When I trained for my first half marathon, I didn't have a Garmin & could only estimate my run paces after the fact by running with a regular stop watch, using Mapquest or some such to estimate how far I'd run, then doing the math. (I did set up a spreadsheet to do the calculations for me, at least.) Given the lack of precision of online maps, this was less than helpful a lot of the time. Sometimes what I thought was a good clip turned out to be pretty slow. Sometimes what felt slow turned out to be reasonably fast.
Not that pace was particularly relevant to me at that point. My training plans then were pretty impressionistic. The looked a lot like this:
Because I was Garmin-less, I ran my HM pace workouts at the track & just tried to hit each 400 more or less in the right ballpark. Am I saying this is a lame way to train? Absolutely not! It was in fact a GREAT way for me to train at the time. I ran consistent (if not particularly high) mileage, didn't get hurt, and averaged only 5 seconds slower per mile in the race than the ballpark pace I'd been practicing in my pace runs. So I can tell you that it is completely possible to train reasonably well for a half on low mileage, no Garmin, & paying only the vaguest shred of attention to pace.
Then I got the Garmin. And I went absolutely NUTS over pace info. In those early days, my training plans became a little scary in their meticulousness. To wit:
Now if you are thinking that looks
a lot a little obsessive & scary overboard, it's probably because you are a sane person with a relatively healthy relationship with your training. Let me tell you about the consequences of writing a plan like this and then trying to follow it to the letter with your Garmin:
- Making yourself crazy trying to respond to minute pace fluctuations on the Garmin. "Eek! 7 seconds too fast! Ack! 11 seconds too slow! Ook! 8 seconds too fast"
- Running too hard up hills, because dammit, you know what that number should be! Likewise,
- Running too slow down hills
- Running too hard in the heat
- Running too hard into the wind
- Running too slow with a tail wind
- Running too hard when you feel really crappy
- Holding back unnecessarily when you feel extra good
- Convincing yourself that there's a meaningful difference between a 7:58 mile and an 8:00 mile.
- Obsessing over why you couldn't hold x:xx pace to save your life on one day & the next day you felt like you could've run said pace indefinitely
And so on. In summation, this was a useless, stressful, and thankfully short-lived period in my running life.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I ditched the Garmin or that I think it's some tool of the devil. I think it can be really, really useful, if it's used in an appropriate & responsible way. That was Lesson One re: training by pace.
Lesson Two is to realize it's smarter to train by "pace" than by PACE.
PACE = a literal, inflexible interpretation of a specific number. Ie, I wanted to run a sub-1:40 half, which meant I needed to run a sub-7:38 pace. So I literally tried to hit exactly 7:37 splits every single mile, regardless of all the factors listed above.
"pace" = a realistic, impressionistic interpretation of a specific number that takes things like terrain, weather, human bodies, etc. into account. Forced to tie a number to the phrase "half marathon pace," I guess I'd say I'm shooting for around 7:35ish these days, but on my pace runs I'm now completely comfortable with anywhere between 7:20ish (downhill with a tail wind) and 7:50ish (uphill with a head wind).
Which brings me to Lesson Three.
- Coach Jenny: Do not try and hit the pace. That's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
Coach Jenny: There is no pace.
Novice: There is no pace?
Coach Jenny: Then you'll see, that it is not the pace that is hit, it is only your effort level.
I am not perfect about this, but I am SOOO much better about it than I used to be. Yes, I glance at my Garmin on pace runs and I make an effort to stay within +/- 15 seconds of the pace I'm shooting for, but I have also accepted that there are things that are out of my control that can affect how easy or difficult a given pace is on a given day. On a tough day or in tough conditions, I may average closer to 7:45ish on a HM pace run. On a great day I may average sub-7:30. And that is because I have really let go of a specific number as the thing I'm shooting for primarily and learned to target a certain level of effort instead. If it's a HM pace run and I'm having to put forth more effort than I know I can sustain for 13 miles in order to hit 7:35 splits, then I back off, because really, it's not a HM pace run; it's an HM effort run. In science-speak, effort should be the independent variable and pace the dependent one, not the other way around.
I won't tell you that learning to run "pace" by effort is easy. It isn't easy. It's taken me years and I've only recently felt like it's something I've started to get a decent handle on. Last summer I ran a bunch of 10Ks and started to get to the point where I could pace myself pretty well without looking at my Garmin, going just by how I knew I should feel at that pace at certain points in the race. In the last few months I've focused more on half marathons, so recently I've been getting better at that. I hope that the next time I train for a marathon, I'll at least begin to get a good feel for that pace, too.
So yeah. Let your Garmin serve you, rather than becoming a slave to it. It's been incredibly liberating for me to learn to run by feel rather than glancing at my damn wrist every 20 seconds. If you haven't yet, I really recommend giving it a try. :)