How to Win the MDRA Grand Prix

>> Thursday, January 10, 2013

Last week, running buddy SteveQ posted a blog entry titled "How to Win the MDRA Grand Prix." He listed 6 points on how to win. Some of these things I'd never thought about, and I thought he made some interesting points. Here's what SteveQ said, and I'm going to interject here-and-there:

How to Win the MDRA Grand Prix

Every year, the Minnesota Distance Running Association has a series of races called the Grand Prix and it's usually won by someone I know and not by someone spectacularly gifted, though some very fast runners enter. Last year, Steve Stenzel won it on 20 miles per week of training; so here's how to beat him!

1) You have to have a modicum of talent. If you can run a mile in 5 minutes, 10K at 6 min./mile, 1/2 marathon at 6 1/2 and marathon at 7 min./mile, you're more than qualified. Stenzel's never run a marathon, though the Grand Prix includes two (he's done a mile in 4:49, in the series). Last year's winner, Colin Gardner-Springer, has a mile best of 5:18 but has been running marathons consistently in the mid to high 2:50's. Previous winners Kirt Goetzke and Jarrow Wahman have some very fast PR's, but not recently (both are over 50).

2) Plan to do all the races and to sacrifice some races to winning the series. You can only score in 10 of the 13 races this year, but the way the scoring is set, your finish in a non-scored race can lower the scores of other runners (trust me, this makes sense). Beating someone by a second scores the same as beating them by an hour, so you should not plan to run PRs, but to save yourself for later races. Many years, one race gets cancelled with little notice and every year, it's the person who stays healthy and finishes the most races who wins the series.

Steve's first point is fair. And he sort of makes another point that gets a little covered up: you can be speedy on the short-end of races or speedy on the longer-end of races, and either can help you win the series. You don't need to have ALL short distance speed or ALL marathon speed.

I've NEVER thought about his second point, but he's totally right! And like he mentioned, it's all by place not time so just try to get as many people as possible at the line. As I noted in this post, being a few seconds faster and being able to pass one more person can mean a big difference in points.

3) Plan to race harder in the unpopular races. If you're the only one who shows up at a race (and you finish), you get a perfect score of 1000. If you are competing in the series with another runner and you tend to finish one right behind the other, you score better in the smaller races, so plan to work on those. [Example: Two races, one with 20 finishers, one with 10. First place in each receives 1000 points, second place receives 950 in the larger race, but 900 in the smaller. A runner who finishes first in the smaller race and second in the larger scores better than the runner who finishes first in the larger race and second in the smaller.] The marathons usually have the fewest finishers, as the series favors those who prefer shorter races; running a marathon without it being a goal race, but only a means to score points, takes a great deal of discipline.

4) #3 means you should plan to peak late in the year. The number of finishers dwindles as the season progresses and the faster runners tend to drop out (and hence the scoring gets easier). Still, the scores from early in the year can determine who ultimately wins.

I got my only perfect "1000 points" at a race where there weren't a ton of Grand Prix racers. (It wasn't the smallest race, but a decent percentage of Grand Prix racers didn't show.) So Steve's #3 point is a good one - race the "unpopular" races.

And #4 is totally correct too. I had a few speedy runners in front of me early in the series, but then they stopped showing up to races. I took the lead after the 4th race in the series, and held on through the end. If you can start strong and peak late, you're setting yourself up for something good.

On to Steve's final 2 points...

5) Plan on a one race "mini-peak" at the start. The competition is greatest in the early races and particularly in the first race, an indoor mile. Most runners have no idea what kind of mile they can run, particularly in the middle of the winter. There's a series of indoor races held at Bethel College with 1500m and 1 Mile distances; you should do a few of these to get a feel for what you can do at the Meet of the Miles.

6) Just stay ahead of Kirt in every race. He's finished between first and third every year for at least a decade.

Steve's talking about the Charities Challenge races at Bethel - I've done 4 of 5 of those races in the past, and they're great "warm-up" races for the series. But I guess now it's too late to mention that because the Meet of the Miles is Monday...

And it's always a good day when I can beat Kirt. :) I'm not racing the entire series this year, so maybe my goal will be "beat Kirt more times than Kirt beats me." Ha!

So there you go, folks. Those are SteveQ's 6 points to win the Grand Prix series, and he's made some good points. Oh, and if you missed it, here's a post about what I learned while racing the series last year.


Anonymous,  9:01 AM, January 10, 2013  

I still think marathon finishers should get more grand prix points than 1 mile runners (I mean, they are out there for 3 hours vs. 6 minutes) bit I don't make the rules.

Anonymous,  9:59 AM, January 10, 2013  

I totally disagree with the previous comment. The Grand Prix is all about being the best all around runner, the runner that is good at a variety of distances. It's a well balanced series with lots of different distances, yet only a couple 1 mile races and a couple marathons to allow people to skip those if it's not their thing and not throw the whole series. It's about being inclusive to all runners, not just marathoners or milers.

Steve Stenzel 10:03 AM, January 10, 2013  

Anon, that WOULD make sense. This whole past year, my wife and I have thought of ways the series could be scored a little differently. But I think it all comes back to a mixture of what's FAIREST and what's EASIEST to score. (Most of my thoughts on how it could be different would NOT be easy to score.)

Marathoners ARE out there longer, but it's not a "marathon" series. It's just a running series. But the way it is now, it DOES help if you're faster at 10K or shorter races (there were 8 races of 10K or shorter last year, and 6 of half marathon or longer).

Steve Stenzel 10:03 AM, January 10, 2013  

Anon #2, that's a good point too!...

SteveQ 10:18 AM, January 10, 2013  

Guess I should point out that I was a director of a race series once (UMTR ultramarathon series) and my rules to make it completely fair made it so complicated that I was the only one who understood them. I also won my age class twice while directing the series, but really... it was fair!

Carolina John 11:45 AM, January 10, 2013  

so.... step 1: be fast. step 2: be smart. got it.

Karen 12:36 PM, January 10, 2013  

Great post. I recently won my (much less competitive) race circuit with a similar strategy. I'm by no means the fastest one out there, but I'm ALWAYS showing up. :)

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