Everyone knows Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. The basic premise is the fleet hare loses a footrace to the sluggish tortoise because he takes off too fast and stops for naps and breakfast, causing him to lose. In a very simplistic connection to this, they are the two basic strategies I tend to see in races. I actually label those who take off fast at the gun as rabbits, many do settle down after a while into their true pace, while some can actually keep it up. This happens at all distances, while the consequences for the rabbits can differ. It may be hard to believe, but my strategy tends to mimic the tortoise, with a relaxed start. This is especially the case in events with elite competitors, as I have experienced many times the folly of trying to start with them and losing steam half way through. Some of my best performances have come from allowing the field to ‘run away’ from me and letting my race pace come naturally.
The tortoise strategy has been working very well in the half marathon. I have only recently discovered a knack for racing the 13.1 mile distance, with several podium finishes in smaller events and respectable placings in the larger ones. With a race of that length, there is plenty of time to find a comfortable pace, as well as an equally long time to suffer from the consequences of an overzealous start. Seeing as it is hard to traverse that kind of distance without encountering hills, beginning too fast can hurt in more ways than one. Each race should also be a learning experience as well, so listening to your body is key to figuring out which is the best way for you personally to approach the event.
The Oregon Wine Country Half is one of several half marathons I am doing this year. Since it is in August, I will have a couple other ones done before then. That will make it easier to find the right pace and minimize the chance of making any mistakes while preparing for it. It is also nice to race on familiar ground, as it passes through areas relatively close to my hometown. Our regular Sunday run actually turns around about a mile from where the event ends, in the opposite direction. I read the handy mile-by-mile description, and I have driven all the roads it traverses. It will be a scenic route with a few hills.
I also took a peek at the results from previous years, which cemented my plan to use the tortoise method. The top three finishers are running elite times, so I will definitely not be in the lead at any point. This lessens the pressure to start hard and allows me to focus instead on running strong. The best way to capitalize upon this method for me is to not wear a watch or any kind of equipment. This allows me to focus on what matters most, my body. The goal will be to keep my stride and breathing regular, even through the hills. The climbs will be handy to slow down the rabbits and allow me to get settled into a better position towards the front.
Barring extreme heat, I will not be using many of the plentiful water stops on the course. With the tortoise method, even with optimal half race pace (just under 5:50), it is not so much faster than my normal training effort that I would need much extra hydration or food. I generally plan on making a pit stop around 8 miles in for a little water and gel. With the focus on trying to increase pace in the last few miles to offset the relaxed start, minimal time at the aid stations is the goal.
Between the great location and potentially fast course, I am definitely looking forward to this event. Using the tortoise method will probably start me in 20th or farther back for the first section, but I am hoping for a top 10 finish. I have never heard any complaints about this event, so it is reasonable to expect there will not be any race day snags to worry about, allowing the participants to focus on the run. Plus, there is the added bonus of a point to point course, making the task of traversing 13.1 miles more meaningful. I just checked the event page again, with the handy timer that there is only 155 days left until it is time to go rabbit hunting. This tortoise will be ready.