Pacing Myself

Back when I started writing this here piece of internet, I was training for a half marathon PR. It’s easy for me to forget that, because it seems like so much has happened between then and now and my sub-2 dreams have gone from “I’ll definitely do that before 2011 is over” to “maybe I’ll try again in 2013?” But that was goal No. 1, and that 9:09/mile pace was what I thought about every time I ran through the park or plotted out a track workout. In the end, I only managed one quality attempt, and we know how that turned out. But the point is that the last time I was specifically training for a running event, it was all bound up in numbers: 13.1 miles. 9:09.

Now I’m training for Berlin, and I’m training to finish — though I do have a vague range of what I would consider respectable times based on my ability, all open to adjustment as training proceeds. Back in sub-2 training days, I did a fair amount of reading about track and tempo and long, slow distance runs, about the philosophies behind each, and about optimal paces based on my results and goals. It seems natural to apply some of that to marathon training, largely so I don’t burn out or “race my training” to the point of (more) injury.

I’ve sworn not to care about pace on my runs until at least mid-July, but I still peek — not that it’s worth much, because I haven’t synced my new Nike+ Sportwatch (replaced under warranty) with my footpod yet and the GPS alone does a terrible job with San Francisco fog and somehow I ran both a 12:45 mile and an 8:08 mile on Monday’s run and whatever actually happened, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that. The point is, my “comfortable” pace seems to come out somewhere around 9:20-9:40 right now.

I still have my library copy of Run Less, Run Faster sitting around, and out of curiosity, I looked up what my training paces would be based on my 5K PR (which, despite being set in February, I have absolutely no illusions I could match now) (um, and apparently I actually looked up something about 30 seconds slower than my actual 5K PR; wow could I not match that now). Anyway, a 26:30 5K suggested a marathon goal pace of just under 10-minute miles (on the faster end of my current “respectable” range), with a standard long-run pace falling somewhere around 10:20-10:30, short tempo of 8:45, and long tempo of 9:19.

I’m primarily interested in the long run and marathon pace pieces now, though I’d love to be in a position to do some long tempos by August. But those are all paces I could have hit just fine in the winter, and they don’t seem that crazy right now (except, maybe, that 8:45).

My question, though, is what do I do with that “normal” run? 9:30s don’t seem to have any place here — either too fast or too slow. Out of curiosity, I ran my half-marathon PR through McMillan and got a marathon pace of 10:15, a long-run pace starting at 10:45, and a “steady-state” pace starting at 9:43 — so, closer, but still slower than what I’ve been running naturally.

I’m sure I’m overthinking all of this — surprise! — and in reality, I am just so stinking happy to be running at all right now that as long as my long runs are slower than my not-so-long runs, that’s probably all that matters. But I am curious to know, for anyone who’s more familiar with training plans and with the science/facts/black magic/conventional wisdom behind them, whether that 9:20-9:40 does anything for me outside of giving me miles, or whether I should ideally be speeding it up or slowing it down.

Maths, y’all.


I’m gonna get all sappy and blog about blogging for a minute here:

I first found Katie’s blog when I was injured after my first half-marathon — or maybe it was just after that, when I was starting to run again. Anyway, I was looking for stories of people who had been injured and recovered, and here was this girl whose body seemed to break in all the same ways that mine does and who wrote so beautifully about not giving up and coming through wiser and stronger. I think I read her whole archives in a sitting, and it was a post that she actually just reposted that made me stop and say: Listen to this girl. She’s going to say some things you need to hear.

This weekend, she’s racing Ironman Coeur d’Alene.

Through reading Katie’s blog, I saw that there was this awesome community of blogging runners and triathletes in DC — including Beth, who’s also racing CdA. And I started reading their blogs, and I thought, hm, San Francisco’s a sporty city; there must be a group like that here. I started searching for locals on dailymile and googling for race reports, and sure enough, here were these amazing women right here, and sometimes I get to run with them. And reading those blogs eventually led me to Rachel, who, yup, is at CdA, too.

Look, I’ve been online more than half my life, so it’s not weird to me anymore to be involved in the lives of near-strangers. It’s lovely and it’s wonderful and it’s why I’m still here typing stuff into a white box 15 years after I started: For the people, for the personalities, for the relationships that wouldn’t have ever happened decades ago, for the chance to read the words and stories of writers and runners and athletes of all stripes who push me to be stronger (mentally, physically) just by living a little slice of their lives online.

So, happy Ironman to Katie, Beth, and Rachel. I’ll be running around Philly on Sunday, silently cheering my little lungs out for you.

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10 thoughts on “Pacing Myself

  1. kimbob13 says:

    I just started training for my first half marathon… I am on week 2 of training with a long way to go but feeling encouraged to just enjoy the process. Any suggestions or basic knowledge I should know? I feel encouraged in remembering to not get to caught up in the numbers. Thanks 🙂

    • kimretta says:

      Definitely enjoy the process — it’s a great accomplishment! One thing I wish I’d known in training for my first half is that you can’t build mileage too slowly. I jumped from running 3 days a week to running 4 days all of a sudden, and I probably shouldn’t have changed my habits so quickly. But the rest of my advice is just to do whatever feels best for you — if you’ve got routes you like and shoes you like, you’re well on your way. As your runs get longer, experiment with what you need to eat/drink before and during. Definitely stretch/foam roll/pay attention if something is feeling sore or tight. And have a blast!

  2. Beth says:


    As for pacing, you are either unknowingly running too fast now, which will wear you down, or you need to learn to PUSH in a 5k and get that time down 🙂 Training paces are just guidelines, but most tell you to run slower to reduce the chance of injury and burn out and allow you to do more mileage or occasional hard efforts. Good luck!!

    • kimretta says:

      Thanks, IRONMAN. 😉 I suspect you’re right on both counts! I’m proud of my 5k time given that I despise every distance between a 400 and a 10k, but I could definitely hurt more.

      I’ve never thought about my “normal” pace before, but I have no real opposition to running slower for a while. I’d bet my half-marathon time is a better predictor overall, given how I run.

  3. katie says:

    Sappy is a-ok! thanks, friend. 🙂

  4. Kristina says:

    After years of running fairly cluelessly, I caved and got a garmin about a month ago. And boy is it addictive! I still try to mainly pace myself based on “feel” and to not get caught up in numbers. That can be really hard though!
    Glad that you are feeling good these days about your running!

    • kimretta says:


      I’ve always been hooked on the data, so trying not to care so much about it (or use it as a guideline for slowing down, rather as one for speeding up as I usually treat it) is rough. It was interesting last week, though, that I ran 3 miles with the GPS and 3 miles on another day without, and my time/pace were within a few seconds of each other. Weirdly reassuring.

  5. I completely, fully, truly believe in training according to effort rather than numbers. I think it’s worth knowing what your different paces are in theory, but so much changes with our bodies, weather, terrain, etc. from day to day that there’s just no way we can expect running by the numbers to make sense all of the time. I know my “easy” pace can vary by a good 45 seconds — I’ve just kind of memorized what “short, easy run” should feel like, & just try to run so that that’s how I feel, rather than by the numbers on my watch. That’s worked out pretty well for me, & kept me from running myself into the ground on tougher days.

    • kimretta says:

      I definitely would like to get to that point. When I started running I remember thinking I only had a FAST and a SLOW, and it annoyed me at the time, but I can also kind of see the benefit.

  6. rnwatkins says:

    Thanks for the shout out! I wish I had some wisdom on pacing to share with you, but honestly it’s something that still mystifies me. In fact seeing “race pace” on a training plan induces mild anxiety. Does that mean goal race pace? Current pace for a shorter distance? It’s all too much : /

    Looking forward to one day connecting in person, and maybe sharing a run since I’ll be a bay area resident soon!

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