Three weeks out is not exactly the ideal time to race hard before a marathon, but it’s pretty close. (Four or five weeks out is probably perfect since there is no question about being able to recover well before taper.) But because it’s so close, I have to decide whether to race it for a PR or to treat it as a marathon-paced practice.
I have decided. I’m going to race it.
There are benefits to each strategy. The last half I ran was the Swamp Rabbit Half in Greenville, SC in February and I chose to run it around goal marathon pace. It was challenging, but at the end I felt like I could have run the whole thing again. It taught me that I was in shape for my marathon goal in Boston and was great pace practice for the real thing. Even though Boston didn’t go as planned, I know it wasn’t because I was not fit enough for the pace. I got a PR in 1:27 (6:47 pace) for the half, and I know that I’m strong enough now to beat that now with not much more effort.
But racing the half at anywhere between 10-20 seconds per mile faster than goal marathon pace will be a thrilling suffer-fest. It will be a great benchmark of my fitness and it will be good mental practice for harsh reality of racing the marathon. Each time we push ourselves to run very hard without dying, the brain learns that we are not actually dying and allows us to push a little harder or longer next time. Racing hard will teach my brain not to panic when it’s critical to keep going. That kind of mental strength training will not happen if I only run marathon pace.
Either way, I will get the benefit of practicing the logistics: waking up early, eating a good breakfast, warming up, proper fueling and hydration, proper pacing, and soaking up the adrenaline from the race. The course is beautiful and slightly downhill until a few surprise hills at the end (like a mini-Boston!).
I am not tapering for the half to keep a little fatigue in my legs. I did only one shorter-than-usual speed session on Monday and have been running easy in the days since. Not tapering will make me not race the half as well as possible, but the ultimate goal is the marathon, not the half, so tapering now would not ideal for marathon training.
I’m really excited about this one. Wish me luck!