-Alberto Salazar, three-time New York City Marathon Champion
Every run I've done since August was motivated primarily for the race this coming Sunday, the Big Sur Half-Marathon in Monterey Bay. Despite eleven solid weeks of training with thankfully no injuries along the way, there will certainly be some doubt in my mind as I stand on the finish line.
However, doubt and confidence are not completely mutually exclusive. I've put in a lot of work, and know I'm definitely ready to take on the 13.1 miles and run a faster pace than last year, when I ran 1:25:57. Of course, in the final week before a half-marathon, there's nothing you can do to make you faster, you can only screw things up. This is the week for "active rest", a tenuous balance between easy running to let the legs recover while avoiding taking so much rest that you lose your fitness. Many weeks of hard training have been undermined by an ill-advised "one last hard workout" that saps all your energy just before the race when you need it most. It's a also a good time to watch my food intake and yes, go easy on the beer, as it can be easy to quickly pick up five pounds of "dead weight" this week from the reduced activity.
Even if I find the perfect taper, twelve weeks of hard work can go right down the drain on race day by simply tripping over a rock, getting sick the night before, tangling up with another runner at the starting line or some other random event. You can be diligent and careful to avoid this stuff, but sometimes bad luck still finds you. There's no guarantees in running, just like with everything else. But most of the time, running rewards preparation. Understanding this is the partial antidote to doubt.
The original goal when I started last August was to finish just under 1:22, which is 6:15 per mile pace. I thought that would be possible thought pretty challenging when I first set this goal. Evaluating all my training since then, I still going to be pretty challenging, but possible. So the plan is to go out the first four miles in 6:15-6:20 per mile per pace. Faster than that and there becomes a real risk of crashing and burning, turning the last miles into a death march. If everything comes together and that pace feels ridiculously easy, I can start pushing the pace in the middle miles. Otherwise, I'll just hang onto that pace. Sub-6:20 pace (which equates to a sub-1:23 half-marathon) would still be a pretty good performance.
Who knows what will happen on race day? Finding out is the fun part, even if it is a little scary.