News Flash: Proper Pacing Works

10th Annual Silver Comet Half Marathon

I learned a valuable running lesson at the Silver Comet Half-Marathon.

So valuable, I want to write about it – and lucky you, you get to read it – although most of you already know this stuff and most likely will just get to end thinking I have a head as thick as mud, saying to yourselves, “finally!”

The man who always explodes

It doesn’t matter.

5K, 50K, 50-miles, 100-miles… I always go out too fast. It’s partly my ultramarathon newbie-ism carrying over, part ego, part getting-caught-up-in-the-event,  and part thinking I am a much better runner than I actually am {read: ego}; but, one thing is for sure, it always results in a miserable second half of any race and I’m pretty sure I have never, ever negative split anything.

Blowing out a hammy two days before

So like every intelligent runner, I participated in 200m speed training intervals 48 hours before I was to run the Silver Comet Half-Marathon, a flat and fast half where I was eager to score a personal best and run fast. By the sixth or seventh interval, I felt good enough to put the hammer down and shoot for that sub:30 200m …but, 50 meters in, there I am screaming and dancing around the track, holding and squeezing my hamstring – damn close to tears.

Hitting my speed goals came to a screeching halt that morning, and I felt stupid.

Reaching out to the social grid

That day, I reached out both on Facebook and the UltraList, asking how I could possibly “heal a hammy in 24 hours.”

I expected lots and lots of sarcasm colored with the usual, “don’t run dude, rest instead”-kinda stuff, but that never happened. Instead I got some great tips from lots of great athletes who I really respect, and yup, I’m gonna name-drop: Amy M., Ray K., Jason V., Laura H., Jason B., Kim P. ….ok, there’s more, but that’s enough – we could all be so lucky to have such knowledgeable people surrounding us.

Jeeez, you’re wordy dude, please get to what actually happened

I know, I know – sorry – so, below is a list of the stuff that I found most helpful, ranked in order:

  1. Wrapping the hammy. Clearly the most effective to relieve some of the pain.
  2. “The Stick” – constantly, all day, for two days.
  3. Lots of easy stretching.

What do I think did not provide any real help?

  1. Ice. Ice never helps me. Never.
  2. Ibuprofen. Just masked the pain initially. I did not use it race day.
  3. Foam rollers.

Here’s my theory on foam rollers: Most runners believe you can’t go hard enough with “the stick” and thus foam rollers, with all your lower extremity weight on top of ‘em, is the only way to go deep. It’s opposite for me. I’m very strong. I can pull that stick against my muscles hard, and knead those hard knots like dough; but, with the foam rollers, I cannot seem to apply enough body weight down onto them to make it work. Plus, the foam rollers are awkward and the dogs jump all over me thinking I’m doing some kind of play activity for them.

Lastly, Ray the K sent me an email with a very thorough, quickie rehab and race day program, but the only problem with this crazy dude is that he mixes in jokes and you never quite know for sure what is real advice, and what is an experienced ol’timer just messing with you. In his email, though, he stated to start out very slow, gauge the situation, and if I felt good, gradually turn it up.

That became my plan.

Race day, 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning

I woke and the hammy was barking at me first thing.

I walked around, stretched, “sticked” the Hell out of my legs all over, and then wrapped that hammy tight using a small, thin knee brace and stretching it around my entire upper leg.

A little 1 mile warm-up, and I was good to go.

And the bull horn blows

While I couldn’t quite go out as slow as Ray K suggested (11 minute miles), I did watch the Garmin and settled into somewhere around an 8:40 pace – still painfully slow and quite frustrating watching lots of people get ahead of me (remember: ego is my nemesis).

Weezy and I stayed together, chatting a little, and heading down the rolling streets of Marietta, headed for the Silver Comet Trail, and still rocking mid-8s.

“Man, this is really easy,” I thought to myself, “it’s pretty enjoyable and if I have to maintain this the whole way, that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.”

Miles 1-4

Just easy cruising. Gradually picking up the pace, but rarely dropping anything faster than 8:10.

Miles 4-6

Weezy’s breathing is getting laborious. It’s making me tired. Then a cool dude from my wife’s church rolls up on me and he’s doing 7:45s, so I hang with him. The legs are very well warmed up, the hamstring pain is there, but its a none-issue at this point in the race.

At around mile 4.5, I stop to pee.

Hammy balls up. Aaaargh!

Ease back into the 7:45 pace post-pee, catch up to cool church dude, and alas the hamstring relaxes.

Miles 6-8

Now I’m feeling great.

I decide that once I hit the turn-around (7.5-ish), I will begin to gradually increase the pace to the point that my hamstring will allow it. I’m not at all tired, and if anything, feel eager to finally get to run hard(er).

I look at my Garmin and the screen is blank. Dead battery. Damn!

So I just start asking people that I pass what their pace is so that I can have some kind of idea what’s happening.

By mile 8, I am starting to drop into the 7:30 pace.

Miles 8-13.1

I bounced around this 7:15-7:30 pace from miles 8-11 as I was starting to feel this just a bit. My breathing was getting a little more “panty”, I was starting to feel a little fatigue, and the hamstring started to get a little crabby – nothing crazy, but I certainly knew it wasn’t yet time to really push…

…and anyway, I was still passing tons of people at this pace who went out too fast. (like I would have)

Once I saw the 12 mile marker about .25 mile away, I knew that now was the time to push – and I started to gradually increase my speed.

I was feeling it at this point, but it felt really great. NEVER IN MY LIFE, have I felt this good, this late into a race.

I was passing a lot of people now, and it felt good to hear people encourage me as I passed. I was eyeing this pretty blond girl ahead of me because it seemed she kicked it just about the same time as me, but I still wanted to catch her – and when I did – I mustered enough breath to ask what our pace was…

“6:30, but I’m not sure I can hold it…”

“Sure you can,” I said. “Let’s hammer ourselves into the ground for this last half mile, come’on…”

She smiled and nodded in agreement, so I picked it up even faster, but only to see her fall off immediately and then, {gasp} start walking.

I heard the hoopla at the finish line before I saw it, so I really starting cranking. The ego got all kinds of inflation points passing so many people so late – as opposed to the usual Christian where I’m counting the placings I’m losing as other people pass me.

Finished.

1:43-something. And I’m actually hoping that when the chip times come out, I’ll fall into the 1:42 range.

So, thanks for the blow-by-blow, but what did you learn?

First of all, I realize this is far from a fast time, however, I still got the Silver Comet personal best, didn’t aggravate the hamstring further in any way, and best of all didn’t feel like complete death at the end. In fact, I felt very good, energetic and happy at the end – and did it all with a feeling of general ease.

I’m hard-headed as Hell.

I’ve been told by countless runners, way more experienced than me, to learn and understand proper pacing; but instead of being a good little boy and listening, I like to buck convention and make everything 16X harder than it needs to be.

You know the saying, “He’s gotta touch the stove to see if it’s hot?”

Yea, that’s me.

It’s very hard to tell me anything and make me listen. It’s a sickness and I really should get help.

But I get it now.

I finally see the value in pacing.

In your mind, sitting behind a keyboard or wherever, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can go out all hard, try to hold it, and “see what happens” – but almost always “what happens” is terribly painful, physical taxing, mentally frustrating, and emotionally deflating.

I still have a lot to learn, but I feel like my eyes have been opened just a little more, and I can finally put another nook and cranny of experience in my running-life knapsack.

Now, let’s see if I can employ this strategy properly when Weezy and I tackle the Pinhoti 100 next weekend.

Get some!

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Comments

The good thing about this race is its nice and flat…the bad thing is their idea of customer service. When I finished the race and went to pick up my t-shirt I was told they did not have any XXLs left (I’m a clydesdale for sure – big and relatively slow). I thought that odd since I had paid for an XXL in my registration. My racing bibb said “Medium”. Also there were no instructions on how to get my correct size shirt. Just “thats all thats left”. Okkkkkkk…..so I decided to contact the race director. This was her response to me on Oct 28th:

“i have the xxl – i always keep them so they don’t disappear. I am back in class – I have to catch up – may be nov 15 until I can arrange , but hang tight & yes.”

Dana Greene
404-422- (Work/Voicemail)
404-884- (Personal/Text Only)

So I hang tight from Oct 28th until Nov 20th and I write again. No response. I text the race director about a week or so later and still no response.

I then go to their facebook page and make my request public. I was not offensive, used no inappropriate language, but resolved. I posted a copy of my registration to prove I wasn’t a loon (mostly lol) and simply requested my correct T-shirt. Each of my posts were deleted and still no response from THE race director.

So after one of my last post the THE race director decides to finally address my complaint publicly on their Facebook page. Again this is still after never having written to me to explain. She apologizes in her posts to everyone (hey what about an apology for me? – lol) for the delay in T-shirts but her order is being delayed due to a large order from the Atlanta Hawks to the same company she uses. But wait……her email to me said that she kept the XXL’s “so they don’t disappear”. There was never a mention to me about a delay because she never had the shirts. She also paints a very sympathetic portrait due to her “life issues” (going back to school…blah blah blah). I am certainly sympathetic to anyone having a tough time but to ignore my multiple requests for information regarding something I paid for just seems to be totally unrelated.

So now I am blocked from their Facebook site because I simply asked for what I paid for. Very classy and customer-centric. And now if I want my correct T shirt I have to attend their “some date in the future” Open House. Pass. They can have my t-shirt and certainly I will find another second half of the year half marathon to run.

I’m sure the people of this race are fine folks. I see they have plenty of supporters so my complaint will fall on deaf ears for sure. But if I were in charge of their race I would consider treating 1 racer as I do all racers. Friend or not. My two cents.

Great race !! loved your report..some great info and advice.

Nice job! It seems that going out too fast can happen literally in any race…..from sprints (less likely) to 5ks (I’ve done this) to marathons (I’ve damn near died in the last five miles) and ultras. My current theory on 100s is to simply walk the first 10 minutes….pretty much always puts me in last place. FWIW, I agree pacing is important.

Hey Christian. Stumbled onto your site and love it. Very nice stories of your experiences. Just looking at your race accomplishments is exhausting. I have gone several years too hurt to run but I think all is well now and I have done the Pine Mtn Endurance Challenge 1/2 marathon, ooh, very tough! My first trail run and this one was a toughie. 2:43ish, uhgghh! Pensacola 1/2 yesterday, 1:48ish better but with the amount of speed work I have done, I am satisfied. My best 1/2 is 1:32, best full is 3:23, but those were when I was in my early 40′s, now 49 looking 50 in the eye. Anyhow, I saw you say that you do 200′s for speed work, as an ultra runner you ought to consider the Yasso 800 approach once a week. Bart Yasso made this formula and you start with a warm up then do a series of 800′s, starting @ 4 working up to 12 before target race. His concept is that if you build up to be able to hold a 12×800 at 3:00, your marathon time should be 3 hours. It seems to work with me. I had built up to the 8 mark at 3:00 and did my best marathon as stated above. I am going to incorporate this same approach for my big target race as the Ms 50K trail run. Good luck and keep up the great stories!

Nice job! What an accomplishment even with a blogus hamstring. Does anyone even say bogus anymore? :)

@Psyche: didn’t we meet at Laurel Valley? …anyway, right on, thanks for the I’ll definitely see ya at Pinhoti. Good luck.

Loved the write up! Looking forward to meeting you at Pinhoti, where I most definitely will positive split : )

This is a great post! Congratulations on breaking down the stubborness a bit….just asking for advice (and watching it work) is a big deal! (:

Cristian, there is only one thing to say:

http://xkcd.com/242/

Replace ‘scientist’ with ‘ultra runner’ of course.

Congrats on crossing over to the other dark side. :D

@Laura: “Mile 12 won’t feel good” – that’s why I love you. I count on stuff like that with you. Just let me know when!

Nice write up. Sounds like a perfect race given your condition going into it. We’ll run a 1:30 half sometime soon. Mile 12 won’t feel good.

Nice job! It seems that going out too fast can happen literally in any race…..from sprints (less likely) to 5ks (I’ve done this) to marathons (I’ve damn near died in the last five miles) and ultras. My current theory on 100s is to simply walk the first 10 minutes….pretty much always puts me in last place. FWIW, I agree pacing is important.

Ummmm Christian, Nothing in my advice to you was joking.

Good luck to at Pinhoti! I was supposed to be a pacer but it didn’t work out. You will do great. I love negative split races. They are so much more enjoyable. I hate that feeling of getting passed a lot in the second half.

BTW…I’ve been bugging Ray K. for ultra advice lately. He always has great advice.

Use what you learned and hit Pinhoti at Ray K pace (ran with him at FATS 40 – Terri’s race). Start so slow that it feels slow, but be thinking about how bad you will be feeling at the end of the day if you go fast. If you got something in you by mile 80, then drop the hammer – Just like in the 1/2. Best of luck.

Nice work, Christian! Glad that it worked out well for you to hold back at the beginning of the race. I’m inclined to agree about The Stick vs. Foam Roller.

Nice article. Judging by your ING Atlanta Marathon times I would say that you have quite a bit more Half Marathon speed in you. Especially on a flat course as opposed to ING Atlanta which I though was brutally hilly. Coming from a guy who lives at the beach.

Great work, Christian! I’m glad your race turned out so well!

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