I recently did a half marathon. I knew that I was not anywhere near PR shape. What I really didn’t know was how far out from that I was. I planned the race as if I was at PR shape so I could gauge how far off I was. Some could say that I planned to fail. I simply say I was doing a very controlled experiment with a very predictable outcome. The only thing I question was the severity of how far out of shape I was. I went out and ran the first 4 miles in great time. I was working but not laboring. That whole “comfortably hard” thing for half marathons. Then a guy went past me and I tried to stay with him. He was going about 40 seconds per mile faster than me. A few meters later I realized that he was a 10k runner, starting his kick for home. This is one of the dangers of races that share courses or course sections. Keep this in mind when you’re racing. That awesome person that zooms by you may be running half or sometimes a quarter of the distance.
In looking my at my overall performance, my speed was there but I did not have the endurance or stamina to maintain it. I basically started off great and got slower and slower as the race went on. After mile 9 or so I started getting passed and was struggling to maintain anything close to a decent pace. What this translates into in training adjustments is very simple: tempo runs at race pace and fast finish long runs. These are the elements that I need to focus on in my upcoming training. These elements will train my body to be efficient at race pace and also train me to run at race pace when fatigued at the end of a race. I may do another half in October to see where I am again as I prepare from my marathon in December.
If you do a race or a time trial in the middle of training be smart enough to do some analysis and adjust your training accordingly. Any good coach will be more than happy to help you with this. Once you know some of the basics of training you can easily modify your training plan to better suit where you are in your fitness. Always remember that you are a unique individual and that no training plan should survive first contact with actual training.
Enjoy the run.