Nice n’ Easy

That’s the title song of a 1960 Frank Sinatra album. I used to sing the chorus, “nice and easy does it every time”, to myself while playing golf because slow, smooth and steady swings produce the best shots. I tend to do the opposite in running, rushing forward until I can’t. That approach has generally meant pretty good results, and I’m consistently in the top 5 in my age group for the various length races I enter. For last year’s TCS NYC Marathon this approach yielded what I considered to be a miserable time, both on the clock (4:51), and in my body. I tell people “I didn’t think I was going to die, but I couldn’t rule it out”

This year I finished 3 minutes behind last years’ time, and I couldn’t be happier with that result. I know that sounds crazy, but here is why. Unlike last year I felt great at the finish line and I could actually drink my Gatorade protein shake and eat some pretzels even though I didn’t take a single walk break during the 26.2 miles and my last 2 miles were negative splits.

Last year I figured that my problem was that I ran too slow in the beginning and just couldn’t make up the time, try as I did. So this year I devised my own training program designed to get me to run as fast as I could comfortably run for as long as I could, figuring that if I was far ahead of last years’ time I could go really slow at the end and still beat 2016. I got to the point where I could run 21 miles at a 9:30 pace pretty reliably, but for most of those runs I doubted I could run another 5. Subsequently I learned that this strategy is commonly derided as “bank = bonk”.

By the time I lined up for Sunday’s race I had pretty much decided on a new approach. Instead of trying to reach a goal pace that I was theoretically able to maintain based on my past race results and training volume, I was going to mentally assess how fast I thought I could run the remaining miles and run at that pace. My new goal was not a time but to continue to feel good, and that’s what I worked for. My first 13 miles were even slower than last year, but I didn’t care.

Last year I was struggling pretty hard by the time I got to the Bronx, and by mile 21 I was a part time runner/part time walker begging for the race to end. This year, by mile 21 I knew for sure that I could not only run the remaining distance but probably speed up at the end and cross like a runner, not an extra from The Walking Dead. I ran the last few miles in exhilaration, not dread.

I’ve got a new theory on running marathons. I think it’s like having a jar of grape jelly that you need to put on 26 pieces of toast. Now you can make the jar bigger over time by training, but in the end you need to make sure that you don’t put too much on the first few slices or there won’t be any left for the last ones. Better to have more left at the end than not enough. Nice n’ easy does it, every time.

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