Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Dirty Deed of Discipline

When I was in my early teens, my family was stationed for an Air Force assignment in the Depths of the South (also known as Barksdale A.F.B. in northwest Louisiana). Having just moved there from our previous two-year assignment in upper-state New York, it was quite a culture shock. Everything was different. The landscape, the weather, the food, the people. Not any better or worse... just different. In a way, I felt like I was plopped into a huge vat of steaming gumbo, made from chicken, sausage, shrimp and anything else that crawled by. Diversity suddenly became a way of life for me and I had to adapt to it very quickly in order to survive.

One of the most starkly noticable differences in Louisiana was a certain method of discipline employed by the school system. Soon after I started attending the local junior high, I remember sitting in my English classroom one morning, quietly doing work surrounded by classmates when from the hallway echoed the resounding cries of a young man being vigorously paddled on his backside by a teacher. My head shot up, my mouth dropped open and I silently gasped with horror at what I was hearing while all those around me continued on with their work as if they heard nothing at all. I became instantly familiar with the practice of corporal punishment that day and by the time my family moved to our next military assignment two years later, I had become as outwardly unaffected by it as my classmates. Of course, I was certainly already familiar with other methods of discipline simply by being a child raised by two loving, but firm parents. I don't recall my parents ever resorting to spanking me as a young child and as a teenager, the most effective discipline for something I'd done wrong was simply the knowledge I had disappointed my parents. Certainly, the diverse exposure to discipline in my life has taught me of its merit and value when it is applied appropriately.

And now, three weeks before my third marathon, I am in dire need of some good 'ol-fashioned discipline. I'm not talking about the paddling kind of discipline, though. I'm not even talking about the spanking kind (insert mischievous grin here). I'm talking about the kind of discipline that's required to run a negative split in a race. The kind that forces my resolve to start a race slowly-- much more slowly than my spirit and legs are ready to perform. The kind that promises rewards in return for patience and obedience.

Although it's still weeks away, I can already sense this marathon in Ogden is going to be a turning point for me, regardless of its outcome. I've passed the starry-eyed emotions of being a first-time marathoner. I know I can finish a marathon, that's not the issue. The issue now is finishing stronger, finishing better. And yes, finishing faster.

I'm not going to qualify for Boston (under a 3:45 finish) in three weeks. It just ain't gonna happen and to be perfectly honest, I don't want to qualify for Boston yet anyway. I don't believe I've put nearly the time, dedication or committment into what qualifying for Boston deserves. What I do expect to happen in three weeks, however, is making a marked, solid improvement in my performance. I expect to come closer to that qualifying mark than ever before and that's where the need for discipline comes in.

Somehow, some way, I have got to figure out how to run a smarter marathon. As I've mentally analyzed my performances in past races, including my most recent half-marathon in Salt Lake City, it seems obvious my perceived successes and failures have come down to how disciplined I was in the first half of the race. Simple as that. How well did I control my adrenaline and urge to just go, go, GO in favor of conserving the energy I would desperately need in the second half of the race? Admittedly, the answer is not very encouraging. It's a blameless fault, I think, as many runners have the tendency to start out too fast, especially in the excitement of a race environment. But I'm also beginning to believe it's a mistake of inexperience and after five years of running, I ought not to be consistently making such a glaring mistake of inexperience.

So, my task for the next three weeks is practicing running negative splits by training my body how to better start out slowly. As in molasses bread pudding slow. It will require keeping an eye on my GPS to keep myself in check, then not freaking out when I see numbers that are ridiculously molasses. Then, when I reach the halfway mark, it'll require kicking myself into gear despite finally feeling comfortable at the slow pace. Both halves are going to be miserable, just in different ways. But that's the dirty deed of discipline and I'm ready to get filthy.

And I'm not even talking about spanking.


Allen said...

Angie, here are some ideas, for whatever they're worth.

1. Decide the pace you'd like to run if you run a flat split, both halves the same.

2. Decide how much slower you want to run the first half. I don't have a feel for how much slower would be recommended. As a pure guess, with no basis in reality, I would say 30 seconds/mile.

3. Decide how much faster you want to run the second half. Again, as a pure guess, I would say your flat pace or maybe flat - 15 seconds.

The numbers you come up with for #2 and #3 are numbers that only you can decide. You know your body and how much you can push it.

4. I'm assuming your GPS is a Garmin. Set the little guy (I've forgotten what it is called) for your pace during your first half. Follow that guy. If you get behind, speed up a bit. If you get ahead, slow down a bit. Your goal is to finish the first half in your chosen pace, and that little guy will do that for you, if you have the discipline to follow it.

5. Take a short walking break mid-way and change the pace of the little guy to be your new pace for the second half.

6. Follow the little guy for the second half. That little guy is your rabbit. It sets the pace for you. Your challenge is to run with it, not faster, not slower.

If you don't want to change the pace of the little guy for the second half, just turn it off and follow the times you've written on your hand (the technique we used in the days before GPS were invented). Before the race, calculate the times you should arrive at mile posts during the second half and write the times on your hand.

I used the "writing on hand" method during my four marathons. The numbers were centered on 4 hours, and my actual times ranged from 3:59 to 4:12. The electronic version in your GPS is a much better way and allows you to focus your discipline on following your electronic rabbit, not on a blurry goal of running a negative split.

Of course, if you feel like it, you can say goodbye to the little guy and speed up to finish in a blaze of speed.

As a double, you'll know before the race begins what your pace will be in both halve, and you can thus determine what your time for the whole race will be.

If you discover during the race that you can't keep up with the little guy, that's ok. Don't get discouraged. It just means that you were too optimistic in deciding up front what your paces should be. Don't beat yourself up about it. Just slow down a bit or take a walking break.

Since this is your third marathon, it's likely that your body hasn't fully adjusted to the stress of the marathon. So, don't plan for a PB by a big margin.

Frayed Laces said...

You can definitely do it, but you're right--it takes discipline. If you're a "to the numbers" person like me, you MUST decide in advance what pace to take the first half. Consider anything along the course such as hills that may slow down your pace. Pick that pace and STICK TO IT! If, after about 16 miles or so, you still feel strong, then continue picking up the pace every mile. How amazing would it feel to sprint your way across the finish? Just summon the discipline that took you through the training and you can rock this marathon, sista!

robison52 said...

I like Allen's suggestion of using the Garmin's virtual training partner (my partner is named "Garfield" what's your partner's name?) You really don't need to reset the Garmin's virtual partner, just trail him about 5-10 seconds per mile, than strive to catch him during the second half of the race.

Does Ogden have pace setters or pace balloons? Also, finding someone who has the same time goal as you during the race would be very helpful as you each can encourage the other.

Will Cooper said...

Found your blog surfing the "blogosphere". I'm a newbie blogger but long time runner. As for negative splits, the secret about them is that when you pass poeple, you take energy from them. When you get passed, you give energy, not good when you need every ounce late in the race. Good luck!

Nitmos said...

If you can master the discipline to run negative splits, please share with everyone else. This is tough for me. I tend to follow the ill advised, run hard, run hard, run hard, hang on, hang on...almost there..FINISH technique. Which makes the last 5 miles pretty miserable. Good luck.

See Zanne Run said...

this is indeed a tough one. i ran negative splits in almost every long training run & was pretty confident that i could do it in the marathon - alas, that was not to be. i liked the suggestion of factoring in hills, etc, that may slow you down. and i totally hear you on that whole "not freaking out over the slow as molasses time on the clock" when you are trying to be slow, saving the good juice for later. its hard! i have no doubts though that you will get it figured out - but like nitmos said, be sure to share your secret with the rest of us!!

the last spartan said...

focus on your tremendous mental toughness. You don't need a paddle. You already have the tools. You're a great athlete and we're pulling for you.

M&M said...

I LOVED this post and can't wait to see how it goes for you. I ran negative splits in the 30k I ran while training for the Salt Lake Marathon. It was the best feeling I have ever had while running. You can do it!! There is great advice in these comments. Just trust your training and stick with your plan.

Jen said...

Found you over on marathon mommies so I came on over. Loved this post on negative splits. This is a huge problem for me no matter what I do in training, I have a hard time doing it in a race. I'll be doing the Ogden marathon too, so I'll look for you. I did the Salt Lake Marathon as well and that wind really beat me up as well. However, your shirt is WAY cuter than mine! I was wishing I would have done the half! Good luck Saturday!

Jen said...

Just wondering if you cared if I put a link on my blog to yours. You don't have to post this comment, just wondering!

Tall Girl Running said...

I'd be honored, Jen. Thanks!

M&M said...

Just wanted to say good luck! I am wishing you negative splits! You will do awesome!

Anonymous said...

Barring any difficulties, you should be about an hour or so into your recovery. I'm chomping at the bit to find out your results! We're all rooting for you!

A true blog FAN!