Jim2's Running Page

Adjusting A Race Plan

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All of my comments about race strategy and pacing assume ideal race conditions. Specifically, good marathoning weather, an unencumbered start and a flat course. It is necessary to adjust or tailor a race plan to allow for any of these conditions being less than ideal.....and you can almost count on one or more of them happening. Your question gives me an opportunity to look at them. Hope you don't mind.

Weather.....Like the old saying says, you can't do anything about bad weather, except complain. Good marathon conditions require no higher than 50 degrees temperature and 50 percent humidity (the marathoner's 50-50 rule of thumb). Anything over 60 degrees or 60 percent is considered "red or yellow flag conditions" or a "hot weather marathon" for most marathoners. Some marathons actually fly a red, yellow, green or blue flag at the start to alert runners to expected conditions. Race goals and pacing strategy should be adjusted to allow for hot, humid or extremely cold conditions. Simply set all time related goals to a slower level. How much? There is no precise formula. It depends on the person. Some are more tolerant of temp/humidity variations than others. Generally, men will lose more in hot weather and women in cold temperatures, since men typically generate more body heat than women due to a greater muscle mass. I loose a lot very rapidly as the temp/humidity rises. But, I lose almost nothing when the temp drops as low as single digits. I've found that I do my best racing at all distances with temps 45 and below and I slow drastically when they go over 60. I once ran MCM (1986) when the temp reached the 70's during the race. I was prepared to run 3:15-3:20, but the heat slowed me to 3:28. Five weeks later I ran another marathon, which was considered to be about a 10 minute slower marathon than MCM, in temps in the 20-30's and ran 3:24. So, the weather at MCM cost me about 30 seconds per mile.

Crowded start.....It's true that, unless you are starting very far up in the field, you will get off to a slow start in a very large race, like MCM or NY. The time you "lose" getting started is in two parts....the time it takes just to reach the starting line and the slower pace for the first mile or so until the crowd thins. It's easy to allow for the first part.....just don't count it. Start your watch when you cross the start line, rather than with the starter's signal. So, unless your race uses shoe chips, your recorded time will be different than your "official" time. So what! It really doesn't matter to anyone but you. Frankly, I want to know, and log, how fast I run 26.2, not how long it takes me to walk to the start and then run 26.2. For the second part, unless you started way back in the pack of one of the very few huge mega-races, you shouldn't lose more than a couple of minutes in the first mile or so. It just increases the time that you will try to "make up" later in the race. It will make your late race challenge a little greater. But don't try to "catch up" in the first few miles. That would be counterproductive. Just the opposite of what negative splits are intended to do. The other way to allow for this lost time is to simply add it to your race goal, especially if it is several minutes, like you could lose in NY. If you lose 5 minutes to your pace after crossing the start because of a crowd, increase a 4 hour goal to 4:05 and consider that equivalent to a 4 hour marathon.

Hills.....Not much you can do about them. They help or hurt your time, depending on the course. They help only on a point-to-point course that has a net downhill elevation change. Obviously, they hurt on a point-to-point course that goes uphill. And, also on loop or out-and-back courses that have significant hills. In these cases, the net elevation change is zero (total downhill equal total uphill), but you can't make up as much on the downhills as you lose on the uphills. It's a good idea to find out what the course elevation profile looks like, if it's available. Then a race pace strategy can be developed. If hills are significant, they should be taken into consideration in setting race goal times, as well as race pace plan. You plan faster and slower splits for those miles that have significant downhill or uphill. Also, if you know the first half is net downhill and the second half is net uphill, you can factor this into your negative split plan. In this case, you might actually run the first half faster than the second and still accomplish "negative splits" when adjusted for the hills. In other words, negative splits should be measured by effort expended. In most cases, the watch provides a reasonable representation of that, but not always.

BTW, a strong wind is another factor which can be handled like hills. You lose more going into the wind than you will gain when it is at your back. So, there is a net loss that should be factored into your race goals and plan unless it is a point-to-point course with the wind at your back. In that case, just "go with the flow" and enjoy it. I lost another sub-3:20 MCM to winds that reached over 40 mph in 1988....but still got a PR of 3:22:37 that year.

Long answer to a simple question.