Reading the tea leaves – Pace?

“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom. ” ~Clifford Stoll & Mark Schubert

I’m an engineer, and my wife & parents gave me the Garmin Forerunner 305 for Christmas as a gift. Having data is a huge blessing for me; it not only lets me track my progress, serves as a verified odometer, and gives me on-the-road feedback, it has also introduced a whole ton of ‘visualization’ of my runs. I can come back from a run, and pull up a pace chart or a workout chart and say “yeah, I was working hard there” or “look, negative splits” and instead of just seeing 3 numbers, I can actually see a general slope of my run.

With that, I decided to take a look at two of my recent runs, both 3.5 miles, both outdoors, different courses, and just think about what the pace means.



First thing you’ll notice, if you’re any kind of data user, is that these two plots are not on the same scale. The sport tracks program does not allow me to manually set the scale (or I don’t know how to do it…) but even just eyeballing it, my pace is a lot more inconsistent on the second run.

But get this!

Split Distance W1D5 W2D2
1 1.00 11:21 11:11
2 1.00 11:05 11:10
3 1.00 10:31 10:44
4 0.51 04:36 05:21

W1D5 has the LARGER negative splits. It was not only faster on average, it was more different from lap to lap. I did better, for certain, on that run.

For W2D2 It is almost like I’m surging and relaxing. Some of this has to be mental; the first run W1D5, the more consistent run, is faster, so I wasn’t just pushing my effort more on W2D2. I have to have been doing something that pushed me. I was running an unfamiliar route, and I remember looking at my watch more during W2D2. Perhaps I tried too hard to keep a specific pace, resulting in this spikey behavior.

I want to examine this more closely; I’m looking for a way to actually overlay these two graphs, and I think I found one that I’ll work on tonight (it’s surprisingly hard to extract pace data in a usable format). But I also wanted to just think about pace, consistency, and how important it is, and how I can manage it. I want to look at my watch less, and cruise more. Thinking of my body like a control system, I have to try to stop varying the input (my mental commands to my legs) so that my output (my pace on the road) can stabilize, and not jump back and forth based on focus/distraction so much. 

I have a tendency to get distracted and feel my pace start to drift away, when I try to ‘enjoy the run’.  Then I glance at my watch, see some appalling 12:50 pace, and kick up the pace.  I want to reap the benefits of relaxation during my run, but I don’t want to lose track of a nice solid running pace.  I’ve started to look for things that I can think about that keep me motivated. For example, if I think about work (I know, that doesn’t sound relaxing), I can keep my pace while trying to dissect some technical problem.  But if I think about something stressful at work (paperwork, etc), I start to slacken off as my mind feels resistant to this intrusion. But if I TRY to think of something relaxing (like trying to be happy to be outside, or telling myself to enjoy the run that I waited all day for) I tend to do the same thing; lock up, resist it, and slow down. 

I wonder if I can find some mental puzzles or something to bring with me on my run. Sometimes there just aren’t any technical challenges to be had. So maybe an anagram puzzle or two will fill the brainspace without making me feel like something uninvited has come to the party.

Incidentally, I’ve resisted the urge to turn on a pace alert on my watch because I worried it wouldn’t be natural enough.  That, like a treadmill, it would be constantly insisting that I do a certain speed, regardless of whether I am cruising happily along, trying to cross the street, or gagging because I just passed a road-killed bunny. I feel like adjusting more naturally over time is one of the advantages of road running. I just need to get it under control. Adjust naturally over time, but not rapidly in response to my watch.


3 responses to “Reading the tea leaves – Pace?

  1. you are doing so awesome!

    I only have 1 tiny thing to note: Everything I have read says that negative splits should only be about 10-15 seconds faster. For you it basically means you can start out faster (since you can obviously handle the faster pace). Just another thing to maybe think about especially for the longer runs – keep up the increased pace but not quite so dramatically.

    Keep kicking ass!

    • I feel like there’s some kind of essential discipline missing in my numbers. Maybe just more time running, more time keeping myself on my feet, will give me more of a consistent base.

      When I first started running I had… running and not running. As I spend more time doing it, I feel like I have a little more control, that my body responds to me and has more ‘notches’ that I can settle it into.

      I’ll try to settle into a new notch on those 3.5 mile runs. Not to push it, but to run a more consistent pace, with smaller negative splits. Friday is the next opening, and always a great night for running.

  2. Running a consistent pace is *hard*. It takes a lot of practice. Its something good to work on (and is even more difficult when you have hills!) So when you’re ready to do a full marathon (or just more races in general) you can keep up a good pace through the whole race & not burn out. You’re gonna rock so hard. 🙂

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