Should you take the Challenge?

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The Austin Distance Challenge, that is. For those of you in our Austin Marathon training program, here is coach Ruth England’s (highly regarded) opinion:

The Austin Distance Challenge is a staple of the Austin running community. It was started by a smart race director named John Conley, who is currently behind the Austin Marathon. John has told me that the reason behind the development of the series was to promote the marathon and his other race at the time, the Downtown Classic, now known as the IBM 10K.

I have been a participant in several DC race series and enjoyed the challenge. I admit that it was a challenge each time to complete every race, and have heard some people call the series the ‘scheduling challenge.’ I’ve enjoyed the series I’ve participated in because of the friendships I made, the accountability, the competition and the challenge of making it through each race.

This year’s DC series will be no different and Rogue, as always, supports the series and those who choose to participate. That said, it is important to use the races and not let the races use you. What I mean by this is that each race should have a purpose that gets you to the marathon. The races should not be run all out, just to see how fast you can go in each one. If you do that then you are less likely to meet your goal at the marathon and more likely to end up sidelined with an injury. I don’t say this because I think this might happen, I KNOW, after 6 years of coaching Austin marathoners through the Distance Challenge, that it will happen to a large group of people.

I usually suggest that everyone run the IBM 10k to get good idea as to where your current fitness level is. I suggest that the Run for the Water and the 10 miler be raced cautiously; be careful not to go out too fast and fall apart. Decker is a great opportunity for hill work, but you don’t want to push too hard and end up with achilles and calf issues.

The 20 miler in January is a good opportunity for an MGP (marathon goal pace) workout, but the pace should not be held the entire length of the race. Finally, the runners’ favorite: 3M. If raced, 3M will be your ‘A race.’ I suggest you follow a plan or run MGP for the first half and roll into a faster pace as you go from miles 10 -13. We have seen many, many marathoners brag about their “best time ever” at 3M and sadly see them, 5 days later, sidelined with calf injuries, hamstring problems or stress fractures that force them to forgo the marathon completely.

Another benefit to the Challenge is the chance to practice racing. The only way to get better at racing is to do it. Running these races teaches you a lot of little things about yourself. You learn what you can eat before, during and after a race. You find out exactly where you need body glide. You learn how to handle the pressures of racing and how to calm the nerves. If you do not race until the marathon itself, you will not be as mentally prepared as those that participate in the Challenge or at least some of the DC races.

As you think about whether to register for the DC series you need to consider the financial aspect of entering this many races, you need to think hard about your ability to control yourself when you need to and you need to think about what is best for you if your “A race” is the marathon. As the head coach of the Austin Marathon program, I recommend running the IBM 10k, Run for the Water, the 10 miler and the Decker Challenge. Rogue will have Saturday runs every weekend that there is a DC race.

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