Friday, April 26, 2013

The Measure of a Long Run: Time vs. Distance

Holy cow! It's been more than two months since my last post. I certainly didn't intend for that to happen, but life has not only been busy, but the weather and training have also not been cooperating, and I suppose I haven't been feeling all that excited about discussing it. With the first real taste of spring today in all of its 60-degree glory, however, it seems that the much needed vitamin D has inspired me.

For any of you who have read this blog before, you'll know that I typically write lengthy posts, and I'm sure it's part of the reason why I don't write as often as I'd like (do endurance atheletes and/or perfectionists ever do something part way?), but I'm giving myself permission to toss out some "quickies" from now on to keep things here goes.

In training for the Superior Trail Races 50k on May 18th, I've done my best to run almost exclusively on trails and put in some longer runs, but the late season snow has been a complete hassle to say the least, and when running in conditions that feel like mashed potatoes, it's very difficult to go the required distance, as every mile feels like three. Thus, I've been doing timed runs instead of distance runs, which is something new to me.

I can certainly see the advantages to doing both runs for distance and those for a particular length of time, but I discovered that I have a dislike for timed runs, for several reasons:
  1. Because I have no GPS device and am running on trails that are not mapped well for distance, I have no idea how far I've gone.
  2. Due to #1, I also have no idea what my pace is, and can only guess.
  3. Because of 1 and 2, I don't feel I have an accurate gauge on the success of my run, because I don't know my pace and therefore will have trouble setting a reasonable goal for the race. Since Superior is my first ever ultra - the longest race prior to this being 25k - I'm feeling a bit obsessive about knowing and planning my race as best as possible.
Distance runs, therefore, are more usable to me, as I can do the same run more than once and judge my improvement and/or fitness gains by the time, or at least can compare it to future runs of a longer distance to see if my pace has remained steady or improved. Being as competitive as I am, I am not satisfied with knowing that I just ran 2.5 hours if I have no idea how far/fast I've gone. Then again, I suppose not knowing how far I ran on the complete sufferfest of a run I had last Sunday makes it at least a little better in that I can plead ignorance, because it felt like I was doing 15-minute miles. Who knows if that's true, but on the other hand, if I did know how far I went, I would have probably realized that I was running much faster than how I felt (I hope - it's usually the case), so once again I'm back to disliking timed runs. The Fonz agrees.

Now the question is whether or not I should just bite the bullet and get a GPS watch or a smart phone. Any suggestions?

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