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How To Become a Better Runner

It’s a known fact that you can often become a better runner by increasing your mileage and incorporating speed, tempo, and long runs into your training.
But, perhaps the best way to become a better runner is simply by learning.  Learning from your own experiences in races and training as well as from friends and acquaintances who run.  And I always find that I learn MORE from the mistakes I have made.  Yes, it sucks to make mistakes (especially during races). Often they result in poor times, a painful end to the race, and the sadness of not performing well.

After running for over 10 years, I still consider myself a student of the sport.  I’m constantly learning.  I learn from mistakes I’ve made, success I have had, published articles, and successful runners’ blogs.
Yesterday’s run is a great example of learning from a past mistake. My plan was to run 10 miles at Marathon Pace (MP).  (Note: My goal is to start incorporating 6-10 miles at MP during my long runs.  I wanted to practice running at this pace for an extended period of time before I include it in my long runs.)
I ran a 10-mile PR yesterday without any intention of doing so (I realized it was within reach with 2.5 miles left to go).  I was able to have such a great run because of my previous experience with a 10-miler.  It was one of the worst executed races in my running  career.
“Good judgment is the result of experience, experience is the result of bad judgment.”   
–Mark Twain
I ran the 2007 Army Ten-Miler as a member of the Fort Hood Army Ten-Miler Team.  We trained very hard for months (close to 6 months) for this one race.  My goal was sub-70 minutes and I felt that I was showing up to the start line prepared and trained properly to run that time.

On race day, my girlfriend and teammate, Melissa and I managed to weave our way almost to the start line.  We had heard of the cluster that occurs at the Army Ten-Miler and wanted to be as far up as possible so that we could run the pace we wanted from the start.

The gun went off and I took off.   The adrenaline, the well-rested legs, the other runners sprinting to stay ahead of the pack all managed to distract me as I tried to keep up with those around me.
My watch ticked – Mile 1 – 6:31
Way too fast.  I was telling myself to slow down, but my legs had a mind of their own.  I kept running at the same pace.  I decided to maintain this pace for as long as I could because I was “building a cushion” that could come in handy later (this is faulty logic).

Miles 2-5 – 6:19, 6:49, 6: 52, 7:02
I finished the first half in a blistering (for me) 6:42 pace.  I was starting to feel tired, but I was happy that I had added to my cushion – I now had almost 90 seconds of “extra” time.
Miles 6-10 – 7:17, 7:23, 7:41, 7:43, 7:26
The pace for last 5 miles was 7:30 – almost 50 seconds slower than the first half – and 30 seconds off of my goal pace for the race. It was one of those races where you are in so much pain, you just want it to end, and no matter what you do, your legs can’t move any faster.  It was awful.
Fast forward to today’s run.
forced myself to gradually warm up the first mile.  Although I felt great and knew I could go faster, I maintained my MP for the next 7 miles.  
I’ve learned that there is NO such thing as building a cushion in a race.  If you run faster than you should be, you will not be able to recover from it – and will be hurting at the end of the race. I remembered the race from 4 1/2 years ago and how I went out too fast and paid for it in the end.  I was NOT going to make that mistake again. 
With just under 2.5 miles left, I saw that a PR was within reach if I picked up the pace.  I felt great and knew I could push myself for the final two miles.
My last two miles were at MP-30 and MP-45.  

Below are my splits yesterday vs 5 years ago:
  • Mile 1:  7:42     vs     6:31
  • Mile 2:  7:13     vs     6:19
  • Mile 3:  7:10     vs     6:49
  • Mile 4:  7:09     vs     6:52
  • Mile 5:  7:08     vs     7:03
  • Mile 6:  7:11     vs     7:17
  • Mile 7:  7:10     vs     7:23
  • Mile 8:  7:07     vs     7:41
  • Mile 9:  6:43     vs     7:43
  • Mile 10: 6:28    vs     7:26
Total time: 1:10:57 (PR by 7 sec!)  vs 1:11:04
Average Pace: 7:05   vs  7:06
Pace over last 3 miles: 6:46   vs   7:34
The finish times from the two runs are really close – I only PR’d by 7 seconds yesterday.  However, the runs could not be more different.
I finished STRONG, HAPPY, and CONFIDENT yesterday.  In 2007, I finished with tears on my face from the sadness and pain.
I ran a consistent pace for most of the run yesterday. I ran the 7 middle miles within 6 seconds of each other (fastest was 7:07 – slowest was 7:13).   There was a difference of 1:22 with the same miles in 2007.
I never questioned my ability or training yesterday.  I spent the 2nd half of the race in 2007, unsure if I would even be able to finish. 
Yesterday was a great run; but, I know that not ever run or race is going to be great.  I will have bad days. I will not always race well.
The key is not letting these runs get you down.  Look at what you did poorly or what you can improve upon.  Learn from them.  And then move on.
If you do, you WILL become a better runner. 

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