In October 2003, I ran the St George Marathon with a goal of qualifying for Boston. St George has a pretty substantial drop in elevation starting at 5240 feet and finishing at 2680 feet making it a “fast” course. The gravitational force on your legs of downhill running, however, is a double-edged sword. I lived in Arizona at the time and trained through the summer in 110 ° +. Most of my 18-22 mile runs were done on a treadmill.
At the 13 mile mark, I was just barely on pace to meet the 4 hour qualifying time at right around 2 hours. If I planned to qualify I was going to have to run the second half faster than the first. I knew it was possible because we had trained to run “negative splits” when I was on the CSU Hayward Track team under Coach Bob McGuire.
“Negative splits” are when the second half of a race is run faster than the first half.
That didn’t stop the “censor” inside my head from chattering away “You can always try again next year”. If I came up short it was only going to be by a couple of minutes. In a 10k or half marathon you can power through even if you haven’t trained adequately. The human body is not physiologically designed to run 26.2 miles.
Many inexperienced runners take off like a rocket. If you start out at a modest pace you may find yourself passing other runners. This is a welcome psychological boost. I used to shout out words of encouragement to runners as I passed them. “Let’s ‘reel in’ that runner in front of us.” It turns out, more often than not, it had the unintended effect of demoralizing the runner.
Another habit that I have developed is to count in metronome-like fashion from one to ten, matching the beat stride for stride. When I’m really tested I’ll substitute “Easy does it. You can do it.” This is a surprisingly effective way to maintain a consistent pace from start to finish.
I did ultimately run the second half of the St George Marathon faster than the first and qualified for Boston with a time of 3:57:52.