Too Much Too Soon

Yesterday’s scheduled run was an easy 3 miles. It will be the same tomorrow, Friday, and quite a few more days over the next couple of weeks. The early weeks of my training plan call for fewer miles than I had been running in May. I may miss weeks like this in September when my plan peaks with a 40-mile week, but for now they pose a different challenge. I am struggling with the temptation to run farther and faster than the plan calls for. It might seem that if I feel good there would be no harm in that. But I have learned otherwise.

Pacing is one of the keys to successful running. One one the biggest and most common pacing mistakes is to do too much too soon, leaving you without sufficient energy when you need it most. I learned this at the level of individual races one April morning at the Glass City Half Marathon in Toledo, Ohio. 2012 was off to a good start for me. In January I set a personal record for the half marathon. I completed the Naples (Florida) Half Marathon in 1:53:42, an 8:41 pace. On April 14th I ran the Martian Half Marathon in Dearborn, Michigan with my son Shawn in 1:57:11. (Shawn is much faster, but is nice enough to slow down to run at Dad’s pace.) Just one week later I ran Glass City.

April 21st was a perfect morning for running. It was cool and sunny. I had slept well the night before and my breakfast of a banana, 6 Cliff Shot Bloks, and a small bottle of Gatorade was sitting well. I felt energetic and focused. I was ready to crush the PR I had set in January. The gun went off, and I headed out fast. My typical strategy in a half marathon is to run the first 1-2 miles at a 10 minute pace, then gradually accelerate. At the first mile marker I checked my Garmin. My pace was just over 8 minutes. My brain said slow down, but emotion and adrenaline overruled it. I kept going hard. Around mile 5 I was having trouble breathing. I took a short walk break to adjust. It was the first of 3 I would need to take. I didn’t fully recover until mile 11. I looked at my watch, did a quick calculation, and realized a PR was still theoretically possible. I steadied my pace and pushed ahead. The finish line was in the University of Toledo football stadium. I could see it. I summoned the last bit of strength I had and sprinted across the line. 1 hour… 53 minutes…and 46 seconds. 5 seconds too many. No PR that day. Going out too fast had done me in.

My “too much too soon” problem was not limited to that morning. I made the same mistake for the entire year of 2012. I completed 4 sub-2 hour half marathons between January and September. I ran a total of 1,000 miles that year, most of them before the Grand Rapids Marathon in October. In theory I was better trained for that race than any I had ever run. Yet it turned out to by my most disastrous. There is more to that story that I will save for another day, but one of the many lessons I learned in 2012 is that a training plan requires the same disciple in pacing that a race does. So I will stick to my current plan and run an easy 3 tomorrow. And Friday.


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2 thoughts on “Too Much Too Soon”

  1. Good article, John. I needed to read this. I was just thinking about this very phenomenon yesterday. You have encouraged me! Thank you.

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