Thursday, September 22, 2011

IAAF Makes Poor Decision On Women's Road Running Records

This week, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decided to change how it recognizes world records for women’s road racing by requiring future records to be run in women’s only races. In doing so they established two categories of records. Those that will be called “world records” will be from races in which women competed alone, without men in the field. World record times that are run in races in which men also competed, whether or not they had anything to do with the women’s race, will be called “world bests”. Presumably this was done with the intention of creating a level playing field and eliminating the effects of the assistance of male pacers in a race. This really makes little sense, since pacing in and of itself is not prohibited. We see pacing employed for world record attempts by men and women both on and off the track all the time. Like with Haile Gebrselassie’s heavily paced marathon world record attempts, there is nothing preventing a similar record attempt by women in which they had other women as pacers. We simply haven’t noticed it yet on that scale. The fact is road race records, like track records, are frequently achieved as a result of having others share the burden of pacing and pulling the runners along for a portion of the race. Does it really matter what gender they are?

Outside of major national, area, or world championship and Olympic competitions, there are few women’s only road races available for female competitors to make record runs. Moreover, championship events by their nature are usually aimed at pure racing and winning medals and not running fast times. World records in distance races are almost never set in championship events since it is about winning and no one is usually willing to sacrifice themselves as pacer for a fast time. Furthermore, this decision completely ignores the financial realities of setting up (paying pacers) record attempts and the significance of performance incentives from sponsors and contracts that reward athletes for running world records.

Even more ridiculous is the decision to retroactively penalize the current world record and national record holders for which their record times were run in mixed gender races. As women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe has stated, she did not request the male paces in her record run, nor was she necessarily assisted by them. Their presence was at the discretion of the race organizers.

The IAAF has made a terrible decision that completely misunderstands the realities of how and where world records in road racing are run. With this decision, unless there is a sudden increase in the number of female only road races or races specifically set up for record attempts (which is logistically no small feat) one could easily anticipate a long term negative effect and even stagnation in women’s road racing world records.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marathon Training and What One is Made Of

As my annual once-a-year marathon nears, I am winding up, or is it winding down, the last of my key training runs. The way I have chosen to train for the marathon, and this race in particular, is a rather long-term affair. I choose the intended marathon six months to a year in advance and develop a somewhat detailed training plan covering the ten to twelve weeks before the race. In this training cycle, this plan has included a good mix of mileage, mostly in the 85 miles a week range, quality speed work, and longer strength type speed work focused on running my target marathon pace. Workouts like 10 miles at moderate pace followed by 10 miles at marathon pace, racing 10k all out, long progression runs getting down to marathon pace, mile repeats at 10k race pace or faster, and most recently the famed and feared Khannouchi workout.

The Khannouchi workout was introduced to me by my training partners Louis LeBlanc and Bill Mattis when I was living in Portland. The workout is simple in design and is a long, hard progression workout that is intended to mimic the finish of a marathon where you have to suck it up and run hard even when very tired. The workout starts off with 5-10 miles at a moderate “warm-up” pace, in my case I ran 5 miles at roughly 7:45/mile pace. Then, without stopping, run the next 10 miles at your target marathon pace. For this I ran between 6:10 and 6:15 pace. Lastly, again without stopping, run directly onto a track and run two more miles as hard as you can, and for this I ran 5:51 and 5:44. With the exception of being joined by a friend for a few of the marathon paced miles, I ran this workout by myself. Afterwards I was very tired, but I wasn’t completely hammered like I expected to be. In all honestly, I was worried beforehand. The night before and that morning I had to keep reminding myself to believe in the work I had already done. Everything had gone well and indicated that I should be ready and able to complete this workout as planned. “Trust your training” became something of a mantra that day. In my mind, and on paper, this was going to be the hardest of my workouts and it was going to hurt. In the end, I hit all the splits, I felt strong at the end and had no energy, fueling or cramping problems. In short, I killed this workout and ended the day feeling ready. But am I really? I’ve never run this hard and fast for this long. While we usually hope to improve on our race PRs when we can, I’m looking at a big jump into a pain zone that kinda scares the crap out of me.

My target marathon pace is between 6:10 and 6:15 per mile which should yield a finish between 2:42 and 2:44. Unfortunately, my marathon PR of 2:50:23 from last fall is not an accurate indicator of my current fitness. A better measure might be my recent 10k PR of 34:56, which converts to about a 2:44 marathon on the McMillan equivalent performance table, while the Daniels table suggests I’m ready for about a 2:41 finish. Frankly, I think Daniels is more correct in this case. So, where will I make this attack on a new marathon PR?

This year I am running the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota, largely for three reasons. First, I grew up in Minnesota and have family there and running a marathon where you have friends and family to cheer and support you is always helpful and appreciated and for me takes a lot of the stress out of running a big race, not to mention the benefits of a trip home to see the family.

Second, this year the Twin Cities Marathon is the USATF masters marathon championships. I don’t really have a shot at placing well in this, but it is exciting to know that I’m competing with some of the best American masters in this race.

And third, with my entry, I want to support a first class race that takes the competitive side of racing as seriously as the recreational side. And yes, this means I am specifically choosing not to run (i.e. boycotting) the Portland marathon. Admittedly that is a rather negative attitude about racing or rather races, but it is something that I feel increasingly strong about. When I have a choice where to spend my entry fee money (and I’m not quite fast enough to earn or request a complimentary entry like the elite racers often do), and when the entry fees top $100 and keep climbing higher and higher, and when I value accurately measured and marked courses, correct and rapid results, and when I couldn’t care less about extra crap like an official race coin in my goody bag, I’m going to pay to race where I feel respected and valued as a serious runner/racer and not simply a revenue stream.

This summer I raced sparingly with my focus on being very consistent and running a lot of quality miles aimed at this big fall marathon. Admittedly, there is a lot of risk in that. On the one hand, I missed out on a lot of fun racing (although I did do my part volunteering at a handful of races too, something we all can do more of) and come marathon race day, a lot of little things I cannot control can go wrong, making one feel that all this time and effort was wasted. But on the other hand, that is why I choose to train and race as hard as I do at this stage in my life. I do it to challenge myself against the course, the weather, my fellow competitors, and all those little things to see what I’ve made of myself and just exactly what I’m made of.