Thursday, April 21, 2011

Race Pace Running

Coogan's 5K 2009
Folks trying to stay on pace up the hill

I was reading the "Pace Yourself" article in Runner's World magazine a few weeks ago when I came across some "secrets to pacing" that made me raise an eyebrow and say "reaaaally?" Now don't get me wrong, I believe in race pace training as something that creates muscle memory and physiological changes, but Dathan Ritzenhein wants to bullshit me and say that running race pace workouts "helped him get used to that pace so that it wouldn't feel so hard in the race." Cue eyebrow raise here. On what planet does any workout keep things from feeling hard in a race? Even Deena Kastor, a hero of mine, says that race pace runs make her "feel more comfortable on race day." Comfortable? At a 5:15 pace, is that the word we'd use, Deena?

I'm more willing to believe what Matt Tegencamp has to say on the matter which is this: "It's never one workout that tells me I'm ready to run at a certain pace. It is a consistent amount of work that takes months to teach the body." See what he said there? Teach THE BODY. That includes physiological changes that occur, but he says nothing about making it FEEL any different.

I'd been mulling these thoughts around in my head for a few weeks, occasionally making mental notes for a possible blog post on the subject. I don't want to seem like I'm doubting what these amazing, elite runners are doing to prepare for their races, but I can't come to terms with the way they describe the effects of a race pace run. I've come across plenty of articles in my years of reading Repeats World, I mean Runners World about race pace and "getting a feel for your pace" etc, etc. but I just don't buy the idea that it makes race day "feel" any different.

Here's what I mean: even if you train for a 10K in Central Park by running only the loop of the park for each of your training runs, on race day various factors will be different and ultimately you will FEEL different. I'm not talking about the crowds or the wind, I'm talking about your body and your perceptions of how you feel while you're moving. Never have I thought to myself during a run, "ooh this feels just like last week when I did those mile repeats here." My muscle fibers may be thinking that, but my brain isn't able to convey messages like that to my conscious self. I've certainly never thought to myself during a race "ooh I feel so comfortable at this pace after that training run I did last week." If words like "comfortable" come to mind while you're racing then you are going too slow. *smirk*

After thinking about this idea way too much for a few weeks, I experienced an example this week of just how different paces can feel on different days. Monday morning I went out for a little unscheduled run before the Boston coverage started because I knew watching the race would fire me up, and I ran 3 well-tread miles around my neighborhood that felt like absolute shit. I was pushing myself north on the greenway with so much effort that it felt like a 7:oo mile, but oh no, it was a 9:00 mile and that pace continued for the rest of the run, despite my efforts to improve it. If I hadn't worn my Garmin that day I'd have sworn I was moving much, much faster. I was practically shuffling. Luckily I had a much better swim that afternoon.

Tuesday evening rolled around and I laced up to meet the Inwood Hill Runners for some speedwork in the park and I found myself leaving extra time to get there because I was afraid of a repeat of Sludgelegs. As I hit the pavement and pushed north, I hit what felt like a similar effort level and resisted the urge to check my watch. I maintained that pace uphill for a bit and then started down the back hill of Fort Tryon Park when I heard the 1 mile beep. I glanced down, bracing for another disappointing split and saw 7:53! Ahh my legs were back*, but it confirmed what I'd been thinking all along on this subject- you cannot predict what a certain pace will feel like, you can only hope to put in enough miles at that target pace that your Actin and Myosin fibers will remember it and get you there on time.

*for the record, we hit some sweet intervals that night in the 7:20/7:30 range. It felt so great to move so quickly.


  1. Hey Amy,

    It's been a while since we exchanged messages about snowshoeing. I'm actually glad to be done with it.

    Anyway, this is an interesting topic. I've had similar experiences with pacing. I do believe in doing speed work whether on a track or tempo on a regular course. I feel the best way to see how conditioned you are is to just race and I mean race. It helps me calibrate what shape I'm in and then I can adjust things depending on what my goals are for the year.

    I try to run certain courses that I know where the mile markers are too so that helps. I don't have a Garmin. Maybe I should get one.

    I recorded Boston on Monday and played it back. I really enjoyed it. Also, too bad about Greta.

    Happy running.

  2. I am glad I am not the only person who thought that when ready that article. Some days I swear I am moving like lightening only to be severely disapointed/amazed at my actual pace. Other days I might get home and re check the mileage 3x because its 'too fast'!

  3. Hey, really great blog post… I've enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy you put into each post. I actually run, a blog of my personal research and experiences. If you're interested, I would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: bob.mauer65(at)gmail(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.