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June 13, 2010 / elodie kaye

Dream Big

The smartest race I ever ran was a pancake flat half-marathon along Toronto’s lake front.  After the first 2 miles, I ran each of the next eleven within 6 seconds of each other, but my effort wasn’t as even.  Unseasonably warm autumn temperatures caught up to me.  Powergels that were promised at the 10K aid station vanished.  Pre-menstrual cramps chose mile 10 as their moment.  They were so intense, I looked for aid stations where I could drop out, before I realized there wouldn’t be any within 5K of the finish.

My final chip time was 1:47, a minute under my goal, and I was thrilled.  I had trained for 7 weeks by then, but I hadn’t tapered.  I ran my hardest, smartest race as a tune-up.  My new PR fell out a month ahead of time, with such an unexpected performance that my coach wasn’t sure I could produce another one at my target race, even with a full taper.

At the next half-marathon, I ran with a completely different race plan.  This course was hillier.  It was a net elevation drop, but most of the dropping happened in the first half, and the last mile held one of the longest climbs in the race.  I wouldn’t be able to pace this one evenly, but I had no goals in mind anyway.  My coach and I were not sure whether I was past my peak, and I didn’t want the pressure of having to beat a PR again so soon.

I checked my splits in the early miles to keep from starting too fast on the long downhills.  After that, I mimicked the effort I remembered from my previous race.  With a few miles left to go, I thought I could match my PR, if I could keep from losing any more time on the remaining hills.

My chip time was 1:44.  On review, my splits were all over the place.  Instead of making this race harder, the hills worked in my favour by keeping me blind.  Once or twice, I noticed I was slightly ahead of my PR pace, but pinned the credit on elevation loss.  In the last 5K when I thought I was holding pace by pushing up the hills, I had picked it up, eventually running that segment two minutes better than my best 5K race.  If I’d known, I would have been too intimidated to maintain the effort.

I couldn’t have produced that time any other way; I had to run in ignorance to overcome a bigger handicap.  That technique is only useful in races of half-marathon length or shorter, because early mistakes from pacing don’t have time to catch up with you.  It was only successful because I had already completed a dozen races between 10 miles and the half-marathon, and lucked into a dressed rehearsal on an ideal course.

I first learned to train smart.  Then I learned to race smart, and finally the limits of racing smart.  In the weeks before my best PR, I wish someone had told me to relax my grip on my sensible expectations, rationally gleaned from past experience.

Dare to dream big.  A wild imagination opens you up to possibility and prepares you to face it without fear.

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