THE PACE VS PERCEPTION PROBLEM

Just as quickly as I made the decision to start really training again for the half marathon, Week 1 of my training plan is over! Although I can’t promise that I will do training recaps every week (y’all know that’s not really my style), I did come up with an issue on my runs this past week that I wanted to talk about. It’s the age-old problem of pace versus perception.

Prior to starting up my plan last week, sort of on a whim, I hadn’t run with a Garmin for probably a year and a half. This was partially born out of the necessity of coddling my fragile running ego in the wake of trying to recover and build up a base again after back surgery, and partially because I just felt kind of burnt out and depressed about how slowly I was running at the time. I’m a firm believer that running should be fun, and it wasn’t fun for me back then. I wanted to protect my relationship with the sport, and that meant taking the pressure off myself to run at any particular pace.

Actual video of me running for the past 18 months

Flash forward to last week, when I randomly decided to track a couple of runs on Runkeeper and shocked myself with my pace. I ended up counting those runs on the training plan I was inspired to seek out, and the rest of the runs for the week were scheduled to be an easy pace. For Week 1, my scheduled runs were as follows:

  • 3-5 miles easy (9:26-10:27 pace)
  • 1-2 miles tempo, plus warm-up (8:31-8:50 pace)
  • 3-5 miles easy (9:26-10:27 pace)
  • 5-8 miles long run (9:29 – 10:50 pace)

Since most of my runs for the week were scheduled at an easy pace, I didn’t have to worry too much about my speed. That all changed on the first day of week 2, when I headed out for a scheduled “race pace” run. That’s when I noticed the problem. See, in my mind, I am still “slow.” Because I haven’t run with a Garmin/app until last week, my mind still believes that I am doing all my runs at a 10-11 minute pace and that feels like a struggle. In reality, I have no idea what pace I have been running for the last 18 months. So when it came time to do my “race pace” run, which is 9:05-9:10 per mile, my first thought was “that’s really fast.” As a result, I shot out of the gate during my run from the very beginning. I checked my phone frequently, looking at my pace, and saw that I was running in the low 8s. Now granted, that didn’t feel  easy, but it was challenging for me to find the “right” pace because I have a tendency to psych myself out about meeting my goals. I have a tendency to feel defeated if I run “too slow” compared to what my plan says I should be doing – which is part of why I have avoided this for so long! The problem is that I don’t know what 9:05 pace is supposed to feel like, it just seems like it should feel hard. So, in an effort to hit my goal, I went out at a pace that felt hard, and it was way too fast.

I’d probably run a lot faster if food was dangled in front of me, tbh.

I think this training cycle will be really interesting, because it’s clearly going to be a challenge for me to reorient myself with what different paces feel like. There was a time when a 9:05 pace felt pretty easy, and there have been plenty of times when it felt very hard. The question is, what does it feel like now? And how do I find that out without obsessively staring at my phone, Garmin, etc during my entire run?

In theory, none of this would really matter that much, except that I’m really concerned about avoiding injury. I’ve gotten injured and noticed more pain in my back in the past when I’ve picked up the speed work, but I’ve also always been training for marathons during those times. I’m hoping that since my mileage will be lower this time, the extra speed work will be ok. That said, I definitely want to ease into it and not take off like a bat out of hell for every single run. That’s a quick way to injure yourself and a really quick way to burn out mentally – after all, it’s not very much fun if you feel like you’re dying at the end of every run.

Me at the end of every speed workout. Because I’m probably doing it wrong.

So my goal for week 2 is to work on reorienting myself with different paces (especially race pace) without feeling so overwhelmed by the anxiety of not “hitting” my paces exactly right that I go too fast. I’ve been really at peace and excited about running lately, and I want to keep that momentum going. For now, it’s a matter of aligning my perception of effort with the reality of my current speed, for better or for worse, and keeping my mind and body relaxed, regardless of the outcome.

LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you struggle with pacing yourself appropriately for your runs? Have you found yourself running faster or slower than you perceive your current fitness level to be? How did you fix it?

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