A funny thing happens to most of us when we run by numbers. That is, when we run by pace, speed and time. For many (not all) runners, the number ignites a stress response that can trigger a host of emotions including fear, anger, frustration, and even happiness. For instance, you go out to run that half marathon you’ve been training for all summer and toe the line with a pace strategy – to run 10:00 for the first three miles, then 9:30’s then 9:00s to the finish line. This worked well for you in training so you know it’s a great strategy come race day. You wake up, roll through your race rituals and walk out the door to realize it’s already 75 degrees outside. You’ve been training in the 60’s during the nice cool fall weather and this feels hot. You toe the line, run by the numbers and end up walking in the final three miles. What happened? When we run by pace, we suffer the consequences. When we run by our body, we race at the optimal speed on the given day.
When we run by numbers, we avoid utilizing the most powerful racing resource we have (our inner GPS). Each of us has the ability to sense effort (how we feel, breathing and heart rate) and translate that effort to pace in a variety of conditions. Sometimes your performance is faster and you earn a personal record, and sometimes it’s slower due to weather, training and other variables. The secret is in fine tuning your inner GPS and letting the other numbers be the outcome of your training or race day performance.
If you look at the legendary runners like Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit Samuelson, their Olympic medals were won on their incredible inner GPS systems. They trained with a basic Timex watch and had to learn how their body felt at various paces on a variety of terrains and in a host of elements. Effort based running is a skill once learned can change your race day game.
Running by your body and how it feels also avoids the mental barriers we put on ourselves when reaching for goals outside our comfort zones. If you’re running a tempo run on a good weather day at a calculated pace based on a race you did four weeks ago nine times out of ten you’ll be off the mark. When you’re training out of zone or at a different effort level, you defeat the purpose of the workout and either over or under train. In essence, you’re guessing based on a pace rather than tuning into your body and running at what feels like the threshold effort. Once you get good at learning what various effort levels feel like, you’ll hit the bulls eye in every training session and in every race. When you start to run in the optimal zone, your training becomes functional and your race times improve.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE technology and everything GPS and speed distance monitor. But what I’ve noticed in the past decade of coaching runners is there has been an unhealthy shift from running by your body to running by the numbers and the watch. When we let the numbers lead, we rarely reach out optimal performance. When we lead by our body and know our effort, we reach our peak in any given situation because we run wisely and based on how our body is responding. I’m now teaching this with the Pear Sports coaching system and find runners when they learn how to tune back into their bodies perform better than when they tune out and let the GPS lead. It’s just that simple.
Every year I challenge my athletes to take the Timeless Challenge and let go of the numbers and run by color and by their body. Dedicate one race and let your body be your guide. It can be a lead up race like a 5K or 10K or even your target race. Some find they can’t do this if they wear their speed distance monitors while others simply don’t look to the device for guidance. The key is to avoid the numbers completely and tune 100% into your body, your breath and pace yourself from within. Here’s the strategy should you wish to take on the Timeless Challenge..
- Break the race distance into three equal parts and think yellow, orange and red. (Ex. a 10K = 2 miles = yellow, 2 miles = orange, 2 miles = red).
- Run by color and tune into your body. Yellow is conversational – you should not hear your breath. Orange is moderate where you start to hear your breath but it is a controlled running effort. And red is what you’ve paid for folks – it’s hard, you can hear your breathing and you’re racing hard to the finish line.
- If you’re a newbie to a distance add more distance in the yellow zone and less in the red zone.
- Run the first third of the race in the yellow zone (easy). This is the most challenging because everyone else will be flying by you but think of the Tortoise and the Hare.
- Run the second third of the race in the orange zone (moderate). It’s a step up from easy but still not hard.
- Run the third part of the race in the red zone (hard). This is where it counts and you’ll have the energy to push harder than you can imagine.
The number race day mistake made by newbies and seasoned runners involves pacing. Specifically going out way to fast. When you tune into your body, pay attention to your effort you will conserve energy and keep you mind (and thoughts) strong and positive so you can hammer the final miles.
When you’re strong at the last quarter of the race you get to go fishing. That is, casting out your invisible fishing line and hooking that runner ahead wearing the way to tight lycra shorts and reel them in. Then cast it out again and pass (nicely) the girl in the cute pink top. There is nothing more empowering than to have the energy and strength to pass people and run strong in the final miles of the race. When this happens, you will run stronger and faster than you can ever imagine.
And that my friends is why you don’t want to run by pace. Every time you look down at that watch you’re looking for validation. If you run too fast early in the race you feel stressed. If you run too slow, you get worried you won’t make your goal time. Even if you run at your target pace, it is most likely too fast or slow on the day and won’t lead you to success.
I was speaking at the Cleveland Marathon last spring and a runner came up to me and told me about her Timeless Challenge. She had been training with a GPS and by pace and challenged herself to train more by body and effort and heart rate. When she was leaving to go to her target race (half marathon) she dropped the GPS and it broke. She ran the race without any device and earned a 7-minute personal record. That’s huge for a half marathon! She couldn’t believe she was able to run at the pace she did for that long.
We are often held back by what we can’t imagine. Let your body guide you to faster times and stronger runs. Take the Timeless Challenge and let me know what happens below.