Breaking An Hour

by Dan Egan

For all you frustrated Bloomies out there, we feel your pain. Every year, you tell yourself "This is the year I break an hour," only to have your dream crushed like a discarded paper cup. To that end, we suggest two options: Number one: Let it go. Seriously, it's not that important. People will still like you whether your time is 61 minutes rather than 59, we promise. Or, option number two: You can follow these tips from the experts on how to increase your speed and race times.

We asked three experts that very question and they gave us the best advice they know. They include EWU cross country coach and a member of last year's winning Corporate Cup team, Dan Hilton; former Bloomsday champ and all-around running legend, Bill Rodgers; and Mr. Bloomsday himself, Don Kardong.

You can use these tips on this Bloomsday, or the next one. If you haven't started training yet, it's much too late to start now. But hey, there's always the Spokane Marathon in October.

Racing Tips -- Start slow: "A lot of people just start out too fast," says Kardong. "They feel good, they want to try to put time in the bank early while they have energy. It just doesn't work that way. The best way to run the course is to get to where you're running exactly the same pace at the end that you were at the first mile. If you can save something for later, it makes a difference."

Hilton agrees: "You have to be patient in the very start, almost force yourself to hold back. As a rule of thumb, we tell our runners that every second you go out too fast in the first 400 meters, it costs you five seconds at the finish. If you go out too fast, people tighten up. You need to feel comfortable and relaxed in those first two miles."

Break it down: "Break the race down mile by mile, setting goals for each mile. Don't think about Doomsday Hill when you're at the Cemetery Hill," says Hilton.

"There are people who make up a lot of time in the last couple miles because, in their mind, when they get to the top of the hill, that's when they start the race," says Kardong.

Play mind games: "A lot of the sport is finessing things in your mind and believing you can set and hold a certain pace. If I know I can do it, it plays a big part of it," says Rodgers. "When I used to run the Boston Marathon, with a mile or two to go and I was struggling, I would remind myself of when I was in high school and I ran the mile and two mile. I'd tell myself I can run another 10 minutes, just like in high school."

Training Tips -- Start Early/Rest Late: "I would train four to six months out. It's much easier on you," says Hilton. "I would also run a couple of races before hand, like the Spring Dash. It puts you in that race mode. You can't get a training session like that anywhere else. And the week before should be fairly light."

Hills, Hills, Hills: "One of the main things is to do not just hills, but hill repeats," says Kardong. "Find a hill that's about the slope of Doomsday Hill and take about one minute to run it. Do about five or six of these where you're running not absolutely full out, but at a good running pace. If you start doing that in March and you do about six weeks of that once a week, I think it will really help. It's a hilly course, and having specifically trained yourself to run hills will really make a difference."

Get Heart Strong: "Running is a strength sport," says Rodgers. "The key is to think in terms of strength and endurance. In order to run well at seven miles, you'll have to do some runs longer than that, like 10 miles," says Rodgers. "This is the best way to build your cardiovascular strength."

Mix It Up: "This is the key," says Rodgers. "Change of pace running gets you used to running at a short, quick and intense pace."

Hilton agrees: "If you started doing speed work, you would increase your pace. Try some mile repeats, where you run a mile at your goal pace and rest after each mile. The key is to get comfortable running that pace. Maybe go for a 30- or 40-minute run where you run hard for five minutes and easy for five minutes." Hilton warns beginning runners to build up a good base of mileage (around 20 miles a week) before doing speed work or they run the risk of injury.