We all know it’s important to practice holding consistent pacing mile after mile so we don’t crash on race day. But when you practice your marathon pace or your 10k pace or your lactic acid pace how do you know you are at the right pace? Maybe you rely on a GPS watch that jumps around wildly between paces. Maybe you drove down your street to estimate the distance with your car. Or worse – maybe you gave up and just started doing workouts on a treadmill to be sure you don’t fall behind. When you’re focused on fine-tuning all the details like I am, you want your lactic threshold workouts to actually stress and improve those systems so you get faster.
Several GPS watches, a foot pod, and four heart rate monitors later, I can tell you that nothing beats knowing exactly the length of your training loop and nailing the same time it every lap. After all, isn’t that why track workouts are done on a track? It’s certainly not because we like turning left. On a track, we can check our pace every 400, 200 or even 100 meters, and luckily, with a little extra prep, we can do that for our off-the-track runs too. And the best part is that it’s actually easier than finding clean-enough running tights on laundry day.Especially if you’re inclined to fine-tuning every technical aspect of training, you may have been frustrated knowing that you can’t accurately measure distance with a GPS watch. You know what that’s like: you once measured out your street with a GPS watch and it was a mile. The next time it told you 0.98 miles, and once it gave you 0.96 miles.
That error could potentially snowball into screwing up your training. For instance, let’s say you’re training for a Boston qualifying 3:35 marathon time. If you’re off by 0.02 miles, your “race pace” run could be slow, prepping you to miss qualifying time by more than four minutes.
If you want to know the length of your training loop, measure it with accurate tools. You don’t have to calibrate a bicycle, get a fancy measuring wheel or even leave the house! Just use Use satellite image measuring tools on the Internet. These tools are very accurate and pretty simple. Here are some instructions for a site I like, Free Map Tools.
- Type your location in the search bar and search, or you can click “Pan to my location” for the site to automatically find you.
- In the upper right corner of the map, set the map display to “satellite.”
- If it’s an option for the area, disable the 45-degree angle in the map/satellite menu. The airplane imaging isn’t stitched together as well as the satellite imaging.
- Next, just drop markers to measure a course.
Let’s take a look at the loop I use to train for marathon pace, a loop on my parents’ street.
This street lap from the stop line, around the circle, and back across one lane of traffic measures exactly 1420 meters. I get 11 chances during a 10 mile run to check my exact pace on the exact same course. Now that I know the exact length, when I go to the street to practice 3:00 marathon pace, I know I should be running 6:03 per lap. If I’m off by a few seconds, I can fine tune my perception of pacing for the next lap.
When I was a kid, we use to say the street was a mile long. If that was true, I’d be an olympic trials qualifier running 6:03 laps! An accurate loop course is an important training tool. If you need help calculating the time for a lap at a particular pace, there’s a tool for that too. Plug in pace and distance and calculate lap time.
“But Jasmine, how do we know this measuring site is accurate!?” I’m glad you asked. It’s very accurate. Don’t just take my word for it. Let’s measure something we already know like Cleveland Hopkins Airport main runway 06L/24R and compare it to the FAA’s measurements. The tool is dead on at 2743 meters.
What about for things that aren’t straight like my high school’s 400m track? Check out the image at the top of this post: it measures 400m in the inside lane’s inside edge!
When you measure your course, here are some tips from someone who’s very attentive to accuracy:
- Pick start and end reference points you’ll be able to identify again when you are actually on the ground like specific telephone poles or the particular edge of a driveway.
- Just like a real race course, remember to hug the best line for the course when you measure
- Use roads you’ve actually seen in person. Sometimes the landmarks you use as references look different from the ground.
- When measuring using satellite imaging, roads and trails aren’t always visible under trees. If the path isn’t straight, you’ll need to use another method.
Where do you go to practice race pacing? Are there any other tools you use to make sure your pacing is accurate through your whole workout?