Thursday, January 5, 2012

Race Strategy: Mississippi Blues Half Marathon

On Saturday I'll be heading to Jackson, Mississippi, for my first (and probably my last) attempt to qualify for guaranteed entry into the New York Marathon. After January 31, the qualifying time for my age group decreases from 1:30 for a half-marathon (or 3:10 for a full) to 1:25 and 2:58 -- in other words, not bloody likely.

Even to get a 1:30 I'm going to need to run a nearly perfect race. To hit that time I'll need to average 6:52 per mile; the best I've done yet was at the Bridges Half Marathon in October, when I averaged a 7:00 pace, for a 1:31:37

Tiny details can make the difference when you're scrambling for seconds. For example, during that race my Garmin actually showed me running a 6:52 pace for the entire race. Unfortunately it also measured the course as 13.34 miles instead of 13.1. So I'll be employing the method I used at Richmond to adjust my Garmin to match the actual mileposts in the race. I sum up that method here -- basically I'll be using manual lap times instead of the Garmin's auto-lap feature.

Another key to the race is the way I'm handling the taper for this event. Following Fellrnr Jonathan Savage's model, I'm doing a three-stage taper for the race, though I'm modifying the plan a bit from what Fellrnr suggests, partly because he is usually training for ultrarunning events, while this is a half-marathon. Fellrnr's golden rule of tapering is to never run at less than race-pace during the taper. While I agree that long, slow runs won't help during a taper, running at a 6:52 pace takes a lot out of me, even for just a few miles. So I've done a couple race-pace runs, and interspersed some race-pace miles into easier runs, but I've also run a couple of easy recovery days, just to stay loose.

What I ended up doing was a 70-mile "overload" week last week, including a couple of very intense 15+ mile workouts. Then I quickly tapered by reducing distance and trying to keep some of the runs at race pace. Next up is my "rebound" day, a relatively hard race-pace run the day before the race. Savage did a 5-mile race-pace run before the Thunder Road marathon. I think I'll just do three, which is three more hard miles than I've ever done the day before a race!

During the race itself, there's not much more to do than try to keep a consistent pace. The course itself is relatively flat -- flatter even than the flattest runs I ever do in Davidson during training. Here's the elevation profile:

I basically count two or three "major" climbs of around 50 vertical feet during the entire race, with a couple other small bumps. Even the Bridges Half Marathon had more hills than that. MapMyRun's elevation charts often seem to me to understate the true nature of the course, but even if it has double the climbing compared to what we see here, that's still a lot flatter than what I run on every day. I don't think there's much point of trying to slow down on these hills -- It's better to just try to maintain a consistent pace for the whole race.

The other variable is the weather, which looks okay but not perfect. The temperature at race time is now slated to be in the mid-50s, with a 50 percent chance of rain. I'd prefer around 40 degrees and overcast, but as long as it's not too windy and I'm not running in a downpour, I think I'll be fine.

Nothing left to do but just run the race. Wish me luck!

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