DIARY: National 10k Strategy

I had a few difficult decisions to make when picking my strategy for Sunday’s National 10k.

Since I have no chance of winning the race and we have no team, I can focus solely on my time and need not pay any heed to other competitors and what they are doing on the day. If this was the case, I would have to write a very different article.

My last track session suggested I may now be nearing TPL 23, rather than 24. This means a projected time of 36:50 rather than 37:30. Caution suggests sticking to the time I’ve been hitting most consistently on the track in recent weeks, but it is also tempting to go for broke and send out a major statement of intent.

The second decision I must make is whether to gamble on an even split strategy or the statistically superior 51/49 split strategy (meaning you cover the first half of the race in 51% of the time and the last 49% of the time. Most world records above 1500m have been broken this way).

The compromise
I plotted my figures into Excel and came up with a number of different pacing strategies. I cross-checked these to see what my “outs” where, in poker terms, or in other words, which strategy would allow me most freedom to “change my mind” in the race if things are going better or worse than projected.

With a target of 37:30, I would need to go out at 3:50min/km (06:10min/km) for the first 5k and then increase to 3:40min/km (5:54min/mile) over the final 5k. This would mean running a 19:10 5k, and then breaking my Personal best for the 5k by 28 seconds by running 18:20 for the last.

This method has a notable drawback: If I feel really good on the day, I would have to speed up to around 3:32min/km (5:41min/mile). This is almost 17kph and while it’s a speed I can run relatively comfortable in shorter workouts, all my training suggests it’s not currently a maintainable speed, so this strategy would almost invariably fail.

So to enable maximum flexibility, I will go off at 3:45min/km pace (6:02min/mile) and have a straight split as my “Plan A”. If I keep this speed for 10k, I will finish in exactly 37:30. Should I feel like running faster, I only need to speed up to 3:37min/km pace (05:49min/mile) for 5 kilometres or more to hit 36:50. To keep on track for 37:30, I need to maintain 3:45min/km and anything slightly better than this will place me somewhere in between. All things considered, this strategy keeps the most options open the for the longest.

The pay-off should be multi-pronged: I will pass 3000m in 11:15, 5000m in 18:45, and 5 miles in 30:10, scoring PBs on the last two distances if I pull this off. (with three in one day I would feel handsomely rewarded, if a bit greedy).

And the drawback you ask? Well, there’s a slightly bigger risk of blow-up starting off at 3:45min/km than at 3:50min/km. For those where 3:45min/km pace doesn’t mean anything, it’s the speed that would be required to run the marathon in 2:38, unfortunately it doesn’t translate directly like that!

How To Do It
Many factors will play in on the day to scupper the above strategy: Wind, weather, and other competitors. The latter I should ignore though, since I have no hope of winning the race, and we have no team, there’s no need to pay heed to other runners. I’m only there for a time. Get the job done and get out of Dodge. It has to be clinical, cynical, and controlled, the passion can come after.

Other competitors can assist, however; in windy conditions, drafting would be helpful in reducing energy usage, and if I find anyone seemingly running at my pace, I may “tug in” behind them for spells.

Since road races are not stable environment like the track, micro-correction will be of the essence to prevent big fluctuations in splits. Running too fast or too slow can leave me too tired or with too much work to do for later. Therefore I will program my Garmin to record splits every 400m. For 3:45min/km pace, this works out as an elegantly even 45sec/200m. If I’m a bit fast, I’ll slow down a bit, and if I’m a bit slow, I’ll try and speed up.

This is how I do my work on the track and it usually results in very even splits and I know my body prefers this instead of heavy fluctuations.

Final Test
In the awful rain of yesterday, I conducted my last test on the track: A 3000m time trial at the 10k pace before two days of taper. I desperately need the taper, as I have a sore throat and have been feeling very tired and stale this week (worryingly so). (at the time of publication this has mostly cleared red.)

The test reflected this, it felt harder to maintain pace that during some of my other sessions and while I started out on schedule (3:43), I ran kilometre 2 and 3 in 3:48 and 3:49, finishing in 11:20, at 3:47min/km average. 2 seconds too slow per kilometre (that’s 20 seconds over a 10k).
Given this, I may have to be happy just to break 38 minutes on Sunday, depending on how I get rested up. I’ll keep different plans in my head and decide on the day. After this theorising, the hill racing season will be a nice easy distraction!

Tips from the Master
I got a sports massage from Mark Ryan yesterday, whose run around 31:00 for the 10k, and once went within 2 seconds of the Irish cross-country team for the Europeans. Hill runners will remember Mark for sweeping to victory in last year’s Galtee’s World Trial despite not being at full fitness.

Obviously, I took the chance to quiz him about the 10k. We had reasonably similar thoughts on the final preparations for the 10k (he had some general interesting thoughts on the hard truths of training. I’ll post these later). He also assured me that with a 38:04 9.6km session, run with inefficient floats, I should feel almost a certainty to break 39:00 and he offered further encouragement saying “anything under 40 is good running”. This reminder I will keep so as to not flagellate myself too much if I fail to hit 37:30.

A few easy runs before the race (30-60 minutes) were Mark’s recipe, and I did the same, doing
a slow 11.5km loop of the Vartry Reservoir yesterday, my legs easing up as I went. Today I’ll do a 30 minute hill jog and that’s that then.

Other IMRA runners of note running tomorrow will be Peter O’Farrell, Turlough Conway and Barry Minnock, should be interesting to see how they all do.