Saturday, September 08, 2007

On pacing oneself

This past week for me was one of those ones where you switch into hyperdrive and get slightly unbelievable amounts of work done--there is a certain mad enjoyment to being in this mode, I have an affinity for it, and yet the price paid also seems to me very high. It's not just sleeplessness, it's the living-on-your-nerves aspect--it really takes it out of you. I paced myself steadily but hard all week for a 3pm deadline yesterday, and I made it within ten minutes of that time--I've been doing this kind of thing for a lot of years now. But I had better not have another week like this again any time soon, or I really will have a nervous breakdown--I need to make it through to the end of the school year, this is a question of September-to-May pacing with a race-within-the-race checkpoint, as it were, of making it through the fall semester without mining my internal resources so deeply that there is nothing left for writing in the interlude between semesters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I then ran an absolutely awful race this morning! Comically awful, and partly because of questions of pacing--actually I'm fairly cheerful about it, all things considered--but I am going to write up thoughts here as a reminder to my future self...

Four things that didn't bode well, though to some extent not within my control:

1. Sleeplessness this week (averaged about four hours a night, not good, though on the whole not a huge factor in the actual race--it would matter more for a longer one)

2. Temperature (in the seventies already when we started, with humidity at 81%--it was hot out there)

3. Lack of mental preparation (I couldn't think about it this week at all, and I couldn't really face thinking about it last night either, so when I got up this morning I had not even thought about what running clothes I needed to wear, had not picked up race number in advance, etc. etc.--scrambling even to get ready on time--literally the only thought I'd had was that with conditions favorable, I should be able to hit an 8:30 mile pace, but that temperature alone was going to make this impossible and I should simply not worry about it)

4. Pacing!

The pacing was the clincher. (For the non-runners among you, it is closely related to items two and three on the list--if I had had proper mental preparation, I would have thought about the implications of 8:30 pace plus hot and humid conditions and sensibly adjusted to 8:35-8:40 and done as well as I could.)

The thing was, I totally just took off thoughtlessly and ran way too fast for the first two miles! The comical thing was that my friend Liz ran almost exactly the same bad race that I did (she finished a bit sooner, but similar trajectory), so it must be structurally related to the stage of our running lives we're at...

(At the water station at the two-mile marker, I actually had to stop and walk for twenty yards or so--which is not what you should have to do in a four-mile race--and there was Liz walking next to me! For a second I was, like, "Liz! Liz! Don't ruin your race just because I am a bad walking-related influence!" But of course really we both had just gone way too fast in opening and now felt like we were about to die! It was pretty funny even at the time, certainly heartening in a strange way...)

Mile splits (approximate, these are from the Device which is slightly inaccurate in its distance measurements): 8:17, 7:58 (?!?), 9:11, 8:42. And my pace for the last little minute of running up to the finish time was 7:03, I definitely still had finish-line vim, it was just that my HR was in the 170s the whole time and I really did feel rather queasy whenever I stepped up the effort level... 34:59 time, 8:44 mile pace, which is also what I had for that 10K in May--I have gotten somewhat faster over the summer, so this is too bad, but on the other hand it really was quite hot out there...

Lesson for future: follow appropriate self-imposed pace guidelines, and take the time to think things through in advance!

The only reason I ran this race is that I am kind of on a quest to get the nine races required for guaranteed entry into the 2008 New York City marathon. My main thought after finishing this morning (other than thinking that fortunately though I felt acutely queasy I was not actually going to throw up just after the finish line, unlike the woman right next to me!) is that I need to reconsider this. If you spread them out over the year, it's not at all difficult to accomplish. But I couldn't race till May because of injury, and then injury-related caution also made me want not to mess up my big goal race by overdoing it on other races in between, and in short, the four-mile race this morning was only race #3. And I've got a couple weekends out of town for various work- or family-related things this fall, so the calendar means that literally I have to do every single remaining race I'm in town for, barring a 60K that is obviously not appropriate, or I will fall short.

(And actually I just realized earlier this week that one of the remaining ones I must do for guaranteed entry is pretty much certainly in conflict with this conference I'm participating in at the humanities center at the beginning of December, I cannot be haring off from real work responsibilities in order to run races, so all of this may be in any case moot...)

This is simply not sensible. A Saturday morning spent racing, aside from everything else, is a Saturday morning I do not get to do the lovely longer slower training run that is what I most like. And though the New York marathon is special, I don't absolutely have to do that one this time round. I can enter for a spot through the lottery, or try and wangle one through another route, and in fact maybe Philadelphia is a better first marathon in any case: it's certainly a faster course, I will have home-town supporters and there is an upside as well as a downside to not having the frenetic NYC marathon energy... (Including the fact that it will be significantly easier to adhere to a pacing plan in Philadelphia conditions than New York ones!)

I'm locked in on any case for the two upcoming half-marathons: I'm doing the Queens one in two weeks as a training run, which will be rather delightful (first ten miles at 10-10:15 pace, then race the last three as close to 8:45 pace as I can manage just to get a feel for what that's like in that context--if it is a hot day, it will not of course be that fast!), and I've got the Grete's Great Gallop half in Central Park in October as the goal my training's currently directed towards. (Aspirationally sub-2:00!) But it may be that my running resources are better directed towards training this fall than doing quite so much racing, and that I should lay aside what seems a somewhat counter-productive program of action...


  1. Ah, a Valuable Learning Experience - glad you're looking at it that way!

  2. IT seems like the amount you accomplish in a work week equals what most people accomplish in a lifetime. Incredible.

  3. Personal growth and learning. Not my favorite, but a necessary evil!

    Plans are good to have, but are completely amendable. Let us know what you decide.