I've learned from a few people lately that strategizing about a race is a good idea. It may seem like common sense for most, but for me I never thought much about why to use the elevation profile, why to specifically segment a race mentally, or why you should pick places to surge or slow down. But when you are trying to shave minutes off of already good times, it is the details like this that do matter. Rick proved this theory to me when he studied the elevation profile before the Marshall Marathon and decided on his strategy from there, and he used this smart thinking to help him take nearly 2 minutes off of his old PR (see here). It's a lesson to me that knowing the course and how you plan to attack it can help you perform your best.
Fellow Fleet Feet team member Eric Fritz helped me also start the initial plan for my Mountain Mist time by introducing me to "A-B-C" goals. This is simple really. He says that you should have three goals for any race--the "A" goal, or what you would ideally get in the race, the "B" goal, or what you would still be happy to get, and the "C" goal, or your least of the three and your "I'll take it" kind of goal. As I thought about this year's Mountain Mist, I decided to make my "A" goal to break 6 hours, my "B" goal to get between a 6:06 and a 6:17, and my "C" goal to finish sub-7 hours. I came up with the "A" goal based on the fact that I've broken 6 hours once before (in 2004), and my marathon times this year are close to what I was doing back then. Plus now I have more experience than I did back then, and, hey, I'd like to think that I'm tougher now and I want it more! This goal seems both achievable and challenging. As my "B" goal, I would be happy to be between a 6:06 (my second best time ever) and a 6:17 (my third best time ever). And I think my "C" goal is very achievable, since the only time I've gotten over 7 hours was when I was not in very good shape. Of course, I could fall or get injured and then not finish at all or finish in 8 hours (the maximum time allowed). But these things are not ideal!
Secondly, Eric suggested to use strategy to attack the three main hills in the course--K2, Waterline, and Rest Shelter Hill. He recommends using a walk approach to these hills and allowing 20 minutes time for each of the hills (as these segments are roughly a mile a piece). This then subtracts nearly 3 miles and one hour off of the part of the race that can feasibly be run (by us "normal" people anyway--I am aware that some trail runners run these hills). So you are really looking at 27 miles of somewhat non-hilly race to be run. In order to figure out what my running pace should be for these 27 miles, I located a pace calculator and entered "5 hours" (the "A" goal's time left over minus the hills) and "27 miles," and I got 11 minutes and 06.66 seconds. So I should run faster than an 11:06 pace for those 27 miles. Gulp. That seems pretty fast given that these trails are pretty rocky and muddy and may even be icy on Saturday. And one more thing getting in my way--Rick may be using the Garmin (if he can start the race he will have it on). So now I am thinking to print up a "cheat sheet" with the aid stations and the time I should have at each of these stations listed on it. This will help me use strategy to stay on track during the race.
Here is that infamous segment from our race instructions emailed to us runners today from Suzanne Taylor:
"You are the one responsible for entering this race, you better be prepared for the course itself. The rocks will have no mercy. I have seen this course rip apart many a "good trail runner." Mountain Mist is trail running in its finest form. No one is ever let down, just shut down, beaten up, broken and left bleeding. You first timers beware, this course may cause you bodily harm. Even though you have entered the race and paid the fee...YOU CAN STILL BACK OUT! No one will laugh at you, just tell them your family still needs you and you want to continue running in the future, they'll understand! Otherwise, "know your limits and then completely ignore them." "
After chuckling about how some first timers may be nervously reading that like I once did, I enjoyed reading through the list of entrants for the race.
I came across this:
29 XL Rob Apple 49 Murfreesboro, TN 573
The number on the far right is number of ultras run. Oh my goodness!! I will be in the same race as a guy who has done 573 ultramarathons?!?!
You can read all about Mountain Mist and see more of the incredible competitors in this race here.