The beauty of the pace group is you let the leader handle the pace, and you can go to sleep. It’s a lot like riding shotgun on a long car trip. You get to check out the scenery. The driver has to watch the road.
When you’re running with a pace group, your decision is to drop back or drop them at some point. This means someone ELSE handles the monotonous work of keeping the pace. You don’t have to think too much, just do. I’m planning to go out with the 3:15 group even though it looks like I could hit (maybe) a 3:08 on a great day. I’m planning to hang with them until mile 13, probably longer. And when I feel like I have enough energy to burn a little hotter to the finish, I’ll drop them and go for it. That’s the plan.
In Born to Run, there is an interesting narrative of the persistence hunt. The mature (older) hunters do the tracking and pace setting, while the young bucks hang back. When it’s time to go in for the kill, they are mentally fresh. They can focus on the possibly dangerous work of bringing down the game. I like that.
In September’s Runner’s World, there is a fascinating article about training your brain to maintain pace. The author runs about a 2:40 marathon, and he’s trying for a PR. He has the same problems that many people experience: He doesn’t go out fast enough, and then he has trouble maintaining effort through the middle of a race. He practices these incredibly mind numbing computer tasks to train his brain to do the monotonous, which is what your brain does in order to keep up marathon pace. He’s building endurance in that critical muscle, the brain.
I’m not going to sit in front of a computer for an hour each week before a long run to trim 5 seconds off my per mile pace. My long runs are long enough already! But the article got me thinking about what is boring for some people may be engrossing to others. Some people are associative runners; they love to monitor their bodies on the run. Others are dissociative runners; they think about all kinds of things besides running when they run. I’m a little of each. I listen to music when I run, but I also count my breaths against my cadence. I love to push myself a couple of “heart beats per minute” faster, and I love to feel myself respond. Sometimes I tell myself, this is fast enough. Just hang in there. Find the flow. Go.
In this same article, there was a section on adenosine. Adenosine is the waste product in your neurotransmitters. It builds up when you don’t get enough sleep or when you focus on a mentally challenging task for too long. It’s that fuzzy feeling you get in your head. It’s the cobwebs. Caffeine blocks adenosine. Caffeine not only keeps you awake, but it also helps you concentrate.
I drink coffee before my long runs. I like it so much that I drink decaf the rest of the week, just so I can get that buzz. I have not noticed the side effects some people talk about. I don’t get jumpy or shaky. There is not a diuretic effect for me. I think I sweat so much that it’s not a problem. But I have noticed the increased ability to focus and a decreased sense of effort. When I’ve had some Folgers instant coffee and some sugar in the raw, what I call rocket fuel, I’m fired up to run. It’s all I want to do.