Monday, October 22nd, 2012
A DISTANCE RUNNER'S CHESS MATCH
by Dave Prokop (First of a four part article)
Shakespeare might have said it: “How do I run thee? Let me count the ways.”
There are almost an endless number of strategy variations – not unlike a chess match – you can use in doing the Double Road Race(TM), hereafter referred to as the Double.
By its very nature, the Double is strategy oriented. Almost inordinately so.
At first glance it may seem like a diabolical challenge – “Wait a minute! You mean, I have to race a 10K, take a short break, and then race a 5K? That's a real killer!”
That's also not necessarily a very sophisticated, evolved or nuanced way of looking at it. You see, no one is suggesting you run the opening 10K of the Double absolutely flat out, as hard as you can (would you run the first 10K of a marathon that way?), although you have that option, of course. But that would not seem the wisest strategic choice, since you still have to come back after a short break to run the 5K and you can't afford to fade so badly in that leg it would devastate your aggregate time.
Undeniably, there is a gut check element to the Double. An opportunity to dig deep, very deep if you wish, greater than in a regular road race where there's a single starting line and finish line. But, in essence, the Double is a competition of pacing, of strategy, of tactics, of planning. Oh, you have to be a talented, fit and gutsy distance runner to really excel in such a competition, but the strategy variables and demands of the Double are such that at its zenith it's a thinking man's and woman's competition – a kind of runner's chess match on the roads in shoes, shorts and a singlet.
So let's look at some of the strategies and approaches you can use in the Double – and the options, you'll notice, are almost endless, as are the strategies and moves in chess.
(All photos taken at the Puerto Vallarta Double held June June 16, 2012. This was a small Double Road Race (called the Bob Anderson 15k Challenge). It was very hot and humid yet the men's and women's world records were broken anyway. Carlos Quintero ran 49:15 and Monica Solarzano ran 55:02. photos by Steve Manente for Ujena Fit Club)
1. THE BOMBS AWAY STRATEGY – Go all out in the 10K, maybe even try to set your personal best for the distance, then do the best that you can in the 5K after the rest break. A risky strategy, not for the faint of heart, and not likely to produce your best aggregate time. But who knows? You may be able to recover so well, or you may be on such a high after running a fast time in the 10K, perhaps putting you in the lead and the yellow jersey, you may surprise yourself in how well you can come back in the 5K. Or if you're going for the win and you were able to get far enough ahead of your competitors, you may be able to coast the 5K and still win on aggregate time, in which case the Bombs Away Strategy would have been the right strategy to use.
2. THE MATHEMATHICAL STRATEGY – Realize you're going to be running a total of 15 kilometers, with a rest break two-thirds of the way through. Estimate or calculate how fast you could hope to run 15 kilometers, which is a bit shorter than 10 miles, then adopt an appropriately faster pace factoring in the rest break. Fine tune your pacing as you get more experienced at competing in the Double.
3. THE I'M-RUNNING-THIS-TO-GAIN-EXPERIENCE-ON-HOW-BEST-TO-RUN-IT STRATEGY – Whatever you do in the race, regard it as a learning experience, nothing more, nothing less. A building block or stepping stone to doing better the next time or the time after that. Take the pressure off yourself that this Double you're competing in is the be all and end all where you have to do this and that exactly right.
4. THE FUN RUN STRATEGY – Take a Fun Run approach, running each leg at a good but comfortable pace, perhaps with some friends or a spouse, and use the rest break to get some refreshments, compare stories of how the 10K went, hobnob with other less-serious-minded competitors using the same Fun Run Strategy, etc.
Comments and Feedback
Read your article. I don't measure, time (outside of speed work) or count my miles, so obviously my strategy is #1 Bomb's Away!!! In 2010 over a span of 10mo I dropped my half marathon time by 7:30 (71min -> 64 min), just by having fun and being relaxed. I laugh and smile during races now and have been ripping pr's along the way. If only I had a time machine to clue myself in about 10 years ago! Looking forward to the Double in December...Neil McDonagh 10/22/12 5:12 pm
The Double looks like a fabulous event that should only grow in interest. folks are
looking for new, innovative race experiences.
george hirsch 10/22/12 5:16 pm
5. THE PAAVO NURMI STRATEGY – The great Finnish distance running immortal of the '20s, Paavo Nurmi, used to carry a stopwatch in his hand when he raced so he could run according to a prescribed pace he had decided upon beforehand. (Now, of course, many road runners wear a Gamin when they're racing, so it could be said that they're doing what Nurmi did.) One strategy – and probably a wise one for most runners to use in the Double -- is to run at a prearranged pace.
Of course, to use this strategy the most effectively (you don't want to run too fast or too slow), you have to know what kind of a pace would be appropriate for you – not necessarily an easy task given the nature of the event, your likely unfamiliarity with it, the rest break (unique in a distance race) and how effectively you can recover from the 10K, and the fact that the concluding 5K leg is shorter by half than the opening leg. It would seem obvious that your pace in the 5K would, by definition, have to be faster than your pace in the 10K because you're running a shorter distance. Or would it? Shorter distance, yes, but you're also going to be more tired from your effort in the 10K.
6. THE RUN-TO-WIN STRATEGY – Running at an even pace may not be the strategy to use if you're an elite runner running against other elite runners in the Double. Because in that situation you may have to cover what one or more of your competitors does when he or she does it. You can't, for instance, let someone get too far ahead of you, because you don't know how strong that person is, how well they (or you) may be able to recover during the rest break, and you can't take the risk of running out of distance in the shorter 5K leg to make up any time deficit.
The coach of Australian distance great Al Lawrence used to say to his 5- and 10,000-meter track runners, “You've got to be in it to win it.” In other words, you've got to be with the leaders – at all costs! – when the finishing sprint starts. To some extent, the same thing applies in the Double. So if you're an elite runner competing in the Double to win, yes, the aggregate time determines the winner, you may have a race plan going in, but you'd better be able to react to what your main competitors are doing or it may be checkmate as far as your chances of winning are concerned. That's the strategic intricacy and reality of the Double.
7. THE YELLOW-JERSEY-OR-BUST STRATEGY – The winners of the opening 10K leg of the Double get to wear a yellow jersey in the concluding 5K leg, as is the case in cycling's Tour de France where the race leader each day wears the maillot jeune, French for “yellow jersey.” It is possible that eventually the honor of wearing the yellow jersey in the Double will become such a prize in itself that some competitors will go all out to win the 10K and get the jersey even if it adversely effects their aggregate time.
8. THE I'M-PLAYING-TO-MY-STRONG-SUIT STRATEGY -- Simply put, if you're a 1500 and 5K specialist, try to stay as close as you deem prudent or necessary to the leaders during the 10K leg, maybe even slowing the pace down if possible (e.g., by taking the lead, then gradually slowing the pace without your competitors realizing it), then count on your superior speed to do your real damage in the 5K leg. On the other hand, if you're a 10K and marathon type, push the pace in the 10K as hard as possible to put your competitors under duress, then rely on your stamina and willpower to gut out a good 5K against your opponents whom you've already tired out with your hard effort in the 10K. Isn't it common sense that this is the logical way for the speed versus stamina runners of elite level to run the Double?
9. THE I-WANT-TO-TEST-HOW-WELL-I-CAN-RECOVER STRATEGY -- You enter the Double to, in part, test your recoverability. That would suggest running a hard 10K leg, then seeing how well you can recover before the 5K. You can test this in training, too. But to really test yourself in how well you can recover, a competition like the Double is the most effective because as we all know a race can bring out the best in you. Experiment with better and more effective ways to recuperate during the rest break. Who knows?
You may be one of those workhorse type runners who can recover very quickly during a rest break, and that could be something you begin to rely on to really help you in the Double. It's probably physiological fact, although we've never seen any scientific evidence to support it, that some runners recover much quicker than others. Obviously, a person blessed with great recoverability would have a distinct advantage in a competition like the Double, and might plan to become a Double specialist.
10. THE BUDDY STRATEGY -- Join forces with a training partner, a friend or even a fellow runner of like ability you barely know to help pace each other through the Double. There are, of course, a lot of variations on how this partnership could work -- you could simply run side by side, take turns leading alternate miles, your partner could lead or pace you though the 10K, you could pace or lead him/her through the 5K, or vice-versa. The Buddy Strategy can be used at any level of ability. The two fastest runners in the competition can choose to work together (and the agreement can be made on the spur of the moment even between rivals once the race has started).
Likewise, the two slowest runners in the competition can choose to work together. The only prerequisite to using the Buddy Strategy effectively is a willingness to work together and a compatibility in ability level. Obviously it wouldn't make sense for a 13:50 5K runner to try to work together with a 17:30 5K runner, unless the faster runner was just in the competition to help pace the slower runner. The way the Buddy Strategy could work very effectively in the case of two dominant elite runners in the Double (and it's certain this will happen sooner or later, and probably over and over again) is they could help each other run a great 10K, thus establishing a solid lead over everyone else, then help each other in the 5K with the victory ultimately going to the one who is the fastest and strongest at the end.
(Part two will be released next week.)