A blog by runners. For runners.

Racing by effort: one runner’s experience

Racing by effortI started running in 2003 and I ran my first half marathon in 2006. In those three years, I knew the pace of exactly three of my runs – a 10K race and two 5-mile races.

I never ran with a watch. I had zero time goals back then, so I never considered timing my runs. I’d heard that most runners ran an average of 10:00 minute miles, so I assumed I did, too. If I ran for 40 minutes, I figured I ran 4 miles. When I ran for 80 minutes, it was 8 miles. I never did speed work, so my pace was pretty consistent.

That all changed on Christmas Day 2009. My husband bought me a GPS running watch, and I fell in love with it. I became an informed runner – it was so cool to know exactly how fast and how far I ran. I also became a faster runner – I loved challenging myself to run the next mile faster than the last one.

But I also became a slave to the watch. I had to use a GPS on every run – even easy ones – and during every race. I needed to know my exact pace. How else would I meet time goals?

Well, it turns out that racing by perceived effort instead of constantly checking the pace works, at least in my limited experience.

I recently ran a half marathon blind. I was running late to the start and accidentally left my watch in the car. I figured it was no big deal because I’d start towards the front, so I could keep track of my pace by looking at the mile marker clocks.

Except that there were no clocks by any mile markers. Since it was such a small event, I also never passed another runner or got passed, so I couldn’t even ask anyone what our time was. I literally ran an entire half marathon without ever knowing my pace – a first for this GPS addict.

My reach goal for the half was sub 1:40:00, which would be a 7:38 pace. I’ve been training for the New York City Marathon and I’ve done some tempo runs between 7:35- 7:45 pace. Typically my tempo run pace equals my half marathon pace, but I haven’t been doing too many tempo runs, so I honestly thought I had no shot of meeting my goal.

Every mile of the half felt like an internal battle. Was I running too fast? Too slow? It was a struggle to not psych myself out.

But then I realized how did I really know what “too fast” or “too slow” was. I always relied on my watch to tell me, but maybe knowing my exact pace was holding me back. Maybe running by feel wasn’t such a foolish move after all. I told myself to hold a comfortably uncomfortable pace for the rest of the race, and to trust my body.

And I did. If anything, I think I ran the second half of the course faster than the first half. I didn’t “blow up” in the final miles and I didn’t finish feeling like I could have run faster.

I ran a 1:39:55 – a PR for me – and averaged a 7:38 pace. I met my reach goal without ever knowing my time.

It was a great lesson, learning that my body has its own internal GPS built in. Maybe I’ll rely on it for me next race, too, and leave my watch at home.


Written by Jen Matz / Photo from Jen’s Instagram