Pace vs. Intensity. Do you know the difference? There is a difference between pace and intensity, with intensity being much more important for runners due to the myriad of factors that can affect the pace. Trying to hold yourself to a given (numerical) pace without accounting for temperature, humidity, terrain, wind, hydration/ fueling status, energy levels, clothing selection (ability to sweat), and race experience may do you more harm than good in a race.
It's very possible that holding yourself to a given intensity will bring you to your predicted- or goal-pace (or vice versa), but always consider the race conditions (course + weather) and your body's real-time status first. This may sound like common sense, but then why is it that Garmin runners are less likely to be at peace with their finish time? Answer: Their craving for data is too strong.
The same personality trait that wants to buy the Garmin in the first place is the same personality that is going to overanalyze the data mid-race (key word). Obviously, this does not describe all runners in this category, but in my experience as a coach, a Garmin watch ends up serving only 1 purpose for a runner: It tells them they are slow and/or could have run faster, either of which leads to a dose (great or small) of feeling unsuccessful. As much as a runner wearing a Garmin may tell you, "oh, it's a hilly course, I'll just run based on feel," I bet you dollars to gel packs that he/she will forget all about that idea once the gun goes off and when they take that first peek down at their watch, and mutter, "boy, I'm way slower than my PR." Talk to that same runner after the race and you'll hear, "well, it was a hilly course, I ran pretty slow, not a good race for me." Aren't the hills supposed to affect your pace? Yes. So then why would the runner use the phrase, "pretty slow" and "not a good race"?
Again, I offer that it's the personality of the runner that adores data and numbers; therefore, faster pace (faster numbers) are more attractive to look at and are typically dominate this runner's thoughts mid-race. In turn, this data analysis creates an unlikelihood to accept the slower paces that are predictable based on race conditions (terrain + weather). Ultimately, the runner feels slow, or is less likely to feel successful. I see this distinction all the time between the runners I coach who use a Garmin vs. runners I coach who have a simpler watch using only elapsed minutes and seconds. Having stated the above, you can imagine how much worse it gets when the Garmin signal cut out and "throws off their pacing."
Bottom line? Race based on intensity (perceived exertion). Garmin watches (and heart rate monitors) will not always guide you when you want to actually race someone. Knowing how your body is reacting in real-time is more important than the actual pace you are holding. For instance, being very in-tune to your rhythmic breathing and stride length during training will enable you to know whether or not your effort can be sustained during a race. I would like to see more runners ditch their Garmin completely, and I'm successful half the time. If that doesn't happen and you're still going to race with one, then my final reminder is that a Garmin should not be telling you how fast to run during the middle of a race, it should merely be satisfying your curiosity.
The pace is merely a byproduct of the course conditions and shouldn't dominate your thoughts. Proper pacing is related to the phrase "staying in your element." Your element is your stride length, cadence, posture, amount of tension in your body, the nature of your thoughts (positive vs. negative), and your breathing, which are all of the things we hopefully tune-in to occasionally during training.
Positive self-talk is a skill that requires practice just like any physical skill, and it lends itself to confidence. Here's how:
First, let's take a quick, recent example from one of the runners I coach. Joe cracked 3 hours for the first time in his recent March marathon. Yes, hard work pays off and he was well prepared to run under 3 hours, but the reason I use his race as an example is because the weather was rainy with a bit of cold and wind. These are certainly adverse conditions, but they are something we experienced all winter long. So, rather than let the conditions turn any self-talk to the dark side, Joe kept his composure and reminded himself that "I've trained through these conditions all winter." Positive language = positive mood = confidence.
Does the weather affect our bodies and pacing? Yes, absolutely. The goal times I send my athletes typically reflect the race conditions. However, the weather does not have to affect your mind. That is the difference. One definition of confidence that I use with my athletes is "the feeling that you've been there before." That's a common one for public speakers, too. In Joe's case (and all of you as well), you have run in non-ideal conditions before. Remind yourself of that. That is one method to keep the self-talk positive.
Could Joe have run a minute or two faster in better weather? Sure, maybe, probably. The weather can affect our pacing via its effect on the body, but keep it together upstairs (composure) and have positive mantras (self-talk) that you actually believe in. You can't BS yourself! It doesn't work that way. That is why the point of this blog is to remind you that positive self-talk is a skill that requires practice in training. You can't just hope that it works on race day because it often won't.
To think about this another way, here is a message I just sent to another DCRC runner, and I know it will help others as well:
Pressure and anxiety can be habit forming, like Pavlov's dogs and classical conditioning. Soaking up all the positive results of a workout/race while dismissing the negative aspects is definitely a skill that great athletes practice. Knowledge is power in this regard. If you know why something is hard or why a workout is going a particular way, then that should eliminate any negative thoughts (anxiety, pressure, "I'm slow"). Many people can easily point to the factors/variables in a race/workout and understand the practical effects, such as wind, hills, etc. However, the big, big difference lies in how they interpret it at the moment, which unfortunately is the not-so-easy part for many runners. Meaning, what exactly do you say to yourself at that moment? "It's windy...I'm slow" (period, that's it) vs. "My pace is off an ideal time because it is windy, I'm still running well". I believe that many runners adopt the former self-talk, instead of latter.
Moods are transient; they can come and go based on thoughts. The thoughts and feelings come from the language we use when interpreting situations, the same way phobias occur...it's related to the exact phrases a person says to him/herself when entering a crowded subway car and then beginning to feel "boxed in". So, continue to practice positive self-talk as a skill. It's not voodoo, it's reality. The brain changes chemicals based on your mood, and your mood comes from your thoughts and language.
Train hard (and keep it positive)!