Fly and Die

Maybe it's time for a little more education.

Nashville seems like it was months ago--since I've been home, I've sat on the sidelines of a soccer field for about six hours, finished two work assignments, celebrated my 39th birthday, made 10 school lunches and cleaned up too many puddles of dog urine, compliments of my aging dog that has a bladder infection—-so I won't bore you with a full race report.

But I will say this: I, as usual, went out way too fast and couldn't hang on.

I threw in the birthday line above to slyly reference how old I am. To modify a phrase I say at least daily to my kids, I should know better. I should know that the human body can't do something it isn't trained to do. I should know that the "wow, this feels amazing!" sensation--the sky is blue, the hill is down, the race is new, I am fast--that gets me to about mile 2 doesn't last for 11.1 more miles, despite my always thinking it will. I should know that 20 minutes does not a 2-hour race make.

Alas, I do not.

In other words, I suck at pacing. I fly and die. I guess I could look at it optimistically: I have so much faith in myself, I think I can keep up 8:15 miles for a half-marathon, despite having never come anywhere near those splits for the past year. Or I could look at it realistically: I don't have the mental control to physically hold myself back at the beginning, nor do I have the mental toughness to physically push myself at the end. Either perspective ends the same: namely, walking way more in the second half than the first, and watching my formerly low splits blow up like a pregnant woman.

I've got another shot at the 13.1 distance on May 21 at the Ogden Marathon. The time between races isn't  long enough to, thankfully, have speedwork pay off, but it may be enough time to amass a thimbleful of race smarts. So I set out to try something novel for me on Saturday: a negative split, or when you run the second half of your race or run faster than you run the first.

I didn't want my Garmin; instead, I wanted to rely on my (non-existent) sense of pacing and the mile markers on the path, which I'd clock with my trusty Timex. I planned to run somewhere between 6 and  8 miles on an out-and-back course; I'd keep the pace steady and doable on the way out, and when I turned for home, it would be time to let 'er rip.

So I start, and of course, the first mile always feels great. I run the first mile in just under 9:00. (My time in Nashville was 2:02, or about a 9:20 pace, so--surprise!--I'm going out too fast again.) I consciously slow down, which is as easy for me to do as changing a flat tire on the minivan or making bread from scratch. Which is to say, not in my wheelhouse of skills; I usually just slam on the brakes and walk when I can't run anymore.

But I do think slow and steady--I'm aided by a bland Fresh Air interview--and at 35 minutes, my half-way point, I stop, suck down a Lemon Sublime GU and put on some tunes to propel me home.

I set out, guns blazing. Probably running a 7:xx minute mile. Definitely cannot hold it for more than 800 meters or so. Despite being fairly smart in my pre-children year, the fact I'll be running for about 35 minutes simply does not register in my admittedly now less-sharp brain. I feel so good right now! What's three more miles!? My  first mile back clocks in around 8:20. Great on one hand--always nice to see low numbers--but really, not so great. My only goal is to come in under 35 minutes on the way back, not send myself into anaerobic shock.

The next mile? Oh, a 9:30 or so. Dang it. D.A.N.G. IT! And, to add insult to injury, I'm wiped. I stop my body and my watch (yes, that's cheating), adjust my playlist and catch my breath. I set off again, and keep asking myself, "Can you run a little faster? Just a little faster?" Not Kentucky Derby fast, but just a small nudge up my speedometer. My legs respond accordingly, and I hit stop on the Timex at 1:09:04 to finish my run.

I ran a negative split by 56 seconds.

It was far from a perfect exercise--I actually cheated twice on the way home--but I think I felt more proud of that run than I did of my half-marathon effort. I did what doesn't come naturally to me, and tasted success; that combination, whether it's starting running, hitting a new distance, or trying to coax your body to run slower or faster than it wants to, is always a tasty boost to the ego.

Let's hope there's another bite waiting for me in Ogden.

24 responses to “Fly and Die

  1. Hi Dimity, With the exception of the geriatric dog (whose urine I haven’t had to clean up because she passed on to the big dog park in the sky 2 months ago), my life – post Nashville – has been almost identical to yours. Soccer fields, school lunches, and assignments. Life back at the ranch, right?!

    As for the fly and die problem, we at Oiselle have put our heads together and devised what we think will be an ingenious solution to this type of problem. It’s an apparel product of course and we’re calling it Cranium Compression. Much like the compression socks and sleeves that have become all the rage among serious racers, it’s a compression garment for your head. Once you squeeze your noodle inside, it instantly raises your race IQ by three-, five-, maybe twenty-fold! Hard to believe, I know (but what revolutionary product isn’t?) So…worried about going out too fast? Not now. Ever kick too soon? Nope. Tend to try new foods at mile 20? No way. The Compression Cranium literally squeezes those crazy, half-baked thoughts right out. Imagine the possibilities…

    1. Love it, Sally! I’ll be first in line to buy one. Or maybe I’ll test it for Runner’s World…:) Sorry to hear about your dog. I realize one day I’ll be sad when I’m no longer mopping up her messes, but it’s certainly not the most fun I’ve ever had.

  2. It’s so good to hear that from someone else. My first half (Princess) I ran a very consistent pace without anything to pace me. My husband complimented my internal pacing over and over. I guess I let it go to my head because I ran a half 3 weeks later in my hometown and started off way too fast (I’ll blame it on the new toy I bought because I thought it would help me to know my pace as well as the fact that the first 2 miles of the race were basically downhill) and just couldn’t keep up with that pace past mile 4 or 5. I was too upset with myself for having a longer time on my second race. Part of me wants to buy a Garmin, but part of me wonders if I’d be better without one in race situations. Maybe just use it for training. Yeah, right, like I could leave it at home. Happy Birthday BTW!

  3. I love how you told this story. I too suck big time at pacing. I can’t help it, I feel so good in the beginning miles. And then later, when I can’t breathe I’m kicking myself. I need to try this. This is why I panicked out of my first 1/2. I could have made it 13.1 but pacing scares me in a race. so thank you!!

  4. I used to be the queen of “start too fast”… now I don’t know what I’m the queen of… I suppose I’m the queen of “I haven’t raced in so long I don’t know what I’m capable of so this race I’m doing on my 35th birthday next week should be really entertaining…”

  5. Were you running with me this weekend? I will turn 39 this year, too, and also have trouble slowing down. I just blogged this, myself. You must have been reading my mind. Or my blog. 🙂 Glad to know I’m not alone in the pace case.

  6. I am sooo you! I’ve run negative splits twice and I remember them well…mostly because it’s only been twice. I felt so awesome when they were over. First time I set the bar very low and did 6 miles close to an 11 min per mile pace so then it felt “easier” to go for the second 6 miles at a 10 min per mile pace. Second time was a 10 mile run along the marathon course, fueled by younger faster woman who I don’t usually run with…first 5 miles were just under a 10 min. per mile and the second 5 miles were around a 9:30 pace. I can’t feel my pace but need to look at my watch every 2 seconds and then I think my watch is broken when the number looks funny. Oh well, practice, practice, practice.

  7. Loved this…laughing still. Just bought a Garmin for myself in the hopes it would help with my pacing issues. Obviously it is a personality quirk that thanfully I share with others! Glad to know I am not the only one who runs myself silly when the sun is shinning, it’s down hill and early in the run. Will keep working on reigning my mental self in at the start.

  8. Wow! Talk about Deja Vu. I did almost exactly the same thing on my 1/2 marathon 10 days ago. Goal pace – 9:47. 1st mile – 9:30, 2nd mile – 9:35. Felt Great! 3rd mile, 9:50 and it went down from there. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I do that EVERYTIME I run a marathon. I blame it on the runner’s high that is especially HIGH at the beginning of a long race. The adrenalin kicks in and it’s almost like we can’t help ourselves. I hate to say this, but Im glad Im not the only one!!! I actually know there is actually of reasons for it. Like nutrition, and certain speed workouts prior to race, but in the end, I think I just always end up forgetting that no matter how good I feel at mile 6 or 7, mile 20 is a whole different race! Good luck at Ogden Half!!!

  10. Happy Birthday! I am sharing this one with my husband — this is SO much like how he runs. I bought him personal training sessions for this issue and we worked together on pacing just this past Saturday — very timely!!

  11. This is a problem for me, too. I have the Bolder Boulder coming up, and though it’s a shorter race, this exact thing happened to me last year. I want a PR this year, so I know pacing myself at the beginning will be key. You’d think after all these years I’d be better at it…

    Happy B-Day! I’ll be 39 next January. I definitely think the 30s have been better than the 20s!

  12. Happy Birthday Dimity! It’s great to know that a seasoned pro like you still struggles with the ‘fly or die’ syndrome. I thought it was just newbies like me. You give me hope. This doesn’t make me a bad runner. Thanks!

  13. My friend and I are doing a 1/2 this weekend and then we are doing the Ogden 1/2 next weekend. We are going for our Half Fanatics. We have had long discussions about our pace and split times. It is always a constant battle to know when to hold back and when to go for it especially when we feel great. I love all your posts. They brighten my day especially when my run was not as strong as I felt it should be!

  14. I’ve never yet run a negative split, ever, no matter how short the run and I hear you on walking during the last couple of miles of a half. I’ve really got to work on this, so thanks for the motivation!

  15. After over 10 years of running competitively, I still struggle with this pacing part. My Garmin helps a little now but I’ve always started out faster than I finish. This has been one of the things I’ve worked on the most this time around. I say it is the dreamer and fighter/go-getter in you…a good trait! 🙂 Keep learning! Nice reflections Dimity. 🙂

  16. I always learn something new around here.

    I, too, recently turned 39 and I just ran my very first 5K yesterday. I wanted to thank you guys for your book, which I re-read in part Saturday night (the chapter on mental toughness) to get myself ready. Racing is a very new experience, one I was unexpectedly pleased with. Thanks, again!

  17. I am going through the same, also preparing for a 1/2 that weekend. I did a run last week, checked my time at mile 2 and thought “crap!! there’s no way I can beat that coming back!”. Pacing is a very under-appreciated skill!

  18. This is my struggle as well. After a cold winter running inside, I thought I had improved my pace and would be able to keep myself steady for (just) 7k. Outside? Whole other ballgame, it seems, where I can’t seem to pace myself at all. Overall time is the same, but the self-recriminations are not when it feels like I shouldn’t be walking and should be able to stay in the nice comfortable talk-to-your-neighbor zone the magazine articles talk about.

    Why is it that when I talk to other runners about this they seem to think I am just not trying hard enough?

  19. It makes me feel better to know that someone much more experienced at road races than myself can still struggle with pacing. It’s tough to not just “go with the flow” and run as fast as what currently feels good! That’s why I like to run without my Garmin occasionally and just let my legs be the judge of the pace but then the whole time I’m wondering how fast I’m going…ugh!

  20. Nicely done! I love using my Garmin for these exercises – put it on virtual trainer, and you see exactly what your overall pace is. Much easier to not over- or underdo it if you can keep it steady from the beginning. If you use the software to set up a workout (great for doing intervals without a track), it actually beeps at you if you go outside a certain range, either too fast or too slow (can be quite annoying, and is therefore effective!). Just a thought. Good luck!!!

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