Some of that data, it turns out, is actually useful for improving my running. I keep track of my miles and paces and shoe usage, and I even believe in the value of heart rate monitors, to a certain extent. But let's be real; most of it's just there to entertain me, the way baseball stats amuse particularly devoted fans.
When it comes down to it, this marathon cycle is about one thing and one thing only: being able to run 8:00-8:10 miles, consistently, when my body is exhausted. Realistically, that's the only data I need.
Now that I am running six days a week (DID I MENTION I AM RUNNING SIX DAYS A WEEK NOW? BECAUSE I TOTALLY AM), nearly all of them are hard. I don't mean they are all equally hard; there are really hard days and not quite as hard days. But let me be clear; there are no easy days.
For that reason, I've been trying to do my level best to make sure the "easy" days are as easy as they can possibly be. In addition to reviving the heart rate monitor to keep me honest, I've also taken to running with my Garmin set to show only time of day and distance. When I can't see my pace whenever I want, I usually think about it less, which leaves more brain space to focus on keeping my effort level nice and light.
The first time I trained for a long-distance race with a Garmin, I was so obsessed with my pace on workouts. I knew the pace I wanted to run & was pretty sure I could run on race day, and I fretted to no end on days when a full minute per mile slower than that felt like a slog. (Enter: The bad habit of running easy days too hard, just to reassure myself that I could.)
Later, when I was older and wiser and had more races and training cycles under my belt, I would understand this phenomenon completely: The point of workouts is to stress your body with cumulative fatigue, and the point of a taper is to rinse that fatigue away, leaving you with the fresh, springy legs and fitness that is its residue. If you're running your race pace during easy workouts, something is wrong; either you're wearing yourself out on training runs, or not racing as hard as you're capable of.
But now, especially running six days a week (DID I MENTION I AM RUNNING SIX DAYS A WEEK?), I'm over that. On "easy" days, I can't even think about pace; all I can think about is getting the miles in with as little exertion as possible.
The mid-week runs, especially, are just a slog. I work hard on maintaining good form, but that is the only thing I work hard at. In general those runs feel glacial, like I am plodding along, breathing deeply and slowly, barely conscious, every muscle in my body involved with running feeling worn out and blah and ugh because cumulative fatigue and blah blah blah...
Only here's the strange part. Lately, on those plodding, glacial, mid-week slogs, when I would swear I must be running 9:15's or thereabouts (no pace on the watch, remember), from mile 2 or 3 on, the splits will pop up and say things like 8:15. 8:08. 8:02. 7:56.
Friends. Those are the numbers I want to see during the marathon. Not ones I feel like I should be seeing on an "easy" run (at least not very often), and DEFINITELY not ones that match the way I feel while I'm doing it.
I've tried to be very honest with myself about whether I'm really taking these runs easy or maybe subconsciously doing that thing I used to do back in the day, just to prove to myself I COULD run that pace easily. This is part of why I went back to the heart rate monitor. Honestly, though, I am usually so worn out and exhausted going into these runs that doing them at anything but an easy, plodding, glacial effort is extremely unappealing.
So....Maybe I really am getting fitter? According to my training plan, I'm supposed to do my easy runs at an 8:45 pace, but that's based on the 5K I ran in April when I was running maybe 10 miles a week & hadn't raced in months. I suppose it's not ridiculous to think that they might be outdated after nearly five weeks of higher, more consistent mileage (AFTER ALL I AM RUNNING SIX DAYS A WEEK NOW, DID YOU KNOW??). I don't have 26 miles' worth of endurance yet, but if the goal is to run at 8:00-8:10 pace even when my body feels utterly exhausted, well, it appears as if I am not making too bad a start.