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How to Pace Without GPS Watches

Posted by George Parker on
How to Pace Without GPS Watches

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Most runners know that sound at the beginning of a road race - the choreographed beeps of thousands of GPS watches instantly syncing with satellites.

GPS watches are a great tool for runners. They allow you to train on the roads while accurately tracking distance and speed. They allow you to track routes and elevation changes. And, during races, GPS watches provide near instant pace feedback.

Back in the day, road runners would receive pace splits every mile. That interval would give runners several uninterrupted minutes to listen to their bodies and environment to monitor pace and then adjust. With the GPS watches, you are now able to make these adjustments with far more regularity.

However, a drawback of instant feedback from GPS watches can be micro-pacing – defined as mini accelerations (or decelerations) from constantly checking and adjusting race paces. These pace adjustments consume energy that can lead to cumulative fatigue over the course of a race.

 Plus, there is a very real element of mental fatigue resulting from constant pace monitoring.

So what can you do?

Summarized below are a few alternative ideas for race pacing in the ubiquitous era of GPS watches.

1.       Find races with running packs near your goal finish time – Here’s a great tip I got from my running coach. Look at previous year race results to see how many runners finished near your goal time. Then, choose races where there should be a running pack near your goal time. During the race, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to find this pack. The pack will work together – each monitoring the group’s pace and collectively keeping everyone together without constant micro-pacing. (This is similar to triathletes in the open-water swim who slip into a pack to help collectively sight the race buoys vs. constantly sighting individually, which expends energy).  

2.       Train to listen to your body – Perceived effort. It is a well-established effort and pacing method among the coaching community. During training runs, use your GPS watch to pace and then monitor your body for how that pace feels. Notice your breathing, heart rate, and legs. This type of body awareness will translate to valuable pacing feedback during a race.

3.       Go metric (system)  If you cannot break the habit of instant GPS feedback, try tracking splits every kilometer. Configure your GPS watch to provide Kilometer vs. Mile splits. Now, you’ll get splits every 0.6 miles. Disciple yourself to only make adjustments at these splits. You’ll reduce micro-pacing, but also receive twice as much data as from mile splits.  

 4.       Or, leave it at home – Pick a local 5K and leave your GPS watch at home. Just run. Pick a running pack in the race. Choose a pain (or perceived effort) threshold. Then stick with it. You might discover that when you break free from the watch, you will naturally expend that extra effort needed for a breakthrough running performance.

See you at the Finish Line,

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