The marathon vs. the mile: pre-race musings

I have my first mile race in well over a year (and my second mile race ever) on Sunday, a run down one of the main streets in Tuckahoe, which is less than half a mile from my house. It’s a tuneup for the goal race in a few weeks, a mile race down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. By the time that rolls around on September 24th I will have been training for it for nearly 3 months.

Three months of training to run for (I hope) fewer than 6 minutes? That seems a little crazy. But is it? For a few years I trained for 6+ months to run a marathon and usually had very little to show for all that time, effort and commitment. Of the 6 marathons I ran I can only say that I felt totally prepared and confident before one of them, the More 2008 race. Not coincidentally, that was my biggest jump in improvement, although not my PR. But it was the last marathon I was prepared to race properly.

I don’t know how I’ll feel in a few weeks when I line up on Fifth Avenue, but that’s okay because the stakes aren’t nearly as high. Sure, if I have a bad race I’ll be unhappy about it. Three months of training is still significant. But I’m finding the anticipation of the mile vs. the marathon to be a completely different experience. A poor outcome will, I suspect, also be a whole different ball of wax.

One reason for this is, obviously, the distance and recovery time. For a mile, I’d need a minimum of 6 weeks buildup and a week to recover. Triple or quadruple that for the marathon. But beyond the obvious, there are a few other major differences I can think of:

Performance Feedback: When you race a marathon it may take you a third or more of the race to realize that you’re having a bad day. That’s a terrible feeling. Then you have to decide to drop out, or struggle through to the finish. In a mile, by halfway through the race you’ll have a good sense of how the race is going to go. By then, you’re practically there anyway.

Trial Runs: For the mile, you can race a time trial before your goal race. Part of me thinks it’s a bad idea to race Tuckahoe; if the race goes badly it could screw with my confidence. On the other hand, I’ll have two weeks to work on any weaknesses I see. So I’ll use the opportunity. You can’t race a marathon to prepare for a goal marathon. It’s just too far. So marathon morning holds the worst kind of mystery. I don’t miss that aspect at all.

Training Foundation: My next goal after the Fifth Avenue Mile is a 5K in January. I’ll have around 15 weeks to train for that distance. That’s plenty of time even starting from just basic aerobic fitness. But I have to believe that coming from peak mile training is going to do wonders for my 5K time.

As for strategy, I had one when I raced the mile and the 1500 last year. In the case of the mile, awful weather put the kibosh on running a good race. In the case of the 1500, I ran the first lap a little fast and probably paid for it later; but overall it was a successful race. Probably one of my most successful races, now that I think about it. Perhaps that’s what makes the distance so attractive — I have this crazy suspicion that I could be quite good at it (relatively speaking, since I’m old for a sophomore miler) if I applied myself in the form of specific training.

I should have good data gathered from Tuckahoe and a 5K race a few days after that. Then I’ll do some 800s on the track in the week prior to Fifth Avenue. That should tell me what to target for the quarter mile splits. I do know that the pain in the 1500/mile was something I have trouble describing, but no trouble remembering. And it was sharply distributed between the mental and physical realms. The worst part mentally was the third lap (800-1200m). The worst part physically was the last 300-400m. I never thought racing could actually make my entire body — including the sides of my head — scream in pain, but the mile will do that.

I will reacquaint myself with that pain on Sunday. Strangely, I’m looking forward to it.