Thursday, 10 March 2011

Goal setting and a fear of failure

Before I adhere to the title I'll do a one sentence resumé of yesterday:

Did intervals session on the dreadmill due to the gales - all fine - and stuck quite well to calorific target. Well done me.

For someone who has run two marathons previously I'm still very much the novice. In part that's because my first two forays into the realms of the 26.2 miler were deliberately 'safe'.

In 2007 I had a good deal of disruption to training in the final weeks and on the day it was 32c, some 25c warmer than any run I'd done in the previous 6 months. I took it very easy but was still badly affected by the heat.

Then, in 2009, I'd only trained off 2 runs a week for 12 weeks due to a lower leg injury that had kept me on the injury bench for nearly 8 weeks beforehand. I set myself a suitably conservative target, did the first half very slowly as a result and ran comfortable negative splits.

This time I'm gunning for an ambitious target. Probably.

On Runners World there has been a bit of discussion of late about gold, silver and bronze targets for the race and I really don't feel I can set mine yet.

All along I've been looking at 3:30 but that's mainly been based on a September 10k time indicating I might be able to do 3:28 or similar. That's assuming I'm equally suited to the longer distance and am not a more natural 10k runner - and I have no idea if that's the case as its never been tested.

Until this week I hadn't really considered pacing too much. I'd loosely assumed I'd look to run fairly even splits throughout at about the 8:00 mark on the basis that I generally finish strongly but later revised that ever so slightly to 7:57 or so to give me a tiny bit of insurance. That's the sort of pace I've been aiming for when I've been doing any 'marathon pace' running.

What I've read this week challenges that though.

First up was an extract from a book by Pete Pfitzinger that many runners claim is the best around for marathon training. That suggests the best approach is to run the first half 1 - 3 minutes faster than the second half on the basis that the majority of runners gradually slow through the race.

Taken at face value that would have the first 13.1 miles at about 7:53 and the second at 8:07.

My assumption is that the higher average in the second half would largely be down to significantly slower last few miles rather than anything like an even 8:07 from halfway.

The second thing I read was a thread on Runners World all about the 3:30 target and that featured a very eminent coach employed by the site to give advice on the subject. He seemed extremely aware of the challenges of the last 6.2 miles and generally advised running more like 7:51 pace to halfway, then trying to maintain that until 20 miles to keep plenty in the tank for the final challenge.

That seemed to support my assumption about the first article but implied two worrying things:

  1. That I should look to run 8s a mile faster than planned and for 20 miles (can I do this?).
  2. That the effect of the last 6.2 could be huge as there would be 180 seconds in the bank at 20 miles allowing an average in the last 6 miles of around 8:30, and on the basis of no sudden change at 20 that might well imply being shot to pieces in the last couple of miles.

That scares me.

Where does all this leave me?

Well, I suppose it leaves me facing a choice of whether to take a risk and go for it (risking blowing up big time) or whether to be more conservative and go for a time more like 3:40 allowing 23 seconds a mile slower throughout.

Writing this is cathartic and I wonder if what it boils down to is that I have an excessive fear of failure that I must rationalise and overcome; and that only then can I set targets and make race day plans accordingly?


~Jessica~ said...

You hit the nail on the head with your final two sentences.

It's important not to underthink pace goals and just wing it as I do because that can lead to booking it in the final half of the race and then possibly injuring yourself. Then again, I am strange and run intuitively, never looking at my Garmin until the last mile. But clearly you're a planner, and for the most part that works in your favour.

I say for the most part because most of this post reads very similarly to one of my own anxiety-ridden tangents. It's more coherent and grounded in reality, but the fear of failure and racing thought processes come through in the sentence structure and pacing of the post.

Believing that you can be successful, and will be successful, is something to come to terms with before setting pace goals. And you have the long runs under your belt that prove you can do a 3:30: training times are never a reflection of day. All the multi-marathon runners at my gym run their marathons so much faster than their training runs due to adrenaline/atmosphere/the occasion/whatever. But they're also a bunch of arrogant buggers, nowhere near as humble and self-critical as yourself. You need to channel some of their self-aggrandising tendencies (or just grow a bigger head, in plain English)

Running Rob said...

Thanks Jess. As so often is the case you're spot on.

I lurch between quiet confidence and fear of failure at different times. Its the latter that makes me consider revising targets downwardsfor a marathon as its still a bit of an unknown.

For a 10k, 10m, half I'm cocky enough to set challenging targets. Partly because they're known quantities, partly because there's always another coming up, but also because there's less training investment at risk.

Thinking at the moment is to go for a 7.55 target but with the aim of running nearer 7.53 to give myself an extra boost psychologically at each mile marker(as well as extra time in the bank).

Maria said...

Surely though most people slow down in the second part becauase they set off too fast to begin with and cant maintain the pace. Isnt it better to start off steady and pick up the pace near the end?
I have no idea really (my goal is to finish!), but from what I have read / heard negative splits are to be aimed for.
But you seem to be very aware of your pace so I would think you should try in a training run, maybe in a long run do the first part faster and the second part slower (a few seconds slower than your marathon target pace) and see if you can do it in a training run? Anything to help you see if the goals are realistic or not.

Alison said...

I think that you are over-thinking / analysing. I think you will run the race you run on the day, and that no matter how much you plan beforehand, that can only give a rather refined but nonetheless rather loose pacing plan within which to work. It's only after years of races that people can plan splits to the s, and even then, they often have to change that plan on the day.

However, to engage a little with these thoughts: what's your longest run left? Do you have enough time to put most / all of that in at 3:30 pace and see how it feels?