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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!

Taste pace

The biggest learning from my race last week was one of pacing. There is something nice about being scooped up by the pack and spirited along for the first km or two of a race, however, this for me came at a cost: I hit a wall at the halfway point and struggled to keep any pace at all until the finish. 

Is it a problem? I still got a personal best time for the distance, maybe the first half was where my energy was best targeted?

I doubt it. It felt unmanaged and uncomfortable for a large period of the race, and in the end I was glad it was over. I guess being glad it’s over is a fundamental part of any race, but this felt wrong. 

Looking at the splits, the first half was consistent, just over 4:30 each km lap. The final one was about ten seconds quicker, so will ignore that one. Laps six to nine averaged at around thirteen seconds slower than the first five. Even with the faster lap ten, the back five km was on average nine seconds slower than the front five. 

To tackle this, I’ve been looking at my previous form for the upcoming race. I’ve mentioned before that it’s hilly, so there’s a natural rhythm of fast and slow sections, but as each km isn’t uniform uphill or downhill, it can be tricky to pace – but pace it we must, or suffer the same fate as last week!

Looking at last year’s splits, I can weight each km and target the pace for each to meet my goal – it’s all relative innit. If I’m aiming at 46 minutes (or possibly a shade under), then I now know my target splits. I’m guessing the way to store and recall these is the age old write-on-the-back-of-your-hand and hope they don’t rub off halfway round the course.

Interestingly, there’s a feature on Garmin where you can plot a course and say whether you want to go faster or slower up the hills. I’ve also done this for the race route and the calculated splits are pretty much exactly the same as my version. Looks like there might actually be some sense in my calculations.

So the theory is there, all I have to do is go out and run it!  

Trees: a jolly good fellow

Trees are good aren’t they. There’s something inspiring about planting a tree; there’s something majestic about a giant tree that’s been rooted to the same spot for years. Even after life a tree has a presence: a hollowed out trunk can be hidden in, a stump will be climbed on. 

When storm Eunice hit earlier this year, many trees were blown over, trunks snapped and splintered. There was one in the park near us that was completely uprooted and lay on the ground for months afterwards with its branches reaching across the grass, as if stretching for the one thing that could rescue it. This tree’s life was sadly over, but far from being of no use, it became a destination point for families to take our kids to play in. It was often requested on a Saturday – come on we’re going out; can we go to the fallen down tree? Of course we can. You never get to explore the tangled branches of such a large tree so safely, so near to the ground. A perfect natural climbing frame. 

As a runner, and particularly in the current heatwave, trees offer vital shade across our paths. They also pump out oxygen, a substance I can never seem to get enough of when I’m out on the run. I consider myself lucky enough to have routes through these tree-lined paths, trees that have stood there since Victorian times, guiding me through the countryside. 

However, trees also have a habit of blocking my gps. This doesn’t feel like the highest priority whinge in a world full of challenges, but I find it… inconvenient… that when I’m trying to run at a consistent pace, the trees block the one thing that helps me track it. My watch often tells me I’m running a minute or so slower than my actual pace, and all because it can’t work out where I am so thinks I must’ve stopped half a mile back.

I’m not saying we should chop down trees – I’m not that much of a spoiled brat. But a gap here and there would be useful. Maybe a genetic modification to trees that made their leaves transparent would help. Maybe I should consider holding my watch on a stick so I could poke it out of the shade and into a more favourable gps zone?

Or maybe I should embrace the beauty of nature and just be happy that when I emerge from cover and reconnect with a satellite, my watch works out where I am and records a personal best for my fastest ever mile at Mo Farah pace.

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