How fast is too fast? How slow is too slow?
This has been the focus of my marathon training the past week. I ran the 8K at the Almond Blossom Festival in Ripon last weekend and was able to pace myself fairly well and ran pretty fast.
But how does running an 8K (just under 5 miles) translate to running a marathon (26.2 miles)? The answer: It really doesn’t.
The pace I run in the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in June will have little to do with the pace I set in the 8K in Ripon.
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A few years ago, when I was preparing to run my first marathon, also in San Diego, I asked my current Team In Training coach, Rick King, how I could learn to run slower.
Turns out I didn’t do a very good job. I ran too fast early in my first marathon and paid for it over the final 6 miles.
Learning how to pace yourself is critical when you begin running distance events like the half-marathon or marathon. It’s also important to know how to pace yourself in any kind of workout, whether you’re swimming, cycling or doing aerobics in a class.
If you put out too much effort, you can hurt yourself or run out of energy before completing your task. Put out too little effort, and you’re not going to improve.
At the gym I attend, there’s a poster with the 10 levels of effort, No. 1 being not even sweating and No. 10 being on the border of injury. So where is the target zone?
There’s plenty of research online about VO2 maximums and there are heart-rate monitors that show your target zone. Personally, I find all of that a little too complicated.
I think through time I’ve learned how far I can push myself. I go more by feel than numbers. I pay attention to how fast I’m running, thanks to my GPS watch. But more important, I pay attention to how well or uncomfortable I feel. To get fitter, you have to know how to push yourself without hurting yourself. It’s taken me a few years to figure it out, but I think I’m pretty good at it now.
So, back to my initial questions. How fast is too fast? How slow is too slow? When it comes to my marathon, the answers will come during my training. As I begin to stretch out my longer runs, from 10 miles, to 15 to 20, I will learn what I’m capable of. If I’m completely out of gas or hurting too much at the end of the training runs, I’ll know that I’m going too fast. If I’m not tired enough, then I’ll know I can go a little faster.
Trying to run the marathon too fast likely will result in a major collapse in the final 4-6 miles. In both of my marathons I’ve suffered severe cramping during the final 30-40 minutes of the race.
So, why don’t I just take it easy and run slower, you might ask? That’s just not me. I’m a competitive person and like to push myself to always be a better runner, run faster, and feel better doing it.
Of course, there are many factors in having a successful marathon. I think I’ve found the right shoes and I’ve done a better job, so far at least, of sticking to my training regimen. I also plan to improve my pre-race meals and increase my fluid intake during the race, which should help with the cramps.
Finding the right marathon pace will be something I work on over the next weeks and months as June 1 approaches. As they say in horse racing, “the pace makes the race.”
I hope this time I get it right.