Wednesday evening was my first evening of full group training with Ronker’s running group. The feeling of being surrounded by new and experienced runners felt good.
There is so much I need to learn, and will, this season of training — both about marathon running and my own limits. Still, it felt good knowing I picked up on a few things about running and perhaps was not as green as I was last year.
The greetings and speculations of runners to marathon training was so familiar. It was me last year! Having ran a few other races, deciding to set a goal of 26.2 miles, not knowing the details, and having to speculate on things like pace and pounding out that number, 26.2 miles. Such a big number if it’s never been run, and the fear of not being able to finish it. (Still a big number in my mind, and as I’ve heard from those who’ve put lots of marathon miles under their feet always a big number with new lessons and challenges.)
I’m not much of a talker, initially, in big groups. Since I had not run with the Ohio group before (about half or so were return runners when the coach asked for a show of hands of new people), and didn’t see anyone with the Kentucky group I ran with last year, I just observed. It was great listening to the confidence boosts and coaching experienced runners gave to new runners they identified. I even tentatively chatted with a runner next to me before we began our six-mile hill run. He ran a Tough Mudder last year and a few other short races before deciding to do this.
He estimated where he wanted to be pace wise with someone else, and you could tell was a bit competitive. Well, me too.
As we set off I kept with the intended cluster at an 8:30 pace. Then at a street crossing I somehow got ahead of a coach, another guy was beside me, and we were chasing another guy, a really fast guy who meant to run that evening with the elite group. He became the white rabbit – the white rabbit who didn’t know where he was going and got us lost. We tacked on an additional quarter-mile getting back on track (including a stupidly steep hill).
In the back of my mind I kept thinking, slow down. I’m doing the pace deal this year. And the words of a coach pre-run also rang in my head.
“Don’t run each long run like a race. That would be like running a marathon race each week when we near the end of training. Run about 30 to 45 seconds below pace in long run training. Hills and track work will make you faster on race day.”
I swear I ran my best race during a practice run last year. During our last 21 mile long run I flew nearly a half-minute to minute faster pace-wise than my goal pace for race day. Afterward, when we spent a couple of week’s tapering toward race day, each run was miserable. My legs hurt, I never got that spring back in my step, I blamed shoes, and I petered out at the last six miles of my real marathon, missing my goal time by a whole 11 minutes.
Still, during the first practice run of the new season my legs kept saying let’s run faster, we’ve already run further. I felt relatively good as well. I was going faster than I meant to, I could feel it. The course was hilly, but I also had a lot of pre-group running in me that I did not have the year before. I may not have run flat-out, but I did run faster than I should have in the end. The irony is, two guys, one like me who is prepping for marathon two, and a veteran runner who ran 8 marathons so far, were having the conversation I was having in my head as we approached the last mile.
Newer guy had the same experience of overreaching his pace last year and missing his goal (and feeling the sting of the disappointment/coupled with the adulation of completing the race). Experienced guy said running below pace during long runs and saving speed for speed training was smart training. (I’m actually just starting to pay attention to the art of the Yasso –i.e. speed training– that a fellow runner spelled out to me this week at the gym.)
About the last .10 of a mile I found myself dropping the gas and running a flat-out 6 minute or so mile pace because I knew I had it in me. I also passed the first year runner I met at the beginning, coming in, probably on pace and according to the route. I asked him how he felt. He said pretty good and looked it. Better than me those first few runs last year, where I tried to keep up with the 8:30 pace group and always failed miserable in the last mile or two.
So, there is that. Running a lot will make you faster. How fast I am at my base now, what’s realistic and what pace I need on those long runs . . . well those are still things I need to figure out and find the discipline to adhere to in practice.
Hell, I’m still a new guy too.