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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!

The thrill of the pace

It’s the post that nobody has been asking for, but a post I feel compelled to write. A detailed account of my pacing strategy for my recent 10k race. Apologies in advance, this may get a little nerdy (ie extremely nerdy), but it will help me in future by capturing this here, so hopefully it can help others too.

If you’ve read my race post from the weekend then you’ll know this strategy was successful for me. I encourage others to try this out for yourselves and let me know if you have similar success, or if there’s better (or simpler) ways to do the same thing that I did. Either way, please do what works for you, this is a method to control overall pace within your own tolerances and to help prevent going out too quickly at the start. This method shouldn’t be used to go faster than you are able to manage, please be careful in your training.

Disclaimers out of the way then, here’s what I did:

Last year I ran the same course and set a time that I was pleased with, although felt that with some extra training I could push harder on it. 

I’ve said before the course is a hilly one, and the km splits are not even. I took the data from last years race and took some time off each km to get to the target for each split. With a tiny bit of weighting, I had 10 kilometre times I felt was achievable, and that added up to my overall target time (in fact, I did this for a range of target times so I could adapt based on my training progress). 

I found a feature on the Garmin app that lets you plot a course and then shows your target splits based on how fast you want to run up the hills (you can find it in Training > PacePro Pacing Strategies). I plotted the route of my race and in a brilliantly reaffirming way, the split times were pretty much what I’d calculated myself. 

The pace was set, the race was on. The final thing to do was to set my target. I chose a time of 46 minutes as I felt that was most achievable based on recent form. 

Garmin pace during a run is always rounded up to the nearest five seconds; it’s only when you complete a lap you see the accurate time. I decided (very late on, the night before the race), that I’d round my target splits to the nearest five seconds too. That way I had a worst case time for the km I was on, my acrtual time for each split would be lower. 

And then finally, finally, as I said in my race post, I sat in the car on race day for far longer than I’d imagined, transcribing the split times onto the back of my hand with the worst biro in the world!

Over the course, the ink remained where I wanted it to; I ran each lap under my target times and ended up over half a minute under my expected time. 

A tried and tested technique for race pacing, can someone let Eliud Kipchoge know please!

The return of Seville rights

After the excitement of Sunday, it’s time to think about where we go from here: my main goal is now complete, so where does runanother find its next challenge? 

Actually, now is not quite the time to explore what happens next, now is the time to consume all the things I’d cut out over the pst few months in the name of fitness. I’m not advocating unhealthy living or overeating, just adding back in some of the things that are good in life.

Which brings us on to marmalade. I’m not sure there’s any better way to consume bagfuls of sugar than with this magical orange spread, ladled onto thickly sliced, heavily buttered toast. What better way to start the day, that and a cup of tea, and, if you’re extra specially lucky, back to bed for a bit. No such chance for me.

Aside from a renewed non-oaty breakfast diet, there must be other things to focus on now. One of these is with Garmin, and the much-loved App store. At the start of the week I managed to release a new app for Garmin watches (free, of course), under my runanother account.

My main aim for developing Garmin apps was always to look at how data can help in training. How looking differently at data can be used to provide an insight that will help the running (hopefully wider fitness too) community. 

My first app was to dip my toe into the Garmin development world, and was a relative success. The app was a watch face called Rotorua and has been downloaded over 2000 times and had several positive reviews against it.

This time, I feel I have wandered off the right path. I set off looking at steps data, but have somehow created an app (another watch face) that takes the past 7 days of activity data and turns it into morse code. With seven days, there are 128 combinations of dots and dashes, so 128 different words generated. There are four lines of data, so over 260 million different four word phrases that it can generate. 

With this much data and possibility it’s no wonder I got sidetracked. I completed testing and released it through the Garmin approval process, and is now available on Garmin Connect IQ. If you are interested, it is called Morse!

I’ve promised myself that the next app with use fitness data in a more constructive way. 

So have I answered the question of what I do next? Not really, but as long as there’s a pot of marmalade in the fridge I’ll be happy for the short term. 

The real answer to this is in the strap line of this blog, and what I’ll be focussing on: run another mile, run another race, run another bath!

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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