Marathon Pacing

There are three types of endurance athletes. The first, which make up about 1-2% of the total, are the elites who race one another in an effort to win. The second and third, genetically speaking are the remaining 98-99%. The difference between type two and type three endurance athletes is that type two-ers bring a lot more discipline, consistency, and focus to their training; as a result, they finish well ahead of type three-ers.

Each group has different objectives—1’s) win; 2’s) set personal records of different sorts, qualify for the Boston Marathon, etc.; and 3’s) finish.

I assume each elite athlete enters endurance events with detailed pacing plans which they often have to chuck when the lead group goes unexpectantly slow or fast over the early and middle stages. Have a plan, but be flexible.

Type three-ers, who may also be known as “one and done-ers” or “bucket-listers” go into races seriously undertrained, inevitably go far too fast early on, aren’t quite sure what to drink and consume, and fade big time over the later stages. I don’t know how they can go into marathons with detailed pacing plans when they haven’t done enough long runs from which to extrapolate.

I’m a two. There are two types of twos, those that lean heavily on science to aid their pacing, and those, like me that base their pacing on feel, or perceived rate of exertion.

My science is checking mile splits. Overtime I’ve learned to adjust my pace based on my breathing and my mental state. More specifically, by listening to how hard I’m breathing and thinking deeply about whether I can maintain my pace for another hour or two or three. Like turning a dimmer switch ever so slightly, I’ve learned to modestly increase, hold steady, or slightly back off my level of exertion. As a result, I usually perform very close to my limited potential.

I have a few different paces in my quiver. First speed is what I label my “steady/all day” pace. When I’m in good shape, hydrating, and taking in calories, this is the pace that I feel I can maintain for hours. Third speed is “moderate-hard/on the edge/85%/half marathon” pace. My optimal marathon pace is splitting the difference between the two. Easier blogged about than done because I don’t know if I’m in optimal shape. Trying to run optimal pace on something less than optimal fitness could backfire bigtime.

To be successful, twos have to learn to let faster people go. When passed, the tendency is to to say one’s self, I’ll show him or her. When marathoning, I wear horse blinders until the last 10k when I sometimes try to settle in behind someone stronger to shake things up and expedite finishing. To refine this skill I visualize my eighty-year old mother passing me with her reconstructed knee.

The exercise scientists would have chuckled at me one morning last week when I ran down to Capital Lake, around it, and back. Eight miles. Felt really good for the first four and then glanced over at the lake and saw wave action. Oh oh. A few hundred meters later and I was heading back into the 15mph wind that had assisted me over the first half hour. My worst marathon (Boston ironically) was one where I didn’t adjust my dimmer switch fast or significantly enough in light of the warm temps and how much I was sweating (I was fooled by the breeze that was masking my sweating). Again, the scientists would say that was avoidable and they’re probably right. But I’m stubborn and I accept the unpredicatability that comes with running by feel.

Here’s a summary of Saturday’s run. Don’t tell the team we were short a tenth of a mile.

1 thought on “Marathon Pacing

  1. Hey Ron, how about “serious” type threes. When I set off to run my, by design, only marathon, I seriously trained, set goals and kept them. Eight minute miles the whole way, well paced and thought out. When I finished in about 3 1/2 I said, done that and set off with the goal to climb Mt. Rainier the next year. Done that, too. Sequential training.

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