Finish strong...or not. It's your choice.

On the surface of it, Melbourne Marathon looked like another good result.  3 hours and 15 mins, cheeky little sprint finish in the MCG, sun was shining, had an ice cream, all is well, right?  

Well, not quite...

One of the key things that I try to instil into the runners that I coach, is to "finish strong.”  I can already hear a few groans from those runners reading this…

To show you what I mean, take a second to think about the different feelings in these two scenarios…  

1. finishing by pushing home, feeling strong and overtaking people in the last couple of km of a run

vs 

2. finishing by being overtaken, tired and floundering, breathlessly to the finish line?  

 

The emotions and feelings of these two finishes are completely different, yet you may end up with exactly the same finish time in both scenarios.  I know which one I would prefer to experience. (hint…#1)

I ask my runners to finish strong every so often in their training because it relies on them pacing themselves in the early part of the run or race.  Whether you do that by feel, heart rate or pace doesn’t really matter, but you want to keep all of those under control and not empty the tank too early.  I believe it requires real discipline, which is probably why not many people do it.  It shows restraint, calmness under pressure, seeing the long game and belief in yourself to actually control your own mind enough to slow down in the early stages, in order to be able to push home at the end.  Thats what I love to see as a coach, not necessarily the average pace or overall time.  If I can get the attitude right, the rest will come.

One of my favourite sessions to test this attitude with my runners is to ask them to negative split their 5km parkrun on a Saturday morning.  Put simply, go faster in the second half than the first, finish strong.  What is interesting is not the finish time, or the average pace, or whether they PB’ed, it is whether they actually can do the session that I have asked them to do.  At parkrun, similar to in a race, a little bit of ego and excitement can creep in, which leads people to often go out too hard at the beginning, leaving them no energy to speed up when they are supposed to be picking things up at the end.  In this case, its the ego and / or the pre-conceived idea of what parkrun is (a run vs a race) that fascinates me.

I have written about getting over my own ego before and this was one example of a marathon where I didn’t do that.  It was Melbourne, home turf, I have previously PB’ed here, all my friends were out watching, I had clients running the race and I had a renewed sense of confidence from going well at Busselton Marathon the week before. 

Despite all of that or perhaps because of all of that,  I screwed up my pacing early on at Melbourne Marathon and paid for it later.   The interesting thing is that I knew I was doing it.  I even said it to someone at about 10km into the run.  That’s only a quarter of the way through the run.  So why the hell didn’t I slow down at that point?

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Ego, pride, stupidity, forgetfulness, brain fart? The mind is a funny thing.

For some reason, I was running to finish at 3:10, even though I knew that I didn’t have 3:10 in my legs on that day.  Yet km after km, I decided to try and stick with the 3:10 pacer for some reason.  Anyway, as I knew would happen, at about 30km, my legs decided that was enough silliness for the day.  The last 12km was a struggle, particularly when the half and full marathon courses merged and I hit the back of the 2 hour half marathon pack heading back into the city.  The pack were were going about 30 seconds per km slower than I was and it was like hitting a wall.  With nowhere to run and finding it tough to maintain momentum, my cadence, pace and probably everything else dropped off at that point and never came back.  I am not going to blame that scenario for not reaching 3:10.  I was cooked at that point anyway, so a couple of km going slower wasn’t going to make any real difference, but it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

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Don't get me wrong, I am pleased with my overall time, but the point is that there are different ways to get the same result, and we al have a choice about how to go about it.  After this experience, I can safely say that my legs dying with 12km to go in a marathon, isn’t exactly my preferred option!

Anyway, since then I have had a good break and will be running the 16th marathon in Lilydale this weekend.  The course is on the rail trail and undulates a little.  It is an out and back course pretty much and I’m really looking forward to it.  In terms of plans for the race, the plan is to run / walk it and to also try something new and run to my heart rate, using the Maffetone method.  My aim is to stick under 149 beats per minute for the first half of the run and then allowing for a drift in my heart rate, try and keep as consistent as possible in the second half.  I have never used this method before in a race, so I genuinely have no idea what time I will end up at.  Can't wait to give it a go and see what happens.  

 Fingers crossed I finish strong!