Managing expectations and surprising yourself as you do so

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This Sunday I ran the NYC Half Marathon together with my friend Charles. Charles has a degenerative eye disease and lost his vision a few years ago. We run with or for Achilles International. Charles and I ran this race last year, and I believe it was our first race together. Since then we tackled a few other races, including the big one: NYC Marathon.

Something was different this year. Charles, usually laser-focused in his training, was traveling a lot for work, seeing places like Nicaragua and Costa Rica, where he is unable to run because he doesn't have a guide (he never asked if I should come along?!?). So Charles felt like he was ill prepared. He set his expectations low, relative to his ability to achieve a new PR. This was different before we were always chasing a PR or a great time. This time, we wanted to have a good time - if that time was also a PR - Bueno! but if not - life would go on.
So we are still technically hoping for a PR, but we set our expectations differently - and guess what? We set a new PR! It was a modest gain, on an arguably harder course, but Charles felt good the entire way.

So here is how the race unfolded: I had worked with Charles for several months now and we had started using heart rate as a gauge for his effort. After a very painful 30min all-out run time trial I set his training and racing zones. I knew his target HR for a half was in the mid 160s. During the race I was wearing 2 watches, one to monitor myself, one to monitor Charles's HR (remember we are tethered at the waist). The course is challenging, starting with a short uphill on Cat Hill, and another hill at around mile 4, Harlem Hill. So we ignored pace and ran by HR. The goal was to stay in the low 160s and push a bit on the hills, not to exceed 170. After 3 miles we were right on target for our 7:40 min/mile. Charles and I agreed that we would continue at this pace / HR combo until mile 10, where we would start to pick things up. So we did that exactly that, dropping the pace to a 7:20-ish pace for miles 11+12, and finally something close to a 7:10 for the finish.

You can see from the HR graph below that we nailed this one, very steady throughout with the occasional blip on hills, and a gentle increase in the last 3 miles. Net result = New PR and negative split! Maybe we could have gone out a bit more aggressive, but it's racing and you never know. Ultimately goal achieved.

So here you have it, we managed the expectations and surprised ourselves. Take home messages are: 1) sometimes you can race better without the added pressure and 2) HR is a valuable tool for race day pacing.

Charles's heart rate during the NYC Half Marathon