It came out of nowhere, and it was totally unexpected - I had a great run last night. It was just your average 9 mile base pace run, but the mental and emotional place I ended up on the other side of that run is more important to me than all my key workout performances of this training cycle combined.
As I set out last night, I expected to feel some residual fatigue. Although my mileage was reduced from 80 to 55 last week, the quality of each run seemed to increase, wiping out my ability to feel the "rest" effect. Instead of fatigue, however, I felt something else as I began to run - a stabbing pain in my butt (piriformis?) on the left side, and a very tight/ sore left quadricep (hip flexor?). Instant alarm bells! Down the mental road of injury I went, full speed ahead, exploring every avenue of disaster this new information brought.
A mental eternity later (equivalent to about 2-3 seconds in real time), I decided to just relax and let the soreness work itself out. I made a special effort to set all thought aside (yeah, good luck with that! my brain screamed) and just run. About a half mile later, I realized that although I was sore, and there were definitely some issues going on that needed my attention, I felt really strong. Not the first couple miles of a run strong, and not the fake, caffeine-induced kind of strength, but something far more substantial and personal. Like I was tapping into a deep, limitless even, reservoir of strength. It felt as if my body had absorbed all the recent hard training, become stronger for it, and was giving me a preview of what it had done for me. Look, it said, you are ready to go.
The ironic thing is that earlier yesterday I had gone through the steps to determine if I was ready to attempt to BQ at Charlotte, and wisely (I thought) had decided I was in fact not ready. I came to this conclusion based not on what my workouts were saying, because they say I'm ready to run at 8:48 pace, but on the "other factors" that go into running an ideal race. Experience, confidence, the course, the weather, etc. I concluded that it would be smarter, and I'd feel less pressure, if I kept the "sub-4 hour" goal and the "BQ" goal for different races. Don't get me wrong, I still think this is a "smart" move, but it feels theoretical, and so just like with all things that seem "good in theory", some part of me will continue to doubt it until it's proven.
During last night's run, I realized my true race strategy: I have to honor my training. I can't ignore the months of work I have put specifically into this race. I can't ignore the wisdom I've gained, both mentally and physically, from the training process. My body is trained. It knows how to do this. I have to honor that. My brain is just along for the ride--and quite frankly if I could leave it home on race day, I would.
This means that I am not running this race for a sub- 4:00 finish time. It means I am running the race that my body is prepared to run, and I have tried my best to prepare it to finish in 3:50. But I won't force that finishing time upon myself. if I try to force my body into running the race my mind wants to run it will backfire (see: Rutledge Half Marathon Race Report). I have to trust that my body knows what it's doing and understand that the finishing time is an output of that trust.
So my race day strategy will be to start off somewhere between the 3:45 and 4:00 pace groups.
The first couple of miles will be slowest, at about 9:06. Then I plan to ease into 8:56's, and hit my target pace of 8:48 for miles 10-17. The last six miles will be whatever I've got left. If I can run the final 10K in just under 54 minutes, I should come home in 3:50 and change.
While out there my biggest challenge (I hope) will be sticking to the pace plan through 18 miles. It will feel too slow in the early going....but it isn't. Any faster and I'll pay a big price later in the race. I know that no matter how many times I hear that and think I understand it, it's still very easy to be seduced into starting out faster than I should on race morning. It's so easy to run the first half of a marathon 10-20 seconds/mile....or more....faster than you should and die in the last 6 miles. That's definitely what happened to me at Buffalo, specifically from mile 13-18.
So that is my game plan: honor what I have trained myself to do by letting me do it. It's simple really, but it takes lots of discipline to execute. Game on.