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
Pace: 4:21.7 (3:04:02 marathon pace)
-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.