When I first started running, I would hop on the treadmill, pop in my headphones, and watch the timer. Sometimes I could surprise myself with my pace, but for the most part, I would find myself short of breath and barely able to get through a mile or two. It was not completely a lack of fitness, so much as poor pacing. I would get so caught up in how fast (or slow, really) I was going, and the beat of the music. I eventually stopped trying to see how fast I was running and just ran. I would listen to my ipod and hit the road. While this helped some, the music was still throwing me off. Listening to music, for me, messed up my whole pace. I was trying to keep up with the beat of the music and it was causing me to push unnecessarily with energy I did not have.
By the time I signed up for my first half marathon, I had stopped listening to music on my runs. I have no idea when, or how this transition happened, but it was definitely a game changer for me. I was no longer focused on my pace or pushing so hard. I was focused on how the run felt and it gave me to time to just think. I know most people love to run with music, and I think if that works for you and keeps you moving, that’s great. I just realized that I was not getting the miles I wanted to because the music and the watch were causing me to over-think what I was doing
As I began training for my half marathon, I did most of my runs in the afternoon, on the treadmill, with the exception of my Saturday morning long run. I did not have a watch to pace myself, which was good for my Saturday run. I would map out my run the night before, and wake-up and hit the pavement the next morning. No phone. No watch. Nothing. I would get in my miles with no idea of my pace. For my treadmill runs, I had some idea of what I was capable of doing, and would usually increase my speed as the run continued. This would be considered my speed work, but at the time, I was just getting my miles in while playing games in my head. I was not actually pacing myself.
That approach worked for my first race, and I finished in under two hours. When I signed up for my second half marathon a year later, I figured I was a seasoned pro and did not need to change anything. The difference this time was that I was doing all of my runs outside. I never really knew how to push myself outside, so each run was literally just for miles. I still was not pacing myself at all or doing any kind of speed work. I would just go out and chug along, logging in my miles. My second race I ended up finishing 12 or so minutes slower than my first race. I will add too that I was 10lbs lighter for this race and eating much better, so physically I was structured to do BETTER at this race, but I had not prepared properly.
I am now closing in on my third half marathon. I have done all but one or two runs outside, and I have paced myself for each run. This has worked great for me this time around. I know where I can push myself, and when I am going too fast. I know how my body should feel because I have done a few races now, so I can feel when I have gone too hard or have not put much effort in. I am not simply logging miles, I am increasing my strength and endurance.
We will see on Sunday if it truly panned out, but as of now, pacing myself has been beneficial this time around. My pace is over 1:00/mile faster on runs up to 11 miles. I think beginner runners should focus on just running. On enjoying the new experience they are looking to get into. If you then decide to get into races and push yourself, pacing might be worth it. My first race, it was smart that I did not pace myself. It was definitely a mistake that I did not for my second race, and I think I will prove that at my next race.