Tips for Racing Wisely - Page 3
Breaking the negative or even split down further, divide the race into four quarters. In the first quarter, you’ll establish a reasonable pace. It should feel doable, even a little slow, but familiar from all the times you’ve practiced starting at that pace during training. By the second quarter, you should feel like you’ve settled in. You should be clicking off splits at exactly your target pace, and while it may take some work (sometimes more than you expected in the second quarter), your speed should stay steady.
In the third quarter, things get interesting. The term “third-quarter slump” applies to school years, college semesters, football games—to sustaining attention on almost any subject. And it definitely applies in races. In the first half, you’re relatively fresh; in the fourth quarter, you’re almost there. The third lap of the mile, the third length of the 100 in the pool, the third quarter of the marathon—these are the tough ones. Therefore, prepare yourself to bear down especially hard in the third quarter. Use all your mental skills, remembering intention and goals, checking form and breath. If you can meet the drive to slow in the third quarter with your best effort to stay focused and pushing, the fourth quarter will take care of itself.
In that fourth quarter, you’re almost there. You’ve committed fully to the pace, now you just need to hold on to it. If you are pacing correctly, your perceived effort will increase steadily and your pace will maintain. If you can speed up, do, and you’ve learned to go a little harder overall in the next race. If you are slowing, you’ve learned to go a little lighter overall.
Running in the last mile of the Scream, a downhill half marathon in the Pisgah National Forest in 2012, I came up on a young man who was really applying himself to holding his pace. We chatted in one-phrase dialog for a moment, and he said he was running his first half marathon: “It’s really hard!” I assured him that meant he was doing it right, and that if he was dying to slow down, it meant he ran it well and just needed to keep pushing to the finish line. The fourth quarter should feel very hard.
Racing your four quarters well comes down to building confidence over the course of the race. In the first quarter, you should feel reasonably confident that you can hold the pace—say, 75 percent certain. If you are 100 percent certain you can hold it, you are probably not racing to your personal best. If you are less than 50 percent certain that you can hold it, you are probably starting too fast. As the race progresses, your certainty should grow. Some time in the third quarter, your confidence may flag. Expecting this rough patch is helpful, so when you do hit it, you can know it’s normal. Return to your intention, check your pace, relax your form, and take full breaths. Ask yourself again if you can hold the pace. If your answer is “I wish!,” slow down a touch. If your answer is “I think so,” hang in there. And if you find your answer is “I know I can,” speed up.