Have you ever run a race where you didn't know what was the correct running effort you should hold?
It could have been for fun, a challenge or just to test your fitness.
I had a situation like that yesterday competing in the 2013 Fort Campbell ten-mile time trial race.
The race was held to select the Fort Campbell team to compete in the upcoming Army Ten Miler.
The Army Ten Miler is the largest ten-mile road race in the United States and teams from various posts across our country and overseas come to compete.
I have had the rich opportunity to compete in this great race in 2002 (53.12-21st), 2003 (53.06-15th), 2004 (51.54-12th), 2009 (54.05-34th..coming out of Officer Candidate School) and was a member of the International Team Division Championship team in 2010 finishing with a time of 51.58.
How do you determine running effort when you are not fit?
It is one thing to attempt to race when you know and have practiced the pace you are aiming to race at.
What happens when you jump into a race not having prepared for race efforts?
It can be extremely difficult to hold even a pace you could easily manage if you have not done prepared for it prior to the race.
It takes risk to do anything you are unprepared for.
I was fortunate in that I won over a challenging course with a time of 57.59 on 11 March but the truth is, it was extremely difficult
to hold a 5.47 pace.
It is a pace I normally do 20-22 mile long runs when I am fit but it might as well been 4.47 mile pace the way it felt.
You find confidence in your running effort by adapting
I went completely against what I preach here on rundreamachieve by attempting to run a race completely unprepared Saturday.
I have been putting in easy base mileage for the past few weeks but have not raised my intensity in training to anything faster then 6.20 pace for only a mile or two in my runs.
The rest of the mileage pace has hovered anywhere from 6.45 to 7.20 per mile pace.
Specific marathon training i.e. race pace training, sprints, longer fartleks begin next month so trying to jump into a race was a challenge to myself to see what I could do off of nothing.
What I ran yesterday hurt for a very good reason.
I have not trained my body to handle even 5.45 pace for a long portion of time at this stage in my fitness.
Was I upset by the time?
The time was irrelevant and I knew it would not be particularly fast.
The effort and the physiological boost I would give to my body's energy systems was the goal.
First, I am humble enough to know there are people who would do anything to run under 58.00 for ten-miles.
I mentioned this the key to running faster longer and more effective.
You never want to go into a race not having prepared for the pace you will encounter unless you have first experienced it in training.
This is the difference.
I would have felt totally in control yesterday had I done a few segmented runs such as 4x2miles at 5.45 per mile or a couple 5-mile tempo runs at 5.45 per mile pace leading into it.
Would 5.45 pace feel easier?
I could have very well been bent out of shape about yesterday's run.
The reality is it would have done me no good. I chose to see it as a great workout that I was able to complete
I was able to maintain a 5.48 per mile pace for the distance and although it was a distance away from my best pace I have ever run for 10 miles (5.05 or 50.54) it was still a good effort with no preparation factored in.
Trained or untrained racing is a great way to challenge yourself.
It doesn't challenge you to stay in a position of comfort and you'll never know what you truly can do unless you put yourself into uncomfortable situations.
You do learn something about yourself when you have to call on your mental toughness to finish a race when you aren't prepared for it.
Pace and effort are drastically different when you are untrained.
Ways to improve your overall running effort
Segment your long runs into shorter but faster efforts. If you have a 15 mile run planned, break it up into 2-mile sections.
For example, warm-up 2 miles then run 2 miles at goal 10-mile or marathon race then alternate jogging and running at goal pace.
Let's say I had yesterday going into the race as a goal to run 57.00 for the 10-mile trial on Fort Campbell.
The pace you I would have to hold to run a 57.00 10-mile time is 5.42 per mile.
The reason yesterday felt so incredibly hard at a pace that I normally do for my 22 mile long runs is I spent no time close to even 5.47 per mile pace (basically the average per mile pace I held) in training.
Selling yourself short isn't worth your mental time
Determining your running effort lies in the training.
You certainly never want to go into a race effort not having prepared to hold a pace you simply aren't ready for.
That being said, sometimes it is good to take some risks simply to find out where you stand.
I could have very well went out and run 62 minutes for this distance.
Have I been training at 6.12 pace?
No, but this is where having some fitness and even more reliance on your mental capacity for pain comes into the picture.
I ran Saturday's Fort Campbell Army Ten Miler team selection 10-mile race using all the mental focus I could conjure up to maintain a 5.48 per mile pace.
This is the fancy exercise physiology term used when runners are training at the point where lactic acid begins to build up in your bloodstream.
It isn't the lactic acid so much as it is the hydrogen ion within the body's cell that contributes to you slowing down in a race.
You may only be able to run at your threhold pace for 5 minutes early on in your training schedule.
The trick is to get it to where you are running at 50 minutes at the same intensity.
I promise you, you will begin to do damage in your races and your current personal bests by running faster longer.
What I learned from Saturday's 10-miler.
- I have good aerobic fitness but very poor anaerobic conditioning at this early stage in my fitness.
- I am able to withstand lactic acid build up without too much of a drastic slow down. My splits yesterday were somewhat consistent over a hilly course. 5.32, 5.53, 5.43, 5.43, 6.09, 5.46, 5.48, 5.52, 5.43, 5.50
- I was able to mentally stay in the race
What you can take a way from this experience?
- Take some risks with your fitness. It never hurts to jump in a race simply to run it. You don't necessarily have a goal in mind but a way to get fitter and put a little edge into your easier mileage routine.
- The body has to be stressed in order to feel comfortable at race pace. Race pace should not feel easy but also shouldn't feel overwhelming and what I mean by that is you never want to feel totally out of control the first 2 miles in a half or full marathon.
- If you have a specific goal in mind practice that goal pace. You won't rely so heavily on your mental strength and the race experience won't feel so daunting. I will admit I was nervous yesterday because I knew I haven't gotten to the specific training phase of my racing yet. You can take that part out of the equation by practicing at faster speeds. This was a special case but normally I would not advocate jumping into a race with a goal time in mind unless you have practiced at or below the goal pace.
- You can still get a physiological adaptation by running a race at speeds you have not trained for. You may not be able to hold the pace you normally could if you trained at the proper intensity but you will still get an anaerobic boost to your system by running at a faster pace.
- You get out in the community and get to be around people that can challenge you. You may be faster then the next guy or gal in the race but when you are not fit being faster in your last race means little. The other person may have prepared well and be ready to outrun you. Keep that in mind. It is vital to stay humble in this sport, trained or untrained.