March 2, 2012

Finding my happy pace

Yesterday morning, I got an email confirming the pacer lineup for the Rock n Roll USA Marathon in DC. I’ve paced this race for the past two years as the 4:15 pace team leader and had a great time – but that was back when it used to be the SunTrust National Marathon. Now, the race organization is Competitor Sports, and I can already tell that things are going to be just a little bit different.

Beyond the bureaucracy change, though, there is another big change for me: the group I will be pacing. Instead of pacing the 4:15 group as I’ve done the last two years, I’m going to be a bit further back – with the 4:40 group. When I first saw that, I’ll be honest: I was pretty disappointed. My preferred pace groups to lead are 4:15-4:30; I haven’t paced a group slower than 4:30 in a long time (though I’ve done 4:45 in the past). But more than that, I was sad that my tradition of pacing the 4:15 group had been broken. I really like pacing the same time at a race year after year, and I was bummed not to get to do that this year.

As I thought more about it, I realized that different paces just feel so different. I can adapt pretty easily to almost any pace – I’ve run 4:00 marathons that feel slow and easy, and 4:30+ marathons that feel like I was sprinting toward a new PR. In the end, I’ve learned that as long as you hit your planned pace for the first 2-3 miles, you’ll settle into a rhythm that makes it easy to maintain for the rest of the marathon. But generally, what do different paces feel like to me? I use them for very different purposes.

Sub-7:30/mile: This is a pace I typically only hit on the treadmill, when I’m doing a short 1-3 mile run (though I’m hoping to soon change that and get used to it as my natural pace for longer runs). It typically feels hard and gets me pretty darn sweaty and out of breath.

7:30-8:00/mile: This is my speedy pace for short races or on downhills – meaning, I won’t sustain it for the entire race, but at my stronger moments, this is what I’m running. It’s also my pace when I am literally running errands around town. (Try it – if you live in a city like New York, you would be surprised how much mileage you put in going to the grocery, the dry cleaners, the doctor’s, the subway, etc. And since it’s all short distances, you can go at a surprisingly fast pace – as long as you don’t mind being sweaty at your end destination).

8:00-8:30/mile: This is a pretty quick pace for me, but one that’s not uncommon for me to hold during a long race like a marathon (at least for some of the miles). Lately, if I am going out for a run, this is the pace my body seems to naturally fall into. It makes me feel like a “real” runner, and a speedy one at that – but isn’t so taxing that I can’t sustain it. (Now, the trick is sustaining it for more than 13 miles). This pace makes me feel fleet footed, but not to a point where I’m sweating like crazy and out of breath.

8:30-9:15/mile: This is a very comfortable pace for me these days – it’s what I ran in the Albany marathon last weekend most of the time when I was feeling strong and good. This is the fastest pace I can probably sustain on an uphill section – but I will be as sweaty/out-of-breath as if I’m doing a 7:30-8:00 pace on a flat section.

9:15-9:45/mile: This, to me, is a solid running pace – but one that feels easy. It’s one where I can usually chat with friends while I run, but it still feels like I’m working. Back when I first started running, I used to default to 9:30/mile in every single race – to the point where I purposely created a playlist with music at a slightly faster BPM than my current running cadence. I was having that much trouble breaking out of my habitual pace! It’s interesting to me to look back and see how much faster I’ve gotten. 9:30 is not my default anymore, but it still fits me like an old pair of comfy bedroom slippers that you can’t bear to throw away.

9:45-10:45/mile: This is my “pacing” pace. I don’t typically run it when I’m out on my own, but it is so easy and comfortable to me that it’s perfect when I’m coaching or pacing. It gives me plenty of extra energy to cheer people on and keep up a running patter of conversation to distract people from the run they’re doing, but it’s still fast enough where I don’t feel like I’m plodding along. I feel like I’m running – but just with a ton of extra energy for the coaching/pacing side of things. And you know what? I like running it. So this 4:40 marathon pace group is going to be a piece of cake – that’s a 10:40 pace/mile, and it’s going to be fun to be with what I’d guess will be a lot of first time marathoners. Those are my favorite of all!

What is your happy pace? Has it changed over the years?


8 thoughts on “Finding my happy pace”

  1. What a positive post! I think it is always affirming to see people look at the bright side of the equation…and for most things in life, there always is one if we choose to embrace it. I’m reading this thinking how you’ll cope with MY pace at the More Half! 🙂 Be prepared to ratchet down! LOL!!!! 🙂

  2. I think its awesome you are willing, and okay about your new pace group time. You will be SUCH a big help to a lot of those people running a marathon maybe for their first time, and I know having you support them will make their experience so much better. My happy pace, one that I am most comfortable at is 9:30-10:00. I know I am capable of holding quicker paces, and I typically do, but 9:30-10:00 is just a nice, enjoyable easy while still working run for me.

  3. I think my happy pace is actually around 10:00 – 10:15. I can definitely run faster than that, but it doesn’t feel relaxed and it’s not something I can sustain for more than maybe a 10K.

  4. I love seeing the breakdown of your different paces. My happy pace has definitely changed over the years as I’ve gotten both stronger and more comfortable with running longer distances. I think my happy pace is probably around 9:20.

  5. I’ll be running this marathon as my first marathon! My goal is 4:30…ish (with it being my first I’ll just be happy to finish!) so I’m sure I’ll see you and I’ll be sure to say hello!

  6. I’m sure you will have a blast pacing no matter what group you are in! I think that is going to be a goal of mine – to pace a marathon! You have JUST inspired me!

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