Guest post by Tyler Andrews
As with previous marathon build-ups, Jon (my coach) and I had penciled-in a hard, race-like effort about 10 days out from my target race. I’ve always enjoyed these “tune-up” races. Within 10 days of my goal marathon, I’ve usually already started to feel antsy – full of surfeit energy from the drop in training volume and with race day almost in sight – so having a tune-up race to prepare for is a great mental distraction from the more terminal event to come in a week and a half.
From a training perspective, a short race (5-10km) allows me to get in a great effort without really trashing my body too much. Having focused so much on long, strength-based training sessions for the last 10 weeks, the 14 to 29 minutes that I race just isn’t long enough to do any lasting damage at this stage.
And now, here I am. 10 days from the end of my third marathon build-up and shaking the sleep out of my eyes in the pre-dawn darkness.
Jon and I had scowered the internet for potential races but came up empty-handed. Between the lack of race options and the fact that it’s been brutally hot and humid all week, we decided that I would run this last hard training effort on the treadmill.
Thanks to support from my shoe sponsor, HOKA ONE ONE, we had arranged the tune-up as a very low-key attempt to set a World’s Best time for 10k on a treadmill (the previous World’s Best time was 30’09). This had involved getting the machine calibrated, setting up continuous video, and having witnesses present. The added publicity helped it feel a bit more like a “race” for me, without piling on extravagant logistical hassles or performance pressure. I’m still only running in the gym in the basement of my building after all.
As I cross the street in front of my building and head out for a short warm-up jog (“warming” up hardly seems necessary since it’s already well into the 80s at 7am), I think about the conversation Jon and I had had about the “plan” for the run. The goal is to run hard, but to stay in control, especially in the last 1 or 2 kilometers. He doesn’t want me to do any real “kicking” – sprinting, that is, or running with significantly altered mechanics – but instead just focus on very gradual accelerations. Based on the last few workouts and how we both feel about my fitness, I think I have a good shot at running under 29’30 (2’57/km or 4’45/mile); so, I’m hoping to run that pace through the first 3 to 5 kilometers, and then start bringing it down.
I cut my warm-up short. My legs are already feeling light and springy – a sign of a good response to the taper and a little bit of extra adrenaline before the race. Back inside, I change into my HOKA Clifton Racers – the custom flats that I had had made from my favorite HOKA training shoe – and run through some dynamic drills and strides to loosen up.
Unlike most of my workouts in the last two months – where I’ve started running with very little warm-up to mimic the start of a marathon, and often felt sluggish for the first few miles – this time, I want to be really ready to go. With less than 30 minutes of running in front of me, there’s no time to waste.
With the video rolling, I start running and my timers start their watches. I start out a bit quicker than 2’57/km – my goal pace – to make up for the few seconds lost as the machine ramps up to speed. The display in front of me shows a my virtual self circling a 400m track and by the end of the first lap, I’m right on pace.
I pass the first kilometer in 2’56.4 – perfect. The pace feels okay, but I know that it’s too early to pass any judgement. I pass the mile in about 4’45 and try to just relax, passing 2k in 5’53 and then 3k in 8’50.
The pace is still manageable, but by now, I’m starting to feel a new and different kind of discomfort than I’m used to. I have run this pace in workouts in the past couple months, but only in very short intervals of 1 to 3 minutes. Mostly, my workouts have been focused on running a good bit slower – the pace I’ll try to run in my marathon – but sustaining that pace for 60 or 90 minutes. 10 minutes in, the pace doesn’t feel too hard, so to speak, but part of my subconscious is freaking out a bit, maybe because my central governor thinks I’m going to ask it to keep this up for another 90 minutes.
I accelerate very gradually over the next 2 kilometers, passing the 5 kilometer halfway point in 14’41 – again, right where I want to be. Jon had mentioned the importance of very gradual shifts in pace; he had even mentioned his hesitance to use “the a-word” (accelerate), as he really just wanted me to “increase focus”. In previous races, I’ve struggled with feeling too good early on and then making too strong of a move when trying to accelerate, so this is something we’ve really emphasized in the last few months.
Shortly after halfway, I’m still feeling like the pace is reasonable and I’ve brought the pace down to about 2’54/km (4’40/mile). I’m feeling such a different tiredness than I’m used to that I really have no idea how long I’ll be able to hold on. Still, I think back to my previous 10ks and remember that around 7k is when I should expect the going to get tough. So, I maintain pace and wait. Patience.
I pass 6k in 17’36 and then 4 miles in 18’51 and I’m definitely starting to feel tired. It’s a bit warm in the gym (around 70F) and I’m trying to cool myself off with a bottle of cold water with which I’m dousing myself every minute or two. Still, I can feel myself overheating and the general fatigue beginning to take over as I approach the dreaded 7th kilometer.
At this point, it’s not quite close enough to the end that I can start thinking about the finish, but I’m already 70% of the way through. This is often when runners start to slow in a 10k; I’m in a rough spot for a few minutes.
But I make it through. I pass 8k in 23’24 and finally allow myself to start thinking about the finish. Only 5 laps to go – suddenly, this seems completely manageable. Earlier, I had had a sub-29 finish time in the back of my mind, but by this point, I recognize that without a true kick at the end, it’s going to be out of the question. Finishing in under 29’30, though, is all but a certainty, unless I’ve really misjudged my energy usage and blow up in these last few minutes.
With each passing lap, I increase the pace a tiny bit, running my penultimate kilometer in 2’52.9 (4’38/mile). With each passing lap, I grow more confident that I’ll be able to continue accelerating through the finish. I’m checking my body to make sure that I’m not straining as I increase my focus and continue to bring the pace down. With about 500m to go, I feel like I’ve accelerated as much as I can without straining, and so I try to focus on maintaining my form and holding on through the end.
As the display passes 10.00 and then 10.01 (the extra 0.1% a necessary requirement for record setting), the timers stop and I hop off the machine.
The clock reads 29’06 (an average of 2’54.6/km, 4’41/mile), with a final kilometer of 2’48 (4’30/mile). The time is well under the previous WR time of 30’09, my goal of 29’30, and my previous personal best of 29’48 – set back in 2013, sitting on my resume like a beat-up car in the driveway in desperate need of an upgrade.
Overall, the run is just what the doctor ordered. It’s been a great effort, a good confidence booster, and not so intense that it will leave me feeling really beat up for the days to come. Mostly, it’s just been a lot of fun. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about these treadmill events is that it gives spectators the opportunity to really watch an athlete closely over the course of a race. For most of us, that’s not an option unless you happen to get the opportunity to ride in a lead-vehicle during a marathon. As a runner, it’s really powerful to have people right alongside you – literally – every step of the way.
And finally, it’s been a great break from the anxiety of tapering. I’ve got less than ten days now until Grandma’s Marathon. I’ve done everything I can and I’m in the best shape of my life. Now, it’s just about staying out of trouble and getting to the start line!
PS: Huge thanks to my sponsors HOKA ONE ONE and STRIVE Trips for their support, my partner Mariana for helping coordinate the video and other record-keeping logistics, my coach Jon Waldron for helping me get to where I am, and of course all my fans, friends, and family who have been there with me for this whole crazy journey. I couldn’t have done it without you.
PPS: Here are the official splits from the run. Sorry, Americans, they’re in kilometers.
1 km (2’56.4) 2’56.4
2 km (2’57.4) 5’53.8
3 km (2’56.0) 8’49.8
4 km (2’56.0) 11’45.8
5 km (2’55.4) 14’41.2 – (14’41.2)
6 km (2’54.4) 17’35.6
7 km (2’54.4) 20’30.0
8 km (2’54.2) 23’24.2
9 km (2’52.9) 26’17.1
10 km (2’48.9) 29’06.0 – (14’24.8 second 5k, 8’36 last 3k, 4’31 last 1600m)
Follow Andrew’s training, racing and his mission for the STRIVE organization on his blog.