If you aren’t aware, we have a very active Facebook group. There are lots of posts or sharing of workouts- usually of when they are crushed. On one the other day, I was mentioned in one of the comments, so I started thumbing through and was caught by one comment on particular. The gentleman wants to run a 3:20 and his comments centered around creating a buffer and not expecting to see a certain pace at any point (or that certain paces have no place in a 3:20 plan).
In another life, I would have been like, “whoah, hold on brotato chip!” Eh, who am I kidding, I still am a little bit. I was definitely taken aback a little bit, because I immediately thought, “what’s going to happen to this guy the first split he sees at that pace that shouldn’t be anywhere in his splits?”
There are two main points I want to discuss in this post. The first is in regards to what I interpret when a person is trying to create a “buffer.” The second is how the runner is going to react when they see splits during the race when they “had no room” for them in training.
What trying to create a “buffer” tells me
You don’t believe in your plan or coach.
I see this a lot in people when they post about their training in our group. The biggest example of this is the 16 mile long runs in most of our marathon plans. For a lot of people they can’t get past the 16 mile long run being enough because it has been instilled in them that everything in marathon training revolves around the 20 mile long run. Unfortunately, these folks will keep running in circles (literally) for years trying to do things the same unsuccessful ways they’ve been doing them.
You don’t believe in yourself.
The best example of this is a person who is trying to run a BQ or break a time barrier. Everything about what they are doing or have done in the past indicates that they should be able to run the time they are seeking. However, their own self doubt creeps in and they push the pace faster than necessary because they feel like it will mean they can fade back to their goal pace and even slower, but have enough time in the bank to stagger in under their goal. However, it usually just sets them up for failure during training or the race.
You aren’t putting enough time on the other stuff.
This is a position I have really changed my thinking on over the last few years. This is thanks to all the interaction with our online run club and the athletes in there. I have always been a high mileage guy and I still am. I truly think that if you want to reach your highest potential, you need to be able to handle mileage. However, now that is with a caveat. Now I would say, train at the highest amount of volume you can that still allows you to incorporate the other aspects of well rounded training- strength and flexibility/mobility. Too many times I see athletes who don’t reach a goal, but instead of reflecting back to what their true training needs are, they just assume that they need to up the mileage the next time. I sometimes seeing runners trying to break four hours in the marathon and putting in 70 miles a week! What I am saying is back that down to 50 miles a week and use the time they would have spent on that other 20 miles per week and address the issues I mentioned. Hint: all runners have something strength related that needs help!
If you aren’t sure where to begin, I suggest reading up on our self tests or getting a gait analysis from an expert.
What makes me worry when someone is preparing for no split to be faster or slower than a certain pace. The thing is, no race goes perfect. Even our best races have moments where we say “if I just woulda.” You really do have to ask yourself the question, “how am I going to handle x or y situation?” When a person is setting themselves up to run the perfect race by trying to force everything in training, I tend to assume that their race is going to end in disappointment. Why? Because most of the time these runners panic when the inevitable split that’s way too slow shows up. This may be due to an improperly placed mile marker, a hilly mile, a turn into a headwind, a drop in concentration, an off Garmin split, or whatever. Instead of assessing the situation mentally, or rolling with the punches, they panic. By panic, I mean they usually either throw in the towel prematurely or they try to push even harder and only fall further behind.
I’m not saying that you should have a “whatever it is is meant to be” type of attitude, but splits will be off. See what the next mile or two brings before getting drastic. The next mile might be fast and you’re right back on average pace. Go through your mental queues- is my jaw relaxed? How’s my arm carriage? Am I on track with my nutrition? Is there a group I can tuck in with to block some of this wind?
Don’t panic- assess, observe, and adjust if necessary.
The best way to do that is to experience these things in training. Be cognitive of how you handle adverse situations during training and apply a system that works for you for race day.
You hear me say often that your training has to resemble how you want to race. If you train in a matter where you push the envelope in training (on a daily or regular basis) that chances are that’s how you’ll race. Training is so much more than running a workout. It’s learning how to deal with a variety of situations. Learning how certain conditions affect you and how to adjust for those conditions. Give yourself a little bit of flexibility on splits with the goal of learning the pace and narrowing the standard of deviation.
Races rarely go perfect and it’s the person who can handle the deviations form those plans best that will be the most successful.