It is two days from the end of my taper for the Robin Hood half-marathon on Sunday. Tomorrow will be a rest day. On Saturday I will run about 4 Km easily, including several short stride-outs at estimated race effort to dispel any of the sluggishness that can develop during rest days, and consolidate the neuromuscular coordination required for racing.
I am pleased with how my legs have responded to the taper. In the final few weeks of training I had been disappointed by the fact that I found it difficult to achieve pace anywhere near a reasonable race pace during tempo runs. I hoped that this was due at least in part to chronic tiredness of my leg muscles, so the main goals of the taper were to allow my legs to recover, while including enough running in the vicinity of race pace to develop the neuromuscular coordination required for racing.
The figure shows the profile of time spent in each of the training zones over the past three weeks. Despite a 50% reduction in training volume I have maintained a near constant proportion of around 25% of training time in the upper aerobic zone, throughout the taper I have been pleased to discover that whereas two weeks ago a pace of 5 min/Km required an effort somewhat greater than I could imagine sustaining for the HM distance, today, I felt comfortable and fluent at pace of 4:50 /Km. In part this is surely because my legs are less tried, but I think it is likely that incorporating some faster running, together with two sessions of Pete Magill’s drills, has helped re-awaken the muscle fibres required for racing.
So the taper has produced the intended improvement in fluency. But what does this tell me about my prospect of maintaining that fluency and pace for the full distance? In several of the long runs during the previous 6 weeks I had planned to maintain a pace near HM race pace for the final few Km. However, the fastest pace I had achieved in a long run was 5:14 /Km – a pace which would produce a time of 110 minutes for the HM. The evidence from the short runs during the taper suggests that I can do substantially better than 110 minutes, but there is no way in which I can answer the question of how my legs will cope with the full 21.1 Km distance, in advance of the race itself.
So planning a sensible pace for Sunday is still tricky. If I start at around 4:50 pace, it is not clear how long I would be able to maintain that pace. Commonsense dictates that if my goal is to maximise my chance of recording a ‘creditable’ time, I should start at around 5 min/Km pace or even a little slower, and hope that I can run a negative split to get me to the finish in around 104-105 minutes. However, somewhere deeper in the intuitive recesses of my brain, where less tangible evidence based on my running history is weighed up alongside the numerical data recorded in recent training runs, I believe that I can run a time faster than 104 minutes. Therefore, provided I feel comfortable after I have emerged from the initial melee of the massed start, I will abandon rationality and prudence, and let the intuitive recesses of my brain set the pace. I will trust that these intuitive reaches of the brain will weigh up the various non-conscious feed-back signals from my body together with subliminal memories from the past in way that allows me to extract the maximum performance that my body is capable of achieving. In the end, it will be my body rather than the stop-watch that tells me whether or not I have run a well-judged race.