With five days remaining before my next marathon, I have race strategy on the brain, so I thought I would share a few quick thoughts on the topic.
When aiming for an aggressive goal time, I believe it's important to hold oneself back in the early miles, but without running so slowly as to necessitate a dramatic increase in pace later in the race. My goal is to finish the race with an average pace of 6:01-6:05 per mile. I plan to run the first mile in 6:05 to 6:10 and to run no faster than 6:02 for any single mile in the first half of the race. If I do this and find myself feeling very strong at the half-marathon mark, I could pick up my pace to 5:57 per mile and still finish with with an average pace of 6:01.
I have done a lot of running in this pace range within the past few weeks. Although I have been able to run long distances at this pace, even in a pre-fatigued state, it has felt alarmingly fast to me even on my best days. Recently I realized that it feels fast because it is fast, and I should not be alarmed. My mindset has been caught back in the days when my marathon pace was 6:20 per mile, a pace that always felt easy in the beginning. So I've tacitly expected 6:00/mile pace to start feeling easy too. But now I see that I have moved so close to my ultimate performance limits that this just isn't going to happen. The marathon is now truly a race for me rather than a game of survival. Therefore I should expect to feel as though I'm racing as soon as the gun goes off. The fact that I feel the strain of my goal pace even within the first mile does not indicate that I cannot sustain the pace for 26.2 miles. (I'm quite sure that Haile Gebrselassie felt the strain of running 4:45/mile in the first mile of his recent 2:04:26 marathon!) This shift in mindset has taken a lot of fear out of me and will help me race more relaxed.
It's going to be very cold when the race starts at 7 am. I remember being painfully cold in the first miles of the California International Marathon when I ran it back in '99. So this time I'm going to start with a cheap fleece sweatshirt over my shortsleeve running top, and an old pair of running gloves. When I feel warm enough I will take them off and hand them to a volunteer at a fluid station.
Speaking of fluid, here's my nutrition plan. I will have my usual pre-race breakfast of a banana and a can of Boost. I will also drink a little water, but not much. Runners often overestimate how much fluid they need to drink on the morning of a marathon. It's much more important to drink during the race. I hate having to pee too often before the race starts, and I really hate to pee during the race. Half an hour before the start I will swallow two caffeine pills (400 mg). I have consumed no caffeine since 10 days before race day to maximize the ergogenic effect I get from caffeine on race morning. During the race I will take some sports drink at every fluid station. The amount I consume will depend on how my stomach/GI system feel. When they feel good I will drink a full dixie cup. Otherwise I will take just a sip. But I will always take at least a sip. I have underfueled myself before in marathons and it's not a mistake I care to repeat.