Last week I wrote about how perplexed I get by pace in running. Tonight I want to explore one of the greatest challenges I feel I face when trying to figure it all out (and when I say all, I really mean everything pace-related): I have difficulty seeing how one goes about setting the right pace without being able to see into the future.
Obviously people can do it, because as far as I know, time travel has not yet been perfected. I, however, am not one of those people. I just feel stumped. For one thing, how do I know what pace I want to run? I’ll start out at the venerable McMillan Running Calculator, and input my 10k PR, 53:54.
As you can see, the Calculator breaks everything down for you. So I can look at this and say, oh, okay, I’m on pace to run a 4:13 marathon. But what if I don’t want to run a 4:13 marathon? What if I want to run a 4:10 marathon? If you’re me, you go back to the Calculator and input a time of 4:10 as a hypothetical marathon PR, and get a new set of results. This time the goal pace for the marathon is 9:33/mile instead of 9:40. Okay. But how do I know I’ll be able to hold that pace throughout the race? How do I know I’ll even be able to hold a 9:40? I worry about these things.
For another thing, I look at the chart above, and I think, okay, so I should try doing my tempo runs at a pace of 8:47 to 9:10, and my steady state runs between 9:10 and 9:26, etc. How do I know I can do that? And if I do it, am I going to be improving at all, or will I be at a steady state at this point? Moreover, if I do my long runs at a pace of 10:10 (or up to 11:10), then what’s to say I can run 26.2 miles 30 to 90 seconds per mile faster?
As I sit here writing this, I realize how silly it sounds. It shouldn’t be complicated–everything I’m saying here seems to point to one thing: try running at these paces and see what happens. But that’s the problem. That’s where things fall apart. I try to use these numbers to determine reasonable PRs, or get an idea of how I should pace myself for a long run when I’m in marathon training mode, and things fall apart. I feel great at the beginning of the race and then end up walking, or during my long run I find that I can’t hold myself back for 12 miles, and then I crash. Running at the long run pace listed above feels really forced and unnatural, but if I don’t do it, it’s like I’m setting myself up to fail.
I mentioned last week that I’d like to do more training with pace in mind, and I still want to do that. Maybe my problem is that my pace and my fitness level never really align quite right. But just to make things interesting, I’m going to set an intention for my training for the Brooklyn half-marathon from here on out, and that is to pay close attention to my pace, and work toward maintaining a goal pace (after getting to a point where I can determine what that is). I’ll work so hard that I’ll become an expert on pace, and people will come from far and wide to consult with me about its mysteries.