3M: A race plan for first-timers

3MHalf_2015_4cby coach Mae Coffman

It’s here! The 3M Half Marathon, possibly the most highly anticipated race of the winter season for many runners. I’m having some serious race withdrawal as I have to sit this one out, but I look forward to living vicariously through all of the Rogues as a spectator. You won’t be able to miss me on the sidelines—I’ll be the big pregnant lady busting out of her Rogue apparel and cheering like crazy.

The following is some first-timer half marathon advice and a race plan I shared with my runners this week. Hopefully some of you will find it helpful—especially if this is your first time to race 3M!

You have heard over and over how great this course is: relatively flat, downhill and fast. However, please keep in mind that it is still a 13.1 mile race and despite the “flat” description there are some rolling hills—especially at the end as you come in towards downtown near the finish. It will not be easy. If you are planning to really race the 3M, you will feel dead tired at the end and despite the “easy course” description you will need to run smart to hit your goal time or PR.

Pre-Race Week:

As with all races, it’s important that you plan out ahead of time what you’ll eat the few nights before and the morning of the race, and not to do anything different than what you’ve done in training. It will not do anything for you to carbo load the night before—other than to make you feel ridiculously full and sluggish! On Saturday night, eating a sensible dinner w/ a good balance of protein and carbs is perfect (think grilled chicken and rice). This is not the time to experiment with any new foods. Get lots of sleep on Friday night. You might have the jitters on Saturday and not sleep as well, but a good night sleep two nights before is optimal.

Don’t spend all day Saturday on your feet doing yard work, etc. Not that you have to be lazy—you’ll probably be a bit stir crazy and excited…but don’t do something that will lead you to be overtired or sore on race morning.

In planning your race outfit, consider the weather and remember that once you get running, you heat up about 20 degrees higher than the temp outside. That is why running in 50 degree weather feels so great. With the weather as it has been lately, I’d plan to wear layers at the start including a throw-away shirt. For me this is usually an old long-sleeved cotton shirt  (old Turkey Trot shirts are a good candidate) and I usually pick a pair of cheap stretchy gloves that I can toss if/when my hands are too sweaty. Pack a warm, dry shirt, sweatshirt and maybe even sweatpants for your post-race bag. Even if you feel warm while you are running you’ll get chilly at the finish after standing around. By the way, there will be a bag drop at the beginning of the race—you’ll want to take advantage of that so your clothes are waiting for you at the finish of this point-to-point race.

The night before, lay out your race outfit and pin on your number so you don’t have to fiddle with it in the morning. Put the number on the shirt you anticipate you will be wearing by the end of the race. If you have it under an outer layer—you can always flash the cameras as you approach so they catch your number. Same goes for electronic devices—put on armbands and such under your top layer if you think it will end up tied around your waist. You don’t want to be struggling with cords, etc. while you try to strip down layers mid-race.

Plan out how many Gus/gels/blocks/beans you plan to take and where you plan to take them. Check out the course map on the website and plan your nutrition around the water stops unless you plan to run with a handheld.

Race Day:

Eat a breakfast similar to what you have found successful for your previous long runs. Just as with dinner—this is not the time to experiment and find out if you should start a morning coffee routine. Don’t overeat either—you have covered distances similar to this on long runs, so there is no reason to assume you’ll need more for breakfast than you did for those weekends.

Parking can be a pain for this race—not that there isn’t enough, but the location in the cross hairs of 183 & Mopac means you’ve got to take one of the major roads to get there and almost all of them will get backed up by the exits. I recommend aiming to get there by 6-6:15 so if you end up sitting in traffic for a extra 20 minutes (and therefore finally parking closer to 6:30) you still have time to get to the start line. You also want to plan plenty of time to get in a potty break. They will have portapotties at the start, but there will be long lines so plan accordingly! My usual routine is: park, potty, drop race bag, get to start line. Warning….you WILL feel chilly as you stand around waiting for the start. But remember, you will warm up when you start running—don’t start second guessing about putting on more layers or pulling things out of your drop bag to wear while you race—it’s just an unfortunate thing about winter races—the start is cold and  you stand around shivering and feeling miserable until it starts.

3M is a big race—LOTs of folks—so after the gun goes off—don’t be surprised how long it might take to actually get to the start…3-5 minutes isn’t uncommon! When you see clocks on the course you can remember that is gun time—not chip time. I would not recommend starting all the way in the back (so don’t wait until the last minute to go get into the chute to line up…after potty and bag drop—head towards the start line). No need to be at the very front on the heels of the elites, but you don’t want to dodge around folks that are planning to walk the 13.1 distance. For those with gps watches, try to get it to pick up satellites once you are about 5-10 min from gun time. No need to get it picked up too early and waste battery life—but the WORST feeling is to realize as the gun sounds that you are still “searching” for satellites.

This is a point to point race, so if someone is meeting you, you can have them drive you back to your car (unless they also dropped you at the start), but otherwise there is a shuttle service to bus runners back. I have used that option many times and it’s really not so bad—they have it down to a science and the shuttles leave regularly so I’ve never had to wait for long to get on a bus and go.

Race Plan A: Race 3M and Get a PR Baby!

This option is for those of you who are feeling good at this point in the season. You may have had some difficult long run experiences, but you are injury free and feeling strong. Ideally you have not had a major sickness or nagging injury in the past 2 weeks. Going into the race you should know your ½ marathon goal pace as well as your 10K pace (that pace will be important because you want to be able to catch yourself if you start creeping up too fast in pace…).

The general plan is: Progression.

The start-mile 1: Despite the fact that this is a fast course, the race starts running uphill. It’s just a slight hill (on Stonelake Blvd behind the Old Navy, Whole Foods, & movie theater). You’ll run uphill for about a mile. It’s a crowded race so you’ll spend this time jockeying for your position and finding a good pocket to run. Don’t look at your watch or worry about pace. Just start running. Don’t go out too fast (though that will be difficult with the crowd anyway) and if your first mile is clocked in slower than your ½ marathon pace, that is just fine. You have plenty of distance and time to make it up.

Miles 1-4: This section has the most turns in the course. Pretty flat and not all that scenic to look at—you go through an industrial park, blech. During this stretch, focus on getting into your half marathon pace. If you are a 5-10 seconds off pace that is fine. Relax, get into a comfortable breathing pattern and settle in to the race.

Miles 5-8: This section of the race becomes a bit more scenic. You’ll be on Shoal Creek and then Great Northern Blvd (near Northcross Mall) and then back on Shoal Creek. Very straight, few turns. When you are running on Great Northern, you’ll be running the opposite direction from the marathon course. If you are not already there, this is the time to dial in to ½ marathon pace. If you are already there and feeling good, hold it! You can slightly pick up the pace in the next section…why wait until then? You still have a 1/3 of the race to go—if you pick up your pace too soon, you risk burning yourself out and crawling to the finish.

Miles 9-12: Getting into the home stretch! Now you are hitting the central Austin sights—45th street, Intramural fields, Hancock golf course, and UT campus. If you are struggling, then just try to hold steady and maintain your ½ marathon pace. If you are feeling good you can slowly starting picking up the pace with each mile. Again, these should be slight pick-ups of 5-10 seconds per mile. For example, if your ½ marathon pace is a 9:30, you would run mile 9 at 9:25, mile 10 at 9:20, mile 11 at 9:15 and mile 12 at 9:10. You should not be going faster than 10K pace until mile 12.

Last Mile: Coming down San Jacinto and onto MLK. If you have gas left in the tank then turn it on and pick up the pace one last time. This is like running 4 times around a track, or doing the cool-down distance back to Rogue on a quality workout day. It may sound crazy, but try to get your pace into the 10K-mile pace range here. Warning—leading to the finish is a hill up MLK…that part sucks—you can see the finish but you’re headed up hill. Bust that hill out like it’s one of the Rogue hill workouts. After you give that last 400 meters of effort, you can rest. Start chanting your mantra in your head. See how many people you can pass in this last mile. As you near the finish, give it one last burst and stride across the finish line—smile for the cameras!

Plan B: Complete 3M and Keep Myself Healthy

This option is for those of you who are in some state of recovery—from illness, injury, or a break in training. Or maybe you are even feeling healthy but are focused on your 26.2 goal in few weeks so you just want to complete the 3M and check it off the list. You’d like to even feel good while running it, but you don’t plan to shoot for a PR.

The general plan is: Run steady.

Start-Mile 1: Similar to the plan above, start out conservatively. Do not even worry about your ½ marathon pace. In fact, you may purposefully want to hold yourself back to closer to marathon or long run pace at the start. Don’t allow yourself to get pulled along by the adrenaline. Your goal here is being healthy. If you feel good, you can pick it up during the second half of the race.

Miles 1-9: Get into a comfortable pace and stay there. This might be your long run pace, your marathon pace, or even your half marathon pace. Make it your goal to hit steady miles, be as on target as possible.

Miles 10-12: Evaluate how you are feeling, if you feel like you could run this pace for another 10 miles, and injuries aren’t rearing their ugly heads, then you have permission to pick up the pace. Your pace should still be well above your 10K pace, but you can go faster than ½ marathon. If you are feeling so-so, than just hold steady and keep your previous pace. If you are feeling down-right horrible than slow it down. Do not push through the pain and regret it later. Walking is not a mark of shame, sometimes it’s a smart decision if the day is not turning out as you had hoped.

Last mile: Finish proud! You have completed a ½ marathon while most of the rest of the city is still in bed. Hold your pace steady or pick it up one last time if you’ve got it in you. Smile for the cameras as you cross the finish!

Best of luck to all of you! I can’t wait to hear the race stories and to see you looking strong, determined and smiling out on the race course!

——–

Mae Coffman coaches Run Like a Mother at Rogue Cedar Park.

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