Ever finish a race and wonder if you could have been a few seconds or even minutes faster?
I find I often get to the finish line feeling pretty gassed, and 10 seconds later feel fine and start to think that maybe I had more left in me than I thought. I think about those middle miles where I got a little conservative just to make sure I'd get to the end.
In short, I let my brain take over when I really should be leaving my legs and lungs to do the work I've trained them to do.
So back in June when I had the chance to talk with American record holder, Deena Kastor, I asked her for some tips.
Q: How do you find that line between running a PR and the fear of blowing up?
A: I LOVE blowing up. I think it's awesome. Because you can't argue that you got the best out of yourself that day. [...] I think it's fun to take risks like that every once in a while. The most efficient pace for everyone to run is even pace. [...] But I also think it is fun to get out and take a risk every now and then. Maybe not in your goal race... but go out and test yourself.
So with that advice in mind, I decided to go for it in my next race, the Shoreline half-marathon in Hamlin, NY. Last year, I ran this race as a dry run for the Rochester Marathon. I ran at a steady pace for even splits and then with 2 miles remaining, I felt safe enough to actually race. My splits from that run show a dramatic negative split at the end. I ran 1:56:19 and I definitely had a lot left at the end, even though I felt tired thanks to my final 2 mile sprint.
My big, hairy, audacious goal became sub 1:40:00. To do that meant to run 7:40/mile (and to only run 13.1 miles. More on that later...)
My legs and lungs could do it, but what about my brain? Well my strategy there was to make my brain think this was normal and expected. My mantra leading up to the race became, "I'm going to run as many 7:40s as I can. And that should be about 13.1 of them."
Drama aside, I ran 1:43:41. Which is 7:55/mile... if I had ran only 13.1 miles. I ran 13.35 miles. (To be honest, an extra quarter mile over a half marathon isn't that much extra, but it does mean that I wouldn't have hit 1:40:00 even if I ran 7:40s.)
I didn't hit my audacious goal, but I hit a pretty solid PR. Almost a full minute per mile over last year's race on the same course. Nearly a full 13 minutes and most of it came from not being afraid to blow up and the rest came from reminding my brain, "Don't worry, this is exactly the plan we agreed upon."
You never know what you can do when you aren't afraid of failure.