent and the weather became miserable at the end.

Race analysis for the 2016  GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon

There Is Always Room For Improvement

The takeaway from all of this is I only started running three years ago and I still have a lot to learn. Since finishing the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon, I’ve read countless articles about holding my marathon pace. So how am I going to address this?

  • Don’t try to bank too much time. Let’s face it, I’m an amateur runner. In previous races where my strategy was to run a little faster than MP so I can bank time, I may be depleting my glycogen stores too soon. I’ll still try to bank some time, but will be smart about how much time I bank. Even just a few seconds per kilometre make a big difference!
  • Practice holding my pace during long runs. The more I practice holding my pace, no matter the speed, the better I’ll become at running by feel. This is a big change I can make as it will help stay in tune with my body and make me more aware of when I’m going too fast or slow without having to rely on my GPS watch.
  • Cycling! I decided to modify my training plan to allow for a 60-120 minute cycling workout each week. Cycling helps build complimentary muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, and can improve turnover!

I know there are a lot of other tips, but as an over thinker, I don’t think I can make too many changes without jeopardizing my chances to actually improve my time and possibly going insane. I’ll be posting a weekly status on my blog so I can review what is working and what isn’t.

If you have big goals coming up, what changes are you making to ensure you smash them?

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