Sunday, August 15, 2010

Montreal Marathon Preview: A Risk Management Approach

I did my last pre-marathon long run today. For me this is the moment to pause, introspect and puzzle out my marathon fitness. Here are the basic stats from today's long run:

Distance: 36.4 km
Time: 2:38:47
Pace: 4:21.7 (3:04:02 marathon pace)

Optimistically speaking:
-This run was done at "altitude" 3,412 feet, okay, it's not that high but considering I am a sea-level dwelling creature I think the altitude definitely had an impact. Certainly I felt the altitude on the easy runs I did in the days before this long run.
-I was not completely ruined after the run. I was able to go on an easy hike (okay stroll) with hubby and la cocotte and play a round of mini golf in the hours following. This is far more than I can manage after running a full 'thon all out, so this was definitely not an all-out effort.

On the other hand:
-I took some breaks. I took 60 seconds at 19 km to drink, a 6 minute break (mostly due to logistics) after 24 km, a two minute break after 34 km to drink. I also took a one minute walking break in the 33rd and 34th kilometers because I was hitting the wall and then some however the walking breaks and the 34 km coca cola stop revived me enough to finish in style. Also, as a point of interest, those one minute long walking breaks only slowed my per km time by 30 seconds.
-I took the day before this run off and did ZERO work-outs this week (though 100 km of running, just no quality).

Now is the moment to be painfully honest with myself, disregard any fantasies and figure out in an emotionless, calculating manner what I am capable of running on Sept. 5th. 

Marathoning is all about risk management. One must weigh the risk of going out too fast against the risk of not running to one's potential. My feeling is that things can go horribly wrong in a marathon, to wit, I have gone from running 6:30 per mile to 12:00 per mile within 3 miles one time when I went out too fast. However, it rarely happens the other way. With the exception of one's first marathon, athletes rarely run FAR faster than expected. If that does happen inevitably it is because the runner was either deliberately setting low expectations or didn't know their body very well. To figure out how to maximize performance and manage risk, the runner must realistically assess how fast she can run on race day. Also the runner must figure out what her true goals are in undertaking the distance to determine how risk-friendly or risk-adverse her approach should be.

When I ran my two fastest marathon times (2:54:37 Boston 2006, 2:54:11 Chicago 2006) I was feeling risk friendly. I had already broken 3 hours once (2:59:16 Chicago 2005) and so the mystique of the 3 hour marathon was gone. I was interested to see how fast my body could possibly go. I felt that I had a 25% chance of breaking 2:50 based on a 1:20:50 half marathon in the build-up to each and I was willing to risk blowing up for the chance of running sub-2:50. In each case I went through the half marathon in 1:25 and slowed by 4 minutes in the second half. It was a great outcome, I gave myself the opportunity to run a sub-2:50 but still scored a 5 minute PB.

This brings me to my motivations for Montreal. I am not in PB shape and certainly not in PB shape on the Montreal course which is a toughy. Here is the kind of shape I think I am in - the estimates below all assume no injury, no adverse weather conditions and no adverse stupidity on my part. I can with:

-100% certainty run sub-3:07
-95% certainty run sub-3:05
-85% certainty run sub-3:02
-80% certainty run sub-3:00
-70% certainty run sub-2:58
-50% certainty run sub-2:56

So, a PB is not in the cards. Though I would of course like to run as fast as my fitness allows, it is more important to me NOT to blow up than it is to maximize performance. In other words, I am feeling rather risk adverse. Risk adverse - it is certainly not an exciting or glamorous approach. It's not "go hard or go home" mentality or "second place is the first loser" or "pain is only temporary, pride is forever" or any of that obnoxious commercial drivel. It is, however, how I am honestly feeling. I think I can accept going out on a pace that I can, with 80% certainty handle and therefore 3 hour pace it is. So if I can manage to not be stupid on race day, let's put that at an 85% likelihood :), sub-3 hour it is.



  1. I was waiting for this post to see how things are going and what you want to do.
    If I am in Montreal that weekend, I will come cheer on you.

  2. Of course, I'm going to crunch numbers in excruciating detail, but instinct tells me you're in better shape than you think; you know yourself better than anyone else does, but you might have a shot at that PR, given that recent 1:20:49 1/2-marathon.

  3. mmmonyka - might you really be in mtl that week-end??? let me know for sure! sorry i never answered your other question - i think hubby's license can be converted from slovenian to canadian with time, patience and bureaucracy.

    steveq - the 1:20:49 was in may. i don't know if i am as fit now as i was then. also the 1:20:49 was on a huge net downhill course. my estimates may be conservative, though i did try to be honest, but i do think it is better to be conservative as i am prone to going out too quickly.

  4. I completely agree with Steve Q. You ran a half marathon PR this past spring. You should know this too, but speed stays in legs for longer than one would expect.

    The other question I have is, what did you run your tempos at before you ran your best marathons? Obviously tempos and actual races are entirely different and I haven't the slightest idea how one could safely make calculations from tempos. But I don't have the experience you do.

    There is really a fine line, though, between selling oneself short and starting too fast. I would just say listen to your coach :).

  5. @SLG: unless, of course, your coach is infamous for going out too fast every race!

  6. SLG - my tempo runs and mile repeat intervals and kilometer repeat intervals are astonishingly similar to pre-Chicago BUT the toll it takes on my body is much, much greater. The long runs in particular have been exhausting and I have only been managing 5 days of running per week. I run long Sunday, Monday off, Tuesday, Wednesday easy - i.e. it takes one day off and two days easy to recover from the long, Thursday big work-out, Friday off, Saturday easy (takes one day off and one day easy to recovery from the work-out). So it's weird... maybe it is that I am now 4 years older but although I run the same times, the effort and recovery required to do so is much greater. Not sure how to translate that into fitness assessment. Interesting question - thanks.

  7. Since I pose such interesting questions :), I will also ask, has the temperature been warmer in your preparation this time? (that may explain the toll on the body). And one can't forget breastfeeding and the dehydration that comes from it especially in the heat. That may be another toll, causing you to need longer recovery time.

  8. That's interesting. I did not expect you to run only 5 times a week and only 1 long run and 1 workout. I thought that one needs to run much more to run times you do. So it really is about quality not quantity...

    On a different note, I am soooo risk-adverse. And that's the reason why I almost never run to my potential. I need to work on this attitude. But I feel I have made progress in past two year since I quit T&F team at college, which I did not like at all.

    I might be in Montreal for marathon weekend visiting a friend who studies at Queens if I can stay at his place. I will keep you posted.

  9. SLG - maybe warmer than previous marathons as this is the first early fall marathon i have ever run so the really long runs fell during late july and august and, oh yes, this is the first time i trained for a marathon while living in italy. and while breast feeding. and while getting up 2-3 times per night TO breastfeed.

    mmmonyka - i think it is important to run races where one feels comfortable being risk friendly. this can be b/c you have already smashed a big psychological barrier... like right after you break 20 for 5 km, you might feel like just GOING for it in your next 5 km. Or you might feel risk friendly in a low key unimportant race that you don't particularly care about.
    My training has not been ideal, I prefer to train 6 days per week for a marathon (and some weeks I did) but consistently running 6 days per week just wasn't in the cards this time. I count the long run as a work-out though since typically 1/3-1/2 of them were done at race pace. We'll have to meet up if you come to Mtl. I would offer you a place to stay but our guest room has become a nursery :)

  10. I finished "Wilderness Tips." Several times, I found myself thinking that I'd read it before. I think I'd read some of the stories individually when originally published in magazines (ah, remember magazines?) Your comment that the whole seemed greater than the individual parts is interesting, as it's a collection - it does give a more whole depiction of the author (who I think is better suited to the shorter format, as there are individual passages that I'd pick out and think, "ooh, I like that." And that means I'll have to dig up her poetry collections) and I think it probably resonates more with you than with a male, non-Canadian. But I get the "collection as a whole" feeling - it's what I find in Borges or Schulz. Probably the best collection that does come off as giving an overall impression is Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio"... that impression being creepiness.