Tag Archives: race strategy

Checking In 9/2/2021

I’ve formulated a plan for the half marathon this weekend, given the following:

  • I’m obviously not in peak shape, having come off a hamstring/groin problem or injury that derailed several weeks of training.
  • Most of my training in the last two months has been cross training on the elliptical, which while productive (45-80 minute workouts) is not exactly running and has not neuromuscularly prepared me to run long.
  • I have not run farther in one go than 12 miles in this training cycle, and I last did so almost 7 weeks ago.
  • I have to be wary that the hamstring and groin may still be an issue and could suddenly present a problem during these 13 miles.
  • Along with water, the race is serving Nuun, which is sugar free and won’t provide any glycogen during the race. Given I’ve only maxed out at 12 miles in this training cycle, bonking might be a risk.
  • The race is in the Midwest, in cooler but much more humid conditions than I’m used to (recent Vegas humidity aside). Temperatures for the race should be about 65-70°F, but with 60-70% humidity, and it should be clean and sunny.
  • The course is mostly flat, like much of the Midwest, certainly flatter than anywhere outside I’ve been running the last several months. This may be easier to handle.
  • The entire race is on grade-separated paved city trails, and while most of the trail is tree-lined, there are swaths of the route that could be fully sun-exposed. It could feel somewhat hotter than it actually is.
  • There are six aid stations on the course, each spaced about as equally apart as organizers could manage. These stations are about 1.8-2.3 miles apart.

I can’t run this half marathon like I typically would. At best, the last half of the race would be a slow, painful slog… if I could physically continue running at all.

Either way, handled as best as I could, it’s probably going to take a full week for my body to bounce back from this event. But if I successfully run all 13 miles plus any warmup/cooldown, it’s basically the best long workout I’ll have done in a long while, and recovery from that stimulus will set me up well for serious training in September/October.

The plan:

Run the Half as seven (7) 3000-meter repeats.

Looking at it as one 13.2 mile race, the Half seems far too daunting. Looking at the Half as seven sections of 1.8+ miles with water stations between each section makes it feel far more do-able.

This is similar to my approach with the 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K, where I ran 2 mile chunks of the course at race pace then slowed at the aid stations to drink water and cool off. While I PR’d in that race, I was obviously in better overall (injury free) shape then, and I’m not expecting to PR now. My main goal is to complete the Half injury free and however strong I can.

Each aid station being about 3000 meters apart allows me to just run reasonably strong for 3000 meters, then slow down to drink fluid and cool down before running the next 3000 meter section. While I hope to run each of these sections at close to marathon intensity or pace, I’ll be realistic about what my body can do at the time.

Eat a light meal an hour before the race.

To minimize the possibility of a bonk, I should eat in the morning before the race. I’m fortunate here, as there’s a cafe right near the start line that will be open before the race.

Similar to what I did last weekend in Flagstaff for my long run, I plan to jog there as a warm-up, have some espresso and something to eat, relax a bit, use the restroom, then head to the start line and run.

This should set me up nicely for what I anticipate will be a 2.5 hour run (I’d be thrilled if I finished it more quickly).

The focus each 3000 meters will be on form and power.

I have mentioned that my hamstring/groin issues didn’t pop up if I was running with a fully extended stride and consistent forefoot strike. The flip side is that maintaining such form takes quite a bit more effort than an easy jog. But the easy jog has sometimes presented pain, probably because of the form breakdowns I’ve had that likely produced my issues to begin with.

The ideal form, according to Stryd, requires about 230-260 W of running power, compared to the 190-220 W of my typical easy runs. That’s also around my theoretical expected half or full marathon effort.

If I focus on forefoot landing and full follow through during these 3000 meter intervals, on power in the 230-260 W range, I likely can (albeit with difficulty) run the whole race pain free, presuming I’m in minimal or no pain that morning.

If at any point before or during the race consistent pain emerges, go ahead and drop out.

While I want to finish the race, I’m under no legal obligation to do so. If the issues become a problem to the point where running becomes unduly difficult or impossible, I can leave the trail and consider this trip an otherwise bland weekend getaway.

It helps that where I am lodging is actually along the out-and-back course, right near the trail at the mile 3 and mile 10 markers. No matter where I am, I’m no farther than 2-3 miles from where I’m staying. I’ll be packing light so there’s no need to go back to the start line for Gear Check. If I have to quit, I can leave the course and just walk back to base.

For it to happen well before the finish could also accelerate recovery, since I wouldn’t have run 13 miles.

However, my goal is to finish, and if I’m experiencing no undue distress, then I’m going to finish.

So that’s my plan for this weekend, and hopefully things go well.

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12 Tips For Running The Las Vegas Turkey Trot 12K

Las Vegas Turkey TrotBBSC Endurance Running is hosting their annual Las Vegas Turkey Trot at the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail near Hoover Dam on Thanksgiving Day. They’re hosting multiple distances from 5K to a half marathon for the trot.

I’m running the 12K this Thanksgiving Day along with my soon to be brother in law (an avid 1:35-ish half marathoner who will probably run a much faster time than I will). I’m still ramping back up to marathon training fitness ahead of starting training for the 2020 Vancouver Marathon, and this race for me is more of a look-see tune up race… plus a neat opportunity to run a trail race at a distance (12K, 7.46 miles) you don’t generally see.

I’ve recently traveled to Boulder City and run the Railroad Tunnel course to get acquainted. I’ll probably run it a few more times before race day.

There’s 12 unique strategic elements I’ve discovered to running this 12K, and don’t mind giving away to other runners of this year’s Turkey Trot. Whether or not you’re in the running for any race prizes, keeping these 12 elements in mind will at least help you enjoy this race to this fullest.

Plus, even if you’re not running the 12K, these may still help you some: The 12K course is part of the Half Marathon course. And I have some bonus advice for you as well!

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The Open Road Mile: Modifying the mile strategy for non-track courses

Previously I wrote about a strategy for running your best mile on a standard track. Of course, not only do many people not have access to a track, but in many situations you may be asked to run a mile on a course that definitely isn’t a track, e.g. a mile long road race, or a time trial at school, the military, as part of a fitness class, etc.

The strategy I wrote about doesn’t quite work here because it’s built around each of the four laps taken around a track. In fact, as I mentioned when discussing Lane 8, running the mile in a different lane not only changes the start and finish for your mile, but requires you adjust the strategy even then.

So what do you do when you’re running a mile on an unmarked course? Can the strategy be adjusted for that?

Totally. If you don’t have a marked course for your mile, but you at least know you’re running a full mile… this method can be modified by time.

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How to run a focused and pain relieving track mile

Few races or time trials were as painful for me as the mile. Never lasting more than 7ish minutes, the level of effort a mile trial demands always felt brutal.

I’d do one on the track, and before the first of 4 laps was done I was wondering how in hell I was going to manage three more, let alone post a good time.

At the same time, whenever I’d try to pace myself on the mile I’d end up going far too slow out of the gate and no matter how fast I ended up by the end, the end result was always disappointing.

I’d long since figured out how to pace myself in races, but the mile always flummoxed me. The pacing and technique that served me well in 5Ks and longer didn’t work with the mile.

Any distance shorter is mostly about busting ass out of the gate and running as fast as you could. That’s easy. And that doesn’t work for 1500-1609 meters.

But I finally figured it out, how to measure out your max effort in controlled doses and run the best mile you can, on a typical 400 meter track. Once I did this I shattered my mile PR by almost half a minute, and I didn’t even want to die afterward.

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A new 10K strategy, and a 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K race recap

Yesterday I ran the Mardi Gras Chaser 10K on the Chicago Lakefront Trail, experimenting with a different race strategy based on my training. It worked remarkably well and at 52:40 I PR’d by about 32 seconds.

In fact, given better training and circumstances, I could have possibly run this race another minute or more faster. To PR so well despite no specific endurance speed workouts during the past month, despite extreme cold setting back some workouts, was pretty remarkable. I came into this race a little more speed-rusty than I would have liked.

This strategy allowed me to run probably the most evenly paced race-level effort I’ve ever ran. I may have run one or two better races in my time, but this was the most sustainably strong and even effort I’ve given over any full race distance beyond 5K.

I hit the turnaround (the course was an even out and back) at 26:24, meaning I ran the last half of the race at 26:16, a slight negative split.

So how did I do it?


Throughout the (better parts of) winter I had done some 10K-specific training, most specifically The McMillan 10K Workout. That workout is simple: 3 long cruise reps of 2 miles each at 10K pace, with a few minutes of active recovery between. If you manage your desired pace during the reps, you can probably nail the pace in your 10K.

I did the workout every fortnight or so during the early winter, before the F3 Half, the start of my Vancouver Marathon training, and the brutality of Chiberia all intervened. Even then, conditions on the track were often icy enough to slow my desired pace, so I had to focus more on fast cadence and not worry as much about splits.

Other than that, I did no real tempo running outside of the races I ran (Tour De Trails, and the F3). Thanks to the Half and the weather, I went about a full month without doing the workout. Even if I felt confident about my ability to hit a 10K tempo, coming into this 10K I wasn’t convinced I could hold anything close to it for a full, uninterrupted 6+ miles.



The 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K course. (The organizers ended up nixing the shortcut on the way back at the sharp Montrose turn, so it was an equi-distant out and back course.)

The course was a simple setup, with two tables along the course serving as double aid-stations: The first table out was the 1st and 4th water station, and the second table was the 2nd and 3rd water station.

Some approximate measurements indicated the tables were about 1.3 miles apart, with the 1st table being about 1.28 miles from the start line… meaning it was also 1.28 miles from the finish.

By simple math and inductive reasoning, knowing the turnaround would be exactly 5K away (3.11 miles), the turnaround was 0.53 miles from the 2nd table, meaning about 1.06 miles of running from station 2 to station 3.

Despite knowing I could comfortably hold an 8:25ish pace over 2 miles, I didn’t know if I could sustain that pace over 6.21 miles without having trained at speed at all over the last month.

I decided to hedge my potential lack of ability to maintain pace over the distance by turning the race into a long version of the McMillan workout:

Run at race pace until reaching Aid Station 2. I planned to start at race pace, moving my feet light and quick and sticking with it for the 20 or so minutes it would take to reach the 2nd aid station, about 2.6 miles away. This was just a bit longer than a McMillan rep, but from my experience I always finished those workout reps strong, and maintaining the cadence/pace for an extra 3-4 minutes wasn’t that big a deal.

I would blow past the 1st water station and keep moving. The plan was to get to the 2nd aid station before I would…

… slow down, take fluid, and run easy for 1 minute. Previously in races, I would either try to keep pace while taking fluid at stations, or slow outright to a walk and take it easy until I drank what I needed before speeding back up.

I had never tried the middle ground, and I was going to. Slow down to a regular running pace, something like 10-11 minutes/mile, while taking and drinking water. Even after finishing, I would run at this pace until a minute had passed, and then resume running at pace.

This was very similar to the workout, as during my recovery intervals in the workout I didn’t stop. Instead I ran easy around the track and kept moving. This would basically be a slightly higher intensity of the same thing. Once the intervals were finished I was always ready to go again at full speed, and I felt I’d be able to do the same here.

Resume race pace, and keep it until Aid Station 4. This particular “rep” would not be as long as the first, at about 2.3 miles or so (after the recovery interval) instead of 2.6. And that was fine, because fatigue should begin to set in down the stretch, and it would help to finish the 2nd stretch a little more quickly than the 1st.

I’d circle the turnaround, skip past the 3rd aid station, and plan to slow for fluid at the 4th and final station.

Again, slow to a regular run for 1 minute at Aid Station 4 while taking fluid. I would repeat the process for fluid, finish and make sure I got in one minute of easy running, before…

… resume race pace, and finish the race strong. At this point, there should only be about 1.1 miles left, far less of a chunk to run at race cadence. And that never minds whatever kick I could give at the end.


I stuck to the plan, to the letter, up until the 4th aid station, where I felt strong enough that, after a moment to take fluid, I just resumed race pace without any more rest, and finished the race from there. That might have shaved a few seconds off of what was ultimately a sizable P.R., so no regrets about that decision.

The whole race felt surprisingly easy. This wasn’t entirely because of the plan itself: I did focus more on a light, quick cadence and not falling into the trap of straining or overstriding for extra pace. That kept me from unduly wearing myself out in the early and middle miles.

But the plan also gave my effort clear boundaries. I knew that, no matter how badly things were feeling, I only had to get to the 2nd or 4th aid station before I could relax a bit. I knew my training had prepared me for 20 minutes of solid race-pace effort at a time, and for multiple reps of that same 20 minute effort.

It may not be how most people run a race, but this approach gave me the ability to run a better race than I otherwise would have.


This is honestly a perfect approach for any race where you don’t feel comfortable with your ability to run the entire race strong, from the 5K to the marathon. By building in recovery intervals around your visits to key aid stations, you can ensure you maintain an even, strong race effort to the finish.

There are two key caveats:

1) Obviously, you need to have the aerobic endurance to run the desired distance.

I consistently run 4-7 miles in workouts, plus do longer runs beyond that distance, plus on speedwork days (between warmups, recovery runs and the actual workout) I may log over 10 miles. You don’t need to run that much to do well in any distance below the Half… but no plan will work for you if you don’t safely run several days a week, and you ideally should run a weekly mileage of at least 3 times the race distance.

2) You need to do workouts where you practice this approach.

This plan worked for me because I was experienced with the McMillan 10K workout, which basically follows the same pattern. The plan obviously is based on the workout.

If you’re not used to running at your desired pace for at least a couple miles, this plan is going to be very difficult.

The plan can be adapted to where you slow to a regular run for one minute at every aid station, which allows for about 1.2-1.4 miles at your pace. But you still need to be able to run at race pace for reps lasting that distance, several times a workout.

However, that’s still a lot easier than trying to hold such a pace for an entire race without stopping… especially if you’re not used to doing it.


While ideally I can run races without having to do this every time… this is a fine fallback option for any race where the confidence to run the full distance at pace isn’t totally there.

And it can be adjusted for any distance: For example, I could decide to run a 5K as two 2500ish meter reps, taking fluid at the one water station and going easy for one minute before picking it back up and finishing strong. Or I could run a marathon as a series of very long 3-4 mile M-pace reps, taking 2-4 minutes of easy running (and, as needed, hard fueling) at key aid stations.

Even if your race has no aid stations or they’re spaced very far apart, you could bring hydration and just decide to go a set time period, like 20 minutes… then slow to a regular run, drink from your stores and go easy for 1-2 minutes before resuming for another 20 minutes. In fact, if you carry hydration you could do this even if the race has aid stations. You decide on your own how far to go during each “rep”.

Who knows… maybe I’ll do this at Vancouver this May. Or Chicago Marathon this October. Or next month at the Lakefront 10 Miler. Or maybe I feel much stronger for those races and don’t do it at all.

But The Plan worked! And now I have a proven, workable fallback plan for every race where I don’t feel fully confident in my ability to race.


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Strategic approaches to racing the 10 Miler

While not as popular elsewhere, the 10 Mile race distance is somewhat popular in the Midwest, especially in Chicagoland. Chicago alone has two major 10 Mile races, the Lakefront 10 in April (my favorite race) and the Soldier Field 10 in May. Several others (Quarryman Challenge and Fort2Base) are annually held in the suburbs with high turnout. There’s also the 15K (9.32 miles), the close metric cousin of the 10 Miler, and the Hot Chocolate 15K is another popular Chicago race held in November.

Because the distance is not popular like the 5K, 10K, half and full marathon distances, there’s not a lot of strategic material on how to race the distance. The next shortest popular distance is the 10K, which is over 6K shorter. Most runners approach it similar to a half marathon, even though the distance is about 5K shorter and experienced runners are probably leaving a bit in the tank.

What Makes the 10 Miler Different:

The 10 Mile race distance sits between the 10K (6.2mi) and Half Marathon distance. Elite runners can race each distance equally well (though obviously such runners will focus on one versus the other).

Most recreational runners however feel a distinct difference between the effort each distance requires, and the 10 Miler falls squarely between both.

The 10K is the longest distance most can “race” without it feeling like a substantial endurance challenge. The Half Marathon requires substantial aerobic endurance to be able to suitably race it rather than just run and survive it. Some runners even “bonk” at the end of half marathons, even though a well trained runner should have enough glycogen and aerobic endurance to run well beyond 13-14 miles without bonking.

The 10 Miler just begins to tap the bottom of the jar of most runners’ aerobic endurance, and that’s if you run it wisely. A runner who goes hard as they would in a 10K will end up gassed in the final 2-3 miles. The 10 Miler is the shortest race distance at which one needs to pace their running as they need to in a Half Marathon.

Still, you can go a bit harder in a 10 Miler than you need to in a Half Marathon. The ideal 10 Mile race pace is right below where your lactate threshold would be, the point where you body produces muscle-slowing lactate faster than it can process and clear that lactate. The longer you spend past the lactate threshold, the quicker you tire and the quicker you hit your wall.

Your ideal 10K pace in fact is at or just above lactate threshold. Anything faster (5K, mile time trial, all out sprints) is well above it. The reason runners survive and thrive in those efforts is that those efforts are typically a lot shorter. A 5K blows past the threshold, but most seasoned runners finish 5K’s in under half a hour or less. Many runners finish a 10K in under an hour. Sprinters of course are done in seconds. In each case you’re well below your body’s lactate overload limits.

So, back to the 10 Miler. I find the simplest approach is to run 10 Milers mostly as a long distance run (as the half-marathon runners do). Having given the matter some research and thought, I have settled on two strategies for running the 10 Miler.

Strategy One: The Hadfield Method

Jenny Hadfield crafted a smart approach for marathoners and half marathoners running their first race, and I think it translates well to the 10 Mile distance for most people. Along with new runners to the 10 Miler, Strategy One probably best for experienced runners who put in less than 65 miles a week.

The Hadfield Strategy, in short:

  • You run the first 6 miles of the race at a steady but easy pace to maintain.
  • You run the next 3 miles or so while holding a comfortably fast effort
  • Run the final mile at as fast of an effort as you know you can hold for a mile.
  • Notice this strategy is not built around pace, but around your perceived effort.

If you’re not too fixed on finding goal paces, you are welcome to stop there. Just run the first 6 miles easy, the next 2-3 miles comfortably fast, then go for it in the final mile.

However, for more experienced runners, I’m more than willing to recommend something closer to actual paces for Hadfielding the 10 Miler:

  1. Start the race at half marathon pace, and hold this pace until Mile 6.
  2. At Mile 6, pick it up to a 10K effort. Don’t expect to hit your actual 10K pace. You’ll be somewhat fatigued at this point. 10K level effort is enough. You want to treat this portion like the last half of a 10K, except don’t kick or accelerate as you would in mile 5. Just pick up the effort like you’re trying to run an even 10K with a slight negative split.
  3. At mile 9 (or if this is a 15K, mile 8), work up to more of a 5K effort. If you have it in you to treat the final mile like a mile time trial or 3000 meter race, then go. But 5K effort is completely acceptable. Get to the effort level that you can carry in that final mile to the finish line. (Side note for Chicago Lakefront 10 runners: I’d maybe keep it exclusively at 5K effort, because you still have to climb and descend Cricket Hill at the end of the race.)
  4. Once you see the finish line and know you can reach it, kick.

Strategy Two: 10 Mile pace, defined.

The other approach is of course to run the entire race at a chosen, suitable pace as you would any other race.

Again, an optimal 10 Mile pace is right below lactate threshold tempo. Most runners can’t sustain that effort for 75-100 minutes, but a fast runner that can clear 10 miles in under an hour can do so easily.

If you can’t go at least 6.5 miles straight at your desired intensity, asking you to do it for 10 is probably too much. This is why I brought up the previous Hadfield strategy recommending you run by feel, start easy, finish hard, and basically assure yourself an excellent negative split.

That said, if you insist on finding a specific 10 Mile goal pace, I recommend this:

Add your half marathon pace and your 10K pace together, then divide by two.

This gets you very close to your lactate threshold. If you’re above that threshold, you’ll find out the hard way: It will tire you enough that you gradually slow down within an hour. This pace at its hardest is more like a tempo run you’d hold for 60 minutes max.

If you have a few weeks before starting training for the race, you can gauge your actual 10 Mile race pace through trial and error testing. Make sure you don’t have any speedwork or long runs within 2 days of doing the below:

  1. Pick a comfortably fast pace you think you can maintain for an hour, and run an uninterrupted tempo run at that pace for as long as you can. Aim for an hour minimum. IMPORTANT: If your heart rate reaches 90% of your max or your known 10K effort, stop the workout immediately and note your distance traveled.
  2. If you find you can’t run at least 6.5 miles at that pace, wait a week and try again at a pace 5-15 seconds per mile slower (3-9 seconds per kilometer), depending on how difficult your last attempt was. Again, run for at least an hour and aim for 6.5 miles without distress or other trouble. And again, if you miss the mark, repeat a week later with a pace 5 seconds per mile (3/km) slower.
  3. Unless you aim for a pace that’s far too high, you should find out a suitable (or at least attainable) 10 Mile race pace by your 3rd attempt or so.

That is for all intents and purposes your 10 Mile pace. You can train accordingly with that pace until race day.

As for how to train for this race… click here for full info on a 10 week training plan to get you ready to run the 10 Miler.

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