Imagine this scenario: You are in the middle of a run and feel good now that you are fully warmed up. You are enjoying the run and your stride is smooth and relaxed. The purpose of this run is simple: one hour easy. Then, your watch laps a mile and you look down to read the data output. You notice your pace is slower than your previous few easy runs, that your cadence isn’t as quick as you’d prefer, and so on. These numbers upset you and suddenly the run doesn’t feel as smooth and comfortable: your heart rate increases, your perception of effort spikes, and the run ceases to be easy.
In a sense, this is analysis paralysis. You over-analyze so much data that you become paralyzed. In the example of this run, the runner over-analyzed the data on her run so much so that she defeated the purpose of the run and removed the joy from it.
I am no Luddite who will advise you to completely eschew your Garmin. Technology provides us with a wealth of information and allows us to achieve new levels of precision in our training. However, data is only beneficial to a certain extent.
Pace is an objective metric. It is relative to the time it takes you to cover a particular distance. 8:00 minutes per mile is an example of pace. But what does that singular number actually tell you about a run?
After all, running is not an input-output equation. We don’t plug in a pace and output training adaptations, as if our bodies were simply machines. We run with our minds, those powerful organs that control our perceived effort and subjective experience, as much as we run with our legs and our lungs.
In fact, I can tell you that as a coach, if a runner submits a training log with only numbers, I am going to follow up with questions. How did this run feel? How would you describe the effort level?
Pace is also completely relative. For one runner, an 8:00 mile may be easy day pace; for another, it may be gut-busting mile pace. Pace is even relative to an individual runner over the course of their athletic history; in my 10 years of running, 8:00 mile has been sprint pace, 10K pace, and marathon pace.
Our GPS watches can provide valuable feedback, but this should not be the primary feedback. Our bodies provide the best feedback to assess a run, with measurable metrics such as perceived effort, breathing rate (ventilatory rate), and heart rate.
The purpose of a workout is never to hit an exact pace – it is to run at a certain level of effort, heart rate, or percentage of your VO2max. Dozens of factors, such as heat, humidity, terrain, stress, and training load can all impact pace. But by focusing on effort, you will not doubt if you actually achieved the purpose of your workout.
For example, tempo run will always feel comfortably hard, so that you can only speak in short phrases, whether you are training for a 2:30 half marathon or a 1:30 half marathon. The paces for these two race goals will be completely different, but the physical and psychological feedback – breathing rate, percentage of max heart rate, perceived effort – will be similar.
Likewise, over-relying on GPS metrics can completely negate the purpose of an easy run. Many runners run too moderate on their easy days, losing both the benefits of an easy run and compromising their quality workouts.
So just how do you learn to tune into your body’s feedback?
Change Your GPS Settings
If you can’t see tons of data your watch, you can’t overanalyze during a run. Change the data screen settings on your watch so that it doesn’t show you pace. You can set it to show elapsed time, distance, time of day, or other details to help you track your run without obsessing over minutes per mile.
Monitor Your Breathing Rate
Your ability to talk directly corresponds to your intensity level. It is simple to assess on a run, although it is a skill to cultivate and does require honesty to yourself.
An easy run will be comfortable enough to carry on a conversation. A tempo run should be just hard enough that you can only say a short phrase such as “this pace feels good.” During an interval run, you should be working hard enough that you can only say a word or two at a time.
Know Your Value Doesn’t Depend upon Your Pace
You are not “slow” just because you ran slower than normal, slower than your friends, or slower than absolute strangers on Instagram. Your watch and the data it shows do not assess your work ethic, ability, or self-worth. In fact, many “fast” runners often run “slow” on their easy days, knowing that a recovery shuffle does not negate their PRs.
Runners’ Round Up
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Do you over-rely on your watch while running?
Yes, this is so true! I try not to look at my pace much when I run for this reason. Especially when I run with the stroller, it can vary so much. I’ve noticed alot of my runs have gotten slower after pregnancy/postpartum, but I can still hit my workouts and come close to my PRs so I try to not worry about those other paces as much.
The stroller definitely slows things down! Running with the stroller more is a huge lesson in relying on effort, not pace.
Thank you for this post, Laura! As much as I love my Garmin, it sometimes drives me nuts. I have a great run, everything is flowing and feels just right, and then I get an “unproductive” from my watch.
In my training for the 5k, I liked that the even the Garmin virtual coach always requested a personal feedback on how the run felt after a training session.
I totally get that – I turned that setting off of my Garmin before I switched to Coros! The algorithms of a watch seldom match how a run actually feels.
This is so true! So many runners seem to over rely on data. I have learned to use my watch for distance and now intervals and not rely so much on pace. I am a much happier runner these days. I am also one of those who used to run their easy runs to quickly which was not doing me any good.
It’s amazing how much more enjoyable running is when not worried about pace!
I’ve been running by heart rate this year. In fact, I changed my Garmin screen so that I don’t see my moving pace. This has helped me a lot–I’ve actually been running faster than I have in a long time. It’s also been really interesting–my heart rate almost always corresponds to how I’m feeling and my effort on the run. Of course, weather is always a factor in that, but overall, running by heart rate and feel has been a great strategy for me this year.
That’s fantastic how much of a difference it has made for you!
Love this post.
I actually just ran a half marathon sans Garmin. And guess what? I was not fast but way faster than I ran when I was training. And so relaxing to run and walk when you were tired.
I did miss the stats after. I could wear a watch and not look…but that’s hard!
LOL, if my value as a runner relied on pace, I would’ve stopped running many years ago!
I do record every run (except sometimes when I forget to press the damn button), but most of the time my watch remains hidden by a long sleep top (now, anyway) and I don’t “watch” it.
And paying attention to our breath is good in every area of our life!
I totally love this! I don’t wear my Garmin unless I’m utilizing the GPS feature…pace seldom means anything to me because I know it varies with each run (and weather, terrain, etc.). I have always run more by feel than anything else because I ran for many years before actually having a Garmin.
Love this perspective. Since my injury, I like to keep an eye on my pace, but I don’t get bummed out by it. I’m so grateful to have a seat at the running table right now that I don’t worry too much about anything else.
I really agree that our bodies tell us much more than our GPS. These days I just use mine to keep track of my mileage and check the pace I’m running during a harder run. Back when it really mattered to me there was no such thing as a Garmin and I had to do it by feel!