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.
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