"One thing I can learn from you is that a warm-up is just that. Get out a little slower and build up the speed and negative split it so that you are passing people who will be huffing and puffing all along the road."- Jason atwww.cooktraineatrace.com
Well believe me Jason, THAT'S probably the only thing I would have to offer a great athlete like yourself. But the only reason I know this is because I have FAILED so many times by not practicing this method.
Y'all know the feeling ... It's race day! You're really amped-up, impatiently prancing at the starting line like a Thoroughbred in the gate of the Kentucky Derby! Music's blaring! Folks are cheering! You're looking around sizing up all of the other insane marathoners who have made the similar commitment to punish their bodies over the next 3-6 hours. And then the gun sounds!
Like many races you've ran before, you start out fast! I mean 5K fast! You're passing people right & left weaving through the crowd thinking, "Please, you sucka's didn't train like I did!" You feel light as a feather! Like you're hardly running at all! Sure, you didn't train for this pace ... but man, you feel sooooo good ... so why not push it a little more! Fast forward to mile 18, 19, 23, 24 ... your legs hate you! Your stomach is turned inside out! You get splotchy tunnel vision, it's hard to focus, and all you wanna do is sit down for a while! You walk/run the next few miles and at the finish line everyone's congratulating you ... but you know you had A LOT MORE IN YOU than this race will show. This ever happen to you?
For me it's all too familiar. It's a melody that's played over & over in many marathons like a skipping record on a bad Ke$ha song! (Not that this talentless bimbo has any good tunes ... "her music really blowwwws-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ows!") For some reason during a marathon I often confuse myself with Ryan Hall or someone who grew up in Kenya, and go out way to fast, only to crash later in the race for a disappointing finish.
I put together this chart to show exactly what I'm talking about ...
I targeted seven previous marathons that make the point of starting slow. As theraces in blueindicate, when my first 3 miles were slower than an 8:20 pace, I finished the race with a negative split (which means I ran the first half of the marathon slower than the second). Plus in these races I felt strong to the finish and even PR'd & BQ'd in two of them and missed a BQ in another by only 2 minutes.
But as theraces in redshow, when my first 3 miles were ran faster under an 8:00 pace, I hit the wall, had to walk, and finished with very disappointing times. "Disappointing time" I understand is a relative term. Let's just say that I finished at a lot slower pace than I had planned & trained for.
The first 3 miles are relative to your targeted finishing pace. For me a good rule of thumb has been to run the first mile about a minute slower (or more) than the expected overall race pace. Then, over then next 5 or 6 miles, I try to take about 10 seconds off of that pace each mile until I reach my desired marathon pace. So, if you are trying to average a 9:00/mile pace for the marathon, the first 6 miles would look like this:
10:00, 9:50, 9:40, 9:30, 9:20, 9:10 ... then settle into the 9:00 marathon pace
If you use this plan ... YOU'LL FEEL INCREDIBLY SLOW over the first few miles. People will be passing you. And you'll fight the urge to speed up. But hang in there! YOU WILL PASS THESE SAME FOLKS LATER IN THE RACE!!! If you are concerned with a finishing at a specific pace, you might need to speed up on a few miles to get the time back from the slow start, and also adjust your pace a little for hills. But, the slow start allows your heart rate to elevate slower which aids in retaining your glycogen stores longer (more on that later), and thus more energy later in the run when you really need it.
At the Boston Marathon earlier this year, there were three different starting "waves" to avoid congestion. My wave had about 10,000 runners in it. At the beginning of the race, I ran very slow and glanced back at about mile 3 or 4. I literally could only see about 50 runners behind me. I was WAAAAY in the back of the pack! But as I gradually increased my pace, I began passing A LOT OF FOLKS! I finished 5,159th out of 23,879 finishers, and PR'd & BQ'd again. Best of all, 2 out of the last 3 miles were my fastest of the race!
Now, as with everything I recommend ... all I can tell you is THIS WORKS FOR ME!!! I know many runners only run one or two "warm-up" miles and then settle into their marathon pace. The bottom line is, it just depends on how you trained. Your long runs should obviously be your "dress rehearsals" for the marathon. And if you can get into your marathon pace earlier and hold it the entire race ... more power to you my friend! But I can tell you from experience, starting slow has given me much stronger, faster, and enjoyable races. And a "negative attitude" about the splits has been the difference! ...be great today!