Racing Strategy & Four Segments to Run Slower

Steve Gonser PT DPT
Physical Therapist

First time Dad, Husband, Physical Therapist at Buffalo Rehab Group, Boston Qualifier, Ironman, and founder of Join me as I balance training, work, and family on my journey to the start line (and hopefully a PR).

Join me at the Marathon Expo (4pm) for a discussion of current running-related research, including what’s new with running form, foot strike, strength, and flexibility. Whether you’re sick of being injured, searching for a PR, or simply a running nerd like me, I promise you’ll walk away a smarter runner. Marathon Expo 4pm

We’re finally on the downhill slide (or should be)!  Most of us have likely peaked with our long runs and weekly mileage.  With that comes absurd hunger and the quiet sigh of relief that yes… I can do this.  This entire training process was tough.  I’m definitely not ready to hammer out a strong PR (yet), but I experienced an internal satisfaction when I hit the stop button to round out my 70 mile week, culminating with an 18 miler on Saturday.

The goal was to hit up the Buffalo Marathon course a couple times this spring.  Needless to say, it never happened.  The last four marathons I’ve run (Boston, NYC, Pittsburgh, and Hamilton) were all run without stepping a foot on the actual course. Although run on foreign soil, I managed to squeeze out four consecutive PR’s.  I was looking to cash in again this year, knowing that I’ll have the ability to know the ins and outs that May 24th would bring.  So much for that.

So on April 25th I decided it’s time.  I parked at the start, strategically adjacent to Spot Coffee.  With my poorly drawn map, I trudged out to run the first 16 miles before heading two miles back to the finish.  I’m glad I did, too.  I’ve had pretty solid success with racing even times across the front and back half of marathons. 

My awesome map.  I can't understand why I missed two turns? :)

My awesome map.  I can't understand why I missed two turns? :)

After thinking, “wow, I forgot how nice North Buffalo is,” I thought “hey, there are parts of this course that are going to be tough.”  Advertised as flat and fast, the course doesn’t disappoint; however, there’s a few dicey, misleading sections that can certainly yield a premature blow up.

Four Segments Where You Should Give Time

Mile 0-1

The course can be quite deceiving, particularly when heading north.  Northbound from the city toward Delaware Park is a low grade grind.  There’s a huge danger in mile one.  Don’t let your adrenaline get the best of you.  Too often runners drop a pace that can be 10-30 seconds faster than intended in the first mile.  An awful mistake, particularly on this course.  Refrain from the all too common racing strategy of “banking time.”  Banking time equates to running too fast early and keeping a tally of how much you can slow down later and still keep your desired pace.  Some runners can tell you exactly how much time is in the bank (ie 47 seconds).

Banking time is an open invitation to falling apart.  Mentally, you’ll allow yourself to slip later in the race and fall back on your bank.  Nearly every time this strategy is used the late race withdraws exceed the early race deposits.

Mile 3-5.5

Following a long downhill from mile 1-3, you’ll begin making your way south down Linwood Ave.  Tread lightly and plan on giving some time back to the course.  Use North Street as your motivation.  After utilizing North Street as a quick pass through to Delaware Ave, you’ll be flying and re-couping anytime you left on Linwood.

Mile 12-14.5

Making your way north can be a tedious march.  Mile 12 through 14.5 is an uphill grind as you make your way towards Delaware Park.   Much like previous segments, plan to give the course some time here.  Keep yourself focused on finding North Street (again).  Like before, you’ll use North Street as a shortcut to find a nice, sustainable downhill down Linwood (you climbed this in the previous segment).  You may lose 10 seconds a mile from 12-14.5, but rest assured, the turn onto Linwood is a calming downhill that allows you to recoup any lost time.

Mile 17-18

The “hill” in Delaware Park is fairly unintimidating, but when your legs are anchored with 18 miles of hard fought pounding, it can be a “B.”  Let it win.  If you race this correctly you’ll likely give 5-7 seconds/mile here.

This course favors patience and planning. Know your ups and downs. For the most part, the climbs are small, but long.  Luckily, most climbs are followed by descents.  If you run correctly, you can (controllably) attack the downhill and not pound through a recovery.

My plan:

It’s likely I’ll give up 10 seconds in the first mile, knowing full well I’ll get it back almost immediately through mile three.  In fact, I might bank a little time on the long downhill (banking is ok if you’re working the course and are in control).  I'm a self proclaimed downhill running expert and have had success in previous races.  I plan on eating time during all these segments, only to spit it back on the accompany downhill.  My eyes are on mile 25 and beyond--a long downhill finish that will lead me back to Boston in 2016.   


Start planning now.  These items should be top of mind.  If you haven’t, get out and run the course in sections.  It can make a huge difference come May 24th.

For now, I’m working on speed development.  I plan on hitting up the Grand Island Half Marathon this Saturday as a final “tuner” to put in a solid, but not all out effort.  I hope to see you there (or at the expo) in a few short weeks!