Sunday, May 27, 2012

Crappy Pacing

I've been obsessing over this for a while now. I am just not satisfied with my half marathon results. And there's no reason I should be.

There are a lot of people out there who don't like to do the same race year-after-year. For them, racing is about the experience. There's a 'new' craze about destination races. People have bucket lists. Their schedules are constantly changing. I, for the most part, am boring not one of them.

One thing I like about doing a race again and again and again is that I can use this as a fitness assessment. That's what races are anyway. They measure your training. However, if you only do a race once, the value of the data gets diluted.

I have done the Flower City Half Marathon 3 years in a row. The course is exactly the same, turn for turn. This race serves as a good metric for my fitness and, in theory, I should see improvement as time goes on.

Data (all times listed are Garmin times)
2010- 1:41.44
2011- 1:38.43
2012- 1:43.35

Not getting much better. By simply looking at these numbers, it would be easy to blame my fitness or my speed. Well, I have another metric to help out. There is another race that I have done 3 years running called the Spring Forward 15k.  Here is the data from those races:

2010- 1:15.46
2011- 1:09.18
2012- 1:06.50

Within the second set of data points, you cannot conclude that my fitness level was digressing. Both races show marked improvement from 2010 to 2011. The 15k shows continued improvement that matches my perception of my training. The 2011 half marathon time suggests that something else must be amiss.

Pace data
Here's what I did. I took the Garmin files and dumped them into an excel spreadsheet. It is simple. I have the watch take splits every 1 mile and have been doing that for, pretty much, ever.  Then, I asked excel to make me a nice graph.

As you can see, the 2010 file is in red, 2011 in green and 2012 in purple. My goal here is to figure out what went wrong in 2012 and I get some glaring results based on this simple analysis.

These 3 races show 3 distinct different race strategies.
1. Start slowly and build into the race (2010)
2. Start steady and hold (2011)
3. Start quickly and bonk (2012)

There's a significant hill area around mile 6.5, which explains the up-and-down motion in the middle of the graph. 

Focus on the first 6 miles. 2010 started off slowly and got faster. 2011 was a steady state. 2012 was the fastest of the 3 through the first half of the race.

Now, look at the hill section. In the green line, the slope is much flatter over and past the hill. The purple line actually shows pain. The red line shows that I was conservative (as evidenced by the recover speed on the backside).

The final 5 miles show the story. 2010 shows that I negative splitted the race and got faster towards the end. The 2011 data show that my pace went right back to pre-hill speeds. The 2012 folly shows that I left everything on the hill and had nothing left to give.

So, let this be a lesson to all you youngsters out there, and to Future Banter... Pacing is just as important, if not more important, as fitness. A steady state race, one where you are able to run consistently from start to finish is far superior than positive or negative splitting the run.

(Either that or be less of a pansy. Since I don't know how to be less of a pansy, I'll stick with working on my pace.)

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