Training With a GPS Watch Part 2

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In Part 1 of this piece I discussed how I use my GPS watch during workouts. In Part 2 I will discuss how I use the data gathered by the watch to analyze race performance. I will look at the difference between a specific training run and a race shortly thereafter to answer, at least in part, the question "what went wrong in this race?" I will also look at a different race and show how the data helps answer the question "How much did that minor injury affect my performance?" In doing these analyses I will explain a bit about what all this data means, and hopefully provide enough context to help others interpret their own results. 

As with Part 1, this piece will be rather long and fairly technical.

What Went Wrong

In all honesty I probably don't come out of this particular story looking well. In a nutshell, I allowed myself to believe in unicorns only to have them desert me when I needed them most. With that out of the way you need not spend any time while reading this section wondering "does he know how bad this makes him look?" I do.

That said, let us go back a couple of years to a time when I first experienced "super-compensation." This is the phenomenon of your body responding to a reduction in training intensity by briefly attaining a much higher level of capability. In a perfect world this would be perfectly timed to happen on race day, although I don't know how one brings about that result (and my coach has been mysterious and elusive when questioned about this ). One morning I set out on a run. I expected this run to be about 8-10 miles as it was a 75-minute run. The goal for the run was to run evenly and to keep my heart rate in the upper portion of my heart rate zone 2. I started out running hard to get my heart rate up, figuring that I would be able to find the correct cruising effort once the heart rate was elevated. The first mile of the route I had chosen was uphill, which I knew would help with elevating the heart rate. I also knew that once I was past one traffic signal after the first 100 meters I would be able to do the whole run non-stop. As I ran uphill I felt like I was working somewhat hard, but in control. I quickly reached a landmark which I know to be about a kilometer from home. My watch beeped and told me that I had run that first km in 4:00. "What!?!" I thought. This is a pace which I expected to need to be working much harder to achieve. My heart rate was quite high, but it does sometimes spike at the beginning of a run so I wasn't too concerned about that. I maintained roughly the same effort for the second km. 3:59. Definitely something going on here. By this time my heart had settled into the desired range  and I was focusing on running smoothly. It felt almost effortless to maintain this heart rate. Actually, the problem, if any, was that my heart rate kept creeping into zone 3 and I needed to back off a little bit to keep it in zone 2. The kilometers flowed by. 3:52. 3:47. 3:46! Still running comfortably. The fact of casually running a sub-20:00 5K still astounds me even two years later. I do slow a bit through the middle of the run, but managed to finish back at home having run 18.75 kilometers in 75 minutes. An average of 4:00/km, and on pace for about an 85 minute half marathon, more than 10 minutes faster than my PB. I was gobsmacked. Then I thought that I had better go find a race to run. 

Two weeks later I find myself in Peterborough at the starting line of the Great Eastern Run. I thought that I was either about to have an amazing race, or a mediocre one. Of course I was hoping for the former. I had it in my head that I could run at the perceived effort level from my amazing training run and coast to a PB. I had this mental image of running the first kilometer hard and then settling into a pace similar to the training run. My actual experience was radically different. I ran a decent first kilometer, 4:05, and then dropped quite a bit of pace. Ultimately I ran a 1:40:00 half-marathon, which averaged out to 4:40/km. Respectable, but not close to a PB. Clearly I was no longer in super-compensation, but was there something else going on? A quick look at the data says that there was.

First let's look at the data from the training run. In particular the three graphs which show what are called "run dynamics." These are run cadence, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time. I presume that people are familiar with the idea of cadence, which is simply steps per minute. Note that Garmin measures this as footfalls per minute, whereas many others use steps per minute. A step is simply two footfalls, one left and one right, so if you want the steps per minute number simply divide by 2. Vertical oscillation is a measure of how much your body is rising and falling with each stride. Lower values are better here, as a higher number indicates expending energy to lift you body rather than drive it forward. The ground contact time is also an efficiency measure. The longer your foot stays on the ground, the greater the breaking effect. The Garmin colour scheme for these graphs is, from worst to best, red, orange, green, blue, purple. 

Here are the graphs from my training run. In the cadence you can see that I was working my legs a bit harder early in the run, and then settled into a fairly consistent stride. The vertical oscillation and ground contact time tell a similar story. In all three graphs there is a fairly strong sense of a consistent level of performance, with occasional glitches. I felt like I was running smoothly and easily and the data seems perfectly consistent with that impression 

Run Dynamics Good Run.png

For the race day the data tells a very different story. The colour scheme is fairly similar except for the ground contact time. What is noticeably absent, however, is the level of consistency. Starting with the cadence, it is clear that I was struggling to keep my feet moving in any sort of rhythm. After the opening push my feet kept slowing down, perhaps not enough to have been noticeable to an outside observer, but obvious in the graph. As the race went on the problem got worse, but even in the first 20 minutes you can see a pattern of slowing followed by a burst of over-compensation, a brief period of improvement, although still mediocre, and then another slowing. The vertical oscillation tells another part of the story. In general, as my cadence slowed my vertical oscillation worsened. This makes sense. I was coming further off the ground, thus slightly lengthening the time between steps resulting in a lower cadence. Another way to read this data, though, is that the times of slower cadence were actually when I was trying to push myself to increase my speed, but was actually making things worse by pushing myself higher off the ground. This interpretation makes a lot of sense, and fits in neatly with the idea that running is harder when you are trying to consciously run rather than allowing your body to do what it knows how to do. My mental process through a lot of this race was to try to relax into the running, believing that the magic from the training run would reappear and whisk me along (this is the belief in unicorns part). When that speed didn't happen I panicked a bit and tried to manufacture the speed through effort. The data is telling me that the harder I was working, the worse my mechanics became. If I correlate these graphs against my pacing I can see that the times when my cadence was low and my vertical oscillation was high my pace did increase. Since that pace increase was coming at the cost of much higher effort it simply wasn't sustainable. The data from the ground contact time doesn't correlate well with the other graphs, but is indicative of my generally failing to keep my feet nimble, having a complete lack of consistency, and worsening through the race. Even without all of that analysis, a cursory comparison of the two sets of graphs shows neat lines from the training run, and a noisy mess from the race.

While it isn't a pretty picture, the data shows very clearly what went wrong in the race. It also shows why my attempts to correct matters during the race felt so tiring. I had gone into race day with a hope that I would easily find the ease and pace I had experienced in training, and when that failed to materialise I had no plan B. 

Run Dynamics Bad Race.png

 

Injury Effect

The 2016 Berlin Marathon was a highly succcesful race for me in a number of ways. I felt comfortable for a lot of the race, my mental approach opened up new possibilities, and I finished feeling quite happy. The one thing that didn't happen, though, was the PB time I had been hoping for. Almost as soon as I crossed the finish line I became aware of a soreness in my inner thigh/groin which had surfaced in my final track sessions. I suspected that this injury, although I hadn't been aware of it during the race, might have been the culprit. Fortunately Garmin had expanded the scope of their run dynamics, perhaps as a result of my switching to their newer heart rate monitor and sensor strap when I changed watches. In any case I now had access to a new graph showing Stride Length, the traditional Run Cadence, and enhanced versions of Vertical Oscillation and Ground Contact Time which now appear as Vertical Ratio and Ground Contact Time Balance.

The first thing that stands out for me in these graphs is that my stride length is very inconsistent, and my Ground Contact Time Balance is not very good. I suspect that these two things are related. One of my most stubborn physical challenges as a runner is my hips. They are quite tight, and distinctly asymmetric. My left hip works closer to the way I believe hips are meant to operate, and I believe that I tend to generate more power while running with my left leg than with my right. 

The Run Cadence and Vertical Ratio are both fairly good here. There is a clear reduction in cadence and worsening of vertical ratio over time, but that seems unsurprising over marathon distance. The change in the dynamics after 3:20:00 is due to my walking a chunk of that last stretch. 

The bigger part of the story is told by the Ground Contact Time Balance. For the first hour this balance looks like it may be as good as I can manage. There is clearly work to be done here, but this is at least consistent and tightly grouped. Then something happened. I don't know what. I wasn't aware of this happening at the time, but all of a sudden I started favoring my left (injured) leg. From this point onward I was apparently struggling to regain my equilibrium. There was a clear price paid in pace from this point forward. I believe that this graph shows that the injury was bothering me far more than I was aware. Either I was trying to compensate by working that leg harder, or perhaps I was spending more time on that leg as I wasn't able to move off of it as quickly as I had when it wasn't acting up. In either case this change was subtle enough to likely not have been visible to an observer, yet strong enough to have cost me some speed. Tantalizingly, this graph also seems to indicate that there is still a fair amount of improvement I can potentially make in my stride,

 

Run Dynamics Berlin 2016.png 

Conclusions

In addition to being a useful tool to validate, or contradict, your impressions of what happend on a run, this data can be very useful in understanding where to focus your attention in your attempts to become a better runner. It is reassuring to see that a very good run was in fact one where mechanics and stride efficiency were good. It is also reassuring to see that a poor run is often connected to something going wrong with mechanics. While there is some thinking that goes into analyzing this data, it is hopefully the case that the data itself connects with what your body has already been telling you and is thus useful even if you aren't a data geek. 

 

Training With a GPS Watch, Part 1

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I have had a number of conversations with people about ways that I use my GPS watch to support my training. This post is about common features that I use which others may not be aware of. It may also be the case that I use a feature in an unexpected way. I'm sure that there are lots of people out there who know a lot more about using these watches than I do, and I'd love to hear from you about your tips and tricks. In the meantime, I want to share some of what I have figured out and how I use it in my training.

Apologies for this, but these posts will be on the long side, and quite technical. 

An Important Weakness

To start with, I would like to discuss something at which GPS is very poor: keeping track of your position when working in a small space. How small is small? Well, it turns out that something as small as a standard running track is too small. I went through a longish period of denial during some track workouts, trying to justify the discrepancy between what my watch was measuring as 1 kilometer, and what was clearly marked as 2.5 laps on the track. Eventually I did some research and located a number of articles, such as this, which explain that GPS watches have problems acquiring accurate positional data on a track. This also means that if you are relying on the watch to tell you how fast you are on the track, it is probably misleading you. To illustrate how extreme the positional tracking problems can be I am going to show you a GPS track from one of my workouts. As you can see this looks a lot like a ball of yarn after the cat has played with it. Rather curious as this workout was a session in which all I was doing was single-leg step-ups. During the entirety of this workout I was simply stepping on and off a park bench. I doubt that I ever strayed outside of a one meter radius from where I started. Until I had looked at this track I had been thinking that the distance travelled during each segment of the workout was actually telling me something about how hard I was working. In fact it was purely a reflection of how poorly GPS handles this situation. 

arnoldcircusworkout.jpg

An unfortunate result of this weakness in the GPS capability is that one of the most useful features of the watch, the ability to program in one's workouts, is of limited use for track sessions.

Pre-Programmed Workouts

Most of us, at some point in our training, have structured workouts which require keeping track of some combination of times, distances, and repeats. Here is an example of a workout from my coach:

Warmup:  Run 15min at extended endurance pace. Run four repeats of a 30 second acceleration followed by a 30 second recovery jog.

Main Session: Run 1.2km at threshold pace. Run two minutes jogging. Run two repeats of 800 meters at V02 max pace with a two minute recovery jog. Run three repeats of 600 meters at V02 max pace with a one minute recover jog. Run two repeats of 400 meters at anaerobic pace with a 45 second recovery jog. Run 200 meters all out. 

Cool Down:  Finish off with an easy five minute run 


That's a lot to try to remember while you are in the midst of a hard workout. Also, sticking to the prescribed rest periods takes more willpower than I personally possess. The solution? Put the watch in charge. I believe that it is fairly standard on GPS watches designed for running that there is some way to create custom workouts. For Garmins this is done on the Garmin Connect website. I presume that other brands have a comparable facility. My watch also has an Intervals feature in which I can program simple workouts directly on the watch. In general, the tool for building a workout lets you specify each step individually, and allows you to insert commands to repeat any set of steps. Here's what the above workout looks like in the Garmin builder:

session 4.png

That only took a few minutes to create, and once it is on my watch I can just pick it off a list of workouts and it will control my watch. During each piece of the workout the watch can display how much is left in the section. It will count down either time, distance or calories. You can also say that a section lasts when you hit a target heart rate (either pushing you heart rate up to a level, or allowing it to fall down to a level), or when you hit the lap button on the watch. If you were to click on the 'Add More...' for any step you can set a target for pace, speed, cadence, or heart rate. The watch can then be programmed to let you know when you are above the target, below it, both, or neither. I usually don't use the targets as I find the extra alarm beeps distracting, but can see scenarios in which they would be very useful. 

In practice, one of the great things about these programmed workouts is that I don't have to worry about how much further to go, or how many more minutes before I change pace. I can focus on technique, mental calm, managing pain, etc. and let the watch tell me when to progress to the next step. Also, when it starts each new step it displays what you are supposed to do. So if you lose track of where you are in the workout this will remind you. Since I am not using the intensity goal alarms I still have to remember how hard to push each sprint, but that is really all I need to remember. I have thus reduced this entire workout into my remembering: threshold, vo2, vo2, anaerobic, all out. And that's assuming that I am actually capable of distinguishing between those last three paces.

The astute above you will have already seen the problem with this workout. Clearly a workout like this, where I am sprinting intervals, is a natural for a track session. But we already established that asking the watch to properly measure distance on a track won't work that well. So we have two choices. One choice is to find someplace with a straight stretch long enough that you can run 600-800 meters in a straight line. This choice often leads to my doing these workouts along the northern Thames Embankment here in London. Not ideal as it is pavement, not flat, and right next to a busy road. the south bank is a bit further from the road, but tends to have a lot more people on it. I can also go up to Victoria Park, which has the benefit of having some very large grassy patches as well as long stretches of coninuous pavement without a road crossing. The benefit of finding a long straight stretch to run is that you can then ask the watch to measure distance. The other option is to remove the distances from the workout, and switching all of those segments to 'run until lap button pressed.' This means that you have to remember the distance for each leg as well as the intensity. On the plus side using the track markers to measure the intervals is the most accurate measurement you will get. 

Heart Rate

I believe that this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of training. I certainly know that I was clueless about it when I got my first watch with a heart rate monitor. First I went online and found the various formulas to calculate max heart rate (all along the lines of 220 - your age). Then I started wearing the monitor and looking at the data which was quite puzzling as I seemed to be exceeding my max heart rate. What does that even mean? Am I harming myself? These were the questions that initially led to my working with my coach. It all started with a phone conversation and her telling me that I needed to come into her gym for a stress test to determine what my max heart rate was. As well as my heart rate zones, something which I had noticed on the watch but really didn't understand. In my case the measured max heart rate was close to twenty beats per minute higher than the calculated rate. It turns out that all of those formulas are very rough approximations that work out some sort of average with no consideration of how fit one is. More importantly, these formulas are based on a bell curve, which means that they are weighted towards the average person. The closer you get to extremes of being fit or unfit the less acccurate these simple formulas.

The heart rate zones turn out to be one of the most important components of training and becoming a better runner. Which isn't to say that you can't gain the same knowledge without using heart rate data, but it can be incredibly helpful. My training breaks down into basically four different types of run, with some variations. These types are: recovery, long run, tempo run, speed interval. Within tempo run there are gradations related to pace appropriate to specific distances (5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon). Within speed interval there are gradations of intensity level as I mentioned above, ranging from threshold to all out. The trick is that you ideally want to be able to calibrate for yourself how each of these difference paces feels. You also want to ensure that you are working at the right intensity level for a specific workout. This is where the old adage about most runners running their long runs too fast and their speed intervals too slow comes in. 

The slowest runs, the recovery run, are intended primarily to loosen up muscles and to increase blood flow to aid recovery. These runs shouldn't involve either cardio work, or adding to the muscle damage from which you are trying to recover. The best way to ensure these goals is to make sure that you keep your heart rate in your lowest zone. For me this zone is up to 84% of max heart rate. These runs can feel very slow and too easy. Learning to trust what feels like recovery pace can really help the rest of your training. Anyone using the Maffetone method will be spending a lot of time running in this zone. 

I should note that the specifics of how my heart rate zones are structured, as well as how those zones are used in constructing a training plan, are highly personalized.  A big part of my coach's job is determining the proper mix of intensities that should go into my training for a day, week, month, etc. These decisions are based on her knowledge of not just the science, but of the specifics of where I am in a training cycle, how my body will respond to different types of workout, etc. My training plans are very much tailored to me. I offer the percentages here just as a reference point and do not suggest that others would benefit from using zones or training that mimics mine. 

Long runs are meant to be a bit harder than recovery runs, but not a lot harder. This is one of those almost magical, and quite counter-intuitive, aspects of a proper training regimen. Somehow if you do your long runs easy to accustom your body to moving for long periods of time, and do your speed work hard getting your body used to running fast, this becomes an ability to run long periods of time at a speed above your long run pace. The purpose of the long run is not to practice running race pace for long periods of time. The purpose is to accustom you to working moderately for a long time. The trick for long runs is to get yourself away from worrying that your race time will be too slow at the pace you currently running, and embrace the idea that the challenge is running comfortably for hours. For me this means running at around 85% of max heart rate. This is actually a very thin band to run in. A couple of beats per minute slower and I drop into recovery zone. A couple of beats per minute faster and I am crossing into race zone. The benefit of this zone being so thin is that it really encourages smoothness and consistency over one's long runs, which is exactly what you want to be cultivating. 

Then you have your tempo runs, which are pushing up into that 87-92% zone where you would want to be for a half-marathon, 10k, and 5k. Marathons, for me, right now at least, are on the cusp around 85-87% effort. 

Finally you move into the world of speed intervals. These generally vary from hard to 'oh my god I am going to die.' These workouts are meant to stress several of your body's systems: the system that clears lactic acid out of your muscles; the system that delivers fuel to your muscles; and the cardiovascular system. The challenge with speed work is that it hurts. The good news is that speed session tend to be relatively short, and they tend to translate into a faster race pace fairly quickly. 

 When I am working with a heart rate monitor I often have the watch set up to show me the current heart rate. The goal is to be able to run within a zone purely by feel, but I find that I periodically need a refresher in what each zone feels like. I also will carry this approach into a race, especially a marathon. Rather than letting the watch distract me with pace and elapsed time, I have it just showing me heart rate information. This way I can tell at a glance whether my effort is at the correct level, or whether I need to push harder or back off a bit. It is reassuring when the race starts to feel hard to see that this is a result of my having pushed my heart rate too high. 

Intervals

I mentioned these above as a special subset of programming workouts. Intervals are something that you can set up directly on the watch, but only for very simple workouts. All you can put in for intervals is the rule for one type of work, one type of recovery, and optional warm-up and cool-down. Sometimes my workouts are structured along the lines of "N minutes at tempo pace, M minutes at extended endurance pace, repeat 3 times." This is a natural fit for intervals. The tempo portion is the interval, the extended endurance is the recovery. Similarly, if you are running 800 meter repeats with a 40 second rest, that is easy to program into the watch (with the caveat above about using the watch to measure the 800 meters if you are on a track). Running a ladder or pyramid would require programming a workout instead.

Navigation

This is a feature that I have only started using very recently. I'm preparing for a race which will be on an unmarked course. The organizers will provide a written description of the course as well as a file containing the GPS data for the course. I was contemplating bringing a handheld GPS with me, and then realised that I had the option of downloading the course onto my watch. The process of getting a file onto your watch will vary based on the type of watch you won. The good news is that there are probably instructions for your watch somewhere on the internet. If you also have a Garmin Fenix 3, instructions are here

If you use a Garmin (and I presume this is true for other watches as well), there is a way to convert a run that you have done in the past into a 'course' which will allow you to use that past route for navigation. For Garmins you can look at a track using the Garmin Connect website, for example here is one of my tracks. If you are logged in to Garmin you should see a gear icon near the top right of the page. If you click on this gear there is a dropdown menu which includes a choice for 'Save as Course.' Selecting that option brings you to a screen where you can name the course, select some options, and save to your account. You can then download the course to your watch. 

However you got the course onto the watch, you can now use it to navigate. You can either start a run and then go to pick a course (this is recommended if you are running a race with laps and you will need to restart the navigation after each lap), or you can pick a course and then start a run. I'm not going to go into the details of how to do either of these unless I hear that people have a need for such information. Once you are in navigation mode you have all of the usual display pages for your run, as well as having a map page which shows you where you are, which direction you are headed, and the shape of the course ahead. The watch will also notify you about upcoming turns, as well as sounding an alert if you stray off-course (and again when you are back on course). 

I won't say that the navigation is a perfect solution as there are some definite drawbacks. First off, the battery definitely seems to drain faster in navigation mode. Secondly, it can take several minutes to load a course to the point where the watch is ready to navigate. Even if you pause a run using 'Resume Later' the watch will need this chunk of time to reload the map when you resume. Otherwise, the navigation seems to work well. It is definitely reassuring to be able to see that one has not wandered off course, and to know that the watch will complain if you start to go wrong. 

Next time I will talk a bit about the data your watch can gather for you while you are running and show a couple of examples of how this data can be useful in analyzing performance.

Midnight Run Through London

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I haven't been posting here for a while as my writing efforts have been focused on creating a book. There's still work to be done, but I have over 35,000 words sitting in Scrivener (a really great editing and organization tool for writers) and it is starting to feel real. I've sent a short piece in to the editors of Like The Wind Magazine in the hopes that it will make the cut for the next issue, and that is a piece of text that will grow into a longer version for the book. In the meantime, here is a short kinetic piece I wrote earlier this week which I hope you will enjoy.

 

London Marathon is always a big event for Run Dem Crew, and the Tuesday night session afterwards is filled with stories of people's marathon journeys. This year was especially emotional as we not only had three of the participants from the BBC 'Mind Over Marathon' project present to receive their marathon medals, we also had two young men who had run the marathon in honour of our fallen comrade Pace. There were tears, applause, deep emotional sharing. We celebrated the futures of people who are struggling and celebrated the memory of our friend who lost his battle with depression. After nearly three hours the last speech had been made, and it was far too late for a group run so everyone started heading home. I was exhausted. I was emotionally drained. Yet I didn't feel right going home. I got out my gloves, tied my jacket around my waist, turned on my watch and headed out into the night. 

It was cold. The air was crisp. The sky mostly cloudless. I set off at a savage pace. Driving my legs hard, flying through the the late night Shoreditch crowd. Quick left onto Commercial road and down to Spitalfields, Petticoat Lane. Aldgate. Stopped for the lights. Panting and feeling the burning of the cold air on my throat. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, a voice in my head told me I needed to slow down. Then the lights changed. And I resumed my speed. Pushing myself. Reveling in the pain. Words from the evening echoing through my head. Thoughts of how lucky I am to be alive. How fortunate to feel this pain and to know that I can make it stop but I choose not to. The Highway. More panting. Tower Bridge. Across the river. Down the stairs. Look across at The Tower, a glistening jewel on the north bank. Stop to take s selfie, big grin on my face. Then off again. Past City Hall. Reveling in the clear night sky. Deep breaths of cold air. My mind still with my Crew. An almost overwhelming sense of vitality. Every step an affirmation that the stars above are here to watch over me. This dark and cold an embrace, an affirmation of life, not an abyss. The Golden Hind. Stop and catch my breath. Millennium Bridge. Loving the stillness of the city. All this space with so few people on the embankment. Consider crossing the river and heading home. But I haven't run far enough yet. 

Blackfriars. Oxo Tower. Darkened pavement. Trees. Stars. Waterloo Bridge. Walk up the stairs. Fast across the bridge. Down the stairs. Brief pause. Now coughing is mixing in with the panting. This cold air is burning my throat. It's glorious. Past Somerset House. Almost to Blackfriars. Detour back onto roads as construction has closed the path. Every pause to catch my breath renewing my need to take off at speed when I go. My legs feel battered. My feet sore from slapping against the cold, hard pavement. I'm now sweaty enough that stopping means really beginning to freeze. Yet the cold is not my enemy. The cold is here to remind me what it feels like to be alive. Keep pushing. Feel. Blackfriars again. Back down to the river. Cruising, the speed coming that little bit easier now that my legs  are warmed up. Reminding myself to keep my arms high and steady. The burning in my throat and chest. Millennium Bridge. Up the stairs. Sprint. Wait for the light. Pant. Cough. Sprint. Wait for the light. Pant. Cough. Sprint. Race past St. Paul's. Through the shopping centre. Five miles gone. Twists and turns. Through the Guildhall yard. On to London Wall. Moorgate. Last push. A slight detour to eat up my remaining minutes. Past 10k. 45 minutes done. At my front door. Legs aching. Throat burned. Wracked by coughing. Home. Alive. Exultant.

 IMG_7535.JPG

 

Mental Mindtricks and Meditative Marathoning

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This past weekend I ran the Berlin Marathon for the third time. The first time my friend Ed Shattock paced me to what is still my marathon PB (as told in Blazing Through Berlin). The second time was a bit of a fiasco as I unwittingly ran the race with a 103° fever (see Grappling with Grippe in Berlin). This time I decided to try a really different approach to racing and set my goals for the race not on finish time but on my success in spending as much of the race as possible in a 'flow' state, and on enjoying this race more than I have some past races. 

I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about what I feel is my greatest weakness as a runner which I would describe as 'succumbing to negative mental chatter.'  This issue turns up fairly late in races (I've had a bunch of DNFs after completing 70-80% of a race) and is generally the result of entering a downwards mental spiral as both body and mind fatigue. It starts out with concern about how long the current kilometer is taking, then moves on to constant recalculation of projected finish time based on all future kilometers being at least this slow, then contemplation of how many hours of suffering this might entail, and worry that I have slowed down even more while I was worrying so I check my watch again and start recalculating, and despairing, and recalculating, and despairing, and eventually the idea of continuing on past the next checkpoint seems like a very bad idea. Then I start worrying about whether I can even reach the next checkpoint. And back around and down my mind spins. Somewhere in this process all objectivity is lost. All ability to analyse what is really going on and what might fix it is banished. The only ray of hope is the possibility of eventually being allowed to stop. 

Fortunately in marathons things don't ever get quite that bad as I am fit enough that I know that I can get through 26.2 miles even on a bad day, and I know that there are neither mountains nor long, very steep hills to be reckoned with. Even without the full downward spiral, a marathon can still become a very unfun activity if one allows this negativity to run unchecked. 

One easily silenced piece of chatter is the constant data stream from technology. I disabled the audible alarms on my GPS watch so that it does not beep at me (thus drawing my attention to it) every time it thinks I have covered another kilometer. Once I started the race I almost immediately set the watch to display only data related to my heartrate. This is a good indication of how hard one is working and is useful to both encourage me to work harder and to serve as a guide when I am working too hard. This simple change had a profound impact on how the race felt. One of the biggest problems with GPS watches is inaccuracy.  I generally find myself noticing, and worrying about, the difference between when my watch thinks I have completed a kilometer and when I actually pass a kilometer marking on the course. One of the ramifications of this difference existing is that if you are using the watch as a guide to pace then you are being mislead, and probably running slower than you realise. The comparative mental quiet I found by simply allowing the course markings to be the only data I had about distance covered was quite calming. Unexpectedly I found that simply removing this whole idea of 'watch kilometers' and 'course kilometers' allowed me to feel much more present within the race.

This still leaves the problem of how to corral negative thoughts as the race gets tough. Some number of years ago I heard a radio interview with Bill Shoemaker who was for many years the top horseracing jockey in the world. The interviewer asked Mr. Shoemaker what it was that he did during races that made him so exceptionally good. His response was essentially 'as little as possible.' He went on to explain that the horse knows how to run and how to race, that the jockey is mostly a passenger, and that the job of the jockey is secondarily to offer small bits of advice and encouragement to the horse, and primarily to stay out of the horse's way. I think this is a good metaphor for the role your brain should play while running races. In my experience it is often the case that when running feels hard I am consciously trying to run and thus interfering with the more efficient stride my body would have without my interference. This is where meditation enters the picture. Meditation is all about quieting the mind, being present in the moment, and observing the state of one's body without seeking to alter it. Sounds like the perfect antidote for my negative mental chatter. There was just one small problem: on race day I had been doing daily ten minute meditation sessions for all of thirty-five days. 

My approach to the race was very simple: from the start pick an object in the distance (the Siegessäule makes a very convenient first point) and focus on that object while trying to enter a meditative state. Once the object was too close or the course turned, pick the next object, repeat. I had a fair amount of success with this, and had some longish stretches where I really felt very light and easy as I ran. There really were stretches were I felt like I was observing that my body was running which is quite different from feeling like I was running. Very uncharacteristically I actually missed some of the kilometer markings and was then surprised to discover that I was further along the course than I had thought. All good for the first half of the race, although one does expect that to be the easy bit. The second half got tougher, and I did have some moments of wondering why I was doing this race, although I also had long stretches where I felt amazing and really felt like meditation was carry me to my best-ever finish. When I felt physically challenged or mentally negative I tried to return my attention to a point of focus and expended some effort trying to quiet my breathing. As I  fatigued, mentally more than physically, it was progressively harder to reassert mental calm, but I never stopped trying. While my focus did waver, I found that I could at least turn my mind from negative thoughts onto the attempt to reclaim focus and calm. The major impact of the mental fatigue was that I found myself dropping more and more into an awareness of the gap between kilometer markings and was definitely aware that some of them seemed very far apart. Fortunately I wasn't allowing my watch to tell me how long each kilometer actually was taking, so I wasn't overly disturbed by this.  In retrospect the apparent lengthening of the kilometers was partly mental fatigue, and partly simple reality as I was in fact slowing down. The stretch from kilometer 38 to kilometer 40 seemed to take forever. When I finally hit kilometer 40 and saw the time on the clock I realised that the only possible way I was going to get a PB would be to run sub-4:00 kilometers and that definitely wasn't going to happen. Had I been focused on time this would have been upsetting. Instead I took this fact as permission to take it easy for the last stretch and actually walked a bunch of the forty-first kilometer. This was not head down, beaten, depressed walking though. This was head high, big grin on my face, soaking in the atmosphere and reveling in a sense of accomplishment walking. I then ran nice and easy for the last stretch, soaked in the experience of running through the Brandenburg Gate, and cruised across the finish line feeling happy. 

Almost as soon as I had crossed the finish line and let myself really relax I realised not just how tired I was, but how much my right leg hurt. Right in that spot I had tweaked on track a couple of weeks ago. That niggle I thought had gone away. Oh, maybe that had something to do with slowing down. Sure enough a look at my Garmin data (which I was allowed now that the race was over) shows that I was favoring that leg for more than half the race. I hadn't had any awareness of pain, but my body had definitely adjusted to protect it. The truly intriguing question this raises is whether the mental tricks I was playing somehow silenced the part of my brain that might have tried to use the leg as an excuse to slow down more and walk more. Given that my brain will generally try to lie to me about things being wrong when they aren't, it is almost shocking that I wasn't even aware that something was actually wrong during the race. 

I definitely plan on continuing daily meditation to improve my mental strength, and look forward to seeing how useful these techniques are in future races. In the meantime I can very much celebrate not just running a decent race (coming in with a 3:36:46 for those who care), but an enjoyable one. And then there was cake. And a bear.

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Musings on Speed

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It was a bitter cold winter's night. My first real run with Run Dem Crew elites. We set out at a pace I didn't think I could handle, but I so wanted to fit in that I just kept pushing myself harder and harder to keep up. I vividly remember the moment my watch beeped indicating the end of a kilometer and I had a tiny fraction of a second to register that this had only taken 3:45, just over a 6:00/mile pace. I'm not this fast, I thought. And then I just kept running. We had a couple of brief stops for traffic lights, and finally rocketed into Trafalgar Square barely seventeen minutes after leaving Shoreditch. I am shattered. I am in shock. I am so grateful for a rest. After a bit of waiting around for other groups to show up, and some quick photo taking, we need to get moving. We are now freezing as our sheen of sweat starts moving towards becoming a sheath of ice. Back the same way? Of course not. Off to the Embankment where the front of pack rockets off to take advantage of over a mile of uninterrupted pavement. I can't keep up, but I won't give in. I just keep running as fast as I can. A voice in the back of my head tells me there is no point. They are gone. You'll have to finish the run on your own. Finally Millenium Bridge comes into sight, almost time for a break. But what's that sound? Clapping? Oh my, there the rest of the group is. Waiting for me. Clapping for me. Welcoming me back into the fold. 

It was a warm, humid summer London night. I'd been running with Run Dem Crew elites for about six months and every week was still stretching me to my limit. We hit Victoria Park and I had to just bear down and accept that this was going to be painful. The thing about Vicky Park is that it's about a three mile (5K) loop with no need to stop. The pack flew out ahead of me and I just focused on technique, kept my eyes on the people I was close enough to keep in sight, and hoped for the leaders to decide to stop just to have a stop as that was the only mercy I was going to get. Finally, about half-way through the loop I was tremendously relieved to see the group clustered around a water fountain and not continuing to pull away from me. I kept up the suicide pace I was running as long as I could, gratefully pulled to a stop and turned to Jeggi. I wanted to say "You have no idea what it cost me to do that last bit." Then I saw his face and the coin dropped: he knew full well. Because it wasn't just me that was dying on this run, it was everyone else too. The camaraderie and support I had been feeling from these guys and girls for months suddenly made a lot more sense. They weren't looking at the slow guy (#slowestOfTheFast) and thinking "well, for him that was okay" they were recognizing that I was putting out at least the same level of effort that they were.

That was a turning point for me, but it was also just one more small step in the journey. The truth is that part of who I am as a runner was forged in the crucible of showing up every Tuesday night for over a year knowing full well that three things were going to be true: 1) I was absolutely going to get my ass kicked. This was going to hurt and there was nothing I could do to prevent that. 2) As long as I gave it my all I was going to be warmly welcomed when I rejoined the group that had temporarily left me in their dust. 3) At the end of it all, I was going to feel both shattered and elated. 

On these runs there is no time for self-pity, no time for anything but focusing on technique because that is the only thing that will get you through the run. If you are thinking about pain, if you are thinking about how hard it is, you need to think about something else. There's no time for pain. Your brain will cry out for mercy, and you need to find a way to tell it "I don't have time to have this conversation now." Your brain will tell you that you can't keep running this fast, and you need to prove it wrong.

Usually The Mountain Wins

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Never before have I taken so little comfort from the 40km marker in a marathon. Usually this marker is a sign stating that you are just about done. A sign telling you to dig down for one final push, no need to fear the pain and effort, it will all be over soon. This wasn't that sort of sign at all. This one seemed like a fairly pointless marker placed at a seemingly arbitrary point in a rock field. A steeply angled rock field. A rock field I had to get myself to the top of. If I turned around during one of my fairly frequent pauses to take deep breaths trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen, I could see the aid station at Kilometer 39, several hundred meters below me. Passing through that station over twenty minutes earlier seemed a distant and abstract event. Another five minutes or so should get me to the top, I thought. The time estimate was fairly good, the use of definite article less so. This wasn't 'the' top, it was just a top. And there was still one more climb left in this race. Only at Kilometer 41, another 100 meters higher, was I finally told that the rest of the way to the finish was flat. Which meant I could run it, at least as much as the thin air allowed.

The last time I ran a mountain marathon the experience was humbling. So while I had great hopes as I headed to the Südtirol, the German-speaking region of northern Italy, to run the Brixen Marathon, I also was prepared for a very long day. The Brixen course tops out at 2486 meters (8156 feet), and has almost no downhill. Most of the run is at fairly high altitude (1000 meters at 10K, 1500 meters around 15k, above 2000 meters from 29k to the finish). I was quite calm and relaxed pre-race. I knew it was going to be tough, and I knew I could handle it. The major question in my mind was whether I was going to be able to control the way I ran the race, or if the mountain was going to dictate terms. If I was able to run most of the first large climb I felt that I could run the race I wanted. With this question in mind I started fairly fast for the initial flat section, and attacked the first climb. Bad plan. By ten miles in I was tiring, and the elevation was starting to bother me. Well before the halfway point I felt beaten. I never doubted that I would get to the finish line, but I knew that it would only happen by giving in to the mountain. While I might be strong enough that I could have run much more of the race at a more restrained pace, my ambitious attempt to do more just resulted in tiring myself out. And throughout it all I knew that I needed to have energy left for the last big climb. 

On the plus side, I ran a much stronger race than I ran two years ago. Despite the altitude, despite the relentless uphill course, despite the prohibition on trekking poles (which had really helped me two years ago) I took a full forty minutes off of my previous mountain marathon time. Clearly I am nowhere near strong enough to get through a race like this without extended periods of power hiking, but I am mentally tough enough to keep myself continually moving forward. I am also mentally tough enough to have gotten through this race without external support. While I did stop and take a couple of pictures along the way I avoided the social media I had relied on last time out. Sometimes a bear has to find his own way up the mountain.

 

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Sometimes DNF Stands for Definitely Not Failure

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There is a well-known quotation often attributed to Michelangelo (although there is some dispute about the attribution) which goes: 

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

This seems like an excellent sentiment for endurance athletes. I often remark that the nice thing about ultras, as compared to marathons, is that you don't worry so much about time. You line up at the start line and mentally award yourself a gold model if you finish the event. A very different state of mind from having a goal time for a marathon. However, as with times in a marathon, if you always have a 'gold medal' race this likely means you aren't challenging yourself enough in your event choice. Combine this line of thought with my common advice to focus on the question 'Did I run the best race I could run today?' and you can begin to understand how it is that I can hold my head high after finishing 'only' 88km of this year's London 2 Brighton 100km Challenge. I know that some runners view taking a DNF (Did Not Finish) as a failure. I feel that they are wrong to do so.

I had a fantastic day in the country running with my friend Jason. The weather was just about perfect: comfortable temperature, dry, just overcast enough that I didn't feel baked by the sun. The course was mostly beautiful country, ranging from the River Thames from Richmond down to Kingston to the countrysides of Surrey and East Sussex, with some nice pieces of trail thrown in from time to time. The staff at the aid stations were really great, and the food choices were generally excellent. I ran a much stronger fifty miles than I had run last year, and definitely had my nutrition plan working much better. Despite having been really good about nutrition for the first 45 miles or so, I then made a couple of errors. First off around 45 or 46 miles in I found myself thinking that I should reach into a pocket, get out some food, and eat something. I failed to follow through on that thought. Big mistake. Without eating often enough, your body starts shutting down your digestive system, and at that point your race is basically over. Yes, you can slog through to the finish, but it will be tough and slow. Coming into the 80km checkpoint I was starting to lag, and then I tried to force myself to eat, but I went right for the hot food which was jacket potatoes, when I probably needed something with more rapidly available carbs. Then I added cheese, which added protein into the mix, something which my stomach was definitely not up for handling. A couple of miles later I was feeling ill, tired, and generally beaten. Just couldn't keep running. I did manage to walk to the 88km checkpoint (and Jason scored major points by sticking with me even though I tried to send him on his way), but I was beaten.

At this point I had a choice: stick with what I had accomplished, start recovering, and call it a day; or push on, have hours of tough slogging to the finish, risk injury, dehydration (I wasn't keeping food down so this was an actual risk), etc. If I hadn't finished this very race last year I might have felt I had something to prove, but that wasn't an issue. I'd already learned a great deal, and knew where I had gone wrong. I didn't seem likely to learn anything more by pushing on. So I called it a day. Spoke to the excellent medical staff. Had a little Coca-Cola to settle my stomach and spike my blood sugar. Ate some fruit. Spoke with staff and other runners. Took a shuttle to the finish line so I could be there to greet Jason when he came in. The result of this is that I felt fine the next day. A little sore, very tired. Hungry! Ready to start recovering and turn my attention to my next race.  It's a lot like setting out to run a sub-3:30 marathon and 'only' running a sub-4:00. Did you miss your goal? Sure. Do you still feel a sense of accomplishment? You should. Did you just do something most people can't even imagine? You betcha. Did Not Finish, true, but Definitely Not a Failure.

Not Twenty Six Laps: One Lap, Twenty Six Times

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As many of you know I recently undertook an interesting training challenge. Here in London it is difficult to get in a lot of hill training because, frankly, the city is fairly flat. This poses interesting challenges for the Londoner training to run in the mountains. The EnergyLabs solution to this problem is Swains Lane or, as we call it, Swains Lane of Pain. We don't quite do the entire hill as the cyclists do, but instead run the top 800 meters. This makes each lap very close to a full mile. The standard challenge is the Flat Line race that EnergyLabs sponsors These are ten laps of this hill. As I am training to run a mountain marathon in June, I decided that ten laps wasn't enough of a challenge. So the Saturday morning before the London Marathon I headed up to Swains Lane and set off to run a full marathon. Twenty-six laps, plus a could of hundred meters of flat at the very end.

I've been asked a lot of questions about this, mostly 'why?,' 'are you mental?,' or 'how did you do that?' The best I can do in the way of answers is that I did it because it needed to be done; and I probably am mental, but more to the point the way I did this was entirely mental. People make the mistake of thinking this was a physical challenge, but in truth it was much more of a mental one. My approach was simple in concept, but hard to execute. All it involves is not running twenty-six laps, but runnng one lap, twenty-six times. The rules are simple: on the way down the hill you can think all you want about how many laps you have done, how many are left, etc. But on the way up there is always only the one lap you are doing right now. The magic of this approach is that if you think about how many you have done your body will feel more fatigued; and if you think about how many you have left your mind will begin to despair. You can very quickly go from feeling fine to feeling crushed. As long as you focus on just running the one uphill you are running right now, however, all is fine.

I did break the race down a bit as well. I decided up front that the timing would be on training run rules, not race rules. That means if I stopped for a break I stopped my watch, and restarted when I started running again. Using these rules I ran the first thirteen laps straight through. Then I took a bit of a break as it was warmer than planned and I needed to go buy some water. Then I ran seven more laps, and took a short breather. Finally I ran the last six straight through. I had flirted with the idea of taking a short break after lap twenty-three, but decided that giving myself permission to take the break, and then not taking the break, provided a mental lift due to showing strength more potent than the physical lift I would have gotten from actually taking a break. The most surprising part of this whole endeavour was how well this mental technique worked. The combination of the second half of every mile being the uphill part (Flat Line always starts going downhill first), and the mental technique requiring every uphill being the uphill meant that the miles simply flew by. I never had that experience one so often has in road marathons of feeling like a mile is dragging on. Nor did I have the experience of hitting extreme fatigue or muscle soreness, although this may be as much due to the slower pace as to anything else. This exercise examplifies what I mean when I speak of being half bear/half machine. Half of the exercise was the strength to just keep running and running, the other half was the mental control to keep my brain out of the way and let the machine drive. 

Early this morning a bear slipped from his den and headed towards the London Underground. Observers, if there were any, might have noticed a distinct sense of purpose in the bear's stride. This was a bear on a mission. A #secretmission. The bear was next spotted boarding a bus outside of Archway tube and heading towards the top of some large hills. As the morning wore on reports started to circulate amongst the city's bicycle community. Those who had turned out for their usual Saturday morning reps of Swains Lane, aka Swains Lane of Pain, aka the Steepest Hill in London, were starting to report that throughout their rides, however long they were, they kept spotting a bear determinedly running up and down Swains Lane. The bear was briefly joined by @thestevenlayton but most of the time was on his own. Those who enquired were told that the bear was running a marathon. Composed of 26 laps up and down Swains Lane. Surely the bear was mad. Surely the bear would falter. Mad he may be, but falter he did not. When asked afterwards why he had done it the bear simply replied "it needed to be done." The bear expressed hopes that those running the London Marathon tomorrow will draw strength, inspiration, and courage from this simple act of running up and down a hill until the running was done. The bear also expressed a desire that today's deeds be considered as living up to @robinnyc 's exhortation to #DoEpicShit #secretmission #HalfBearHalfMachine #WhileYouWereSleeping #rundemcrew #energylab #Flatline #Flatline26 #FlatlineMarathon #Bears #Mile21

A photo posted by Daniel Maskit (@rundembear) on

With A Little Help From My Friends

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Charlie Dark often points out that 'running is a metaphor for life.' One of the myriad ways in which this is true is the extent to which achievements which are often seen as individual triumphs are actually the product of a network of support. I have had some experiences over the last month which have reminded me of this fact. My story starts with plans to run the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Sussex Ultramarathon. I knew that my friend Jason was running this race, and I had arranged to run it with him. Then Jason had to drop out due to work travel. And engineering works made travel to the race complicated. So I landed on taking a Zipcar for the day (now that I have my UK licence) and driving down, although I wasn't keen on a long solo drive, a long race, and another long solo drive. I reached out to my networks looking for someone who would be interested in Jason's race place, and would be good company for the driving. After a false start or two, I ended up arranging to pick up my friend David in Southeast London on my way out to the coast. 

Thanks to turn-by-turn navigation on my phone I was able to safely get to the arranged point, pick up David, and head off. In addition to being an endurance runner, David also had tons of practical advice on UK driving and navigation which proved invaluable. I fear that the trip may have gone badly wrong had I not had his support. Talk naturally turned to running. I frecalled some advice I received from Simon Freeman (of Freestak) before one of my early endurance races: I should be prepared to experience despair during the race, but this will pass; I would experience times of euphoria during the race, these too will pass. I hadn't thought of this fantastic advice for quite while. It was perfect advice for the day I had ahead of me.

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The race started in sunshine along a stunning stretch of coast (btw, David took most of the photos that accompany this post). My race strategy was to push as hard as I could early and see how long I could maintain intensity and pace (and of course to see just how much more capable I was after the past months of rigorous preparation by my coach and friend Barbara). I ran up the first couple of hills, only walking when I hit a really large one. Good weather, good conversations with fellow runners, and some almond butter and Jam sandwiches got me through the first seventeen or eighteen miles feeling good. Then there was a long set of very steep uphills, accompanied by very steep downhills, and I really had no choice but to walk a fair bit of it. Despair started to set in. Remembering Simon's advice I reminded myself that my down mood would pass. Upon reflection I was letting being affected by the slowness of walking uphill. Remain patient, I told myself.  Soon there was a long downhill, some flat, and some level running which brought me to the twenty-one mile checkpoint in a great mood. I refilled my water, added some Nuun, and started in on a Clif Bar as I headed back out. The next few miles were glorious. Beautiful countryside, a long downhill, nice weather (there was a recurrent threat of rain which never actually materialised). I was feeling good and enjoying the run. 

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Then I bottomed out and started to climb again, and the euphoria was gone. I still felt good, just not euphoric. Soon I was running past the start line (where the marathon runners were peeling off to finish), and headed back out the way we had started that morning. This time around the hills were much tougher and I was walking where I had run earlier. Things got tough, but I just kept focusing on moving along. There were a couple more brief bouts of despair (especially re-running the same sharp hills that I had struggled with earlier; the intervening fifteen plus miles did not make this stretch easier) Again remembering Simon's advice kept me focused and continuing to progress rather than wallowing in despair. When I finally crossed the finish line it was with a great sense of accomplishment and a strong sense of having succeeded at pushing myself all the way through the race. I was met by David's shouts of congratulations and was thrilled to have such a warm greeting.

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Running 'Naked' Through Paris

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Sometimes technology is not your best friend on race day. We have become so accustomed to having constant feedback as we make our way through life (any 'likes' on my latest Instagram yet?) that we can lose sight of the real purpose of activities. Running, which at its core is one of the most pure activities an athlete can pursue, is no stranger to technological distractions. The most obvious example of the tension between technology working for you and you working for technology is the sports watch. I hate to run without my trusted Garmin 610, but I am trying to learn how to choose when the watch is in charge. A lot of my training is structured workouts, for which the watch is absolutely brilliant. If I am meant to run a certain time at a certain effort level, and I know that the watch will beep when it is time to switch paces, I can just focus on running. Or focus on thinking about something else. This is definitely the watch working for me. Then there are times when I use the watch as a crutch, the most egregious example of this being on nights when I am supposed to run with the Run Dem Crew elites (think suicide pace) for a limited number of minutes. Some of the worst runs I have had have been twenty minutes with Elites. Why? Well, when you keep looking at your watch to see if you are done yet you are constantly losing your focus, in particular losing a grip on your mental coping techniques for pushing your body to its limit. The effect is compounded when you think you have just done a good long stretch since you last peeked at the watch, and discover it was only 45 seconds. Soul crushing. This same problem arises in races. My current marathon PB was in Berlin in 2013. In many ways that race was the best marathon I have yet run. My biggest regret was that I didn't listen to my inner voice telling me to hide my watch from myself. A lot of the mental struggle in that race was my dealing with the feedback from the watch, rather than focusing on running as best I could. 
I've been training myself to be less dependent on my watch, and working on running longer and longer stretches without paying attention to the data available to me. I took the next step in this process in Paris a few weeks ago. My training this year is focused on strength and endurance. Sure I am still doing tempo runs, but I am not pushing myself to my limit in the pursuit of speed. Which means that while I felt fully prepared to run a respectably fast half marathon, I hadn't specifically trained to run fast at this distance. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to run a complete race without paying attention to anything but the messages from my body. Yet I still wanted to have the data from the run to look through afterwards. So I was wearing my watch, but I had it set to a display which only showed my altitude above sea level, a completely useless piece of data while running through central Paris. In retrospect I could have had a more pure experience if I had switched off the watch feature which beeps every kilometre and shows the time it took to run that kilometre, but I only looked at a few of those times during the race, and didn't adjust my running in response to them. I wouldn't say I truly went 'the Full Monty' as I didn't simply leave the watch at home, but this was quite close to running 'naked,' that is without technology. The result of this was that I crossed the finish line of the race, and honestly did not know what my time was.
The last time I ran this race it was cold, my stomach was a little off, and I really struggled. That race is still my half marathon PB, but it felt like a struggle most of the way. This year the weather was nearly perfect, perhaps getting a bit warm by the finish but comfortable (even in vest and short-shorts) at the start. I did get to the starting pen a little late, and as a result ended up stuck behind the 1:35 pace group. I had been thinking that I should be capable of outrunning them, but after expending a bunch of energy trying to get clear of them I gave up and just settled into running comfortably. After about 7km my thighs were starting to ache a bit, and I had this bout of negative thinking along the lines of 'if I am in pain now how awful will this be to run with for another 9.5 miles?' Then I cleared those thoughts out of my head, took an inventory of my technique, corrected my leg stride to be more correct, and the pain vanished. Phew. Once I was back to being pain-free I really started enjoying the run. Sunshine, beautiful city, feeling good. After about 45 minutes I took a short break at a water station, had a few sips of water, gave up about 15-20 seconds of time to walk while drinking, and then got back to cruising speed. The rest of the race passed by with occasional reruns of an inner conversation about whether I should just be enjoying myself, or whether I should be pushing harder. I kept reminding myself that the goal was to run on feel, and the feel was telling me that my pace was respectable. Eventually I settled on a promise to myself that when I hit 20km I would kick up the pace and race the final 1100 metres. This focus on allowing my body's feedback, rather than technology, dictate my thinking about how well I was running was tremendously liberating. I could have had constant feedback telling me I was slowing down a bit, which would have probably triggered negative thinking about how I don't run well in the heat, which would have likely resulted in my slowing down more and struggling. Instead I just kept assuring myself that the feel of how I was running was fine, which allowed me to enjoy the weather and the scenery, and kept my pace steady. This was the first race I have run where after the race others were commenting about how hot it had been, and I was saying how comfortable I had been. As promised I kicked my speed up for the last stretch, flew past people struggling to finish, and crossed the finish line with a big smile. Final time: 1:41:06. Not a PB (but under two minutes off my best time), but a very satisfying and fun run.
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