What Happened: Tempo Running to Improve my Pace

I did something a bit silly – I ran at midday. It was warm and although I was hydrated, it was just hard.

I felt good before I set off, positive and I’d decided to try out a tempo run. I’d read about it on Pinterest the day before, and didn’t completely understand, so figured I’d try it out and see if it made more sense.

The article set out four different ways to try tempo running; using your heart rate to measure how “hard” you’re going; using your pace; using distance; and using time.

I guess I used distance, because I did one of my usual runs and just decided to try and do it as fast as I could really, keeping as consistent a pace as I could.

I don’t think I really grasped the tempo run – but it was still an interesting experience.

The other thing I did, was to track the run on Strava, to calibrate against my Garmin watch. Now, I should say, that my watch doesn’t pretend to have GPS. I guess it figures out my distance based on what it thinks my stride length is (based on my height) and applies that to my step count. This means there are two points of weakness.

  1. Anyone who has worn any kind of pedometer ever, knows that they are just an indicator. They are never absolutely true. Usually, they exaggerate what’s actually happened.
  2. My height/stride length is a complete unknown to me. Maybe I have really short legs and a long torso, or the other way around? Maybe I just don’t have a long stride and prefer quicker, shorter steps, I don’t know. The point is, neither does my Garmin.

I know all of this and I never thought that my “pace” was absolute fact. If I’m honest, I’d thought it was a rosy view on reality. I was at least comparing apples with apples. My method of measuring remained constant, so I was okay with looking at my pace and progress across my runs because they had all been measured in the same way – with the same flaws.

My tempo run was a bit of a fail. I should have done it earlier, when it was cooler. I shouldn’t have filled my belly with so much water. You know when things just don’t feel right, it makes everything just a tiny bit harder.

I ended up running faster – but I also walked twice. Totally not the target for my run. When I finished, my Garmin told me I had managed to maintain my normal pace. Great – a failed experiment.

Reluctantly, I stopped my Strava recording to review how slow I really was.

Hmmm.

My Garmin had been underestimating my distance. This took 30 seconds off of my minute per mile pace. THIRTY SECONDS. I’m now doing miles in 08:30 minutes. And that’s with two walks in it. WHAT?!

This leaves this reluctant runner a little miffed – because now I’ve had another jump start to my enthusiasm. It hit me right on the competition button, which is one of my key weaknesses. A little bit like calling Marty McFly a chicken, ya know?

I don’t have a total downer on the tempo run principle, I’ll do it again. Especially since I now know a little more about how to actually do it! I’m also going to figure out how to add hill training and Fartlek runs. If you’re not sue what Fartlek is, the principle is speed running in a fun and ad hoc way. So, you don’t time it, you just pick landmarks to run fast up to, then recover, then do it again. Sounds easier than doing a tempo run where you need to figure out the fastest pace you can maintain and do that the whole time.

I’ve never been good at pacing myself – at anything.

So next speed training session it’s Fartlek time…

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