Greetings from storm central! Today has been wet and booming, though I’m not sad that things are cooling off after a steamy run this morning. Also, I seem to keep missing the inclement weather by a window of a few minutes on my morning runs, so I have managed to stay dry and unscathed. This morning I also managed to turn off my alarm in my sleep in a way that ended all subsequent snooze alerts, and yet still managed to miraculously wake on time (sort of), mostly in wondering why my alarm had stopped going off. I think I’ve discovered the true value of the snooze alarm function – conditioning yourself to expect more beeps so that when they don’t follow their absence will wake you up.
Yesterday morning I ran 12 miles,including a 4 mile warm up, 6 miles at a marathon-like pace, and then a 2 mile cool down. My instructions for the marathon pace miles were not to take this as a literal time goal, to aim for a 75-80% effort and not pay so much attention to my watch. If you’re like me, and you doubt your ability to intuitively know what 80% feels like, especially when that target is loosely tied to an approximate pace, then you probably won’t be surprised to know I did the thing you aren’t supposed to do, which is to program your watch for that approximate time goal. After my warm up, I started in on the tempo miles, and per usual my watch beeped at me erratically as it perceived any shift that put me over or under the pace window I told it to monitor. About a half mile into this effort it hit me: I am sabotaging my run. Running this way makes me a slave to my watch, but more over the perceived changes in pace could be so minute that I’m not even heeding a legitimate shift, and chaining myself to something inconsequential. Maybe I slowed down for a few steps, or a few yards. Maybe I sneezed. Besides, even if I did have a slight deviation in pace, isn’t it my average pace for the entire mile that counts? I really only create a negative feedback loop in my head, and a constant game of slowing down or speeding up so that I don’t hear the constant screams from my wrist.
So, I did something bold: I cancelled out of the workout mode and decided to run it naked, i.e. at a pace that felt marathon-ish, or at that perceived 80%, like my coach told me to. I honestly had no faith in myself to run it consistently, or close to the pace that was suggested, especially after last week’s miss. But, I told myself to relax and stop forcing it, to just chill out and see what happened. I mean, if I can’t learn the feel of efforts on my own, what am I really learning as I train? As it turns out, I really have been torturing myself with my watch. This run ended up being beyond great, and when I let myself relax into it, I ran consistently and faster than I thought I would, but most importantly I had fun. I felt strong and confident, and I was just focused on how I felt, not how my watch told me I felt. The only time I looked down were at the usual mile alerts. My splits for the 6 miles ended up being 7:38, 7:39, 7:14, 7:32, 7:23, and 7:33. (For the record my loose goal was around 7:40.)
I have frequently blamed previous inabilities to run certain workouts on the lack of flat terrain around me, and while I know sometimes the hills do slow me down a little, this run kind of poked a giant hole in that theory. This run wasn’t any flatter or easier than anything that came before it. I think what has really happened is that in allowing myself to become overly reliant on feedback from my watch, I’ve created the bigger hill. I know there’s a time and a place to use it more literally (shorter intervals, for example), but I think I have more to gain by trusting myself to learn to listen to my body first and foremost. I’ve also been reflecting back on the time when I didn’t run with GPS, which is a much larger window than the number of years it’s been keeping me company. For a long time I ran strictly by time on the road, and for specific intervals I went to the track. Then at some point Map My Run was a thing, and I’d, well, map out runs via a magical interactive map and write out my routes on my hand with a ballpoint pen. (I did this enough to learn that ballpoint ink was the most sweat resistant. Rollerballs, on the other hand…sweaty, runny, disaster.) If I did intervals off the track, I’d write out landmarks, on my hand, of course, and grab splits that way. I share this because there was actually a time when I didn’t have GPS and yet still learned to run faster, which means I can probably survive now if I don’t look at my pace every 23 seconds.
And that, friends, is exactly how long I’ve been running, long enough to have had to write out routes on my hand with a pen, and to have run my longest training runs with my car as the midpoint so I could swap out the discs in my disc man.