I went for a six mile run Sunday morning to practice my nine-minute miles. I’m the 9-m/m pace leader for the Army Ten-Miler Race next month. It’s something you have to practice, so your individual miles aren’t all over the board.
I went with Emily, the program director for my club’s ten-miler training program, which is the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler. She’s leading the 8-m/m pace group at Army. I don’t think I have a 1:20 ten-miler in me anymore but I know, especially after Sunday, that I easily have a 1:30 in me.
We met at a coffee shop in Arlington near the courthouse and ran down Wilson Boulevard to near the Potomac, then over Memorial Bridge into the District. Emily was as fine a back-seat driver as you’re going to find.
"You’re going way too fast."
"No, I’m doing 9:04."
"No, you’re doing 7:40. Slow down."
"Well, my Garmin says 9:04, now 9:05. I need to bump it up."
"No, I can feel you’re going too fast. What do you have your pace reading set for?"
"For the pace of the total run."
"It should be set on instantaneous pace. You’ll have to change the setting."
From happily not having a Garmin a month ago, now my eyes are glued on it during a run.
"One-oh-oh. 8:48. That’s good."
"No, that’s not good enough. You’re 12 seconds off after only one mile. You’ll be two minutes off over ten miles. You have to bring it in within 30 seconds of your goal time."
"Well, I can’t bring it in at 1:30:30. People will be depending on me to break 1:30."
"That’s true. But you can’t run a fast nine miles and then dawdle on the tenth mile just to achieve your time. It has to be even."
"8:48 is close. I’m practicing. Besides, the first mile was all downhill."
"Doesn’t matter. It was too fast."
We went on like that for the first three miles. Then on the Mall near Lincoln Emily pulled up saying, "Three miles. 26:10. Way too fast."
My Garmin, however, said 2.98 miles. While Emily waited, I continued on for eighty more feet before turning around to go back.
"Three-oh-oh. 26:35. That’s good. Going back is uphill and we’ll lose that half-minute. We better speed up."
"No, you’re too fast. It has got to be even. And stop looking at your Garmin so much."
This was driving me nuts. Telling me to stop looking at my Garmin was like telling Dorothy to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. I was hooked.
I was doing the math every half mile. At four and a half minutes each half-mile, my next checkpoint was going to be 31:30. We hit 3.5 miles on the return at 31:05, twenty-five seconds fast. I knew the substantial hills leading away from the riverbank on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington were coming up. I was feeling competitive now, with Father Time. I wanted to nail 53:58 for six miles.
It was a beautiful morning for running, slightly overcast and cool. A running couple passed by us. As is my wont, I trotted out an attempt at humor. "There’s a wise guy in every crowd," I said loudly to Emily as they loped by.
The guy turned to stare at me. I waved and smiled. He waved back, and then the woman turned and gave a wave too. Whew, an attempt at humor saved by a smile.
As we tackled the hills in the last mile, I pondered how two identical Garmins traveling side-by-side could be so far off. Emily’s Garmin had read 3.0 miles at the turnaround when mine was only at 2.98. I decided that it was a cosmic mystery.
Our starting point came into view two blocks off. My Garmin was just pushing past 52 minutes. I turned my attention to time management the last thousand feet. Pacers aren’t supposed to get to the finish line early and then stand around waiting for their desired time to come up on the clock before crossing. Protocol demands that you run up to and across the line without a noticeable delay. The key is to effectively manage your last half-mile.
The acceptable window in a ten-miler is supposedly 30 seconds either way, except that you can’t be late, or even exactly on time, because nobody wants a 1:30:00. They all want a 1:29:59. So your window is in reality twenty-nine seconds, from being thirty seconds early to being one second early. It’s nerve-wracking, I tell ya.
My Garmin flashed on 6.00 miles and I stopped the timer at 53:55.49, an 8:59 pace. I was four and a half seconds off of a perfect 9-m/m pace over six miles. I have my good ol’ Charmin’ Garmin to thank for this. Even Emily was smiling.