While some find the couple of weeks before a marathon race (the taper) unnerving, I actually love this part of the program. It's the place where I give myself permission to commence geeking out about the deets of the race. I am a scientist, after all, and this is one of the things I love most about this business of running marathons--the data and all of the analyses I can perform!
Geeking out has three main components:
1) weather tracking
2) course analysis
3) race day planning and preparation
I officially started tracking the weather for the Minneapolis-St. Paul area today and will check it out at least once daily up until race day (Accuweather.com gives a 15-day forecast). For some, this might seem foolish since there's very little you can do to change what the weather will be on race day. However, it helps me to mentally prepare for the conditions, thinking about how my clothing options, fueling and hydration and pacing plan might be affected by bone-chilling winds or a sweltering heat wave. While I agree it is pointless to look at the weather 15 days out, I do it anyway because I can. Right now, the conditions look to be fine: lows of 52F and highs in the mid-70s. I won't be able to get more detailed information (wind speed, direction and humidity) until 5 days out. But, currently, at least the temperature looks like it will be in a good range on race day.
For me, a big part of preparing for a race involves visualizing myself achieving my goal. I want to think about how I might be feeling at any given point in the race and this includes getting through the tough spots. I typically will use elevation charts and course maps to help get a sense of what I might encounter. With this race, I am lucky to have a lot more data available to work with.
I received a message from an Impala teammate a month or so ago with a 2:45 pace chart for the TC marathon course attached. The marathon website has several of these posted for various goal times. She requested one for the 2:46 goal that so many of us are looking to hit, but they only had one for 2:45. The target mile splits are supposed to be tailored to the course, taking into account elevation profile and other factors.
I sent this chart to my coach, who has run the course twice in the recent past, and was excited to find out that she also possesses the anal gene. She had done her own detailed analysis of the course back in 2003 when she first ran it and sent this information to me. She also included her splits from her 2:44 effort on the course. I converted all of this into spreadsheet format with the "official" pacing plan juxtaposed with her actual splits and descriptions of each mile as either:
very fast ~7 sec/mile faster than GMP
fast ~3-4 seconds faster than GMP
flat = right on pace
slow ~ 7-15 seconds/mile slower than GMP
At the bottom of my spreadsheet, I pasted a screenshot of the elevation profile for the 26.2 miles. I might call this, if I were immodest, a thing of beauty. All of the information I need to plan my pacing strategy is right there on one page.
I will use my beautiful spreadsheet as a tool to prepare mentally and to create my own pacing plan. I plan to carry this with me in some form (maybe I'll fashion a head-up display for the inside of my sunglasses) to ensure that I stay on track. It is so easy to get lost in numbers and calculations particularly at the end of a marathon race. It's nice to have big numbers written down somewhere that say what your time should be at a given mile marker. This takes the guess work out of it.
Of course, any number of factors can throw even the best pacing plan out the window during the race, and that introduces a whole other kind of fun--Semper Gumby. You have to be willing to ditch the plan and just race your whoopie cakes off.
Race-day planning is fairly standard but includes a lot of details, especially since I'll be traveling for a few days before the race. I won't start thinking about those until the week before the race. However, there are some things I have to tend to now, like making sure I have a good pair of racing shoes that are somewhat broken in prior to race day. I realized that I bought my last pair in September 2008 and they now have over 150 miles on them. I bought a new pair yesterday and will work on breaking them in over this next couple of weeks.
I am feeling great about this race. I have a goal that I think is achievable if all goes well. I will be running with some of the fastest Masters runners in the nation, competing for a sizable prize purse. I will have teammates and family members there to cheer me on as well as friends at home that will be sending me good wishes. And, I will have another (my 14th actually) marathon experience under my belt. As much as I hope everything goes well, it is really the richness of the experience that I value most.
I also like to remind myself that this is only the first opportunity for me and all of the other female marathoners to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. Starting January 1st, we will have 2 years to try to qualify on (almost) any course. I believe I will continue to get faster in the next 2-5 years. How fast? I have no idea. Five years ago I could never have imagined running 6:20 pace for a half mile let alone 26.2 miles without stopping. Hell, I had to stop and walk at least twice in every marathon I ran up until the Eugene Marathon 2 years ago (where I broke 3 hours for the first time). Dream big, I say. What do you have to lose?