This post originally ran on July 30, 2012.
I have a confession. I’ve called a 6 mile run, 6.5 miles. I’ve also called a 10 mile run, 9 miles. Yes, when I report to you all each week that I ran 40 miles, that figure could actually be 37 or maybe even 42! The world will never know because at the moment, I refuse to run with a Garmin. Or Nike+. Or even the Bia, whose Kickstarter campaign I still supported. Am I a luddite? A fan of the imprecise? Crazy?
Um, no, no and no.
I believe there are real benefits to running by time or without a watch at all. Some would argue that those just starting out or those learning to build mileage shouldn’t pay attention to pace or distance. I would extend that a bit further and argue that most runners could benefit from running by feel on their easy days. When you start to enter competitive running territory, pace and mileage become a bit more important. But there are even elites who swear by easy days that sometimes feature 9 minutes per mile runs. Many Kenyan runners are also reported to begin their long runs as slow as 12:00/mile and gradually get down to those historically faster paces as the run goes on.
With all of this said, I have a few questions for you Salty readers and GPS users.
Why all the rage for GPS watches? I’ll admit that at times, I am intrigued by pace. Knowing how fast I am going (say, on a treadmill) can give me a boost of confidence, if I’m going fast. What happens if I am going slow? I can certainly try to pick it up and see what happens. Is having a GPS comforting? Or is it a double-edged sword? There are days when the body just wants to slug and knowing how slow I’m going can really get me down and also cause me to perhaps run faster than I should (which can be a very bad idea!) I also think the allure of having your pace sitting on your arm can cause neck problems from staring at the watch constantly. It’s hard to find the flow of the run and get lost in thought when you’re fixated on a tiny watch screen.
If two runners ran for 60 minutes, but one person covered 8 miles and the other person covered 6.5 miles, is there a significant difference? The distances may be different but it’s quite possible the effort was the same for each runner. If this is the case, I would argue that there is no significant difference and thus, running for time reigns supreme over running for miles. As such, it is helpful to have a mileage goal for the week. Yet, the mileage should just be an estimate. Really, it’s an insignificant number. The time put in is what is significant.
What if after you ran a 10 minute marathon PR, you were to find out that half of your Garmin-paced miles from the past three months of training were significantly off? Or in other words, how do you know if your GPS is correct? For the amount of complaints I hear about lost signals, low batteries, and differences between two runners’ watches, I start to wonder how helpful these devices can be. I’ll admit that my running by feel philosophy didn’t develop immediately. Even last year, without a GPS, I would time my runs and then use gmap pedometer to see what my pace was for most of my runs. It wasn’t until this past winter that I really stopped worrying about easy run paces and just ran for time because I saw my performances continue to get better. How did this happen? I believe I was more relaxed.
So, I want some answers! I want to hear from runners who enjoy their GPS and aren’t a slave to pace. I don’t think I have caved in just yet because I know that I would become obsessive. Nonetheless, I’m not advocating to throw away your prized investment. Rather, I’d like to suggest how you can incorporate some of the running by feel techniques that I’ve picked up over the years into your training.
You can still use a watch, just use it for knowing the amount of time on your feet and to estimate distance. You can also still use the GPS, just put it on a setting where you can’t see the pace until after the run is complete. This may be a bit challenging in the beginning but trust me, you’ll feel so much better on your easy days. For some added fun, leave the watch at home, starting it there, run, then come back when you feel like it and see how long you went. You’d be surprised!
Don’t wear a watch or GPS to race. I haven’t done so in years. Why? I like getting into the race, not my pace. I also like being surprised at the end. Plus, being bad at math, I tend to not even be able to add up my splits when they are calling them out.
Assign yourself a standard easy pace. Mine is 9:00/mile on good days and 10:00/mile on achy, slow days. I use those paces to approximate my weekly mileage, taking my time spent on my feet into account more than the actual distance run. On days that I’m feeling extra snappy, I might even use 8:30/mile as my pace to record in the log.
Do at least one “pace” run each week. Anything over three risks entering an anal-retentive, stressed-out zone, at least in my opinion. I do mine at the track once a week so it doesn’t require a GPS. Sometimes if I am running with people on my long run, I’ll ask for the splits but I’m just fine not being the one wearing the Garmin (Thanks, Salty!).
So, what do you think? Are there any non-stressed, happy GPS users out there? Or better yet, who else is out there running without a GPS? Are miles really that important or is time on our feet the real measure of our workload as runners?