“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”
Mastering the art of pacing has become my white whale. My intellectual approach to running should be quite clear at this point, and I’d say I’ve become quite comfortable with a great many aspects of my own running. I’ve learned to alter my form, select proper shoes, hydrate accurately, and experiment with nutrition. I’ve read quite a bit about the experiences of other runners, as well as research articles on various aspects of running. This is all the work I do so that I can enjoy the experience that much more, not having to bother myself with the logistics as much because I feel comfortable with the task at hand. However, proper pacing strategy has alluded me to this point.
On any particular run, I can maintain a fairly consistent pace, based on how my body is feeling on that day. If I’m running with friends, we typically find a pace that suits each of us, and carry on at that pace, correcting each other as our endurance fluctuates. I’ve also been incorporating quite a bit more speed work into my weekly schedule, in hopes of increasing my overall speed/pace and potentially breaking the 4-hour barrier at the Little Rock Marathon in a few weeks. However, these pacing results are inconsistent, and far from what I would call intentional. I still don’t have the ability to establish a desired pace ahead of my run, and then set out and achieve it, knowing what it feels like to be running at that pace.
Now, I will say that it isn’t for a lack of trying. I’ve tried a wide variety of strategies, but I just haven’t found something that really works for me. There is no shortage of literature readily available that talks about how to effectively determine your ideal pace and hit it, and I’ve read them all (I’ve included some of these resources at the end of this post). Researchers have even examined optimal pacing for races. I certainly love my data collection, and I’ve tried using my Garmin 405 for pacing as well, but continually looking down at my wrist seems to distract me. Sure, there are alarms built-in, and “virtual pacers” you can set up, but none of those things tell me how my body is going to feel at a certain pace. When I get to a race, I usually have a time goal in mind, and if I’m lucky, there will be pacers available for participants to run alongside. These runners have offered worlds of assistance to me, and I always love hearing their stories (since they are typically running below their ability, and can talk forever!). I’ve tried the tattoos for your forearm as well at races, but I run into the same problem I have when I try to use my watch.
The more I consider my quest, the more I realize that I’m only going to truly find the key to my pacing when I start to think intentionally about body awareness. I need to be constantly asking myself how I feel when I’m running at a certain pace, and remember those feelings. I need to be specific, and I should probably be writing down these pace-related feelings in a journal so I can go back and study them. Perhaps I’m just over-analyzing my running, and I don’t need to think this much about it in the first place, but it is just in my nature to accumulate as much information as possible, never knowing exactly when it might come in handy but trusting that it will. So, until I have it figured out, I’ll keep searching and keep running!