Tempo Tuesday: Seven Sevens

I've always wondered whether I perceive effort the same as other runners. Empirically, we all have different pain thresholds, so it makes sense that some of us are more comfortable running at our "max effort" than others.

Whenever someone talks about running "by feel" or by perceived effort I worry that the error on either side of perceived effort is really large and that I might fall on the conservative side of the effort-sensing/pain tolerance scale, thereby undertraining anytime I run by feel.

For this reason (and because I'm pretty much insatiable when it comes to data) I wanted to get to the bottom of where my perceived effort stands compared to absolute training paces. I figured the best way to do this would be to buy a heart rate monitor and do a bunch of different types of workouts by feel. I had an HRM with my old 305, but I never got used to it and never wore it. The new HRM (which I got with my new Garmin) is a soft strap all the way around with one smaller sensor in the middle. I've worn it twice (including today) and it's chafed badly both times. I really want to use it so I hope it's the kind of thing my skin will just get used to over time. 

Anyway, tonight I had a seven mile tempo on my calendar, the longest tempo run I've ever attempted, so it seemed like as good a time as any to try my effort vs. HRM plan. I also thought it would serve as a good distraction for what I imagined would be seven miles in a world of pain (already I was placing my faith in the HRM). My strategy was to come home and change as fast as possible and get on the road before I had too much time to totally psyche myself out. I planned to start conservatively because my main goal was to actually complete all seven miles; going out too fast and then bombing before I finished would be dumb and defeat the purpose of the whole workout.

I was wearing my HRM but I hadn't calculated my heart rate zones or anything in advance. I am one of those unicorns who always wears my Garmin but rarely looks at it. Running time is for running, and sitting around my apartment is for number-crunching. For me, the fun of having lots of data lies in post-run (never during-run) analyzing.

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I didn't warm up, whoops! I was in a hurry. 

The effort felt like this: uncomfortably tough, but not impossible. When my watch vibrated after mile 1 I cursed because I thought I had ruined it and I prepared myself for mega suffering at the end. It was not as painful as a 5k or some 10ks I've done, but I would have been happy to stop -- I did whatever I could to avoid stoplights because I knew if I stopped I would be so relieved. I had to actively push myself forward and also stay mentally present and strong to keep myself from slowing down. This is unique to tempo runs; for pretty much all other runs, inertia keeps me moving forward and I can completely zone out and let my mind wander. But around mile 4.5, everything kind of clicked and I felt like I had hit a gear or somehow locked into a running form that felt much easier than the previous miles. At the time I attributed it to finally turning so that I had a tailwind, which is probably partially accurate. Surely those few extra seconds (7:5x) made a difference for my perceived effort, too.

I was curious to see how hard my body was actually working. When I looked at my actual heart rate, I saw my average heart rate for the tempo miles was 91% of my max, which Runner's World categorizes as tempo-level effort. Helpfully, RW also rates my effort for me as a 7 or 8.

One cool thing I noticed is that my heart rate stayed level the entire time -- in the past, my heart rate would steadily creep up for the duration of my workout. I assume that's a sign I've gained endurance and that my body can run for longer without causing cumulative distress for the rest of my organs. That's always a welcome finding on a Tuesday night!

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Anyway, I'm so pleased with this third and final tempo run of WIHM training. I didn't think I had five 7:xx miles in me a month ago, but it turns out I did had them plus six more a few weeks later, plus seven more after that. I'd be happy if my race were this week, but I still have eight more weeks of speedwork and whatever else is supposed to make me faster.

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I'm also really into the new heat map feature on Garmin Connect! It looks like all of my Wicker Park runner neighbors have been hiding North of North Ave, in Bucktown. Now I know where to creep to get high-fives in my neighborhood.