Smartphones and GPS watches have revolutionised our sport, enabling us to track pace and distance in real time, so we know exactly how we’re doing every time we hit the road. But there is a downside: ‘There's been a shift from training and racing by feel to training and racing by numbers,’ says running coach Jenny Hadfield, co-author of Running For Mortals. For example, if you’re racing in hot conditions, you risk having a bad experience by trying to match your typical pace, as measured by your watch, in cooler conditions. Or if you’re having an off-day, trying to match a set pace could prove distracting or demoralising. And whatever the race-day conditions, if you check your watch obsessively, you’ll stress yourself out. Better to tune in to your ‘inner GPS’ first and foremost, says Hadfield. ‘When you run by feel, you race at your optimal speed for the given day.’
1/ Hone your skills
To begin, do at least one run per week without GPS. Every few weeks, do a workout to practice changing effort levels: warm up with 10 easy mins; then run three mins at a moderate pace, one min hard, two mins easy; do this fi ve times in total; finish with a 10-min cool-down.
2/ Sneak peek
If lack of data bothers you, wear a normal watch and glance at it occasionally – halfway in a 5K, every couple of miles in a marathon. Or rely on the race clock, or latch on to a pace group. These all give you a sense of your speed without the stress that can come with pace-checking. Or wear your GPS device, but ignore it until the race is over. ‘It’s not about never running with GPS,’ says Hadfield. ‘It’s about it being what it’s meant to be – a tool, not a coach.’
3/ Speed sense
‘Your breathing is the easiest way to stay in tune with what's going on inside your body,’ says coach Budd Coates, author of Running on Air: the Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter. Pay attention to your inhale/exhale patterns: use a five-step count (inhale for three steps, exhale for two) for slow-to-moderate runs and a three-step count (inhale for two, exhale for one) for moderate-to-hard workouts. By tuning in to your perceived effort in workouts, you can use it to guide your racing. You may run entire shorter races, such as 5Ks, at a moderate-to-hard effort level, while a marathon merits spending at least the first 15 miles in a comfortable-to-moderate zone.