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The hardest run to run

We’ve all started things we’ve never finished, for me that’s the job around the house that I’ve overcommitted to. My limited DIY skillset is fine for an Ikea wardrobe, or putting up shelves (straight-ish. Never put anything that might roll on a shelf and it’s probably ok), but beyond that jobs will get started, but have no guarantee they’ll get completed. I am always keen to have a go, but sometimes I can underestimate their complexity, or the specific tools required for the job.

But let’s not dwell on part hung curtain rails hanging out of crumbling walls, no! Surely we go out running to get away from all this internal bother.

Do we ever start anything from a fitness perspective and not finish? Fitness is not a do it once and it’s complete, so the answer is always yes. And no. We aim for a never ending cycle of continuous improvement – running a little further, lifting a little more, jumping metaphorically through a slightly higher hoop over time. Starting something without finishing, for me, a goal driven person, would be entering a race and then not competing in it. A DNS. Very frustrating if it is injury related, very disappointing if it’s because of a lack of fitness. But that’s life, these things will happen. 

The thing that I started and didn’t finish recently is my training through the Garmin Coach on my watch and the Garmin Connect app. I’ve written about this before, and the reason behind it was that I didn’t feel confident running four times a week, and when asked if I wanted to run a bit further, I always opted out of it. Coach Greg would send me out on a five minute warm up, a ten minute run, an optional extra ten minutes, and then a cool down. I’d only ever do the first ten, although if it was pitched as a twenty minute run, I’d happily have done it. 

I tried the Garmin Coach again recently, to check the type of things that would feature in a 5k training plan. I’m not planning on sticking too close to it, but as an example, some useful thoughts on tempo runs came up straight away. There’s always space to learn and gain insight from different sources.

But we need to talk about the fitness test at the start of the Garmin Coach. When you sign up with a coach, the first thing they get you to do is a 5 minute benchmark run. Five minutes doesn’t seem too bad, but when you’re running as fast as you think you can go for that time, it hurts. And it hurts everywhere! 

The problem is (once again) psychological – why would you need any sort of pacing if you’re only going for five minutes? Also, as this is a benchmark run, it feels really important to show that coach what you’re made of – which translates as “go as fast as you possibly can”.

But you do need pacing, and the coach probably doesn’t care that much if you’re a little bit slower – after all, it’s an app which will base your training plan accordingly.

After going flat out for those five minutes, finishing the benchmark run feels like an achievement in itself. But it’s a run so hard it can almost turn into the leaky shower door – a job started but not finished!

Take the coach to market

I’ve written elsewhere that I started using one of the Garmin coaches to help me train for my upcoming 10k race. After reviewing the two available coaches’ intro videos, I decided to work with Coach Greg as I liked the cut of his stride repeats, goal pace repeats, and progression runs. In the early weeks it got me into the discipline of training, which I’m pleased has so far stuck with me.

Coach Greg showed me how confident he was that I would hit my ambitious target by moving a dot on a coloured circle at the top of my phone screen. He was confident in me, so I became confident; with Greg in my corner, I couldn’t fail. Some days Greg took me out on ten minute runs. He always gave me the option to go on for another ten minute, but why would I? Greg didn’t mind I always skipped the extra bit, and he showed it through his little colourful circle of confidence.

Ultimately, I had to give up on Greg as I couldn’t commit to so many runs each week. Going out four times a week felt a lot as I wanted to balance my running with some different cross-training. I was worried about over-training and injury, and the amount of washing I was going through was getting ridiculous. A ten minute run might not seem much, but it is more than enough to turn a clean running top into a soggy mess. 

But Greg had taught me the merit of setting goal paces on my runs. I found I could programme my own target pace ranges against individual steps in individual workouts, which I could monitor second by second on my watch. I could measure my stride sessions in twenty second bursts, followed by a 45 second cool-down; even having something counting off the number of reps for me was enormous progress (it turns out I can only be proficient at running or counting, never both at the same time). It works brilliantly, and I can create my own plans as I like, and importantly, amend them to reflect how I feel on any given day.

I’m not affiliated to Garmin in any way, so absolutely not plugging their products. I’m sure other devices offer similar features, and perhaps some have better features for runners, however there’s a massive difference between my Garmin Venu and, say, an Apple Watch that makes it infinitely better – it’s the word “my”: I don’t own an Apple Watch, so Garmin have a big headstart with me.

I love the Garmin Connect IQ marketplace and the apps that are available on there and have started writing my own. So if there is something missing that Garmin could offer, maybe there’s an opportunity to build it for the good of the community. And perhaps even teach Coach Greg a thing or two!

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