Two weeks ago I went to the CAR fun run for the first time. On the way there I decided that I would run with the group and not look at my watch. I guessed that the pace would probably be a bit faster than my solo easy runs, but unless I was really struggling I was going to keep up. I knew early on that we were running faster than I normally would, but it never felt uncomfortable or hard. Just like I was pushing it slightly more than I would on my own. I was able to chat the whole time and felt good at the end. It turned out that I was probably running about a minute per mile faster than I'd usually run.
After seeing these "results," I decided it was time for a little experiment. I've long suspected that my brain is holding me back because I feel like certain paces are too fast for me or unsustainable for a long run. So maybe if I took my brain out of the equation, I would actually end up running significantly faster. My one hesitation about running with no idea of pace was that I would start out too fast and really struggle at the end. This has been a problem for me in the past in longer races, but I've grown a lot as a runner in the last few months and I think that at this point this is probably more a myth that is holding me back than a reality. I need to teach myself to run based on effort and feel and take my Garmin (and brain) out of the equation.
So two weeks ago before the long run I set up my Garmin so that I could only see distance. I started the run with some teammates and tried to settle into a comfortably hard pace. I could tell that they were running faster than I tend to start long runs, but I tucked in and just tried to keep up. They were doing ten miles, so they turned around after five and I was on my own for the last nine. I was a bit worried that my pace would drop off without someone to chase, but I focused on maintaining the same effort level. At mile seven I took a quick bathroom break, ate a snack, and put on my iPod before turning around and heading back. I felt good the whole time, though I didn't have the energy to really drop the pace for the last few miles.
I tried this strategy again this past Sunday with similar success. Once again I had company for the first few miles, but did the bulk of the run on my own. I really thought about keeping a steady effort level and continuing to push when I could feel myself start to back off or slow down. I felt pretty strong most of the way, but like the week before didn't have that next gear to turn to for the last few miles. I think that will come with time though, as my body adjusts to running at this faster pace.
Both weekends I ran 14 miles and while I was a bit slower this week, I was faster than my current half marathon PR at 13.1 both times! Obviously I knew that my PR was very outdated (and the first week I took a break at mile 7), but it is still a great confidence booster. I know I have a lot of work to do to get where I can be, but this is a step in the right direction. Obviously every run won't feel as strong as these, but taking my brain out of the equation can only be a good thing. So while I'll still be wearing my Garmin (can't live without the post-run data!), you won't see me looking at it.